How to Store Your Coffee, Fridge, Freezer? 2


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.

Fridge?

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. 

Freezer?

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 :-),

Life is like a box of chocolates, so follow me on Twitter, and that’s all I have to say about that.

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2 thoughts on “How to Store Your Coffee, Fridge, Freezer?

  • Simon

    Hello. I like your blog, but this particular article appears to be all opinion and no actual research. I hope you won’t be too offended by some corrections.

    On freezing, Home Barista did a very thorough blind-tasting study on this and found freezing works extremely well for at least 2 months. This is extremely helpful as it allows us to buy larger quantities of our favourite, expensive beans. To reduce fluctuation, I just portion large bags into 100g sealed bags (huge box of them from IKEA), and take out one bag at a time, leaving the others deep in the freezer squashed between frozen food or ice.

    On vacuum sealing, you’ve misunderstood why supermarket coffee has longer shelf life. This is in fact not due to vacuum sealing – in fact many coffee bags in supermarkets are not under a vacuum at all. They are instead flushed with nitrogen, replacing the oxygen in the bag that stales the coffee. In a nitrogen flushed bag, coffee keeps for up to a year. Even Union, the UK’s most popular high-end independent roaster, uses nitrogen flushed packaging to sell its coffee in Waitrose. For that matter, Union also recommend freezing beans!

    The reason so many supermarket beans taste bad is just that they are over-roasted, and they use highly misleading ‘strength’ scales that can mean roast level or some characteristic of the bean depending on brand, offering the consumer very little guidance. But some supermarkets like Sainsbury’s and Waitrose are stocking high quality coffees from independents like Union, Three Sixty and Modern Standard.

    I hope you’ll take these corrections well as we’re all trying to aim for the same goal here. But there is a lot of superstition and ‘opinion’ around coffee storage, and the reality is quite manageable once you understand what’s actually going on.

    • coffeelover Post author

      Hi Simon,

      Not offended at all 🙂

      What I wrote in this post doesn’t disagree with what you’re saying here about freezing once and then taking the beans out when you’re ready to use them. I did say that storing larger volumes for longer-term seemed to be fine.

      What I am saying in this post is that using the fridge, or freezer for general everyday storage isn’t a good idea due to the temperature fluctuations that comes from continually removing the coffee from the fridge or freezer and then putting it back. I think freezing once and removing when ready to use, is fine. Yes as you say, you could portion smaller bags for freezer storage – but whether there’s any benefit in doing that vs just having a week or so worth of coffee in a sealed bag in a Tupperware box in a cupboard, I’m not sure?

      Re supermarket coffee, you may well be correct about the impact of Nitrogen flushing, but I was talking about standard vacuum packing rather than modified atmosphere packing. I don’t know what percentage of bags of coffee on supermarket shelves is Nitrogen flushed as opposed to standard vacuum packed, I also don’t know what real difference modified atmosphere packaging makes when it comes to coffee, this is something I could research for a more scientific post, but this post was just a fairly simple post about the best everyday coffee storage method.

      Thanks 🙂

      Kev