Pre ground the devils work, or a stairway to heaven?

A blog post tonight set my mind thinking. Its a fairly new blog, but high hopes for it, for sure at the link here called Bean Here, Bean There.

It talks about how fairtrade might not be all that, and about coffee ethics the kind of stuff I enjoy. Then popped on the end it talked about pre ground and it said

As an industry, I think we need to start practicing what we preach; refuse to sell ground coffee to the public in all forms. We wouldn’t dare to prepare an espresso for guests at our cafe’s using pre-ground coffee so why is it suddenly acceptable to sell pre-ground for domestic use? How much respect do you have for your coffee if you are the retailer and willing to take money for it? I’ll dub it coffee prostitution; selling your integrity for a little money!

Ouch! so it inspired

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  1. Agree about ground coffee – I don’t think I’d have started drinking nice coffee unless the roaster I used could do preground. I wonder if the cost of some grinders is an issue, though? – spending £100+ on a grinder is hard/impossible for many to consider…let alone when you ‘need’ one at work, one at home, one to take on holiday etc 😉

    Would it be helpful to have some cheaper grinders to consider? – things like Le Cafetiere’s manual grinder can do fine for french press/filter, and a blade grinder (which far from ideal) is still better than preground imo. None of these will give you consistently optimum results – but I do think they’re a lot better than preground which will be consistently stale. You could do a £30 ‘starter bag’, inc a basic grinder and some beans 🙂

  2. Could not agree more Steve!

    Didn’t have a grinder at home till Christmas, still only use (and can sensibly afford) a hand grinder, but before that enjoyed some lovely stuff as pre-ground. No, it was not as good as whole beans, yes it lost a lot of character very quickly – but as my friends who got filter (pre-ground) packs for Christmas will atest – it was the best coffee I / the’ve had, ever, to that point – and Steve has at least two new customers as a result. As an industry we must never close ourselves off to people who don’t meet our ‘expectations’ as customers – what a daft way of doing business that would be! Bring on those conversations!

  3. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by hasbean: Lazy blog post (audioboo)on pre ground coffee but I am shattered…

  4. As much as i would find it very hard to go back to buying pre-ground, i still believe it has its place on the market. If it wasn’t for pre-ground i would not have got into brewing coffee at home, and i think for many of us enthusiasts it is the platform from which we start our quest for coffee heaven.

    My friends and family enjoy the flavours that come with the freshness of my home roasted, ground on demand brews. However i know they would be less inclined than i would to notice the differences between that and a bag of pre-ground from their Hasbean subscription pack, and they certainly wouldn’t spend the money i have done on roasters/grinders to bridge taste gap.

    Granted, supermarket pre-ground i wouldn’t recommend to anyone. However i believe great speciality companies such as Hasbean who have the highest respect for their coffees and roast and grind just before shipping, should continue to sell pre-ground, as eliminating customers who may not currently own a grinder, is counterproductive to their business and the industry as a whole.

    I think there is a flipside to this argument, in that although most coffee shops do grind on demand, there is no guarantee over the quality or freshness of the beans being ground. Therefore if i didn’t own a grinder i would always have more confidence in the cup quality of a pre-ground zip locked bag of Cachoeira from Hasbean, than a freshly ground shot of potentially poor quality beans from a local cafe.

  5. I agree whole heartedly with everyone above 🙂 Pre-ground might not be ideal for flavour, but it’s perfect for easy access. All you need is a few quid spent on a cafetiere and you’ve got everything you need.

    I’m also personally a fan of the blade grinder for similar reasons. I used a nice blade grinder for quite a while before I finally upgraded this Christmas to an electric burr grinder. Again, that’s not to say the blade grinder is a great grinder, but at £10-£30 it’s much more accessible to people who want to see what a step up from pre-ground can bring.

  6. Good to hear your thoughts on this Steve.
    I thinks it’s great that Has Bean does go to the effort of offering pre-ground and it definitely does ‘start the conversation’ as you said.
    Although I plan to buy a decent grinder at some point I wouldn’t have been able to get into the world of these great coffees without the pre-ground option and I’m sure that’s the case for a lot of people, it’s the ‘gateway drug’ 😉
    Also, the pre-ground I’ve had from you so far is a world away from anything available in a supermarket (all too coarse for espresso anyway) and incomparable.
    Actually got my eye on the excellent looking kyocera ceramic hand grinder but can only find it available from the US, any plans to offer this on the shop?

