Espresso Shots Compared: Fresh Ground vs. Pre-ground Coffee

September 30, 2016

Now I got to thinking about this after reading comments on a video I did last week which compared the same coffee ground fresh and pulled in a standard non-pressurized basket and a pressurized basket. If you missed that one use the link up here to watch it.

For this comparison I’ll once again be using the Gaggia Classic which is my favorite for best value entry level machine and the Gaggia MDF grinder. The MDF is a solid low cost grinder that pairs well with the Classic. The coffee I’ll be using is Maromas Orphea. It’s an Italian style blend, that’s chocolaty without bitterness, easy to work with, produces lots of crema, is well reviewed and sells for around ten dollars a pound.

So here’s what I did. 2 days ago I ground some Orphea on the MDF, sealed it up and set it aside. I used the same grind setting that was producing beautiful and tasty double shots at the time.

Fast forward to today and I’ll use that pre-ground and brew it 2 ways and you’ll see those extractions in sync with the same coffee, from the same bag that’s ground fresh right before the extraction.

To set the scene, on the left is the fresh ground, in the middle is the 2 day old grinds in a standard basket and on the right, the 2 day old grinds in a pressurized basket. I’m including the pressurized basket as that’s how many will brew when using a pre-ground coffee. Now I shot these earlier and I’ll freeze playback a couple times so I can point out what’s going on.

So off the bat all the drips start at the same time. Now lets freeze. What I notice on the left the fresh ground streams are thicker, really bubbling with a rich crema.

On the right the pressurized basket is already starting to thin out. Okay let's stop here. At 10 seconds in, on the right, crema bubbles in the pressurized basket are larger. That’s typical of that type of basket which fakes the crema to some extent by pushing all the coffee through one tiny little hole which causes it to form the bubbles. In the middle, the standard basket with 2 day old grinds is starting to develop a blonder layer of crema on top while the fresh ground on the left is uniform in color.

The fresh ground is nearly all uniform crema, in the middle stratification is very evident and the pressurized basket has less crema and a layer of larger bubbles taking over the top of the shot at 16 seconds.

At about 20 seconds our shots are looking very different but coming at the same speed. Now one note, I had to reduce the dose in the middle shot to 15 grams. I tried it with 17 and a half a few times and was getting very close to choking the machine. Not sure why, but guessing the pre-ground may have dried out some and tamped tighter.

Continuing on to the end at 26 to 27 seconds. The shots clearly have very different looks. on the right, the fresh ground is at least 80 percent solid crema. In the middle, the crema is quickly subsiding with a very blonde top. On the right the pressurized shot has a darker airier top layer of the faked crema. But underneath it’s blonder and subsiding faster than the other shots.

So the shots look very different, but how did they taste? While I tell you about that, let me take you to what the shots looked like at about 2 minutes from extraction. All ended with similar volumes. Taste wise, the fresh ground was wonderful, chocolaty, balanced and had a rich mouthfeel. The middle shot was predictably thinner, and the flavor was off, missing the boldness of the fresh ground. The shot on the right from the pre-ground? Well it just wasn’t good at all. Very thin, bland, watery, disappointing and frankly undrinkable compared to the fresh ground.

So the takeaway from this? A fresh grind makes a huge difference! if you run into a coffee you really like at a cafe don’t bother having them grind it for you and making it at home - you will likely be disappointed. Only buy the whole beans and grind them yourself and do that right before making your espresso.

Thanks for watching and I hope you’ll come back soon for more of the good stuff on everything coffee.