Freshly roasted coffee falls into two broad categories: pre-ground and whole bean. Pre-ground coffee refers to beans that have been ground before being packaged, while whole bean is coffee ground either at home or in store.
Although whole bean is generally considered to be the fresher of the two, the majority of consumers buy pre-ground. According to a recent online survey, 76% of US coffee drinkers said they bought coffee that had already been ground, compared to just 18% who grind at home and 9% who grind in store.
Not only does pre-ground coffee offer a more practical solution for many, it is also more convenient, particularly for those with on-the-go lifestyles. Therefore, it’s essential for roasters to offer both whole bean and pre-ground – and for this, you’ll need a commercial coffee grinder.
To learn more about finding a coffee grinder, I spoke with the founder of Griffin Creek Coffee Roasters, David French.
Why do roasters grind their own coffee?
Over the past few years, pre-ground coffee has grown to become one of the most popular ways of buying coffee – particularly among younger generations. Studies show that those aged 25-40 are more likely to spend money on premium coffee such as whole bean and pre-ground than their predecessors.
This, alongside rising incomes in Asia, Eastern Europe, and Latin America, has led to a marked rise in the number of pre-ground coffee consumers, while consumption of instant coffee has declined. For example, the number of UK consumers who drink Nescafé Original, a leading brand of instant coffee, has fallen by two million since 2014.
For roasters, pre-ground is an effective way of catering to the growing thirst for freshly roasted coffee. Not only does it complement the on-the-go lifestyles of younger generations, it also provides an accessible option to those who are relatively new to coffee and don’t have the equipment to deal with whole bean.
David French is owner and head roaster at Griffin Creek Coffee in Portland, Oregon. He tells me that pre-ground has been one of the most successful ways of selling their coffee.
“It’s what customers want,” he says. “A representative from a regional brand told me in the grocery store one day that ground coffee makes up 55% of their grocery sales. Once I got the grocer to confirm this, I asked for an additional four foot section – and we doubled our sales.”
As well as providing consumers with an easy way to prepare freshly roasted coffee, it also improves the probability of an even extraction. This is because a customer who grinds their own coffee might select the wrong grind size for their brewing method and end up with a bitter and over-extracted or sour and under-extracted brew.
Commercial grinders, on the other hand, produce unimodal particle distribution thanks to their increased power and larger, higher quality burrs. Furthermore, roasters can apply their knowledge of the coffee to input the best grind size for each brew method, producing a more consistent and balanced brew.
What are the differences between commercial and domestic coffee grinders?
Domestic grinders (the ones intended for home use) are significantly different to those found in roasteries.
The biggest difference is the absence of commercial “blade” grinders – despite being a popular choice among consumers. This is because blade grinders tend to “chop” the beans rather than grind them, which can lead to an irregular grind size. They also generate a considerable amount of heat during the process.
Instead, the most commonly found are either flat or conical burr grinders. While costlier, conical burr grinders are preferred as they’re quieter, have a higher output, and produce a more consistent grind size. Because they rely on electrical power, they can be programmed to accommodate a range of grind sizes and display information on a screen.
A commercial grinder’s burr size has a significant impact on its output. For example, a burr size of 58mm can produce up to 75 cups daily, a burr size of 64-65mm can produce up to 200 cups daily, and a burr size of 83mm can produce up to 300 cups daily.
Dosed grinders are popular because they can be adjusted to produce the grind size required and allow you to change your volume without changing grind size.
Commercial grinders usually have added features that make them easier to use, such as a ventilator or cooling system, the ability to cater to different bean densities and moisture contents, and an automatic safety shutoff feature.
Larger roasters might find it feasible to invest in several grinders so they can grind several different coffee product types at once. David tells me that at his roastery, he has four commercial grinders for different purposes, including one dedicated to cold brew.
Maintaining coffee grinders
Commercial coffee grinders are an essential piece of kit for roasters. However, to maintain the consistency of each grind, there are a few important key things to consider.
First and foremost is proper maintenance. Like any equipment with moving parts, commercial grinders must be regularly cleaned and serviced to ensure they’re consistently operating at peak performance. This is because roasted coffee beans contain various oils and particles, which can clog up machinery when ground.
While the way in which you clean will differ from one grinder to the next, there are a few key steps to follow, such as unplugging all electricals before starting and using a stiff brush to knock out any bits of stuck coffee.
You will also need to regularly calibrate your grinder, particularly when using a new coffee. In an article for Bean Scene Mag, Jared Chapman says that each coffee has a “sweet spot” when it comes to grind size. In other words, where one may benefit from a coarse grind, another will require a fine grind.
It’s up to the roaster to find the best grind size for each coffee and ensure that when it comes to grinding, they have calibrated the machine appropriately.
Finally, David says it’s important to avoid cutting costs when selecting a grinder, as it could end up being more of a hindrance further down the line.
“I’ve always bought grinders from well-known brands because, like all equipment, you get what you pay for,” he says.
Looking out for grinders with breakdown cover included is a good choice should anything go wrong. This avoids expensive call out and repair fees during the lifetime of your grinder.
While whole bean is a popular choice for many, pre-ground is still by far the most widely consumed form of coffee. As such, it’s important for roasters to invest in coffee grinders that not only provide a consistent grind, but also keep up with consumer demand.
Once you’ve ground your coffee, the next step is to package it. Generally, pre-ground coffee loses its aromatic compounds significantly quicker than whole bean. Therefore, ensuring you have high-barrier packaging fitted with degassing valves is essential.
At MTPak Coffee, we offer a range of sustainable coffee bags and recyclable degassing valves that will keep your pre-ground fresh, from roasting all the way to consumption.