This week for the DBMH Blog I’ve decided to cover a topic that continues to baffle and befuddle most coffee drinkers: how to store your coffee. There are several details to consider before you even get the coffee home including where you buy your coffee as well as whether you should buy pre-ground or whole bean.
As we’ve probably said before the best place you can get your coffee is the closest specialty coffee roaster you can find. We recommend small batch roasters as they often have tighter control over the mirad of variables that go into roasting, whereas a roaster that operates on a massive scale tends to emphasize quantity over quality. If you aren’t aware of any small batch roasters near you, ask around your favorite coffee shops! Shop owners will most likely be happy to show support for their suppliers and point you to their own personal favorite brews. Here in Indy we purchase our beans from Tinker Coffee Company. For you folks that live in areas where a local roaster is not an option, many roasters across the country offer a subscription service where they ship their current roasts to your front door.
The one place that I would never recommend is the grocery store. Some grocery stores do carry local coffee roasters’ products, however, large chains more often do not. Most grocery store coffee is vacuum sealed which requires that the coffee be allowed to almost totally degas before packaging. This essentially means that these manufacturers are purposefully allowing the coffee to age past its prime before it is even packaged. That’s not to mention the time it then spends in transit and warehouses before sitting on the store shelf. If you see a brand of coffee with a one-way valve for degassing purposes, then you might be on to at least a decent bag of beans. If you’re going to take care to store your coffee as best as possible, it’s best to start with coffee that’s been treated with the same care up to that point.
Once you know where you want to get your coffee, the barista will usually ask you if you would like it pre-ground or whole bean. Whole bean coffee stays fresh far longer than ground coffee. Most roasters say that whole bean coffee will maintain most of its flavor for up to a month, meanwhile ground coffee will last about a week at most. If you want high quality coffee at home we always recommend prioritizing a good grinder when it comes to where to invest first. We touched on this a little bit in our second post about home brewing here.
Now that you’ve got your favorite beans home, you’re ready to stash them away and ensure that you get the most enjoyment out of them as possible! First you should consider the packaging that the beans came in. Today, many specialty roasters use resealable bags with one-way valves built in. If that’s the case, they’ve already done a lot of the work for you. An airtight container is optimal for the longevity of the beans’ flavor. After roasting, coffee beans have CO2 trapped inside them that gradually leeches out. This does not affect the flavor directly, but can cause the bags to inflate. Bags that have a one-way valve allow this gas to escape without letting in oxygen which does cause coffee beans to begin to stale.
Besides oxygen, the other two main factors you should aim to avoid are moisture and sunlight. It is rare for roasted beans to be packaged in translucent bags but if you plan to put them in another container be sure they are kept in a cabinet and out of the light. The material the container is made of should also be considered when storing your beans in anything other than the original packaging.
Plastics can absorb flavors and aromas over time. These leftover coffee flavors, though potentially delicious initially, will start to become rancid and have a negative impact on fresh coffee that is repeatedly stored in a plastic container. Some types of metal can also react to coffee, passing on unwanted flavors. The best material for reusable containers is glass. However, be diligent to wipe it out between refills to remove residual oils from the previous beans and, again, keep it in a dark dry cabinet.
While I realize that the amount of detail to consider when simply storing coffee may seem a bit daunting, if you are purchasing high quality coffee from a specialty roaster you will want it to stay fresh as long as possible. For more info on coffee storage and purchasing refer to James Hoffmann’s book The World Atlas of Coffee.