Coffee Storage

Storing coffee

No matter how carefully coffee is grown, processed, blended, roasted, ground and brewed, the ultimate quality depends on one overall factor: freshness. Considering the ready availability of ground coffee, there would never be any real reason to grind coffee beans at all except, crucially, to obtain the freshest possible taste. When coffee is roasted, carbon dioxide develops within the beans; it escapes from the coffee for several hours, and does so with a force that ruptures seams in tin cans and causes softer packages to "balloon". Many roasters, therefore, allow the roasted beans or ground coffee to stand for hours before packing. Of course, while standing, the coffee goes stale, losing its volatile aromas and absorbing tasteless oxygen.

Given the practicalities of coffee packaging (which can be vacuum-sealed tins (cans), brick packs, one-way valve-lock bags, or gas-flushed packs, all trying to let the gas out and keep the freshness in), no coffee is ever 100 per cent fresh. It's no good trying to roast, grind and brew coffee within a few minutes because, until the coffee has degassed, it will not taste good.

However, the fact is that roasted beans do retain their freshness longer than ground coffee, as there is less cell surface exposed to the air. Assuming that the roasting company and the retailer have just roasted the beans and maintained their freshness, the obvious next question is how best to store them at home.

Experts differ widely in advice on storing coffee, particularly beans. Certainly coffee can absorb odors easily, and will taste of those odors when brewed. Therefore some people advise against keeping coffee in the fridge. Others advocate using an airtight container, which will keep out oxygen, but what about the oxygen sealed inside with the beans? The solution would be to keep the surface of the beans very high in the jar, but then one could never use the beans further down in the jar.

Even the freezing of beans has its opponents, who say that after freezing, the coffee will never taste the same. Certainly, freezing darker-roasted beans, which have an oily surface, is definitely not a good idea, as the oils congeal and never regain their original consistency and distribution throughout the coffee.

The ideal solution to the problem of keeping coffee fresh is to purchase smaller amounts more frequently. In Italy, for example, many people buy small amounts, perhaps 100-200g/ 31.2-7oz of coffee several times a week from their local coffee bar; they choose a blend of roasted beans, and the barista (barman) grinds them. The ground coffee is then placed in a grease-lined paper bag. Similarly, a person who shops infrequently could still maximize the freshness of the coffee by buying several smaller packs of factory-sealed coffee instead of one or two large packs, as unopened factory-sealed containers will stay fresh for many months.

Back to About Coffee