Whole Bean vs. Ground Coffee

By Lisa Frania — / Coffee Talk

Everything You Need to Know About Whole Bean and Ground Coffee 

Coffee and its intoxicating ability to wake the dead, energize even the most sluggish, unmotivated humans and offer a tasty deliciousness and aroma that is unparalleled, has created a worldwide obsession for people. But it has also spurred on a heated debate that has been brewing for years.  

Ask any hardcore caffeind the #1 piece of advice they’d give someone trying to make a bad*ss cup of coffee at home—they'd tell you to buy whole beans instead of pre-ground coffee. Defenders of the pre-ground, on the other hand, love how convenient and easy it is to use at home. 

So, what’s the difference between ground vs. whole bean? Does whole bean actually taste better than ground? Does it really matter what you buy for your daily dose of caffeinated bliss? Which version makes a better cup of coffee? 

Both options will help you stay fueled and focused during any kind of day. That’s because they both start from the same source—coffee beans. But in order for you to weigh in on the caffeine controversy, it’s handy (and essential) to understand the differences between whole bean and ground coffee and some pros and cons so you can take charge of your inner barista to make your at-home coffee experiences the best for you every time.  

spoon with ground coffee and measuring cup with whole bean coffee[Photo credit: Christina Rumpf via Unsplash] 

What Is Whole Bean? 

Buying whole bean coffee means you’re buying roasted coffee still in the full bean form. Of course, you can’t make coffee with the whole beans. That takes a little grinding first to get them ready for the brewing process. Commonly, grinding the whole beans occurs just moments before brewing it to ensure the flavor of the ground coffee is complex and fresh. 

What Is Ground Coffee? 

In contrast to whole bean, when you buy ground coffee, the roasters have already taken care of the grinding step, so you have the convenience of not needing to grind it yourself every time you make coffee. That convenience factor is why ground coffee is very popular and accessible. However, because it’s already been ground, it may not stay as fresh as grinding your own beans. 

Key Differences: Ground Coffee vs. Whole Bean Coffee 

three white coffee cups with whole bean and ground coffee

[Photo credit: Sina Asgari via Unsplash] 

1. Taste and freshness 

For both whole bean and ground, the flavor and texture of the coffee is greatly affected by its freshness 

Whole Bean: Those that are passionate about their coffee (aren’t we all?) prefer whole beans instead of ground coffee in order to achieve a stronger, more flavorful and aromatic cup. This is because whole beans don’t go through any more processing after they’re roasted and can therefore keep their taste and aroma. Grinding the whole beans yourself will allow you to pull out all of the compounds within the coffee beans that give it a delicious taste and distinct aroma. They’ll also keep their aroma for longer since you only grind a few beans at a time. 

Grinding your beans right before you brew results in one of the freshest cups of coffee you’ll ever make. If the bag is unopened and stored properly, whole beans can last about 12 months. Freezing them may extend the life of the beans to 1 to 2 years but still may affect taste. We recommend consuming your coffee beans within a month for optimal freshness, unless you store in an airtight container to extend the life of your beans. 

Ground: Ground coffee in general may stay as fresh as whole bean coffee. The main thing to keep in mind is humidity, as a rapid change in temperature and exposure to cold will alter your blend—and not for the better. An unopened bag of ground coffee can last up to 12 months if it is stored properly. Once the bag is opened, you only have 1 to 2 months to use it unless stored in an airtight canister. You can try freezing it to extend the shelf life to 1 to 2 years, but you run the risk of other foods and aromas infiltrating the coffee.  

When it comes to taste for both ground and whole bean coffee, shopping for Fair Trade and USDA Organic beans will ensure a high-quality tasting cup. 

ground coffee surrounded by whole bean coffee[Photo credit: Mae Mu via Unsplash] 

2. Versatility 

Whole Bean: The whole goal of grinding coffee from the whole beans is to extract optimal flavors and aroma from your beans. In order to enjoy your coffee, you have to grind the beans every time, which is a step that works to your advantage. It’s true—if you don’t use the proper grind size, you won’t get good results—quite horrible, in fact. For example, to get the best shot of espresso, avoid a coarse grind since you need a fine grind to maximize your espresso machine. The wrong grind size can also clog your coffee maker or cause other brewing issues too.  But with a little patience and some extra time to grind, you will gain the necessary skill and knowledge to make fresh cups of coffee every time. In addition, whole bean coffee offers versatility in that you can experiment with a variety of brewing methods, flavors and blends right at home. Owning a coffee grinder will allow you to adjust the grind size (see chart below), add some fun to your coffee-making experience and help you play around with how well you want the flavors to be extracted. 

