Can I Use Pre-Ground Coffee For Pour Over?

pour over coffee and a chemex
If you think this guy is going to make you a pour over with Folgers, you’d better think again.

QUESTION: Can I use regular ground coffee for pour over? Like could you make it with Folgers or Starbucks ground coffee that you buy at the grocery store? – Elliot F

ANSWER: Yes, you can technically make pour over with Folgers. But using pre-ground coffee to brew coffee in a pour over device is like hiring the London Philharmonic Orchestra to play the two chord punk-rock song that your high school band wrote.

Can you brew pre-ground coffee using a pour over device? Yes. Should you though? Absolutely not, unless you have no money and no other options available and you really need a coffee. Using pre-ground coffee is not going to ruin your pour over device, but it’s not going to be a good example of the type of brew that  the device is capable of. 

The pour over coffee method is one of the classiest ways to brew coffee, and when it is done correctly, the end result is a complex, bright, and delicate brew that brings the best possible flavors out of your coffee. The best possible pour over coffee is achieved when freshly ground coffee beans and purified or natural spring water is used in the brew. 

Avoid using distilled water, as it does not contain any minerals, which are essential to a flavorful and nuanced brew. You should also avoid using pre-ground coffee, as freshly ground beans are much more aromatic and flavorful, whereas pre-ground coffee beans are often stale, and less satisfying than freshly ground coffee beans. 

The pour over coffee technique is not for casual coffee drinkers who are not concerned with concocting the perfect cup of coffee, but are satisfied with what they can get out of an electric drip coffee maker and pre ground beans. Pour over devices require a more involved, hands-on brewing process which allows users more control over their brew. If you enjoy using a pour over device to brew your coffee, you are most likely an experienced coffee drinker with a refined palate, and not someone who would ever purchase pre-ground coffee. 

Why Grind Your Own Coffee Beans Every Day?

Every coffee enthusiast should own their own coffee grinder and grind their beans every day, or even better, every time they brew coffee, only grinding the amount needed for what they are about to make. The quality of the cup you brew is far more important than the time you might save by pre-grinding your beans or purchasing pre-ground coffee. In order to grind your own beans at home, you need a good coffee grinder. The best type of grinder to use is a conical burr grinder, which grinds up your coffee beans evenly and concisely without getting too hot in the process. 

Conical burr-style grinders are far better for coffee grinding than blade style grinders. Grinders that use blades to chop up the coffee beans tend to get very hot very quickly. The friction from the blades when chopping can cause the blades to get incredibly hot, to the point where they can actually burn your coffee grounds. Cooking your coffee should be left to professional coffee roasters only, and should never be done in a grinder. 

Burr grinders also create a more uniform grind, and consistency in grind size can have a huge effect on the quality of your brews. Burr grinders achieve a consistent grind due to the manual-like grinding technique that they use to grind beans, whereas blade grinders slice through the beans, mixing up the concoction as they go. Burr grinders crush the beans instead of slicing them, driving them into the surface areas of the grinder to achieve a uniform grind. Burr grinders cost a bit more than blade grinders, but the quality and consistency they achieve are well worth the added cost. 

Why Do We Grind Coffee Beans?

Instead of leaving coffee beans in their original whole bean form, we grind down coffee beans into a smaller size in order to be able to extract as much flavor from them as we can. Grinding the beans increases the surface area, allowing the hot water we brew with to access more coffee bean volume, which increases the strength of your extractions. The stronger your extractions become, the more flavorful your coffee will be. Increasing the surface area that your hot water can access also allows for a shorter extraction time needed to create a nice, strongly flavored brew. 

With this in mind, we can determine that the finer the grind, the more flavor can be achieved during the extraction. If you like strongly flavored coffee, it is best to grind your coffee to a finer consistency. The finer grind size will also allow you to get a strong brew in a shorter period of time, providing a cup or carafe of coffee that truly brings out more of the subtle flavors of your roast. 

Grinding Coffee To Preserve Freshness

The outer coating of the coffee bean is a natural protective layer that functions to trap the oils inside of the bean naturally, which preserve the bean’s natural flavors. As long as the beans are whole, the oils that are trapped inside them, will stay locked in for a very long time without going bad. Once the beans have been ground, the protective shell that held the oils and preserved them is broken, and the beans are now subject to becoming stale much quicker than they are when left whole. Coffee grounds, therefore, grow stale much faster than whole coffee beans. 

