When it comes to freshness, coffee is a remarkably volatile product. Once your beans have been roasted, they rapidly lose the flavor qualities that make coffee so enjoyable. Storing coffee properly can help preserve its freshness, extending shelf life significantly. While there is controversy over some storage practices – most notably, concerning whether or not coffee should be frozen – these are the generally accepted industry guidelines for storing your coffee at home.
Look for coffee that has the roast date on the package as opposed to a “best by” date. The former has become standard for coffee roasters who sell high-quality specialty coffee. The optimal window for peak freshness varies from one coffee to the next, but most coffee is at its best between five days and two weeks after roasting. If you buy over the Internet, choose a roaster that packages and ships coffee as soon as possible after roasting to ensure you get the freshest beans possible. Only purchase the amount of coffee you’ll consume in one to two weeks. And always buy your coffee beans whole, if possible – ground coffee loses flavor much faster than whole-bean coffee.
Coffee has four enemies: heat, light, oxygen and moisture. The key to keeping coffee beans fresh is to protect it from those four things. You don’t need a fancy storage container to do that; in fact, any container that’s relatively airtight and preferably opaque will do, though many coffee aficionados swear by Mason jars.
Most coffee roasters ship beans in sealed bags with one-way valves. The valves allow carbon dioxide to escape without letting in oxygen, which would cause coffee to go stale more quickly. Once you’ve opened the bag, the valve has no purpose. Purists will insist that the only way to keep the beans fresh after you open the bag is to transfer them to an airtight container and then put the container in a cool, dark place. The freezing debate aside , there’s near-universal agreement that refrigerating coffee is not a good idea because coffee easily absorbs the odors and flavors of foods stored near it.
Note: some roasters ship coffee in re-sealable zip close bags that are suitable for short-term coffee storage. Before re-closing this type of bag, squeeze out as much air as possible.
Sometimes you find such a great deal on coffee that you can’t resist buying more than you’ll use immediately. If you’ve bought more coffee than you’ll use up within a week or so, you can store it in the freezer if you follow these guidelines.
1. Divide the beans into smaller portions. One-pot serving sizes are ideal, though up to about a week’s worth of coffee per package is fine also.
2. Seal each portion in an airtight container. There are various methods for doing this, including Mason jars and vacuum sealers. If you use a vacuum sealer, some roasters recommend that you wrap the plastic package in aluminum foil before putting it in the freezer.
3. Store in the freezer for up to a month (some say two months or longer, depending on the stability of your freezer temperature).
4. When you take a package of coffee out of the freezer, let it come to room temperature before grinding and brewing. Store any remaining beans in an airtight container in a cool, dark place. Do not refreeze.
Coffee is always best when you grind it immediately before brewing, but most roasters will grind coffee to order for people who don’t have access to a coffee grinder. Ground coffee will go stale much faster than whole beans, so storing it properly is even more important than usual. As with whole-bean coffee, an airtight container stashed in a cool, dark place is key.
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