If you are a person who takes your coffee routine seriously—you care about extracting the best taste every time you brew—then you should make sure you understand how to store coffee beans properly to keep them fresh.
Although coffee is safe to drink for several months, improper coffee bean storage ages the beans enough to ruin the taste. Especially for expensive beans, you do not want to mute those delicate flavors. So let’s explore why coffee ages and how to keep coffee beans fresh.
Enemies of Coffee Freshness
Before getting into the specific methods for storing coffee beans, it is worth reviewing the environmental reasons that coffee ages. Understanding these enemies of fresh coffee is a huge part of proper coffee bean storage, allowing them to taste good for as long as possible.
Like most perishable food products, oxygen is the primary driver of food spoilage. And even though oxygen ages coffee slower than most of the food in your refrigerator, it starts to affect the flavor. Protecting your fresh coffee beans from the air is one of the main factors affecting coffee freshness.
Coffee beans release their moisture during the roasting process. But like most dried food, improper packaging leaves the beans susceptible to moisture reabsorption. When an environment is both warm and moist, you run the risk of mold growth.
And besides the possibility of mold growth, moisture also speeds up the aging process and degrades the delicate flavor compounds within the coffee bean. Avoid changing temperatures and contact with the air to prevent moisture absorption.
Heat and Light
It can be easy to forget that light is not just how we see our environment—it is also a form of energy that can speed up the aging of perishable foods. While this might be desirable for certain fruits that you wish to ripen, heat and light will speed up the aging process of coffee.
For example, putting your whole bean coffee in a sealed clear jar might be good for avoiding the damaging effects of air, but it will allow heat and light to age your beans. Sunlight is especially harmful because you will simultaneously subject your beans to heat and light.
What Is the Best Way To Store Coffee Beans?
Now that you understand how air, moisture, heat, and light can speed up aging, it is time to examine the specific storage methods that ameliorate those aging effects. Your coffee beans will still age, but these factors will slow that process down enough to keep your beans fresh for longer.
Keep Coffee Beans in an Airtight Container
As stated above, oxygen is the main enemy of coffee. Oxidation slowly changes the chemistry of your coffee beans, a process that ruins the flavor. So storing your beans in an airtight container is one of the best ways to keep them fresh for as long as possible.
Some coffee bags reseal like a ziplock bag, but most coffee bags rely on a loose fitting/bendable tie to close. These do not keep oxygen away from your beans. So even if you want to keep the coffee bag, remove the air before closing and store it in an airtight jar or container.
Keep Coffee Beans in a Cool and Dark Place
Room temperature is ideal for coffee storage, and you should avoid an environment with extreme temperature changes. During the summer, for example, you should store your coffee where the AC is consistently running. Temperature changes will create moisture.
To avoid these damaging effects, store coffee beans in a cool and dark place. If you have a glass airtight jar, for example, put that in a dark cupboard to avoid damage from room light and sunlight. Warm environments will not only age coffee faster but also encourage mold growth.
Should You Keep Beans in the Fridge?
Since you just read about storing coffee in a cool and dark place, you might be thinking that the refrigerator perfectly fits that description. And while the fridge is a dark place, it is too cold for storing any coffee that you use regularly. As you take coffee in and out of the fridge, the temperature changes will cause condensation (moisture) to develop on the surface of the beans.
Another huge reason why you should avoid the fridge is that coffee beans can absorb the odors of other food. So unless you want your beans to take on the flavor of yesterday’s dinner, avoid storing them in the fridge!
Can You Freeze Coffee?
Since you just read a warning about avoiding the fridge, you might guess that storing coffee in the freezer is also bad. But freezing coffee is a surprisingly effective method for prolonging its shelf life, as long as you do it correctly.
Like any perishable food, keeping beans in the freezer slows down the aging process. But to avoid any damaging effects on flavor, make sure to follow a few basic instructions:
- Store in an airtight container to avoid moisture
- Freeze small quantities at a time
- Defrost before exposing it to the air
That last factor of defrosting first is crucial because air contacting a frozen bean will cause a ton of condensation on the surface of the bean and defeat the whole purpose of freezing them in the first place.
Buy the Right Amount of Whole Beans Coffee
One of the easiest ways to avoid coffee expiring or aging is to buy in smaller quantities. Depending on how many coffee drinkers there are in your household, taking months to finish a bag of coffee beans means that the last few batches are long past their roast date. These beans are still safe to consume, but the flavors will be muted or replaced by stale flavors and bitterness.
You will find that coffee beans taste best within approximately 2-3 weeks of their roast date. So if you have a regular coffee schedule at home, try to plan out the quantity and timing of your coffee orders to finish a coffee within 3 weeks of its roast date.
Or you can consider signing up for a coffee subscription service, freshly beans will be delivered to your doorstep regularly. Many coffee subscriptions allow you to customize the frequency based on your coffee consumption.
Invest in a Grinder, Grind Before Use
No matter how well you store your coffee, pre-ground coffee will age significantly faster due to the exposed surface area.
When it is in whole coffee beans form, oxygen can only contact the exterior, which protects the interior of the bean from oxidation. But as to ground coffee, the internal parts of the beans are exposed to the air. Finer ground coffee, like espresso, ages even faster.
So aside from proper storage, make sure you keep the beans whole and grind them immediately before brewing.
Roast Green Coffee at Home
Coffee aging mostly affects roasted coffee beans, because the delicate flavor compounds within the roasted bean begin to lose flavor within weeks. But many people choose to buy green coffee beans and roast them in small batches at home. Many home coffee roasters are beginner friendly and affordable.
There are several methods to roast coffee beans at home without any specialized equipment, and green coffee beans can stay fresh for several years.
Don’t Keep Coffee Beans In The Bean Hopper
Many home coffee grinders or grind-and-brew coffee machines have a bean hopper on top. It’s never a good idea to pour a full bag of coffee beans into the bean hopper unless you can consume them within a few days. Many bean hoppers are not airtight. It’s always good to weigh the beans before grinding so you can keep the coffee fresh for longer.
As you can tell, there is a lot more science than you might have realized behind keeping coffee beans fresh. Compared to many perishable foods, coffee is robust and safe to drink for many months. But just because coffee is safe to drink does not mean it will taste good.
Aged coffee usually tastes rancid, and the bright acidic notes transform into a dull and sour flavor. So proper coffee storage will avoid those enemies of coffee—air, moisture, heat, and light—and maintain the delicate tasting notes you love!