Just-ground whole beans or pre-ground coffee? Do a taste test, and let Crabby know if you're wrong.

Dear Crabby,

My girlfriend and I both love coffee, which is great.

But she likes to buy ground coffee, and I think grinding it right before brewing makes for better coffee. What do you think?


The Unbearable Rightness of Bean

Dear Bean,

The difference is huge.

Pre-ground beans make a stale, relatively flavorless cup of coffee. This is not a controversial opinion. But I get where your girlfriend is coming from; I was once like her, thinking I loved coffee without really knowing what that meant.

I grew up in Michigan in the 1980s and ’90s. That was a much different coffee landscape than 21st century Washington state. Until I moved west after college, “coffee” meant those big ol’ cans of Folgers or Maxwell House. (Maybe there were people two decades ago in Michigan who ground their own beans, but they didn’t talk about it. It was like being a CIA agent or a swinger or something; if you did tell people, they’d think you were weird.)

I loved the coffee in those big cans because I thought that’s all coffee was. I got used to the taste, and I got addicted to the caffeine. Then I moved to Washington, land of a million drive-through espresso stands. It didn’t take long to notice there was more to coffee than the buzz and the taste of slightly burnt dirt.

Then in 2011, an old college friend — one who had moved to Los Angeles and gone full-on West Coast — started up a small coffee roasting shop called Handsome Coffee (since bought out by Blue Bottle) and shipped me some beans. I didn’t have a grinder, so I bought a cheap one and made the best coffee I’d ever brewed. I figured that difference was the bean quality, though, not the self-grinding — Handsome-roasted beans were universally acclaimed among the coffee cognoscenti — but subsequent supermarket purchases of whole beans, while not as good as Handsome, were still much better than the pre-ground stuff I’d been using. Even when it was the same exact beans.

It’s funny how much I loved the old Folgers stuff, compared to what I think of it now. But that’s how it works; you like what you know until you find something better. In 1999, I thought to myself, “What do I need DVD for? The picture on these VHS tapes is perfect.” By about 2006, I would have rather stuck forks in my eyes than be forced to watch a movie on VHS.

So how do you convince your girlfriend there’s enough of a difference to get her on your side? Have a side-by-side tasting one morning. Same beans. Some pre-ground, some freshly ground. If she still prefers the pre-ground stuff (she won’t), let me know; I might still have some of that Folgers left over from Michigan.

Hope that helps.



Reach Pat Muir at