When it comes to your coffee beans, the fresher the better, right?
Well, yes, but also a big fat no.
There’s a commonly held misconception that beans are their very best – and freshest – straight after roasting but it’s not entirely accurate. When it comes to getting the best out of your beans, there are some pretty strong guidelines to stick to for optimising on their freshness.
Here’s everything you need to know.
FIRST THINGS FIRST: WHY DOES IT MATTER?
You might be wondering if all this buzz around ‘freshness’ is really as big a deal as everyone says.
The short answer: yes.
The longer answer: taste.
Fresh is better – and we’re not just referring to coffee. Think of a delicious cake, whatever type of cake is your favourite cake. Think about it having just been made that morning. It’s still moist, maybe a little warm from the oven. The filling or icing is still sweet and the right side of sticky. Delicious!
Now compare that to a slice of the same cake two weeks later.
Not so appetising right?
Coffee beans are the same(ish, we’ll get to that). With fresher coffee, you can truly pick out all of the distinct flavour notes that you just wouldn’t find in older coffee – berries, hazelnut, a little hint of cocoa. If that all sounds new to you, it’s clear there’s a fresh change to be made. Pun intended.
SO, WHAT DOES FRESH MEAN?
For optimal freshness and drinking time, it’s generally recommended that beans are their best for around 15 days after they’ve been roasted. Your beans will still stay pretty tasty for up to 30 days after roasting, but after this point, they tend to lose a lot of flavour and are generally considered ‘stale’.
It’s those first 15 days after the roast that you’ll really be getting the most out of your beans and all the flavour notes they have to offer.
IS THERE SUCH A THING AS TOO FRESH?
We’re so glad you asked. The answer to this one is an emphatic yes.
A little known process following the roasting process is the degassing process. This is an incredibly important part of ensuring you get the most out of your beans, and it’s something that many outside of the industry aren’t too familiar with.
Degassing, as the more astute of you may have guessed, is the process of gases being released from the roasted coffee beans. When you roast coffee different gases form inside the bean – including carbon dioxide. These gases need to be released in the first few days after roasting.
To do this, roasters let the beans ‘rest’. Like a little coffee bean nap after all that intense roasting action. Around 40% of the carbon dioxide is released on the first day after roasting through this process.
HOW LONG DOES DEGASSING TAKE?
Generally, this process can take between 3-5 days, depending on the bean, but there are many other factors that impact this process too. Every coffee is different, and the brewing method and roast profile all need to be taken into account to ensure the consumer gets the most from the beans.
Not allowing appropriate time for this can result in incredibly disappointing brews. If you try to brew immediately after roasting, the gases will still try to escape, resulting in air bubbles and pockets that disrupt the contact between the coffee grounds and the water.
The result? An uneven extraction of flavour and aroma, and an incredibly disappointing coffee taste experience.
HOW CAN YOU TELL IF YOUR BEANS ARE FRESH AND DEGASSED?
Another little known process you might not have come across is ‘the bloom’.
While the degassing process is essential for helping to disperse some of the carbon dioxide and other gases, a little bit of carbon dioxide is a good thing. The right amount prevents the coffee from going stale and flat.
The bloom process helps this. It’s where you put a small amount of hot water in your ground coffee before brewing. When you do this, you’ll notice a few bubbles emerging – that’s the remaining carbon dioxide being released and indicates that the beans are fresh and ready for brewing.
If the beans haven’t been degassed properly, you’ll notice a much larger ‘bloom’, and it’s likely the ground coffee will bubble over in a fizzy coffee mess.
No bloom at all, however, indicates older beans that could be past their optimal freshness consumption period.
Of course, a quick way to tell how fresh your beans are is to check the roast date.
THE IMPORTANCE OF ‘ROAST DATES’
A good quality coffee roaster will always put the roast date on their packaged beans.
