The whole reason we do what we do is to share with our customers what we believe to be the world’s best coffees.
A crucial part of this mission is presenting those coffees in the best possible light, and to do so, we make countless decisions about all facets of the process.
Those decisions begin at choosing which producers we’ll buy from, which varieties we’ll feature, when in the season they’ll be released, and how we’ll roast each coffee. They also cover deciding how the raw coffee will be stored, and the roasted coffee packaged, described, and distributed to home and wholesale customers everywhere.
Every decision has an impact on how that coffee (and in turn, the producer’s work) is enjoyed. It’s our job to make choices that will best showcase the variety selection, growing, processing, and roasting for our customers everywhere.
One of these choices has always sat poorly with us, and we’ve recently changed our minds on a long-held policy. From today, we’ll no longer be offering pre-ground coffee through our webshop.
A few months back I had an illuminating conversation with Campbell Burton — a friend who imports some truly incredible wines into Australia.
I'd assumed that once the wines arrived from Europe, Campbell would get them straight onto his shelves for selling. As it happens, the wines need time to rest and relax after their journey so they're often warehoused for 18-months or longer. When pressed as to why, Campbell offered:
"I just feel that everyone who opens a bottle of wine that we've imported deserves to experience it at its peak. And sometimes that means we need to rest those wines for up to 18 months (and longer, in many cases). We could of course release the wines as soon as they arrive but it's our personal preference to really allow them sufficient time to find harmony again after shipping so that customers can enjoy them here in the same state of complexity, depth and energy as when they left Europe... which is the state that caused us to first fall in love with them."
Immediately, there were correlations to the choices we make in our business, ultimately on behalf of the coffees we buy and the people who grow them. Beyond choosing great coffee and roasting it as well as we can, presenting it to our customers in the best possible condition is a big part of our role.
My belief is that pre-grinding almost never contributes to that goal.
While pre-ground coffee only accounts for about 5% of our online sales, we’ve always felt a bit uneasy about essentially guessing at a grind setting, running the beans through the burrs, and sending the order out into the world.
The likelihood is that it’ll be at least four days before that coffee is brewed, and potentially up to a month. While well-packaged whole bean coffee is excellent up to six weeks off roast (and often much longer), ground coffee is a different matter entirely.
Immediately upon grinding, the coffee is oxidising, becoming stale, and losing a great many of the qualities that we were hoping to showcase. While the importance of coffee being freshly roasted is usually overstated (that’s a whole other topic), few things will ruin the aromatics and sweetness in a cup more quickly and effectively than grinding the coffee days or weeks in advance.
While it's important when you grind, how you grind your coffee also has a significant bearing on the results in your cup. Brewing coffee to a high standard is the overlay of multiple inter-connected factors, including but not limited to; the chosen coffee and it’s age off roast, the brewer and filter, the coffee-to-water ratio, your technique, and crucially, the grind size.
By sending out coffee ground for ‘plunger’ or ‘pour-over’, we're only ever able to account for one of those factors. Maybe the stars will align and the grind will be perfect for your set up and recipe, but the statistics say this is unlikely and it's no longer something we’re comfortable leaving to chance.
I sincerely feel that the small effort required to grind coffee to order is vastly outweighed by the rewards of countless fresher, better-tasting cups.
Given that excellent hand grinders now retail from around $100 and make such a dramatic increase in quality, it's an investment that you're unlikely to regret.