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Keeping Coffee Fresh

If you are like most people you probably get your coffee beans and think “How do I store these wonderful beans?” There are many different ideas on what you should and should not do with your coffee to store it. Over the past few years everything from freezing to packaging has been considered. What should you put the beans in? Where should you put them? How long can I store them? Is storing ground coffee different from storing coffee beans?

According to a wonderful article at the National Coffee Association of U.S.A. (NCAUSA), Inc the best way to go is “airtight and cool”. Preserving the freshness of your coffee can be difficult. The freshness gets depleted very fast when it is subjected to excessive air, moisture, heat and light. So, you need to get your precious beans in airtight glass or ceramic containers. Once you have your coffee in the right container, put it in a cool, dark place. Remember, any place near the oven or a window will get quite warm, so try to avoid putting the container there.

What do air, moisture, heat and light do to your coffee?

Well, coffee beans have a natural chemical process they go through after roasting. After the beans have been roasted they degas for three days. That means that carbon dioxide gas is released from the beans when they are at room temperature. Even after they emit the carbon dioxide the chemical composition of the beans continues to change. Air, moisture, heat and light affect the process. An increased amount of air, as from an open container, will cause oxidation and make the beans become stale. If moisture is added to the beans, like freezing, the flavor becomes weaker. Just like any chemical process heat and light make it go faster. The beans’ chemical process is affected the same way. If your beans are in a particularly warm or hot place with a lot of light the process will be faster and the beans will become stale much quicker than usual.

To buy ground or whole bean?

Ground coffee loses its freshness faster than whole coffee beans? The process speeds up much quicker when you change from bean form to ground form. Think about it, you increase the surface area that the chemical process is taking place in, so it increases the speed it is done at. That is why you read that grinding your own coffee is best as long as you grind what you need and use it. If you buy your coffee pre-ground you will want to put it in an airtight container immediately after you open the bag.

The Roaster’s packaging makes a difference.

Another important thing to remember is that the way the roaster packages the coffee makes a difference too. If you buy your beans and ground coffee in a sealed bag or can the shelf life on it is about two years. For example illy coffee is packed in nitrogen, thus eliminating Oxygen, and pressurized in a sealed can. You can leave it in that stored can for two years. Once you open it, the beans are subjected to air, moisture, heat and light. Those four elements speed up the chemical process and make the beans age and become stale. If you receive your beans in a bag or container that is not sealed you will have to put them in an airtight container and use them quickly.

Do I buy large quantities or small?

You can buy as much coffee as you want, as long as you are going to use it within three to four weeks after opening. Also, if you are going to buy different kinds of coffee and open all of the containers at once, try to buy a small quantity of each kind. Once you decide which kind you like you can then buy bigger quantities. The most important thing to remember about buying large quantities is this: Once you open a bag you should use it within three to four weeks. During that time store it in an airtight container. The sealed bags or cans of coffee are fine. You do not have to open them and put them in containers. Just keep them in a cool, dark place.

Can I freeze my beans or ground coffee?

That is quite a debatable question. One article recommends freezing beans for no longer than a month, and only if you have purchased a large quantity of coffee that will not be used immediately. To do that you would break up your large quantity into smaller sections. Then wrap those small sections airtight bags. Once you remove them from the freezer you cannot return them. You have to put them in the airtight containers mentioned earlier to be used and stored in a cool, dry place. Other companies, like Illy, do not recommend storing your beans in the freezer for any reason.

You can find many different articles and opinions on freezing or not freezing your coffee beans. Here are a couple things to keep in mind: Beans themselves are very hard. When you freeze beans you lock in moisture and stop the chemical process. After you remove those beans from the freezer you would have to let them defrost completely; this may take 4 hours or even more. Take care to avoid moisture buildup on the surface of the beans – this is called condensation and occurs when warm moist air comes in contact with a cold surface. The moist air looses its ability to hold the moisture and it collects on the cooler surface. Think of the water that collects on the outside of your tall glass of iced coffee (or tea). That water is not leaking from the glass but from the process called condensation. Also, frozen beans are like putting rocks in your grinder and could damage the burrs or motor. The moisture that gets trapped in those frozen beans changes the flavor of your coffee. The change from freezing to room temperature will make the beans become stale quicker because you are increasing temperature. So, in a nutshell – avoid freezing, but if you do, follow our dos and don'ts and you will preserve freshness.

The next time you buy your coffee beans or ground coffee consider how fast you will use it, where you are going to store it, and when you will have to order it again. It may not be a bad idea to see what kind of airtight ceramic or glass container you can find. If anything, remember this: Fresh is the Best.