This helps you ascertain when they were roasted, and keep an estimation of how long their optimum freshness should be for, ensuring you get the most out of them. Roasters won’t sell beans before they’re gone through the appropriate degassing process, it’s safe to assume your packaged beans are ready and waiting for you to make your perfect brew with them.
Storing Coffee at Home for Optimal Freshness
So, the next big question on many lips we get asked as roasters around the topic of freshness is how exactly to store beans at home to keep them at their tip top best.
There are so many urban legends around this one, and depending on who you ask, very clear ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ ways to be storing beans once you’ve opened that packet. As a general rule, common sense prevails (doesn’t it always) and the key to keeping those beans fresh is to keep them away from the things that might degrade their quality.
Below we’re bringing you right into the loop on some of the best ways to keep that freshness locked in and breaking down a few of the myths surrounding storing beans at home.
1. Keep Those Bad Boys Airtight
One of the absolute musts to keeping that freshness locked in for as long as possible, is making sure those beans are stored in an airtight package or container. The air around us is filled with subtle moisture molecules, and while we don’t really notice them, your beans definitely will.
High quality roasters will deliver your beans in a fresh resealable, airtight bag, so make sure you use this! Or you could invest in your own storage container - you do you.
2. Keep ‘Em Cool
The next thing you want to think about is where you’re keeping that container in your house/kitchen. Another enemy of the fresh beans is heat, so you want to make sure you’re keeping them somewhere that’s nice and cool.
So the shelf next to the oven definitely won’t work.
3. Hello Darkness My Old Friend
Yup, those fussy fresh beans like things to be nice and dark - something to consider if you want to purchase a very special bean container for use at home - make sure it’s not a clear tub!
Sunlight can start to degrade your beans so keep them in a nice dark place. Like a vault under the floorboards.
Or a dark pantry cupboard. That will probably work well too.
4. Don’t Buy More Than You Need
The next big tip for keeping those beans fresh is to make sure you’re only buying the right amount that you can reasonably consume within the perfect freshness window.
Buying excessive amounts of beans that you can’t possibly consume in a 2-3 week window will see them getting past their best date long before you can use them, no matter how airtight, dry, and dark your storage facilities. And nobody wants that.
This is particularly important to note if you have a preference for pre-ground coffee, as these guys will have an increased exposure to oxygen, meaning they’ll lose their freshness quicker. If buying pre-ground, we’d recommend only stocking up on what you could consume in a 1-2 week period.
The Big Storage Debate: Pantry vs Freezer
The big one. The question on everyone’s lips. When it comes to storing coffee at home:
To freeze or not to freeze?
There are a few different views on this one and many do recommend that it’s safe to freeze coffee beans once you’ve opened the bag in order to maintain their freshness. We’re not going against that view entirely but we will throw a new word out there for you: Hygroscopic.
Hygroscopic basically means ‘readily taking up and retaining moisture’ according to our friends over at Merriam-Webster. Never say we don’t work to expand your vocabulary over here.
Coffee is highly hygroscopic, so it absorbs moisture, odours and tastes, from the air around it.
You can see where we’re going with this right?
A lot of home storage containers still allow for small amounts of oxygen to get in so when we store stuff in the freezer for a while, it gets freezer burn because the container wasn’t completely airtight. If you do decide to freeze your beans, this is where our four step guide above definitely applies (especially the whole airtight container thing).
You’ll also need to think about how you defrost those beans, since you won’t be able to refreeze once they’re out - once they begin to defrost even slightly condensation and water will develop on the beans (freezing them in small batches is one solution but it does mean multiple super airtight containers will be needed).
Sounding Like Hard Work?
Now we’ve laden you with some excellent intel on all things freshness when it comes to your beans, we’re confident you’ll be able to go forth and maximum on your next purchase!
But if all these dates and optimum freshness timeless are all sounding a bit too ‘A Beautiful Mind’ to remember, we’re more than happy to do the math for you.
You can read all about why we think it’s a good idea in our blog post or if you’re sold already, you can check out our options here.