So you’ve just purchased your first bag of specialty coffee from the roasters. Great! You’ve done the best thing you can do for getting better coffee in your cup by buying it directly from the source (the roaster, that is). While roasted coffee in and of itself really has an extremely long shelf life–often over a year or longer–coffee begins losing its health benefits and freshness exponentially after about two weeks. Consuming your coffee within two weeks of its roast date will significantly improve your enjoyment of your coffee, and it will have more vibrance in the cup.
In this post, we’ll explain how and why coffee goes stale over time and some storage tips to help prolong the aging process to keep your coffee fresher longer.
Oxidation: The Enemy of Food
Oxidation is the killer to all organic living beings. Yes, even humans are subject to oxidation; however, antioxidants in our bodies help retard naturally occurring oxidation and prolong our lives. Fortunately for us, coffee is one of the most antioxidant-rich food sources available.
Nevertheless, oxidation is a killer to most foods, and it is certainly the killer to your fresh coffee. As soon as roasted coffee comes out of the roaster, oxidation begins to set in. Many roasters will use heat-sealed packaging with a one way valve to allow carbon dioxide (a byproduct of the roasting process) to leave the bag without allowing oxygen to enter. In theory, this should be the best way to keep your coffee fresh; however , as much as you may want to preserve your beautiful, artisan-roasted beans, you’ll likely open the bag and grab a couple of scoops for your morning cuppa joe.
Each time your storage vessel (regardless of what it is) is opened, you allow your beans to come into contact with air. Unfortunately this is an inevitable part of coffee storage, but there are some things you can try at home to lessen the effects of oxidation.
Coffee Storage 101
Many roasters will tell you that the best way to store your fresh coffee is to keep it in the bag you purchased it in, and for most of us this will certainly suffice. But, as we’ve already stated, oxygen and access to the atmosphere is the killer of fresh coffee and most foods.
You can counter this oxidation effect by using more airtight containers. Once your heat-sealed, one-way-valve-laden, expertly packaged coffee is open, it’s been exposed to its arch nemesis. By using airtight containers; however, you can prolong the life of your coffee. There are several varieties of containers on the market, and in all likelihood they all perform relatively similarly.
Below, we’ve outlined some options for storing your coffee to preserve freshness.
Yes, it’s as simple as that. Mason jars have been used for over a century to pickle, preserve, and can goods from the homestead’s garden. In all likelihood, you’ve got a mason jar or 12 hanging around the house that you either haven’t used in a while or are waiting on that perfect Pinterest project to use them on (Ashley is a culprit of the latter).
We use mason jars for our coffee storage and they work great! They’re cheap, easy to clean and store, and will likely outlast whatever you put in them.
Whatever the case, mason jars are a fantastic way to store freshly roasted coffee at home. We use mason jars for our coffee storage and they work great! They’re cheap, easy to clean and store, and will likely outlast whatever you put in them. Be wary, however, as a tightly shut mason jar doesn’t allow CO2 to escape its clutches. This can result in a slight buildup of pressure and can give you a bit of a startle the first couple times you open your jar.
Coffee-Specific Storage Containers
While writing this post, I found this handy blog post over at Home Grounds outlining the 5 best coffee storage containers for 2016. The author, Alex, highlights 5 pretty innovative coffee/food storage options available to consumers including:
Planetary Design Airscape – a 64-ounce space-tested device that completely seals the container from any air entering or leaving while purging the vessel as the lid is applied
Tightvac Coffeevac – a 1 lb. capacity storage solution for half the price of the Airscape. It works much like a one-way valve with a vacuum seal and breather to allow CO2 to escape.
BeanSafe – similar to the Coffeevac. Offers an airtight seal and comes with a nifty color-matched coffee scoop. As a major plus, according to Alex, “it’ll keep your beans safe from the four horsemen of the apocalypse.”
Friis Coffee Vault – a stainless steel “vault” to keep coffee fresh while allowing CO2 to vent. Comes with a CO2 filter for potentially longer coffee freshness.
LOVFFEE Coffee Canister – probably my favorite from Alex’s list. This dude is a ceramic rendition of a vacuum-sealed canister complete with fun colors and a coffee scoop.
The Planetary Design Airscape is a 64-ounce space-tested device that completely seals the container from any air entering or leaving while purging the vessel as the lid is applied.
Of course, you can spend as little time and money as you’d like on coffee storage solutions, but in the end it’s a lifestyle choice. Don’t feel like using fancy vacuum sealed contraptions? Use a mason jar or even more simply: just use the bag your coffee came in. In the end, you–not science nor research nor fancy blog posts–are the judge on how long your coffee stays fresh and how to best store said coffee.
There really isn’t any universal timeframe on how long coffee lasts. What we do know is that the CO2 released from the beans tapers off after a week or two, and that can be an indicator for how fresh your coffee is.
A Case for Carbon Dioxide in Coffee Storage
You may be asking yourself: what’s the big deal with this CO2 stuff, and why the heck is it in my coffee beans?
Due to the Maillard Reaction during the coffee roasting process, green inedible coffee cherry seeds (we call them beans) are transformed into something completely different. This chemical process causes our green beans to be converted into brown, tasty morsels of morning ritual. The process, however, causes CO2 to be released as a byproduct of the roast.
Whether you’re familiar with CO2 beyond it being a byproduct of respiration or not, what’s important to know here is that carbon dioxide actually helps preserve coffee beans. As a matter of fact, carbon dioxide may very well be the solution to our problems. It is heavier than air, produced naturally by the coffee beans in a process called degassing, and helps keep beans fresher longer. Ipso facto, any sort of coffee storage device that keeps some CO2 in the vessel without allowing air in is actually a friend of yours and your beans. (We leave our mason jars just a fuzz loose to allow any ambitious CO2 particles to escape for the first few days after roasting.)
With that said, another great indicator of the freshness of your coffee is how much bloom you see during your brews. More bloom means more CO2 is still in the roasted beans and is still keeping your beans fresh!
How Not to Store Your Coffee: One Big Don’t
We’ve talked a lot about how to correctly store your coffee, but there’s one thing I’d like to touch on before we let you go on your own to try our tips. One thing we see more often than we’d like is frozen coffee. No I’m not talking about delicious iced coffee but actually storing fresh coffee in the freezer.
While the logic is sound–the freezer can preserve virtually all of our foods–it doesn’t work for fresh coffee. Storing your coffee in the fridge can be a death sentence to its flavor. One of roasted coffee’s more subtle downfalls is that it tends to absorb smells and flavors in the air (all the more important to use airtight containers). Freezing coffee in any sort of permeable container (even a one-way airlock) will likely expose your coffee to some unwanted flavors and smells.
However.. If you’re not going to consume your coffee within a month, freezing may be an option. Obviously, consuming freshly roasted coffee as soon as possible is preferred, but sometimes we get a little overwhelmed with coffee beans and long term storage is inevitable. If this is your situation, make sure that your beans are in a 100% airtight container with as little moisture as possible. Once frozen, coffee should only be thawed once and never refrozen.
Conclusion: Coffee Storage and You
Coffee storage is all about you. If you want to go above and beyond to try fancy zero-gravity storage systems or if you’re the type to just use grandma’s mason jar, find a solution that works best for you. If you drink your coffee quickly, there really shouldn’t be any need to take terribly evasive action in storing your coffee; however, keeping your beans in an airtight container and limiting their exposure to the atmosphere will extend their freshness.
What ways do you store your coffee and how do you keep it fresh? Answer in the comments below!
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