Should you use coffee immediately after grinding it or can you wait for a while without the taste and smell changing? And how long can you wait before your coffee doesn’t taste good anymore? That’s what you can find in this article.
Ground coffee deteriorates much faster than whole beans. Try to use coffee within 15 minutes of grinding for the best results. A few hours after grinding you’ll have a noticeable difference in the taste of coffee. Grinding the night before produces notably worse coffee.
Below we’ll go into how much of a difference it really makes and what you can do to make coffee faster in the morning.
How Quickly Does Ground Coffee Go Stale?
When you grind coffee, you expose much more surface area which speeds up the coffee going stale dramatically.
So how much deterioration do you have over a certain amount of time? The coffee is best immediately after grinding. Some of the aromas evaporate quite quickly and if you want them in your cup, you should brew as quickly as possible. Try to use the grounds within about 15 minutes for the best results.
If you don’t want to use the coffee within the next 15 minutes, you should wait a bit longer before grinding it. You’ve got the grinder anyway, there is no reason to do it early. Did you grind the coffee an hour ago and forget about it? There will be a small decrease in taste but perfectly drinkable. After the first hour or so the degradation does slow down because some processes take longer than others.
After a day (even in a closed container), I’ve noticed a very marked decrease in the quality of the coffee. It’s a little less balanced and has some more harshness to it.
It’s not a process that goes from good to bad in the blink of an eye. It’s a gradual process. Just like whole beans don’t go from good to bad instantly, grounds don’t either; it’s just a much-accelerated process.
If you have to store ground coffee, put it in an airtight container and store it in a cool, dark place. This will slow down the process of going stale but not stop it.
In the end, it also depends on how sensitive you are to changes in taste. If coffee is not your hobby, you might not notice the small differences. For other people that could ruin their whole cup.
Pre-ground coffee from a shop is likely to be at least two weeks old. It has lost a lot of aromas already. If it’s been stored in a cool place and packed in a vacuum bag quickly after grinding, the deterioration is minimized but it’s still there. After opening the bag you’ll want to keep it in an airtight container in a cool, dark place to keep it as good as possible.
Up to two weeks after opening the bag, the coffee will taste about the same. After two weeks you’ll start noticing the taste of the coffee going downhill. However, as long as it’s free of mold and other bad things, pre-ground coffee is safe to consume up to a year later. It won’t be enjoyable though.
Why does ground coffee get worse over time?
All coffee grounds start out as beans. Brewing coffee with whole beans doesn’t work all that well so at some point they have to be turned into grounds. We all know that grinding coffee from fresh beans is almost always better than buying pre-ground coffee unless you have a really bad grinder.
But the pre-ground coffee you buy in the supermarket is ground at some point as well. So what happens in between that makes coffee that’s ground a longer time ago worse?
Green beans have a shelf life of about 12 months. But before you can grind them and make coffee, the beans have to be roasted. After roasting, the beans need a bit of time to degas to get the best taste. This generally takes about 2 days. From there on out the beans are good for up to about 4-6 weeks. You’ll notice small differences in taste but they aren’t dramatic.
The taste changes because a lot of the compounds in the coffee are volatile, some compounds can oxidize and the oils can go rancid. As long as you leave the bean whole, there isn’t much surface area where things can evaporate from and where oxygen can interact. Just the outside which isn’t all the much surface area.
What happens when you grind the coffee is dramatically increase the surface area. That surface area is now exposed to much more air than a whole bean. This means all the volatile compounds (basically evaporate) and oxidize much faster. The volatile compounds are many of the aromas you can smell. They dissolve in air which makes them possible to smell. It also means that they can get away very easily. Oils oxidize and if you know anything about rancid oils, they don’t taste good.
So the taste of the coffee changes because the composition of compounds that are actually in the grounds changes through different processes. This doesn’t happen all at once but is a process that happens over time which is why the taste changes day by day.
See it as an apple. Leave the skin on and It’ll stay good for a long time. Cut it up into small pieces and It’ll go brown within a few minutes. The same thing happens with coffee beans.
Can you grind coffee the night before?
Coffee grounds deteriorate from the moment they are ground. So can you grind coffee in the evening so you don’t have to do it in the morning? While I personally enjoy grinding coffee as a start to my day, some people just need caffeine the moment they get out of bed. Having ground coffee ready to go saves precious seconds and makes your morning routine a bit more comfortable. But can you expect good results when doing this?
