Coffee roasters frequently are asked questions about coffee storage. Should coffee be stored in the refrigerator? The freezer? Away from sunlight? In glass jars?
The truth is that there are many myths wandering around the coffee world about coffee storage, some of them repeated so often that they’ve taken on the patina of truth. The truths about coffee storage may surprise you.
The Most Common Myths about Coffee Storage
Quick – what do you do with that two pounds of coffee that you just bought? Ask that question in any group and at least one person will extol the virtues of storing your coffee in the freezer. Another will tell you to leave it in the vacuum stored container in which it was bought. Still a third will tell you to keep it in a glass container, and a fourth is sure to tell you that it really doesn’t matter at all. The truth is that each of those methods of coffee storage is the right answer – in certain conditions. Here’s some common sense advice from people who know about coffee – coffee growers and roasters.
Why is coffee storage so important?
Coffee beans are taken from a living plant, and as such, have a limited shelf life. Like most organic products, you can increase their life by storing them properly. More importantly – at least to most coffee enthusiasts – proper coffee storage preserves the flavor of the coffee. You see, coffee beans contain volatile oils – chemicals that give coffee its characteristic flavor. Those oils are released by the roasting process, and decay rather quickly once the coffee has been roasted. Grinding the coffee beans speeds up the flavor loss even more. Because of the difference in the way that those oils behave, there are different methods of coffee storage that are best for coffee at the different times in its life.
To get the best flavor from your coffee, you should brew it within two weeks of roasting, and immediately after grinding. In fact, coffee is at its peak flavor about 48 hours after roasting. That’s a time line that’s pretty close to impossible unless you’re buying raw beans and roasting your own. If you buy your coffee as whole roasted coffee beans, you can make a point of looking for the date that the coffee was roasted – but you’ll seldom find it. Failing that, here are some tips on coffee buying and coffee storage that will help ensure that you get a great tasting and fresh cup of coffee every time
To Freeze or Not To Freeze
A frozen environment will allow water molecules to attach to the coffee beans and/or packaging.
A freezer has other flavor molecules floating around in it (remember that fish sale 3 weeks ago?)
A freezer door opens and closes very often under normal use.
What does this mean for your coffee?
This means that water will contact the surface of the bean and ice will form. When the water melts, that water will find its way into the porous bean and the bean will begin to deteriorate the quality of the coffee. Secondly, you should keep in mind that roasted coffee is porous. This is the property of coffee that allows roasters to make Hazelnut flavored coffee. (It isn’t grown that way.) So if you put your Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee in the freezer, it needs to be well protected against the possibility of tasting like liquid salmon.
Wrap It Up
Your goal should be to keep the coffee’s contact with water to a minimum. Moreover, the coffee should thaw only once – right before it is brewed. I would suggest keeping the beans in the original packaging. Then place the package in a zippered storage bag. You can draw out the excess air by using a straw to suck out the air while you close the bag. If you do not have a zippered bag, you can wrap the beans using a plastic wrap. I use even more layers! After this initial wrapping, I place the coffee bean bundle in another paper bag. Again, wrap the bag with plastic wrap, then I cover it with foil. It may sound like overkill, but it is worth it. You’ve invested money in this gourmet coffee, you need to protect your investment.
Freezing, In A Nutshell
Freezing coffee is applicable for storage of coffee that won’t be used within 1-2 weeks of roasting. It is not optimal for everyday use.
If you are wondering about the refrigerator, it is a no-no for coffee. Since the temperature is generally around 37 degrees, the water that is inside doesn’t freeze. It is a cold mist that lingers on the coffee and there are even more scents and flavor molecules floating around. Liquid water is coffee’s worst enemy during storage. Under no circumstance would I ever recommend using the refrigerator for storing coffee.
Room Temperature Storage
Storing coffee at room temperature is the most convenient method of storage. It works well for coffee that will be consumed within one to two weeks of purchase.
Eliminate The Negative
When storing at room temperature certain environmental factors to be minimized and eliminated if possible.
All of these factors will destroy the coffee’s flavor. A great device for mitigating these factors is a ceramic canister that holds ?lb. to 1lb. of coffee. The canister should have some sort of sealing mechanism that does not allow air to circulate. There is a fundamental rule of physics that states that matter can not occupy the same space as other matter. So keeping your coffee filled to the rim of this container will minimize the possibility of negative elements corrupting your coffee.
Additionally, a ceramic canister will protect the coffee from sunlight, water and flavor migration. Flavor migration happens when the container harbors flavors. Plastic containers are great examples of this concept. Plastics allow flavor molecules to penetrate and metallic canisters allow metallic flavors to migrate. Ceramic containers, on the other hand, are sealed and baked. Consequently, they will not corrupt the flavor of the coffee.
Short-term storage (within one to two weeks of purchase) should be done in a ceramic container with a good sealing mechanism. Fill the canister to capacity.
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