Like food, the fresher the ingredients, the better the flavor. As freshly baked bread tastes better than bread a week old, so do freshly roasted coffee beans.
The two processes which affect the length of time coffee stays fresh for are roasting and grinding.
How Roasting Affects Coffee Freshness
In green bean form, coffee can stay fresh for up to 2 years. However, once it has been roasted, it only stays fresh for up to 2 weeks.
This is why it is best to buy your beans in raw form and roast at home using a dedicated home roaster.
If you buy them pre-roasted, you should purchase in small amounts – just as much as you would use in a 1-2 week period. Coffee beans should be stored in airtight containers in a dark, dry and cool location.
Can I Freeze Coffee Beans?
Coffee ages slower if you cool it down. If you have to buy more than a two week supply of coffee beans, you can freeze part of this purchase.
However, we will say now that there are very different opinions on freezing and refrigerating coffee.
If you do want to freeze them to keep them preserved, freeze them in a waterproof and airtight container, and they can stay fresh for up to a month.
Dropping the temperature by 10 degrees slows down the aging process by a factor of 2
Frozen coffee beans must be allowed to thoroughly defrost, between 2-4 hours at room temperature, before they can be ground; and great care must be taken to ensure that no ice from the freezer comes into contact with the beans, as moisture will cause them to deteriorate.
The exception to this rule can be speciality beans. Freezing these can cause the bean structure to change, altering the taste when it is made into coffee. Try to check with the maker and see whether freezing is appropriate first.
Bear in mind also that since coffee is hygroscopic, it can absorb moisture, tastes and odors from what is around it. Many home storage containers will let in small amounts of air, so you will need something truly airtight.
Grinding Fresh Coffee Beans
Once the coffee has been ground, it should be used as soon as possible. Air is coffee’s worst enemy, and as a ground coffee bean has a much larger surface area than a whole coffee bean, it is more exposed to air and becomes stale quicker.
It is particularly important to use really fresh coffee with espresso as you get more aromatic intensity this way
If you do not have a coffee grinder at home and buy your coffee pre-ground, then it is a good idea to divide your coffee supply into several smaller portions. Keep each part in an airtight container and take coffee from only one of these portions at a time, using up all the coffee grounds before moving on to the next one.
This means that too much air will not get into the containers which aren’t being opened. A dedicated container will only allow C02 to escape, not enter.
How To Store Coffee Beans To Keep Them Fresh
The enemies of a coffee bean are light, heat and moisture.
If the freezer is out of the question or you want them to always be immediately available:
- Store them in an opaque, air-tight container at room temperature. Clear canisters which will allow light to compromise the taste of your coffee, so don’t try to show them off
- Keep your beans in a dark and cool location. Think about where the sun shines in your kitchen, and the placement of your lights. If you want to keep them in a cupboard to be on the safe side, don’t put them in one affected by your oven heat
- A lot of coffee comes in packages with air vents which allow air to escape but not to enter. These are fine for short-term, but you should ideally invest in a proper container
Dan is a former competition barista and has been honing his knowledge of coffee for over two decades.
He has worked in coffee farms in Peru, as well as roasters in Australia. He now trains new baristas and hosts cupping experiences in Austin.