  7. Hi Tom

    We stocked the Hario one (which for me is slightly better than the Kyocera), but sold out way too quick but going to get some more

  8. What a bold statement that blogger made. To call ground coffee “coffee prostitution” is surprising. I agree with you Steve, it is not the world’s best coffee, and whole bean or single cup brewers are definitely a better solution. Yet ground coffee is still far better than instant coffee.

  9. I have a bog standard Delonghi KG39 grinder, around £20 and it does the job just grand. No snobbery about how many 100’s it cost, brand name etc. Affordable, easy to use and grinds to your exact needs. Doubt I change it. 😉

  10. I’ll hold my hand up and admit I get my coffee pre-ground from you, but that’s mainly so I can drink good coffee at work.
    My boss allows me and a few other caffeine freaks to go and brew our nice coffee a few times a day as a team building kind of thing that takes a bit longer than some instant coffee , but if I turned up with a grinder at work she’d freak (and so would everyone else in earshot of a grinder in the open plan office).
    Still gotta grind my own espresso at home at the weekends though 🙂

    And no, I’m not about to grind my coffee every morning before I go to work, I forget my sandwiches often enough, not taking the risk on my coffee.

  11. Steven, it is nice to hear your thoughts on Pre-Ground. I will say, as a home user I love the fact that i can get a massive variety of pre-ground stuff from yourself. It was an excellent way of getting into higher grade coffee for me. I have just purchased a Hario Mini Mill, so before this month is out, i will be putting in another order with you, but this one will contain a bag of roasted beans.
    I like the progression of going from supermarket ground, to a quality supplier ground, and then onto a whole bean, and maybe one day an unroasted. I think the way i have done it has allowed me to realise the difference in quality every time.
    It is akin to starting with a stove top or French Press, then going to a pourover, then a cheapy little espresso machine, then a good middle range machine and maybe even a higher priced, superior quality one. Every time you are taking the next step in quality and not just jumping in with both feet and hoping for the best result, and when you don’t get that result, reverting back to drinking Starbucks and selling your machine for a lot less than you paid.
    I suppose in a perfect world, a quality supplier would love to be able to not sell pre-ground, but then off the back of that, is the supply and demand thing. If you didn’t do it, would people go elsewhere to get all their coffe needs.
    Keep up the good work and look forward to hearing more thoughts. Darren:)

  12. I don’t generally use pre-ground, but it does have a good position and an entry and convenience product. Take for example an Aeropress – that is great for camping, but you are not expecting someone to take a grinder too? I like my coffee, but even I would stop at that.
    Keep up the good work Steve.

    PS : When is the Android app coming…..enough of that iPhone thing!

  13. Just because a product is ‘inferior’ doesn’t mean there’s a market it for it. If all retailers took that stand:
    Nissan would not sell Micras, only 350Zs
    Tesco would only sell “Finest”, not value (in fact not only could they not then call it “Finest”, there would cease to be “Value”)
    Carphone Warehouse would cease to stock anything other than HTC Android phones!

    The list could go on…

  14. Alistair,

    It’s all about choice (and opinion) – and I think that’s the point.

    The market CLEARLY exists – that’s why Steve and a million other places still pre-ground coffee…

    Someone may drink pre-ground, not knowing that there’s a ‘superior’ choice – and even if they do, they may not consider it superior – they may prefer pre-ground or instant even?!

    The convenience of pre-ground may rate higher than the importance of taste or freshness…

    ‘Inferior’ is subjective – and to use your example – if I want an economical, greener car a Micra fits the bill – you might consider it inferior to a 350Z (or a 360Z) because you’re judging it on your standards where perhaps speed, and power beats economy and subtlety?

    I’m just glad I can get freshly roasted coffee to my door and grind it at home, as I need it – and yes, I do mean NEED.

    Having said that, now I feel I’m starting to understand what makes good coffee, I just want everyone else to catch on too!

  15. The definition of snobbery retail is when someone doesn’t understand “the customer is always right”.

    I don’t work in retail, and I imagine this mantra is something that irks retailers an awful lot. But the fact of the matter is that it makes business sense to adopt this position, whether you like it or not.

    Here’s why Steve’s response is right:

    a) I would NEVER buy pre-ground coffee now. I have 4 grinders for home use and it’s something that I would never compromise on.

    b) I used to drink Starbucks. Hell, I used to buy pre-ground coffee from Starbucks, thinking it made me all posh and that I was doing something ‘new’ and exciting that other people didn’t. I used a Bialetti Moka Express on a stove, no less. Like many Italians do.

