The question of how often to grind coffee has been posed many times, and almost every answer is some version of “as often as you would like.” But you know that it cannot be as simple as following your whims. Everything from taste and freshness or caffeine preservation must be taken into account before deciding the grinding frequency.
You should grind coffee twice a week if you live in a humid region and once a week if you live in a dry one. Daily grinding results in the best taste but is the least practical, while weekly grinding is practical, but the taste degrades towards the week’s tail-end, especially if the air is humid.
In this article, you will discover why you need to grind coffee more often, how often you should grind at a minimum, and how frequently you can grind to get the best results while keeping things practical.
More importantly, you’ll discover how to figure out the best grinding schedule that fits your personal taste and your region’s environment. Finally, you’ll find ways to keep your coffee beans fresh as you grind them more regularly for your coffee.
Why You Can’t Grind Just Once
Let’s first look at why coffee beans aren’t all ground and stored by coffee shops and cafes. It makes sense for unroasted coffee beans to sit whole but once roasted, we know that coffee beans are under attack by the elements.
Let’s put it this way, if you put roasted coffee beans in water, after a while, the water’s taste changes. That is technically impossible without changing the taste of coffee beans as well.
Something got transferred from the bean to the water, albeit in a small quantity. That “something” is a set of “solubles” in roasted coffee beans. If you are to repeat the experiment, except you grind the beans this time, the water will taste much more bitter. Why? Because you essentially end up preparing a cold brew by doing this.
The solubles in roasted coffee beans get transferred to water more rapidly if the bean is ground because grounds have larger surface areas, which scales the interaction of coffee and water. “But that’s just the water, right? Why can’t I store the coffee grounds in a dry place?”
You can get away with storing some grounds for some time but remember that 2% to 4% air is usually made up of water. So, while your coffee grounds might lose as much caffeine as they would sitting in a barrel of water, they will start to lose quality and taste as the soluble components interact with water.
As if that’s not enough, there’s oxygen as well, which interacts with roasted coffee to degrade the taste even more. It is also the reason why hot coffee can’t be left sitting for hours without losing taste.
The Perfect Grinding Routine
Please note that the grinding routine here emphasizes taste over practicality. In other words, this isn’t the most practical frequency of grinding coffee, even for some cafes.
Ideally, you would get the best results grinding your coffee every day. If you have a small enough grinder and have the time and patience to do so, you will reap the benefits of your coffee tasting the best it possibly can.
There is also the benefit of a “flow state” routine. According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, when your skills exceed the challenge or task at hand, you experience boredom, whereas the flipside causes stress. By taking on a challenge even slightly harder than your skill level, you open yourself up to negative emotions.
Most coffee-making routines are boring because they require such little skill. With the advent of coffee pods and convenient machines like Breville Vertuo that make barista-tier coffee at a push of a button in the comfort of your own home, you don’t have reasons to take on any challenging tasks, or do you?
Going by the theory of flow state, grinding your coffee every day can be therapeutic as it allows you to do something somewhat challenging while not using up too much of your attention. If you’re the type who finds cooking therapeutic, then this is definitely something to consider seriously.
However, as mentioned earlier, this isn’t the most practical grinding frequency. Most people do not have the time or the patience to grind their coffee beans every morning. If you looked up the acceptable frequency of grinding because you want to know how long you can get away without grinding a new batch, then you may want to know the laziest viable grinding schedule.
Minimum Viable Grinding Frequency
This schedule of grinding coffee prioritizes fewer grinds for larger consumption. It is going to be practical but will compromise the taste and quality of your coffee. However, there is an exercise included in this section that will help you discover your personal ideal grinding frequency.
You can get away with using a ground batch for two weeks, after which the taste will deteriorate to the point where you’ll need more sugar (or mixed fresh grounds) just to be able to gulp it down.
If you use coffee as a caffeine injection and don’t care much for taste, getting a ground batch you know you’ll finish in two weeks is the best way to minimize your grind-work while making sure that the coffee doesn’t start molding.
Beyond two weeks, there is a very real possibility that the coffee grounds might start accumulating impurities, including organic ones. Depending on the contents of the batch, there can be molding or other health risks involved.
Ideal Practical Grind Frequency Exercise
If you don’t personally grind your coffee and have your local barista do it for you, then you can use the following steps to determine the best frequency that works for you.
Step 1 – Start With a Week’s Worth of Coffee
The first step is to figure out how much coffee you consume in a week and discover the equivalent in grounds. Most places that sell coffee beans can pre-grind them for you, and they always have an estimate of how many cups a bag is good for.
Therefore, you don’t need to know the exact weight of the grounds. Let’s suppose you have two cups a day. To get coffee for a week, you’ll need to ask the roaster to grind and bag 14 cups worth of coffee grounds.
Please note that some roasters might not be accommodating for that small a quantity. In that case, getting 28 cups worth of roasted beans and requesting them to grind half is the way to sidestep minimum order requirements.
Step 2 – Conduct the Final-Day Test
The final day test is, as the name suggests, a taste test you conduct on the seventh day. This isn’t a test of coffee grounds as it is common knowledge that grounds stay fresh for a week. This is a test of your own taste. Can you tolerate week-old grounds? Get intentional on the seventh morning and pay attention to how the coffee tastes.
Does it taste different from the first day? It can be hard to recall as the taste starts to decline gradually, taking your short-term standards with it. You may have a new batch and compare the two. If you can tolerate the drop in taste, you have your minimum viable, practical grinding frequency.
Step 3 – Reduce a Day and Repeat
This step is only for those who have tried the previous step and found out that they cannot stomach the seven-day-old grounds. If you want to find your next-best oldest-grounds tolerance, you must repeat steps one and two with a 6-day consumption cycle. Within two to three cycles, you’ll find your ideal practical grinding routine.
