It’s the age-old debate, isn’t it? Ground coffee or whole bean? I’ve been trying to discover how to make the best cup of coffee and answer the most important question in the debate, which is cheaper, whole bean or ground coffee?
Ground coffee is cheaper than whole bean coffee due to higher demand and the use of additives to produce a lower quality product. Although some may argue that production costs are lower and most whole bean coffee is locally sourced, the fact is that you pay less for pre-ground coffee.
The question, however, becomes a lot more interesting when you ask whether you’re getting better value for your money with whole bean coffee. And, while each person has their own preferences, it certainly seems like going the whole bean route delivers a significantly superior cup of coffee.
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How do the Prices Compare?
A 20 ounce bag of Starbucks’ Veranda ground coffee costs $12.40 ($0.62/oz), while the same brand’s whole bean bags cost $28.12($1.40/oz). For interest sake, a 50-pack of Nespresso pods (42.5 ounces)cost $34.09 ($0.80/oz).
Prices differ across different stores and depending on which brands you prefer, but the discrepancy is pretty much the same, regardless of blends or brands.
So, if you’re not fussy about your coffee, you’re definitely better off sticking to ground coffee.
The reason ground coffee is cheaper is that most people will settle for lower quality coffee that often has wheat, soy beans, barley, corn and other additives, according to The American Chemical Society. And this means you not only have an inferior cup of coffee, but you’re getting less of a kick from your caffeine.
Time is Money
The other problem with grinding your own whole beans is that it’s time consuming, and some people don’t really want to go through a whole process to get that super nice cup of coffee, or if you really need to get to work and can’t spare the extra 10 minutes, that’s a whole extra expense.
The beauty of ground coffee is that it’s quick and easy and you have to take into account whether whole bean coffee has an extra cost involved that can’t really be quantified in dollars. Then again, the additional productivity that a great, strong cup of coffee (which is inevitable with a well-brewed cup) could make your day far more productive.
What About the Appliances?
What you really want to get your hands on is a burr grinder, which, depending on what brand you want can cost anywhere between $19 and $100. But, bear in mind that it’s a long-term investment and they usually are durable enough to make about 50,000 cups of coffee. You can also get manual burr grinders, which may be a cheaper option.
The cheapest grinder you can find, is an electric razor grinder, but your coffee grounds are inconsistent. A manual burr grinder falls into the mid-level price range and lasts the longest. An electric burr grinder is the most expensive, but they give you consistent grind sizes and yield the best results.
Is Whole Bean Better Than Ground Coffee?
Yes. There is no doubt that it’s better by all accounts. And you can do so much more, simply because you can grind your beans at different ground sizes, very fine, fine, medium-fine, medium-coarse and coarse. Different coffee brewing processes require differenr coffee grind sizes.
The most common ground coffee that you’ll find in the grocery store is a one-size-fits-all grind size (fine) and only is really ideal for an auto drip. If you want Turkish coffee, Espressos, or a Moka pot, you need finer grounds and you need coarse or medium ground coffee for Pour over, Aeropress, French press, and cold brews. Here’s a look at the different grind-sizes that you should use, according to the appliances that you’re using:
Fine to extra fine
Fine (regular ground coffee)
Coarse to medium fine
Coarse to medium
Over and above this, because coffee is roasted and is packed with carbon dioxide, exposing your coffee to oxygen makes it stale. This means that the moment your ground coffee reaches the end of its shelf-life it’s already been exposed to too much oxygen. That’s why you should be using airtight containers to store your ground coffee. However, if you’re grinding whole beans yourself, your bigger beans are less susceptible to being exposed to oxygen and is fresher by the time it’s been ground up and will remain so for up to an hour after it’s ground up.
How Whole Bean Coffee Can End up Being Cheaper
Because whole beans are less susceptible to being contaminated and exposed to oxygen, you can store them for far longer and buy in bulk. If you only drink a cup or two everyday, then you can buy enough coffee to last yourself months, and wholesale prices are far cheaper than buying them one bag at a time.
And because ground coffee goes stale within minutes of you taking it out of its packaging, you can’t buy in bulk. And, while you have the choice of grinding your whole beans to whatever grind-size you please, if you’re wanting to experiment with different aromas and brewing styles, you would have to buy different bags of ground coffee, depending on what you want.
Finding the Perfect Cup of Coffee
Like I said at the beginning of this article, this venture is about more than discovering which option between whole bean and ground coffee is cheaper, but it’s also about finding out what the perfect brew is. The truth is… it’ll be a lot more expensive to discover the perfect cup with pre-ground coffee, because you have to buy several different bags to try out different brewing styles. If you’re getting roasted, whole beans, however, you are able to mix it up at a lower cost.
You can make your coffee more bitter, sour and stronger or weaker by brewing at different speeds, according to grind-size. Bitter coffee is a consequence of over-extracted coffee, while sour coffee is under-extracted. If you spend enough time experimenting, over time your coffee gets better, you find some balance and figure out exactly what you want. Each cup of coffee gets better by the day.
But, if you’re satisfied with having the same old cup of coffee every day and don’t really want to get into the artisan stuff, your wallet will appreciate it. But it’s down to you if you decide that the more complicated process of coffee brewing is worth the extra effort and the higher prices.
So, as you can see, determining whether ground coffee or whole bean coffee is not an open and closed case. It depends on your tastes, what you’re looking for, which appliances you’re using and whether you want to experiment and find out exactly what the perfect cup of coffee for you is. But, the long and the short of it, all things remaining equal, is that ground coffee is cheaper. Whole beans just seem to provide better value for money.