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Ground Coffee versus Whole Bean Coffee
2 May 2011

Beans

Which is better, whole bean or ground coffee?  The simple answer is whole bean.  Whole beans retain their freshness much longer than ground coffee.  Once you grind it, coffee starts to go stale within hours while properly sealed whole beans can stay fresh for weeks or months.  So whole beans are preferred, especially for a premium coffee such as 100% Kona.

However, as with most things in life, the simple answer is not quite as simple as it seems.  There are times when ground coffee is preferred.  For example, Kona coffee is often purchased as a gift.  The gift giver doesn't always know if the recipient owns a grinder.  A good burr grinder can be $100 or more but a cheap little blade grinder can be purchased for less than $20.  Still, a gift isn't as nice if the recipient has to spend more money in order to enjoy it.  So ground coffee is often preferred when purchased as a gift.

Grinder Beyond gift giving, some people simply prefer the convenience of ground coffee.  Not everyone is in the mood to grind coffee first thing in the morning, although that's a flimsy excuse because I've seen fancy coffee pots with built in grinders.  Set the timer and it does everything else for you.  Set the timer for 6am and it also doubles as an alarm clock because grinding coffee isn't exactly quiet.

A fancy grinder is nice when you're in your own kitchen but what do you do when traveling?  Not everyone is willing to carry a coffee grinder with them wherever they go.  TSA probably considers them dangerous contraband.  Even without TSA problems, grinders can make a mess if thrown in a suitcase or backpack.

We give a lot of farm tours and visitors often want to bring some coffee back to their hotel with them.  Hotel rooms usually have coffee pots but rarely have grinders.  Compared to most hotel coffee, ground Kona coffee is a vast improvement.

Yet another good reason for ground coffee is flavoring.  Coffee purists hate flavored coffee but that's a different subject.  For many, flavored coffees are a fun and different way to enjoy a cup of coffee.  We offer flavored coffees during the holiday season and they are quite popular.  The flavoring process works best with ground coffee so that's how we sell it.  Besides, I'd argue that the flavoring effectively hides the subtle staleness of ground coffee.  Stale coffee is not always as easy to detect as some people think.

Workshop

I am on the board of directors for the Kona Coffee Council and one of the things I do is organize education workshops for other Kona coffee farmers.  Obviously, we serve only 100% Kona coffee at these workshops.  I like to use the opportunity to do an informal blind taste test.  I will put out several different coffees without labels.  It is up to the farmers to figure out the difference between the coffees.  When not told which coffee is which, it can be surprisingly difficult to tell them apart.

Taste Test At one workshop I tested whole bean versus ground coffee.  The coffees were identical except that the ground coffee had been sitting open on my kitchen counter for three weeks.  Most people thought they could taste a subtle difference but weren't quite sure what caused the difference.  Some people actually preferred the ground coffee, possibly because that is what they were used to.  Only a few people could confidently tell which coffee was which.

Why all this discussion of ground coffee?  Because we now offer ground coffee as a separate product on our website.  In the past it was by request only but now you can add it directly to your shopping cart.  Our ground coffee is the same price per ounce as whole beans but it is being sold in seven ounce bags so the total cost is slightly lower.

If you're after a really good cup of coffee, whole bean is still better.  The vast majority of coffee purchased through our website is whole bean and I don't expect that to change.  We don't usually get enough orders for ground coffee to justify keeping it in stock.

So if we don't expect to sell much ground coffee, then why are we offering it on our website?  And why in seven ounce bags?  For the answer to those questions, you'll have to come back for next week's blog post.




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