Whole Bean Coffees

Written by Helen Glenn Court
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Few would argue about the attributes of well-roasted whole bean coffees over some of their processed and canned cousins lining the grocery store shelves. The trick is keeping coffee fresh. Where green coffee beans--which is what they are all until after the roasting process--keep their freshness for as long as two years, roasted beans do not.

Once roasted, whole bean coffees begin to lose their vibrant fresh aroma and taste after several days, a week at the outside. This means, in the case of the mass producers for grocery stores, canning the ground beans to ensure a long shelf life. Long translates to about a year or two. Careful packaging of whole beans in airtight hermetically sealed bags, such as what you see in gourmet coffee shops (whether local or national), achieves much the same thing.

Whole Bean Coffee: Grinding and Brewing

Still, all in all, if you want to experience the ultimate in coffee, there's nothing to compare to beans roasted properly and within the last few days. Ideally the beans won't be ground until it's time to brew the coffee. However subtle the difference might seem to be between the two, whole beans will retain freshness longer than ground beans. The reason is the greater oxidation that occurs in coffee once it is ground. The greater the surface area of the bean exposed to air, the greater the release of carbon dioxide, and the faster the dissipation of the coffee aroma and taste.

Just as critical as proper roasting is in the processing of a fine crop of coffee beans, so is grinding the whole beans for brewing. The grind depends in part on the roast and in part on the type of coffee drink you want. For an espresso, to take one example, you need a very fine grind. For Turkish roast, you need almost a powder. There are two types of grinder, and the choice makes a difference. The less expensive blade grinders we see the most often spin like an airplane propeller blade. Getting the right consistency is largely a matter of look and feel. With burr grinders, however, you determine the fineness of the grind by the settings, and see far more consistent results.

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