This is Why You Should Buy Whole Coffee Beans: Foodie Underground


Column Are you buying whole coffee beans, or a bunch of filler?

Let’s have a chat about coffee.

Coffee is one of those products that comes from far far away, but it’s one of the non-local items that I have chosen to not remove from my diet. There are other tropical goods I’d rather get rid of first – bananas I can live without for example – and when it comes to eating locally and in season, you have to pick your battles. In the battle of me versus coffee, coffee wins every single time.

Coffee is one of those products like chocolate: if you’re going to drink it, it’s very important to buy the good stuff, and not just for taste reasons. There are plenty of hidden costs in fast coffee. With an industry made up of mostly multinational corporations buying coffee based on price and not quality, it’s no surprise that the most vulnerable ones in coffee production are the people working to produce it, with lots of stories of worker exploitation from bad housing conditions to child labor.

Which means you want to know what you’re buying and who you’re buying it from. And if you needed yet another reason to buy whole coffee beans from roasters committed to ethical trade, instead of pre-packaged, pre-ground stuff from large corporations, here’s yet another one: the coffee you’re buying might not just be coffee.

New research from the American Chemical Society shows that if you’re buying pre-ground coffee there’s a pretty big chance that the coffee has other stuff in it.

Wood, barley, rye, corn, soybeans? These do not a coffee make, and yet according to the ACS, they’re commonly used as fillers in coffee. While the ingredients aren’t harmful to you the consumer, they’re all about making coffee more profitable for the companies producing them. “With a lower supply of coffee in the market, prices rise, and that favors fraud because of the economic gain,” research leader Suzana Lucy Nixdorf, Ph.D. said in a statement.

Of course if you buy pre-ground coffee, unless you’re kitted out with a set up to test for various chemical compounds in your coffee, you might never know that you’re drinking a rye, soybean, coffee blend. That’s because “after roasting and grinding the raw material, it becomes impossible to see any difference between grains of lower cost incorporated into the coffee, especially because of the dark color and oily texture of coffee,” says Nixdorf.

The ACS doesn’t identify who exactly is using filler in their coffee, so what’s your answer if you want to avoid filler? Buy whole beans.

Certainly, if you’re a coffee lover you know that buying whole beans and grinding them at home is a must if you want the best taste. But even if you’re not a coffee nerd, I think we can all agree that you don’t necessarily want to be drinking a soybean filler, now do you? Buy from roasters that know where their beans come from and are committed to not only making good coffee, but making sure that the people producing the coffee are able to make a fair living.

If you’re committed to real food, coffee should be yet another thing that you pay attention to. Vote with your fork and your coffee cop. And for the love of god, don’t buy coffee pods. 

Related on EcoSalon

12 Clever Ways to Reuse Coffee Grounds

Coffee Rust Means Coffee Beans Are Screwed, Thanks Climate Change

The Hidden Costs of Fast Coffee

This is the latest installment of Anna Brones’ weekly column at EcoSalon: Foodie Underground, an exploration of what’s new and different in the underground movement, and how we make the topic of good food more accessible to everyone. More musings on the topic can be found at

Image: American Chemical Society

Anna Brones

Anna Brones is a food + travel writer with a love for coffee and bikes. She is the author of The Culinary Cyclist and Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break. Catch her weekly column, Foodie Underground.