How To Pick, Store and Grind Whole Bean Coffee
When it comes to getting your caffeine fix at home, what’s your go-to: ground or whole bean coffee?
While today, ground coffees, with their ease and convenience, have become the more popular pick, there is a long list of reasons why you should try whole coffee beans. From the superior freshness of your brew to mastering the art of grinding, purchasing whole beans over pre-ground coffee opens up an entirely new coffee experience for java lovers.
If you’re looking to venture away from the world of ground coffees or learn how to make your best cup of whole bean coffee yet, check out our top tips and must-know information below.
What does whole bean coffee mean?
Put simply, whole bean coffee is what it sounds like, whole coffee beans that have yet to be ground by your coffee supplier. Unlike ground coffee, whole beans leave the aroma-generating grinding process entirely up to you.
Many coffee lovers argue that by leaving the grinding process up to coffee drinkers, whole coffee beans produce the best coffee. They suggest this is because when grinding and brewing occur closer together, a fresher drink with more flavour is created.
Four main types of whole coffee bean exist - Arabica, Robusta, Liberica, and Excelsa; however, only Arabica and Robusta are commonly sold to the everyday coffee lover. You'll find a few of their main characteristics below.
- Arabica beans are usually the preferred choice of most coffee drinkers. These beans are higher in acidity and higher in price as they produce a more favourable taste profile of sweeter, softer and fruity flavours.
- Robusta beans are known for their signature strong, woody and slightly bitter taste and are often used in instant coffee or mixed with Arabica beans to create new flavour combinations.
Choosing your next coffee bean: 3 things to consider
One of the joys of going whole bean is the wide variety of coffee you can now try. At Coffee Direct, for example, we offer over 100 different speciality whole bean coffees, each freshly roasted to order.
With so much variety available to you, below we've listed some key questions that will help lead you to your next coffee bean.
Are you looking to try a single-origin or blend?
Unlike blends, single-origin beans are produced from one geographical location. Single-origin beans are a great way to experience the distinct tastes of different areas and plantations, particularly if you’re looking to compare different coffees from around the world.
Blended coffee combines two or more single-origin beans to produce brand new flavours. Our roasters have over 30 years’ experience producing blended coffee beans, including our very own secret blends. Each of our blended bean combinations is created through countless taste tests to ensure we only offer up the finest coffee blends on the market.
Do you want to go light, medium or dark?
When a green coffee bean is roasted, it is transformed from a comparatively tasteless component to a compact, flavour-packed powerhouse. How long your roaster decides to roast the beans, significantly influences their colour, acidity and taste.
There are three main types of roast you can choose from - light, medium and dark. Light roasts are pale brown in colour, higher in acidity and tend to produce diverse, floral flavours with vibrant aromas. Medium roasts are rich brown in colour, and due to a longer roasting period (which caramelises the sugars inside the bean), they create slightly sweeter and smoother flavours. Dark roasts have a darker brown colouring, and you’ll also notice a slight oil coating on the beans. With less acidity than a light or medium roast, dark roasts are full-bodied and serve up deep, rich flavours and bold aromas.
Where in the world do you want your coffee from?
Each coffee-growing region around the world will produce coffee unique to the area’s growing conditions and harvesting process. A machine-harvested coffee from Brazil will taste completely different from a foraged Kopi Luwak coffee from Indonesia.
From Australia to Zimbabwe via the likes of Honduras, India, Kenya, Peru and Tanzania, Coffee Direct customers can taste their way through our global offering here.
How to store whole coffee beans
One of the best things about choosing whole coffee beans over ground coffees is the freshness of your cup of coffee. Coffee starts to go stale when it comes into contact with air; a process sped up once whole beans have been ground, as a larger surface area comes into contact with air particles.
When stored correctly, whole coffee beans can last up to two months, whereas you should consume ground coffees within one to two weeks. You’ll know when your coffee has gone stale when it starts to taste flat, bitter or generally unpleasant and its beautiful aromas have largely been lost.
Below you’ll find some top tips for keeping coffee fresh at home:
- Store in an airtight container: Reducing your beans’ exposure to air is vital. Ensure your packaging is airtight and resealable. Where your coffee supplier doesn’t provide airtight packaging, transfer your coffee into an airtight tub or pot designed for coffee storage.
- Keep coffee in a dark place: The coffee staling process is also sped up by exposure to light, with sunlight being the biggest culprit of accelerating this process. Make sure to store your airtight container in a dark place such as a kitchen cupboard.
