I get quite a few questions about storage of coffee, whether coffee can go off, and so on, and a recent question from a reader (thanks John) along these lines has prompted this post.
We buy and brew speciality coffee because of the taste, so allowing it to go stale and therefore allowing the taste to deteriorate, doesn’t sound like the best idea, so figuring out how best to store your coffee beans is a very good idea for all speciality coffee lovers.
When we’re talking about how to best store coffee, what we’re really referring to is how to keep coffee beans safe from moisture, air, light and heat, and from dramatic temperature variations. So we want to store coffee somewhere dry, away from direct light, away from heat and airtight, at a fairly consistent temperature.
No. Storing coffee in the fridge isn’t a great idea, because of the moisture present, and also because of the continual change in temperature which will occur every time you take the beans out of the fridge and then put them back in again.
N n n n n no, don’t make your coffee shiver ;-). For the same reason as above – but potentially on a bigger scale due to the higher temperature variations. In theory, if you were buying a load of coffee in bulk, then just storing in the freezer until you’re ready to use them, and then not putting them back in the freezer after, would be OK. But personally, I think it’s far better to just buy coffee in smaller batches, more regularly. I don’t like the idea of freezing coffee beans.
Vacuum sealed bag?
If you buy coffee from a supermarket, you may see some bags of coffee which have really long shelf lives, over 12 months in some cases, and often it’s the clever vacuum sealed bag which is given the credit for this.
There’s actually no evidence that vacuum sealing prevents coffee from ageing, so while a vacuum bag may keep a bag of coffee in a decent state for a month or so thanks to keeping it away from light, air and moisture (as long as it’s stored in an area of a fairly consistent temperature) after a month or so of the roast date it’s probably that the taste will begin deteriorating. Sure, it’ll be safe to drink when you pick it up off a supermarket shelf a year after it was roasted, but it’s unlikely to taste the same.
So how should I store my coffee?
If you’re buying your coffee from a UK small batch coffee roaster, it will probably come in a re-sealing pouch, and it’ll probably have a de-gassing valve to allow any c02 to escape. The best idea, in my opinion, to ensure your lovely freshly roasted coffee beans are safe from air, light, moisture and heat, is to keep them in their bag, but also put the bag into an airtight container such as a Tupperware box, or any other airtight container, and to keep this in a fairly cool and dark place where the temperature will be fairly consistent. This could be any cupboard or drawer, as long as it’s not a moist area and as long as the temperature is fairly constant.
Can coffee go off, or go “bad”.
Well, not really. Not in the same sense as food, whereby if you were to consume it in a certain state it could cause illness. Coffee is made up of a huge amount of compounds, and some of these compounds can deteriorate over time, which will generally cause a flattening off of the aromas and flavours.
If you’re buying freshly roasted coffee beans, and storing your coffee properly, and if you’re storing whole coffee beans and grinding prior to use, which is definitely the best way to go about brewing speciality coffee, then you should be able to consume your coffee over a period of 4-6 weeks, and potentially up to a couple of months, or maybe even slightly longer, without a deterioration in flavour.
Grind Your Own Coffee
There’s really no way around this, if you’re wanting to brew speciality coffee at home, you really should be grinding your own coffee. You’re not going to get the same aroma and flavour, if you buy pre-ground coffee. You can’t dial in (meaning to adjust the grind to get the best flavour with a specific bean) if you’re buying pre-ground, so you don’t have the same control over the brew, and coffee deteriorates faster once its ground.
The reason for this is that much less surface area of the coffee bean is susceptible to the elements that can cause the coffee to age, when it’s in whole bean form, compared to once it is ground.
If you’re not grinding your own, you really should be aiming to keep your coffee for no longer than a couple of weeks, even if very well stored.
Buy Little and Often
There isn’t a huge financial or other benefit in buying speciality coffee in larger quantities, so it makes sense to buy your coffee in smaller amounts, more regularly. This is one of the reasons I’m so keen on coffee subscriptions, and I rarely have a bag of coffee for more than a week once it’s been open, in fact it’s probably quite a bit less than that! 😉
Buy Freshly Roasted Coffee Beans
When we’re referring to compounds in coffee starting to degrade after a certain period, causing the flavour to flatten off, we’re referring to how long it has been since the coffee was roasted. When you buy your coffee from a small batch roaster, you’re usually getting it from a few days to a couple of weeks after roasting, which is why I say you’ve probably got 4-6 weeks or probably longer before this starts to happen, when you buy from a small batch roaster.
When you buy supermarket coffee, though, with display by dates of 12 months of longer, you have no idea when the coffee was roasted. It may well be the case that it didn’t even reach the supermarket until a couple of months after roasting, by which time the flavour is already much more bland. This is possibly why supermarket, commodity coffee doesn’t taste anywhere near as vibrant as freshly roasted coffee.
So there you go, you now know how to properly store your coffee :-),
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