General Tips For Storing Your Coffee
We are exploring some basics this year and on my list of top ten commonly asked questions is: How should I be storing my coffee?
Storing coffee is simple if a few rules are followed. There are also a few myths to dispel, so let’s take a look at the most universal scenarios. Although most of what follows applies to pre-ground coffee as well, I will refer only to beans. Those that are truly seeking the most spectacular cup of coffee will need to buy whole beans as they store better and stay fresh longer than ground coffee.
Do I put my Coffee in the Freezer?
In the 80’s, storing coffee in the freezer was common but subsequent research watched the habits of coffee users and found that when people removed their coffee from the freezer, they would place it on the counter while preparing to brew and the temperature would drop enough to cause condensation, then the beans would return to the freezer and over time the porous beans would refreeze eventually breaking into the cell walls and removing the nuance of the coffee. Most people didn’t use airtight containers but used the bag they bought the coffee in and so the coffee would take on flavors of other things in the freezer. The same goes for the refrigerator.
Should I keep it in the original bag?
The answer is no. That bag (usually) was designed with a one-way valve to keep air out and allow the carbon dioxide to escape. Its purpose was to lock in the freshness which is why the coffee smells so good when you first open the bag. Once you cut open the bag, its purpose is finished and now you need to find a way to protect your coffee from its natural enemies which are air, moisture, heat, and light in that order. Storing coffee in the original bag is easy and convenient but not the best way to ensure freshness.
There are a variety of products available to store your coffee in that are airtight and can be placed in a dark, dry, and cool environment in the kitchen cupboard. This is an investment specialty coffee drinkers need to make.
How long is my coffee good for?
The answer to this question really depends on you and how serious you are about capturing every nuance from the coffee. Samo Smrke, in his lectures on the Science of Coffee Freshness, shows the difference (chemically) between 10 day-old roasted coffee and 2-month-old roasted coffee at a molecular level. There are certainly differences but if stored well, the two-month-old coffee can still be quite satisfying. He mentions that the first thing you will lose is the aroma, but the taste compounds remain intact and can be extracted if brewed well.
So, the answer to the question is 2-10 days after roasting is considered peak flavor, but if stored well can be extracted properly much longer. The longer the coffee sits, the more Carbon Dioxide it loses, the more oxidation occurs and slowly degrades the more subtle flavors.
If you are drinking specialty coffee, try to consume it within a month.
A few general rules…
One of the reasons that specialty coffee subscriptions have become so popular is that you are getting freshly roasted beans, direct from the roaster, and can subscribe to that coffee at an interval that coincides with your consumption.
Calculate how much coffee your household consumes in 2 weeks, the lead time to get another order, and set your subscription so that new coffee is always arriving at your door one or two days before you run out.
Consider ordering a pound of coffee as two half pounds. Remember that not opening that bag is huge in preventing aroma loss, so rather than exposing the whole pound to air upon opening, you only expose a half-pound at a time.
Transfer your beans to an airtight container (many of the recent models have air plungers to push out extra air) and place it in the kitchen cabinet that gets the least light exposure. Don’t store it directly above the oven and don’t use clear plastic/glass as UV light can also affect the coffee. Airtight. Dark. Dry. Cool.
- Start with quality fresh roasted beans
- Buy what you can consume within a couple of weeks and replace as you run out
- Consider buying the same quantity in smaller bags
- Store it properly in an airtight, dark, dry, and cool environment
- After removing your coffee for brewing, return the remaining coffee quickly to its dark sanctuary
As always, if this seems like too much work and not realistic in your daily life, remember that you can enjoy your coffee any way that personally satisfies you. Many people report drinking the same bag for 6 months and can’t tell any difference. In any case, proper storage will help that coffee last longer.
About the Author
Matt Carter is a retired teacher (1989-2018), a part-time musician, farmer, and currently manages Greenwell Farms Tour and Retail Store Operations.