- Avoid the fridge: A widely popular hack for keeping coffee fresh is to store it in the fridge. Coffee keeps best at room temperature, and refrigeration does nothing to prevent your beans from going stale. If you’re worried about not getting through your beans in time, we advise going for the freezer over the fridge. Freezing beans does slow down the ageing process, however, make sure to defrost them completely before you use them.
How do you brew whole bean coffee?
Another great benefit of buying whole beans is that you’re then able to grind your beans to the exact brewing method you wish to use. This gives you variation in the brewing methods you can use for one single packet of coffee. One day you could choose to have filter coffee, the next espresso, and another you could reach for your French Press.
A common question we see on coffee forums is 'Do you have to grind whole bean coffee?'. The answer is a resounding ‘yes’. If you simply brew your coffee beans, you will end up with an incredibly weak and tasteless cup of coffee. To extract the flavour of your coffee beans, you must grind them to the exact size requirements of your chosen brew method. If you don’t, you’ll risk making over-extracted or under-extracted coffee, and you’ll ultimately compromise your brew’s taste.
The below guide should help you work out your grind size. Remember there’s no universal setting for grind size, and we advise a quick Google search to check if your grounds are sized correctly.
|Grind Size||Brewing Method|
|Extra coarse||Cold brew coffee|
|Medium coarse||French Press, Chemex|
|Medium||Drip machine (always check your machine’s manual as sometimes this method requires medium-fine grounds)|
|Medium fine||Moka pot, v60 pour-over, siphon brewer|
|Superfine||Turkish coffee, Espresso machine (again always check your espresso machine manual. Some espresso makers have in-built grinders for espresso coffee beans, eliminating any need to grind).|
Mastering the art of grinding is made easier when you have the right tools. There are loads of cost-effective and efficient options for a manual or electric whole bean coffee grinder.
One tip we give our customers is to go for a burr grinder over a blade grinder. Blade grinders tend to smash particles together clumsily, creating an inconsistent grind size. In contrast, burr grinders help you achieve a precise and consistent grind size - whether you're going superfine for espresso or extra coarse for cold brew.
You can find two of our favourite manual burr grinders in the Brewing Equipment section on our site.
Picking the best whole coffee beans
Having spent the last 30 years delivering over 100 types of coffee direct to our customers' doors, we know coffee lovers have incredibly varied opinions on what products they feel deserve the title of the ‘best coffee beans’. However, below you'll find a selection of our most popular coffees, which many customers claim are the best coffees on the scene.
Monsoon Malabar (Price - from £10.99)
Picked in one of the wettest regions of southern India, Monsoon Malabar coffee beans are exposed to harsh, moist monsoon conditions, causing them to swell with moisture and lose much of their acidity. The result is a heavy-bodied cup with a beautifully mellow flavour and nutty and spicy aromas.
Kenya Blue Mountain (Price - from £11.99)
Kenya Blue Mountain is one of our all-time best-selling products. This great coffee is full-bodied with good acidity, hints of nut and citrus, and a smooth caramel aftertaste. The roast is a particularly perfect pick for those who like their cups of java strong.
Dark Decaffeinated Colombian (Price - from £9.99)
Bursting with intoxicating aromas, our Dark Decaffeinated Colombian gives you the best coffee beans for when you're cutting back on the caffeine. Whether you prefer your coffee in espresso form or via your drip machine, expect a brew that's full-bodied and packed with rich, luxurious flavours.
Is it cheaper to buy whole coffee beans?
No. At Coffee Direct you will not find whole beans for coffee at a higher price or lower price than pre-ground coffee. All our grinds cost the same price. Where price does vary, is when you wish to buy a different amount of coffee.
Do you get more coffee with whole beans?
No. All our coffees are weighed, so you receive the exact same amount.
Can you brew coffee with whole beans?
Yes, as long as you grind your whole coffee beans, you can brew them any way you choose - whether drip machine, espresso maker, french press or your filter device of choice. Drip machine and espresso maker models will vary per appliance so remember to read your drip machine/espresso device manual before you start brewing.
Do whole beans make great coffee for espresso-based brewing?
Yes. For an espresso, coffee beans should be ground super-fine. This can be done manually or by your machine, so always check the appliance manual. For our recommended espresso coffee beans, check out our espresso machine coffee page here.
Is whole bean coffee better?
There are benefits to both whole beans coffee and pre-ground coffee products, so neither are technically better. However, many coffee connoisseurs point out that whole coffee beans allow you to create the freshest cup of coffee possible. Whole beans also go stale less quickly and enable you to experience the joys of grinding.
Where can I buy wholesale coffee beans?
Coffee bean wholesale purchases can be made via our Trade Enquiries page here.