It's coffee time! You grab your favourite coffee beans from the coffee store to make a delicious cup of coffee, but you're not sure how to store them. Will they go stale if I leave them in the original coffee bag? Should I transfer them to a glass container? Or do I need to keep it in the fridge or freezer? We understand that there is a lot of misinformation out there about coffee storage and we want to set the record straight with this blog post.
You want to store your coffee beans in a location that ensures they will taste great for as long as you take to drink them. After all, you're drinking specialty coffee from reputable coffee roasters. Freshness is key to keep your coffee tasting just right from the first cup to the last beans in your bag.
What does freshness mean for coffee?
The coffee bean is very sensitive and the taste of coffee will change dramatically with time. Coffee beans have a low oil content, which makes them more susceptible to atmospheric moisture and temperature fluctuations. This can lead to what we call "staling". You may be familiar with this when you buy bread from the bakery: it tastes much better on the day you buy it and the next time you can notice flavour differences. Coffee is similar in that coffee beans are at their peak of freshness within days after roasting, which means the coffee will taste best when consumed within a few days after being roasted.
The concept of coffee freshness isn't broadly known yet. Part of this is due to grocery store coffee beans that have been roasted weeks or months ago being wildly popular as well as mass coffee shop chains focusing on the freshness of the coffee after it is brewed rather than the freshness of the coffee beans used to prepare your drink.
The flavour difference in an older coffee bean, however, is evident. Even if it's not impossible to drink, older coffee loses much of what makes it unique. That's especially true for aromatics that aid in the development of tastes.
Many coffee drinkers don't realize that coffee starts to lose its flavour after it is roasted. Storage then becomes important to maintain the coffee's freshness and maximize taste, especially if you prefer your coffee from a local roaster or small artisanal shop.
What's the best way to store your coffee?
The best way to store coffee is in a container that protects the coffee from moisture, light, heat and odours, as well as let the air out but no air in. This is because of the coffee degassing that naturally happens after beans are roasted. Do you know what form of storage checks all the boxes above? The original sealed coffee bag with a degassing valve.
It is common to find specialty coffee sold in bags with tin ties for closure after you start enjoying your beans. While this approach is more than enough to keep your bags safe and tasting delicious, they are not airtight. If you must transfer your coffee to a different container, this should be the upgrade to aim for.
How does air impact the taste of coffee beans?
The biggest culprit in making coffee beans go stale is oxidation. Oxygen from the atmosphere can alter coffee bean chemistry, leading to a loss of aroma and complex compounds. This is why storing your coffee beans in airtight containers becomes important to maintain their freshness.
The next most common way that coffee goes stale is by absorbing odours. Coffee has an incredibly porous surface area to it, meaning that coffee can absorb a good deal of smells around it. This is why coffee drinkers should never keep their coffee beans near anything with an intense smell, such as onions or garlic.
If you must transfer coffee from the original bag, look for as airtight a container as possible. Make sure it is a few days after roast as you do not want the degassing process to risk breaking the new container as there is no way for the air to get out. There are several food-safe canisters with fairly sealed snap lids that will suffice, and chances are you already have a functioning jar on hand.
Where to keep your airtight container
It is important to keep your new container or coffee out of direct sunlight. Sunlight is a coffee's worst enemy, not only because of the heat it can produce but also due to light-based damage caused by ultraviolet rays.
That's also true for dark or opaque containers, as heat is pretty much never good for coffee until you start brewing.
Can I keep my coffee beans in the fridge or freezer?
It isn't uncommon to see coffee stored in the freezer because this will prevent any further degradation due to heat and humidity fluctuations. Most coffee specialists agree that coffee technically can be frozen and by doing so will oxidize slower and preserve coffee's bright flavours. The problem here though comes from condensation forming when coffee is removed from the freezer - you do not want to get wet beans. This can create a risk of mould, which will obviously impact coffee flavour and freshness.
If you wish to keep your coffee in the fridge or freezer it is also super important to use an airtight container. The last thing you want is your precious, porous coffee beans to absorb flavours from everything else you're storing there.
Tips for storing coffee beans
- Adjust your coffee purchasing habits so that each bag lasts no longer than two or three weeks. This way you're completely safe keeping the coffee in its original bag. (hint: you can set a coffee subscription to do the planning for you and even get a discount!)
- Store your beans in an airtight container
- Keep your beans away from sunlight and heat
- Use the freezer for longer-term storage if needed
- When using coffee from the freezer, take out only as much as you need, quickly to not give condensation a chance.