    Naturally this last point makes me cringe when I think about it now.

    My point is that it’s a journey.

    In order to engage people and bring them into coffee, wean them off coffee chains, stop them thinking the good stuff is like petrol to their systems but rather something to be cherished and loved, you have to draw them in.

    So yeh – if you want to look like a right arse and be snobby as hell, tell your customers you don’t sell ground coffee because your standards are too high.

    And watch them walk out the door and never come back again.

  16. I agree that we should advocate home grinding to our customers and encourage them to do so. I also agree we should leave the pre-ground pre-packaged to the supermarkets. But I do think we need to offer ground coffee as an option if the customer wants it. Why? 1. Many customers just don’t have or can afford a grinder, that shouldn’t mean we then exclude them from being able to buy some coffee from us 2. For a while, a few years back I was dying to use a new espresso machine Id bought for home, just couldnt afford the grinder, the friendly local coffee shop helped out by grinding some beans for me, wasnt ideal but i enjoyed coffee ay home 3. As much as we advocate home grinding some people will still want to take some ground coffee home, introducing them to a nice ‘Has bean’ blend, ground on the shop deli grinder is bettter than the customer buying supermarket pre-ground 4. It means we get a sale for the farmer, who really wants / needs us to sell his beans in whatever form. In conclusion, no, we shouldn’t sell pre-packaged pre-ground, yes, we should encourage customers to grind themselves, but yes we should offer to grind the beans if the customer can’t afford a grinder:)

  17. Totally agree Steve! I am one of those customers that came in for the pre-ground coffee, since I didn’t know a lot about coffee yet, but I knew enough to know supermarket coffee is not good. The road to more knowledge is greatly ‘sponsored’ by you, the blogs, the inmymug episodes, the 10 day coffee course. And now I’m planning to buy a grinder. It is a gradual process. People can’t be expected to immediately jump from one extreme to the other, and you provide this ‘journey’ (with the best customer service I’ve seen, ever).

  18. I must say I am on the fence about pre-ground, of course it’s wonderful when you can grind freshly on-the-spot but I can recall numerous times when that hasn’t been an option and the taste has never suffered so dramatically for it.

  19. One thing: what makes a coffee shop smells so good is the coffee being grounded…

  20. I generally agree with Steve when it comes to sell pre ground coffee. However, as mentioned in another post – having a grinder in our office would be a no go. Hand grinding for 4 cups is also not really an option.

    Of cause the coffee I take with me to the office is freshly ground in my Guatemala each morning and prepared in either a V60 or the Aeropress. Some collegues were asking if I could pre grind coffee for them. I have to admit that confronting them with a straight “NO !” was no option either.

    So I always advocate at least a hand grinder such as the Hario Mini or Skerton but from time to time I do them the favour and get them a 125 gram sealed bag to be consumed within the next two days.

    It’s IMHO O.K when they notice that the pre ground coffee carefully prepared and served by me in the office is far superior to everything available elsewhere in the company.

    I advocate whole beans generally but leave it to their own decission what’s right for them.

  21. As with most ‘real coffee’ drinkers I started off with pre-ground coffee, and of course it does have its place. But grinding your own takes your favourite beverage to a whole new level. Now while I do not have a particularly brilliant taste palette when I drink pre-ground coffee at a friend’s I can tell there is something missing.

    I use a Delonghi KG79 grinder which balances price against quality quite well, and to brew I am an Aeropress devotee.

  22. I do not see a problem with selling pre ground coffee for say an Aeropress, French press or Kalita type pour over equiptment. I would however draw the line at selling pre ground for espresso machines, this just does not work.

    I also think the cost of a decent grinder is an issue when trying to entice the masses to buy whole beans. Someone above mentioned the cost being in excess of 100 pounds, try 350-400 pounds for a good grinder that can accommadate both espresso and filter and even that is lower end. This imo is one of the main sumbling blocks to enticing the masses to buy ing whole beans.

  23. If you want to sell only whole bean then you need to be prepared to sell grinders at cost or below if you can manage.

    You might be limited by lowest advertised price restrictions, but make it a deal like 2 free bags of coffee, and let people choose when they get their two bags. Some people don’t go through coffee like water.

    Or to go below cost, free grinder with a prepaid subscription.

    Basically, if you are truly a die hard believer in only grinding fresh then put your money where you mouth is and don’t be a snarky little…

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