This involves placing your beans in a container which limits their exposure to the elements. By doing so, you will enjoy coffee that tastes better and remains fresh for much longer.
In this guide, we will identify a couple of options for coffee bean storage and the best way to store coffee beans. We will also explain how long you can store coffee beans and identify the symptoms of stale coffee, which will help you avoid accidentally drinking bad coffee.
Avoid exposure to sunlight and other elements
So, what is the best way to store coffee beans? The answer is any way that avoids exposure to sunlight, moisture, heat, and oxygen. These elements can be damaging in the following ways:
Ultraviolet light can cause the molecules in coffee beans to break down or change structure. It can also cause evaporation, robbing your beans of the valuable components they contain which give them aroma and flavour.
Coffee beans are hygroscopic, which means that they are capable of absorbing moisture. Once they have absorbed moisture from the environment, it will begin to dissolve the valuable molecules the beans contain.
Keeping coffee beans at temperatures above 25 degrees can speed up how quickly they age, bringing oils to the surface prompting the release of CO2.
Exposure to oxygen causes coffee beans to oxidise. Oxidisation is a chemical process that changes the molecules in the bean responsible for flavour and aroma.
The best way to store coffee beans is inside an opaque airtight container that is stored at room temperature (20 to 25C or 68 to 77F). This will reduce the amount of air, light, moisture, and heat reaching your beans.
The best place for storing coffee beans is in the back of a cupboard, where the temperature is stable and the container is not exposed to light.
Coffee bean storage options
Coffee beans can be stored in any kind of airtight and opaque container. You could, for example, use a plastic canister, metal box, ceramic pot or another container that can form a seal and keeps them safe from sunlight.
However, if you really want to keep your beans fresh, you could use a vacuum storage canister. They are airtight containers that use a hand pump to remove oxygen. By removing the oxygen from the canister, you can slow the rate of oxidisation, which means the beans will stay fresh for longer.
It is also a good idea to use the smallest possible container as this also helps limit the amount of oxygen that will be in contact with the beans.
Some canisters will have one-way vents which are designed to emit the gasses produced by freshly roasted beans. These kinds of canisters can be useful if you often purchase your beans directly from roasters.
How long can you store coffee beans?
Many factors go into determining the best way to store coffee beans, including how the bean was grown, harvested and processed. Unroasted coffee beans (also called green coffee beans) have the longest lifespan at just under a year.
Green beans last a longer time because the molecules and oils that give them their wonderful flavour and aroma remain protected by the bean’s outer layer. Once roasted, these compounds are exposed to the environment and begin to degrade rapidly.
Freshly roasted coffee beans will remain at ‘peak’ freshness for 4 to 5 weeks. However, they will remain enjoyable for up to 3 months. After this point, most people will find that the bean’s flavour and aroma will be so degraded that it won’t produce an enjoyable cup of coffee.
Freshly ground coffee has a much shorter lifespan than whole coffee beans because it has smaller coffee granules which will oxidise faster. The finer the grind, the faster it will oxidise. This means a very finely ground coffee will only remain at ‘peak’ freshness for a few minutes and will remain enjoyable for a couple of days. Medium or coarse ground coffee can remain at peak freshness for a couple of days and will remain delicious for up to 4 weeks.
What about storing beans in the freezer?
Many people believe that coffee beans should be stored in the freezer as it is a very cold and dark environment. The logic seems sound — they will be away from oxygen and sunlight. Also, the low temperature might actually help the bean stay fresh?
Unfortunately, storing fresh coffee beans in the freezer can have some negative consequences. The biggest problem is potential exposure to moisture, which will quickly damage the integrity of the beans, causing them to go stale faster.
Coffee beans coming out of the freezer may also develop a flat flavour profile as the cold temperature can affect the bean’s chemical structure. Storing them in the back of a dark, cool cupboard is always a better option.
So, how do you know if coffee beans are stale?
Being able to spot stale beans can say you the hassle of brewing some old beans and discovering that your brew tastes like an old shoe! Some of the warning signs that indicate your beans are stale include:
Sadly there is no way of telling if a coffee is fresh or stale by its appearance. You are going to have to rely on your sense of smell and taste!
Freshly roasted coffee beans will have a powerful aroma. Depending on the type of coffee you are smelling and its roast profile, you may smell various aromas of fruits, florals, cocoa, chocolate, nuts, wine, and spices. Stale coffee beans typically have a weak aroma that is quite bland.
Finally, you can assess the freshness of the bean by its taste. A fresh bean will have strong flavours while stale beans will be quite bland and possibility bitter or sour.
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