How to Store Coffee and Keep It Fresh: A Beginner's Guide
I've been an enthusiastic brewer and drinker of coffee for over twenty five years. One thing that I learned quickly was the importance keeping the beans as fresh as possible, right up to the moment that I needed to grind them for brewing.
This makes a huge difference to the aroma and taste of your beverages, and it's safe to say that once you start taking proper care of your beans, you will never go back.
I summarize the main ways to store coffee below.
The 8 Main Ways to Keep Coffee Fresh
- Always buy beans, not ground coffee.
- Buy valve sealed, not vacuum sealed.
- Store in an air tight container.
- Store in a place that is cool, dark, and dry.
- Do not keep coffee longer than two weeks.
- Avoid freezing it if possible.
- If you do freeze, do not return to freezer after you've taken it out.
- Do not refrigerate.
I will explain the above in more detail below.
1. Always buy fresh coffee beans, rather than ground
One piece of advice that I lucky enough to learn early on in my life is that you should always buy your coffee in bean form. The whole beans hold the flavor better than grounds.
Grinding should then always be done immediately before brewing to capture the best taste. This simple advice makes an enormous difference.
Buying a grinder need not necessarily be an expensive purchase either, there are plenty of inexpensive machines out there.
To me, the smell of fresh-made coffee is one of the greatest inventions.— Hugh Jackman
The Different Types of Grinder
There are several different types of coffee grinder, with different features and attributes.
- Blade grinders are often the most affordable type of machine and work by cutting up the beans with a rotating blade. They are easy to use, but can be relatively loud. Blade machines are usually electrically powered, but there are also manual versions which operate using a hand crank.
- Burr grinders are more expensive, but are quiet and deliver a more accurate grind. They work by crushing the beans with a grinder wheel. There are two main types, conical and burr. Wheel machines are less expensive but conical grinders are the most accurate.
2. Buy valve sealed bags of coffee beans when possible, not vacuum sealed.
That is because of the process used. Coffee beans that are vacuum sealed have already sat around and lost some of their flavor before the vacuum sealing process begins.
3. Store the coffee in an airtight container
Another simple piece of advice that can make a big difference is to buy an airtight container and keep your coffee beans in there.
There are many affordable airtight containers out there that will do the trick. The best containers will protect the beans from moisture, temperature extremes, and excessive light (see #4). Beans quickly lose their flavor if exposed to these elements.
The ideal material for a coffee container is glass or ceramic, although stainless steel can also work well. The important thing is that the container has an effective seal.
I love coffee. It's one of my favorite things in the world, and I love tasting different coffees.— Max Schneider
4. Store coffee in a place that is cool, dark and dry.
After air, moisture is the second greatest enemy of coffee freshness and should be minimized.
Keeping coffee in say an ornamental glass jar on the kitchen counter, where it will be exposed to sunlight and possibly heat from an oven, is not a good idea.
In essence you need to store coffee somewhere convenient, but away from its four main enemies, air, moisture, and sources of light and heat.
5. The maximum length of time for storing coffee is one to two weeks.
After 14 days, it will have lost much of its freshness .
The trick therefore is to buy coffee in relatively small quantities, enough to last you a week or so. That might mean more trips to the store, but it's worth it.
A Brief History of Coffee
- The earliest coffee culture developed in the Ethiopian highlands. According to legend, a goat herder called Kaldi noticed that when his goats ate berries from certain plants, they became very spirited and didn't sleep at night.
- The Arabs were the first people to cultivate and trade coffee. Large-scale cultivation first began in Yemen. From there, the drink gradually became known in Persia, Egypt, Syria and Turkey.
- As well as at home, coffee was also drunk in public coffee houses, known as "qahveh khaneh" by the Arabs.
- News of the drink spread to other places largely through travelers to the holy city of Mecca.
- Coffee reached Europe in the 17th century. It initially caused some controversy, with some wanting the drink made illegal. Pope Clement VIII was asked to impose a ban, but after experiencing a cup, he did the opposite and gave it papal endorsement.
- Coffee houses began to appear in England, Austria, France, Germany and Holland. In London alone there were 300 of them by the middle of the 17th century.
- Coffee was first taken to America in the mid 1600s by the British. Tea would remain the most popular drink, however, until the "Boston Tea Party" in 1773 when there was a revolt against British taxes on tea. After that, Americans drank coffee as their preferred beverage.
- The Arabs were very protective about their coffee cultivation, but at the end of the 17th century, the Dutch managed to get hold of some seedlings and, after failing to grow them successfully in India, managed to cultivate them on the island of Java (now part of Indonesia).
- Other European powers began growing coffee and its cultivation spread around the world. Nowadays it is grown in Asia, Africa, Central and South America, the islands of the Caribbean, and the Pacific. It is the second most lucrative legal trade after oil.
Black Coffee (PBS Documentary on the history of coffee)
6. Storing coffee in a freezer should alway be avoided, if possible.
This is because firstly, the coffee is liable to absorb other flavors from the freezer such as seafood; and secondly, an essential part of a coffee’s taste is in the oils that it contains and these oils are broken down by the freezing process.
People who drink four or more cups of coffee a day - it doesn't matter whether it is caffeinated or decaffeinated - have a reduction in Type 2 diabetes, or a reduced incidence of Type 2 diabetes, of about fifty percent. The same with Parkinson's, although there it is more related to the caffeine.— Gregory Stock
7. Don’t to tempted to store your coffee in the fridge either.
This is for similar reasons to those mentioned above. Strong smells will contaminate the beans and cold temperatures will damage the taste. The storage space should be cool but not as low as refrigeration levels.
8. If you do have to freeze coffee, then do not return it once removed
This might mean splitting up a bulk bag of coffee beans into weekly portions in order to avoid this.
The dramatic temperature changes involved with freezing and thawing are not good for the freshness and should at least be minimized, if not stopped altogether.
Questions & Answers
© 2011 Paul Goodman