I get quite a few questions relating to which is the best coffee storage solution, 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.
Nope. 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 ;-). Well, actually It depends here if you’re talking about long-term storage in bulk, or everyday coffee storage.
The freezer is probably the worse place to store your coffee when it comes to everyday storage, because of the continual severe temperature variations that will occur each time you take the bag of coffee from the freezer and then put them back again.
If you’re thinking of storing longer term in the freezer, whereby you will just leave the coffee in the freezer until you’re ready to use it, and then remove it and not put it back in the freezer, then I can’t see an issue with this, however this post is more about normal every-day coffee storage, i.e. what do you do with your coffee after you’ve made one until you come to make the next one.
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 usually have a de-gassing valve to allow any c02 to escape. These work great when they’re still sealed, but I often find that once they’re opened, resealing them and keeping them sealed can be a bit hit and miss. I have regularly returned to a bag I know I sealed, to find it partially open, so I don’t think the bags are the best solution either to be honest.
Tupperware box or other airtight box?
I think putting the bag into a Tupperware box or other air tight container is fine, this way even if it doesn’t seal properly once you’ve opened it, it doesn’t matter. I’d then recommend keeping 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. Yes, there will be some gas that needs to escape, which is coming from the valve in the bag, but if you’re opening it daily I doubt this is an issue.
Coffee Storage Canister?
These specialist coffee storage solutions are airtight containers which have one-way degassing valves, to vent out the Co2 being released from the freshly roasted coffee. They usually also have a date wheel on the top too so you can keep track of how fresh your coffee is. Looks cool, not a bad option if you want something like this, and fairly handy for travelling with too.
You don’t really need a custom coffee storage device of course, you can use a Tupperware box or any canister or storage device which is airtight, just keep in mind that the fresher the coffee is (how recently it was roasted) the more gas will be being released, and there is some concern – probably mainly by the people marketing specialist coffee storage solutions 😉 – that released gas in an airtight container without a valve may damage the coffee.
But it’s just like anything else, some of us prefer to have specific tools when it comes to our coffee rather than improvising, for instance, I could use an old metal tin or cup as a knockbox or just knock it directly into the compost, but I prefer to have a proper knock box (I’ve got the Dreamfarm Grindenstein) – and I could just tamp on the worktop but I have a tamping mat (I use the Yolococa one, was only eight quid). Call me a geek, I don’t mind, I can’t hear you anyway ;-).
In theory these coffee canisters are just a more robust version of the bags you’ll probably get your coffee in if you’re buying from a roaster, in that they seal the coffee from the air and from light, but the difference is that you can ensure the airtight seal. I get coffee from various different roasters, both ordered directly and via my coffee subscriptions, and I find with most of the self seal bags, they’re fine until I open them, but then it’s a bit of a trick to get them to remain sealed again after, quite often I’ll come back to a bag that I was sure I’d sealed and find it slightly open.
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, or taste repulsive or both. If you let your coffee go stale it’s probably not going to have quite the same impact as accidentally drinking milk which has turned into yoghurt, yuck!! But having said that, coffee is made up of a huge number 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. I’ve had the Sage Smart Grinder Pro for about 2.5 years now, such a brilliant grinder for the money, I’d highly recommend it – see my Sage Smart Grinder Pro Review.
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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