Doing the Routine at Home
If you’re going to do the above exercise at home, simply grind batches for the number of days suggested starting with seven days and gradually decreasing until the coffee you have on the last day tastes good enough.
If you want to skip this exercise altogether and learn where most practical coffee consumers settle, you’ll not be surprised that most of them find a weekly grinding routine to be a perfect compromise between freshness and practicality.
The Taste-Efficient + Practical Grinding Routine
Instead of going to the roaster every week to get your ground coffee, you can follow this routine to get the best practical coffee buying schedule and grind your coffee just as often as you should.
Buy Coffee Beans Every Two Weeks
We must start with the bean, as all coffee does. In our earlier example, we saw how a roasted bean loses some of its essence to the environment, especially water vapor and oxygen.
As long as you buy coffee beans pre-roasted once every two weeks, you’re in the green. You can even keep certain roasts for up to 3 weeks, so make your light or dark roast decision accordingly.
Grind Once Every Four Days
Once you have the beans, store them in a dry place and only take out as much as you need to make grounds for four days’ worth of coffee. Once a week being the practical-best and daily grinding being the taste-best lead to the obvious conclusion that the best combination of taste and practicality would be to grind coffee once every four days.
That said, the main problem most people have with this routine isn’t having to grind twice a week; it is having to take a trip to get coffee beans in a small enough quantity for two weeks. This is a much larger issue with those who consume little coffee but care a lot about its taste and the entire experience.
If you get your beans from a store that keeps pre-packed beans for sale, consider this a lucky moment because coffee beans that are retail packed are almost stale from a taste perspective. The “use by” date on pre-roasted beans is the expiry date, i.e., the date after which the beans are likely to be risky for your health.
Coffee beans can be good for 6 to 9 months if your definition of “good” is that you can consume their derivative coffee without getting sick from it. However, the same bean stays “fresh” for three weeks at best: less than a single month.
So, your problem isn’t that the coffee beans you get pre-bagged will outlast the two weeks for which you’re supposed to buy the pack; your issue is that the pre-bagged beans are most likely not fresh anyway.
Therefore going to a roaster is the only way to ensure that the beans you get are fresh. And I know that not everyone lives near a coffee roaster or a coffee shop that gives roasted beans by the ounce. If you live far enough from a roaster that visiting the shop twice a month is unfeasible, here are some tips on how to make coffee beans last long.
Avoid Glass Jars
Transparent storage may be esthetically appealing but is bad for the taste buds. Letting light into your coffee bean container is the second fastest way to make sure your coffee gets stale; the first is to put your coffee in a wet spot.
Store in Multiple Containers
If you take out the beans and put them in a container, they’ve only been exposed to air and the environment once. But with each opening (a minimum of two every week), you invite fresh elements from the environment to go on an interactive session with your precious coffee beans. Smaller containers marked by the week mean you get to use up portions without affecting the rest.
Freeze the Beans
The best way to make sure your coffee lasts the longest is to pop it in the freezer. However, there’s a lot of tact to this. Firstly, you don’t want to freeze your coffee in a container with a lot of air. Air contains water vapor that will turn liquid once the container is in the freezer.
Heaping coffee beans into a container, so the air has no room is the best way to ensure your coffee beans interact with as little of the environment as possible. Obviously, the temperature will help keep the reactivity low.
Use a Stainless Steel Container
You should use an opaque metal container, preferably stainless steel, so that the packaging doesn’t react with the roasted beans. Most roasted beans come in paper bags and disposable packaging. Leaving these in the freezer is a big mistake as condensation can kickstart a reactive process.
When you get your stainless steel container, make sure it is small because you’re supposed to store them in small portions. I recommend DLL Bamboo Lid Canisters for this because these containers are aesthetic enough to be used for display as well as to freeze beans away from your guests’ eyes.
Get Airtight Container
While this might seem obvious to some, getting an airtight container is crucial for the beans that you leave outside the freezer. You might have four to five containers of coffee beans, depending on how often you want to shop and how much you choose to consume.
To get airtight containers in dozens, however, isn’t feasible for most people. As long as your coffee beans are in the freezer, being airtight doesn’t matter as much. That’s because a low temperature lowers reactivity.
So only get one airtight container, and don’t make the mistake of getting one that’s too big for the portion. Even if a container is “airtight,” it will have air if it is partway filled. While I recommend CafetastiQ Coffee Canister for this, I also insist that you find your portion size before deciding whether you should get this.
To determine portion size, simply divide the beans up into four batches per month (if you’ll grind twice a week) or two batches if you’ll grind weekly. Estimate from the bean piles how big each container needs to be. Getting a smaller container isn’t as problematic as ending up with a larger one.
For example, if you get a container that stores half a cup of beans but you want to store one cup, you can order another of the container. But if you want to take out one cup at a time and your container is two cups large, you’re forced to let half the beans interact with air.
Get Unroasted Beans
This is pretty “out there” as a solution for keeping coffee fresh, and even the most consummate coffee lovers will not go this far in trying to preserve the freshness of their coffee. But if you can get unroasted beans, you can store them forever.
If you do this and can roast the beans at home, I recommend roasting once a month and storing them as described above. Again, this is for the few who live in remote areas and are pretty far from a coffee shop from where they can buy roasted beans once a month.
You can technically grind coffee before every cup, so the question of how often you should grind isn’t about how frequently you can do it. It is about the minimum frequency of roasting that brings you the freshest coffee. Usually, twice a week is practical enough, and your coffee is indistinguishably fresh, but this can change according to the environment you live in.