Freshness in coffee is a thing everyone seems to be talking about. Very often though it is rather unclear what's really meant by the term "freshness". What do we really mean by coffee being "fresh" and which value do we ascribe to this term?
For most coffee drinkers, the real questions are: When will my coffee taste best and how long can I store my coffee?
With a bit of background information it isn't that difficult to navigate the freshness-issue and having the confidence of drinking the best cup of coffee possible.
If by using the term "freshness" we mean maximum aroma we need to look into where those aromas come from:
During roasting there are many chemical processes happening, mainly making the coffee bean soluble and developing aromas. But the roasting process also develops Carbon Dioxide (CO2).
Now when the coffee comes straight out of the roaster, both aromas and CO2 are at maximum levels. And over time, both will leave the coffee bean as they are both volatile compounds.
While we want to keep all aromas inside the bean to have maximum flavours, we need to get rid of the CO2 because CO2 hinders an even extraction and makes coffee super unbalanced.
Like so often in life, we can't have it all and need to find a balance to hit the sweet spot. We need the coffee to rest long enough for the CO2 to leave the bean all the while preserving as much of the aroma as possible.
For filter coffees and a balanced filter preparation this will mean waiting at least 1 week and using the beans within about 2 months.
For espresso coffees and balanced espresso extraction this will mean waiting at least 2 weeks and using the beans within about 3 to 4 months.
These are rough recommendations on our behalf and are always subject to personal taste.
That said, there are a few things that will greatly impact the freshness of coffee:
Always keep your coffee in a dark, dry and cool (= low room temperature) place in an airtight (with one-way valve for CO2 to escape) and clean container. We recommend using the packaging provided closing the bag with the ziploc mechanism and taking out only as much coffee as you need for the immediate preparation.
What about the fridge? Your fridge is a very humid environment with lots of different foods giving off all kinds of aromas. Chances are that your coffee will absorb moisture and odours and start tasting of fridge-potpourri.
What about the freezer? This option is better than the fridge as the environment is drier and the cold temperature will slow down any activity going on in the bean. Be sure to only take out the amount of beans you will immediately use as warming the whole bag will result in condensation on the inside of the packaging that may damage the coffee.
Instead of storing large amounts of coffee, buy fresh coffee on a regular basis.
When coffee is ground, the surface area of the coffee is greatly increased and the volatile aromas can and will escape very fast: within a few minutes a considerable amount of aromas will be gone. So it's best to grind only the amount of coffee you need and to grind it just before brewing.
Coffee contains oils that will start to oxidize and stale when left in open air. This happens to beans, ground coffee, brewed coffee as well as residues on your coffee equipment. So to keep your coffee tasting great, be sure to clean any equipment coming into contact with coffee on a regular basis (the more often the better) and also make sure there are no soap or detergent residue on cups, servers etc.
Now this was quite a bit of information. Please don't be intimidated because the good news is: Even if your coffee has been standing around for a while, it won't be in any way harmful. Mainly it will be less intense.
So why is there a "expiry" or "best before" date on coffee packaging? This is for food legislation reasons and has it's main importance in retail and gastronomy. Many coffees only have this date but most Specialty Coffee Roasters will state the roasting date which is actually more informative.
Why are there different "expiry" or "best before" dates on different packaging? Depending on the material used in the packaging, the volatile aromas will escape slower or faster. So for example a mere paper bag will let more aromas escape than a plastic bag or a plastic bag with an aluminium lining which is very hermetic.
- Let coffee rest at least 1 week for filter and 2 weeks for espresso
- Store coffee in a cool, dry place using a clean and airtight container with one-way valve for CO2 to escape
- Buy only the amount of coffee you will need within 1 to 2 months
- Grind the only amount of coffee you need for the immediate preparation
- Keep your equipment clean
- Have fun enjoying coffee