Of course, it’s possible to grind your beans the night before. There are no rules against it, it’s just a question of how good the coffee will be when you brew it the next morning.
Is it going to be as good as grinding your coffee just before you use them? No, during the night some of the aromas will fly away and the oils and other compounds will oxidize a little causing the taste to be a little flatter and staler. How much, it will certainly be noticeable. However, if you need caffeine so much that you can’t be bothered to grind in the morning, you’ll probably be so groggy in the morning that you don’t notice the difference in taste.
It’s a trade-off. If you choose to grind in the evening, you’ll lose a bit of taste and quality although the caffeine will be the same. In return, you get coffee quicker and with less effort, hassle, and noise. Do you really care about the taste? It’s better to use freshly ground.
There are some other options to get a quick coffee in the morning though:
How to make coffee faster in the morning
Besides grinding coffee the night before, how can you make sure you get your caffeine injection as quickly as possible?
There are a few interesting ways you can really make your morning routine faster:
Alarm clock coffee maker
No time to lose? A timed coffee maker is a good solution although does bring its own issues. These machines have a simple timer. Just set the timer to the time you want and it starts brewing at the set time. That does mean you have to put the grounds in the filter basket the night before though. So not only are you grinding it the night before, you’re leaving the grounds exposed in the basket. Often they aren’t airtight so the coffee will degrade quite a bit more than if you’d keep the grounds in an airtight container.
A better (although more expensive) solution, is a coffee maker with a timer and a built-in grinder that automatically fills the filter basket. This gets around the whole grinding the night before the problem in the first place. The whole beans sit in the hopper on top of the machine. This is closed off so the beans stay fresh. You can set a timer at which time the machine grinds the beans and brews the coffee so it’s ready a few minutes later.
The downside of this is that you have to keep the machine on standby which uses a little bit of electricity. Also, these all-in-one machines need quite a lot of cleaning and because they fill the filter basket automatically, some places can be hard to reach.
Quiet electric grinder
An electric grinder makes pretty short work of the beans with very little effort. Hand grinding can be a bit of a pain in the morning but an electric grinder just takes the push of a button. It’ll grind enough coffee for your cup in a few seconds and is barely an extra effort over pre-ground coffee.
You might not want to weigh out enough beans for your morning coffee. You can do this the evening before. Put enough beans in the grinder and close the hopper. Most electric grinders have hoppers that are pretty airtight so not much taste is lost there. In the morning you just push the button and you know you’ve got enough coffee.
The only drawback of electric grinders is that some can be quite noisy. This can be a bit irritating in the morning. In general, higher-end grinders are quieter because they use better/stronger motors. A stronger motor needs to spin less fast to have the power to grind through the beans and is therefore quieter. Higher-quality motors will be quieter as well.
Hand grinders don’t have a motor and you get a higher quality grinder for less money than an electric one but you have to do the work yourself. Check out what a hand grinder costs here.
Another option is to prepare some cold brew the night before. Cold brew has a brighter, smoother taste that is great on a hot day. Cold brew is brewed by putting coarsely ground coffee in a jug of (cold/room temp) water and letting it hang out for hours. You can brew it in the fridge for up to 24 hours but if you want to prepare it the night before, it’s better to leave it outside of the fridge. In that case, 8-12 hours is enough. So if you prepare it before you go to bed or after dinner, you’ll have coffee the moment you wake up.
Just put the grounds in a container and add water. After that, leave it on the counter or put it in the fridge. Just make sure it’s closed airtight. If you don’t have a container that can be closed airtight, some Clingfilm will do the trick.
Most people drink cold brew served over ice so it’ll be cold. You can warm up cold brew by adding hot water but in my opinion, served over ice is better. As said, cold brew tastes much milder and smoother. There is almost no bitterness.
Don’t be fooled into thinking the light taste means there is not a lot of caffeine in cold brew. Cold brew actually has some of the highest amounts of caffeine per serving. Caffeine dissolves in water quite easily so cold brewing with its long steep time extracts all the caffeine the grounds have to give. The really bitter compounds in coffee (the taste most people associate with ‘strong’ coffee) come out last and need hot water to dissolve which is why cold brew is much less bitter than hot brewed coffee.