Coffee grounds lose their flavor and freshness quickly after their protective casings are broken, due to oxidation. Oxygen now has access to what was once trapped inside of the beans, and when the oxygen mingles with the grounds, it affects them in such a way that the molecules inside them change entirely. As these molecules change, your coffee begins to deteriorate, losing flavor and aroma quickly during the transition. As soon as your beans are ground, the oxidation process begins, and it is only a matter of time before they lose any semblance of freshness and become completely stale and useless. Therefore it is important to only grind what you are about to brew, or alternatively, brew what you grind within one or two days after grinding. 

Another excellent reason why you should only grind what you are about to brew is that coffee grounds don’t just dry out and grow stale alone, but they are also subject to contamination from other odors and outside sources in their immediate environment. Coffee grounds contain very delicate oils which are easily affected by contaminants in their near vicinity. This means that your coffee grounds can take on characteristics of other aromas and flavors that they are exposed to, and you can taste the difference in your brew. 

The moisture levels in the environment can also greatly affect your coffee grounds as well. This is because the oils in coffee beans are water soluble, which is how the flavors and oils are able to be extracted in hot water during brewing. The moisture in the environment, therefore, can easily affect your coffee grounds and start to extract and dilute the oils and flavors very quickly, which can have major implications on the amount of flavor and aroma that your coffee will have when you get around to brewing it. Even exposing your whole coffee beans to moisture can lead to flavor loss and deterioration, though the protective layering limits the loss, it can still have a noticeable affect. Once the beans have been ground, however, the loss of moisture can have much more dramatic effects. This is not only something to consider as it relates to direct moisture loss from contact with liquid, but even humidity in the air can have an effect on the freshness of your coffee beans or grounds. 

How Fast Does Pre-Ground Coffee Deteriorate? 

So, how much time do you have once you grind up your beans before they start to lose their flavor and aroma? Shockingly, the deterioration process begins to occur immediately after grinding, and in just 15 minutes after being ground, your beans can lose 60 percent of their overall taste and smell. The carbon dioxide inside of the beans can also be lost quickly after grinding. When coffee is roasted, lots of carbon dioxide gets stored inside the beans. During extraction, the carbon dioxide helps to transfer the oils from the grounds to the brew. In just 60 seconds after grinding, the carbon dioxide levels in your coffee beans are reduced by as much as 80 percent. As more time goes by, more carbon dioxide escapes, and with it, more of the flavor and aroma leaves as well. Disastrous. 

The quality of coffee that you get when you grind your beans right before brewing them is exponentially greater than the quality of coffee that you will get from pre-ground beans, or from beans that were ground just hours earlier. Deterioration happens swiftly, and should be taken into account when you consider grinding your beans. Before grinding, ask yourself a few important questions. Is there anything that is going to possibly keep me from brewing this coffee immediately? Is there anything that I need to do beforehand so that I can devote my complete attention to the brew? If there is nothing that you can think of that could possibly deter you from completing the task at hand, then go ahead and grind those beans, grinding only the amount needed for the coffee you are making on the spot, and brewing it immediately. 

If the optimal freshness and flavor of your coffee is important to you, and it should be, then you should always grind your beans just before brewing, and never grind more than is necessary for what you are about to brew. As soon as you grind your beans, the deterioration clock starts to tick, and the process of loss from oxidation, moisture, and carbon dioxide begins, quickly and permanently altering the structural composition of your coffee beans. If there were no effects from oxidation, moisture, and carbon dioxide loss, coffee flavors would not be nearly as complex and nuanced. Coffee beans will not stay fresh forever, even when left whole, but once they are ground, you have a very limited amount of time to get the most out of them before their production. 

Coffee beans will release their oils over time whether they are ground or not, and they will not wait around for you to decide you want to brew them. Therefore, for the best brews possible, toss out your pre-ground, buy only whole coffee beans, and wait until right before you brew to put them into your conical burr grinder and chop them to a uniform size. As soon as your grounds are ready, brew immediately. Do not hop in the shower real quick first. Do not take the kids to soccer practice. Do not take a quick power nap first. Grind and brew, then enjoy. You’re welcome. 

Learn More About Pour Over and Ground Coffee

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