Coffee beans beat ground coffee and ground coffee beats instant coffee every time but in order to understand why we need to understand a little about the history of the world’s favourite beverage in order to understand the difference between the different coffee types.
Coffee has been around and drunk as a beverage for 500 years and was first introduced into the English language in 1582 from the Dutch word “koffie”.
The first coffee shop being opened in London in 1652 and the rest, as they say, is history.
There were no Cappuccino’s or Latte’s in those days just coffee beans imported from Turkey.
In the 1600’s and 1700’s in London and Paris you couldn’t drink water without contracting some kind of horrible parasitic disease and so most people drank alcohol instead of water. Then in the industrial revolution of the 1800’s a large percentage of the population worked in factory’s which is not something you could do whilst drunk without risking losing an arm
This lead to an even bigger rise in coffee consumption as the caffeine had a stimulant effect which allowed people to concentrate and focus for longer.
People in those days believed that coffee had medicinal benefits and I would argue today that this holds true. The caffeine kick that I get every morning from my freshly brewed cup of coffee certainly makes me feel better than I did before I drink it!
We drink over 2 billion cups of coffee worldwide every day and wherever you will be able to observe someone drinking a cup of their favourite brew.
From McDonald’s to the world’s finest restaurants coffee is so integrated into society that it has become by far the world’s most popular drink
The coffee shop explosion began in the 1980’s. Starbucks is the biggest player with over 9000 shops in 40 countries and now if you live in or around any large city throughout the world it is impossible to visit any high street without coming across 3 or more coffee shops which will try and entice you in with the unmistakable smell of freshly ground coffee and an array of snack-based treats.
The coffee shop has now evolved into much more than a place to grab a drink. It has become a place where you can catch up with friends and even a place where, for the price of a cup of coffee go and sit for as long as you like and even do a day’s work there. Just for a change of environment from my home I often go down to the local Costa Coffee or Starbucks or Café Nero for a good 3 to 4 hours and pull out the laptop, connect to the Wi-Fi and they even have plugs to keep you going for as long as you want.
In case you didn’t know coffee is grown on a large plant or bush. It actually comes in the form of a cherry. It is ripe and good to harvest when it reaches a cherry colour like in this image
The coffee beans are actually the seeds of the cherry with two beans inside each cherry. This is the raw product that then gets roasted and turned into one of 3 different types of coffee that gets sold on to you and me.
Coffee beans, Ground coffee and instant coffee are the three different types that are available for purchase from any supermarket or food store.
However, what you will notice is that instant coffee is not available from coffee shops and there is a very good reason for that. It’s simply not as good
Instant coffee vs ground coffee is like a rump steak vs a fillet steak. One is tough and doesn’t have a huge amount of flavour and the other is sweet and juicy and succulent.
Instant coffee has been around for a little over 100 years and was introduced into the market to satisfy the ever increasing demands for something cheap and quick.
Unfortunately, when you combine cheap and quick that normally does not equate to good.
In order to get the price down manufacturers will use a lower quality bean which then goes through a process to get it into the freeze-dried version has hot water added to release the flavour that has been “frozen”.
Using low-quality coffee beans is like the difference between a cheeseburger from McDonald’s and a juicy Aberdeen Angus steak burger. There is no comparison.
Coffee starts to lose its flavour form the moment that the bean is ground. When you put a low-quality bean through the entire production process and then freeze it at -50 degrees and then put it into a jar you are going to lose a huge amount of quality.
In our opinion, instant coffee is for drinking not for enjoying.
If you want to start to taste coffee and really enjoy it rather than just go through the motions then we would recommend that you make the step to trying ground coffee.
Ground Coffee does not get put through all of the stuff that instant goes through before it goes into the jar that you buy at the supermarket.
The coffee beans are ground and then quickly vacuum packed and sealed in order to retain as much freshness as possible.
Remember that coffee starts to lose its freshness as soon as it is ground so although this is better than instant coffee if you are looking for a premium drink that will enable you to not just enjoy but savour each sip of coffee then the way to go is definitely beans.
This is where it really starts to get interesting. Roasted coffee beans vacuum-packed and ready for you to grind yourself will give you by far the best coffee experience.
You will never see Starbucks or Costa or Café Nero or any half-decent coffee shop using pre-ground coffee to make your cappuccino or latte (instant is obviously out of the question)
Coffee will retain its flavour for longest whilst in whole bean format. What you need to be looking for when you buy whole coffee beans is the production date or roasting date. This is different from what you would normally do which is check the use by date.
Always try and buy coffee where the production date is no more than about a month from the date you make the purchase. This way you will get the best possible flavour due to the freshness of the bean.
There are different things that make up a good coffee bean.
Arabica and Robusta beans are the two best species of coffee bean with Arabica widely recognised to be the best.
So anything that is 100% Arabica is a good place to start.
When you start to get to the more top end of the market there are things like bean size. The bigger the bean the higher the quality of coffee it will produce
The higher the altitude a bean is grown at then the slower they mature and the better the flavour. Also, the fewer defects that a bean has the better it will be.
But this stuff is all for the coffee connoisseur.
Stick to buying beans that have been roasted recently and are 100% Arabica and you be will getting something that is miles better than anything that is pre-ground or instant.
How to turn coffee beans into coffee
Ok, so hopefully I have convinced you that coffee beans are the way to go but how do you turn them into an espresso, cappuccino or latte?
There are a large number of different options but before I go through the 3 most popular the first thing you need to do is grind the coffee. You can either do this yourself or fully automate the process with a bean to cup coffee machine
If you want to replicate the coffee shop experience as closely as possible then buy yourself a coffee grinder
These vary in price from really cheap up to hundreds of pounds. Avoid a blade grinder if you can afford it and go for a burr grinder. You will get a much better quality of grind that will lead to a much better cup of coffee.
That’s what they have in Starbucks so why not do the same? If you do it right then you will spend about 1/10th of what you pay there and will get yourself a coffee that tastes the same.
The easiest way to make a coffee with freshly ground beans is with a cafetiere. This brewing method requires a coarser grind which can be tailored specifically with a burr grinder.
Next, you have a pump espresso machine. This is what they use in the coffee shops. You actually don’t need to spend that much money to get a decent one so if you don’t mind spending a little time grinding the coffee and then placing it into a portafilter and into the espresso machine, this is our number 1 recommendation if you want to replicate the coffee shop experience at home.
If that all sounds like a bit too much hassle then for the ultimate indulgence treat yourself to a bean to cup coffee machine.
All of the grinding is done for you by the coffee machine and a lot of them are literally one touch. It’s a great way to experience the freshly ground coffee experience without having to think.
Has this convinced you to make the switch from instant to ground or ground to whole beans?
How important is the whole coffee experience to you? Is it just a drink or is it a lot more than that?
Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.