Ground: Ground coffee simply requires you to add water and allow the coffee to steep, percolate or pressurize. You can accomplish this in a number of ways: using a Chemex, French Press, Aeropress or drip coffee maker. Each method will give you a world of experiences and require a different grind. The downside of ground coffee is that you cannot change the grind size, and ground coffee is made optimized for a standard auto-drip coffee maker. However, many brands offer pre-ground coffee of different grind sizes. So make sure you buy the correct size for your brew method of choice. Just a heads up—it can be very tricky to find some grinds like very finely ground coffee and coarse/extra coarse coffee.  

Check out this recommended coffee grind size for each brew method. 

chart with different grind sizes

Grim Reaper Pro Tip: As an added “perk,” there are so many ways to recycle and reuse those grounds. Coffee grounds make great facial scrubs, help keep plants healthy and fertilized, deodorize freezers and eliminate tough stains for pans and drains. 

3. Measurement  

To make the perfect cup, you have to learn how to calculate not only grind size to achieve your desired flavor, but you’ll also have to master the art of coffee measurement. Regardless of whether you like to use whole bean or ground, we recommend using 2.5 tablespoons of coffee per every 6 ounces of water for the strongest, best-tasting cup of coffee possible.

4. Convenience

Whole Bean: Whole bean coffee is generally easy to find online and in supermarkets; however, it’s more time-consuming compared to ground coffee. You have one more step to grind the beans before brewing your coffee. The time you commit to grinding can take longer or shorter, depending on the grinder you purchase. If you own a manual grinder, for example, it might take you longer to grind compared to using an electric or burr grinder. Electric grinders need an added cleaning step as well—before every use or at least once a day is best. 

Ground: Without a doubt, ground coffee is more practical for the busy, multi-tasking, overachieving people out there. Just buy the ground coffee in your grind size of choice, place the grinds in your coffee maker and brew! Ground coffee is readily available online and in supermarkets—more than whole bean, as a matter of fact. 

It’s super easy to be part of our Death Wish Coffee subscription in order to have your favorite varieties and blends delivered to your doorstep—so you never have to worry about running out of coffee. 

glass with coffee inside[Photo credit: Jose Hernandez-Uribe via Unsplash] 

Pro and Cons: Whole Bean and Ground Coffee  

Whole Bean 

Pros: 

  • You are in control of your brew 
  • Stays fresh for a longer amount of time before tasting stale 
  • You have the power over your coffee’s flavor 
  • You can grind beans right before brewing to ensure more flavor, aromas and freshness  
  • You have power over grind size and can grind for any brewer 

Cons:  

  • More time-consuming to make coffee using whole beans 
  • You need additional equipment like a coffee grinder to grind your beans 
  • Uncertainty of grind size for different brew methods 

Ground Coffee 

Pros: 

  • Convenient and timesaving 
  • You don’t need to have a coffee grinder 
  • No guesswork in the grinding process 
  • No need to experiment to see which grind size works best for your coffeemaker 
  • Wide variety of flavors 
  • Packaged ground coffee is readily available wherever you shop  

Cons: 

  • Loses most of its natural flavor quickly  
  • You are restricted to limited brew methods due to grind size 
  • Too coarse for other brewing methods like a percolator or espresso machine 

Overall, whole beans are better for flavor and customizing grind size to your brewing desires, while ground coffee is better for convenience and a variety of flavors. Let’s face it. Brewing method, cost, convenience and preference go hand-in-hand with how you live. So whether it’s whole bean or ground coffee, brew whatever will get you out of your skull and into the daily grind. 

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