While I was visiting a coffee-loving friend, he eagerly showed me some recently purchased whole bean coffee from Pennsylvania. He pulled the bag out of his refrigerator and ground up the beans in his small grinder. As he was grinding them up, his wife grabbed some fish out from the same fridge for lunch, and his kids served themselves strawberries and yogurt. While I commend their healthy eating habits, I couldn’t stop thinking about the aroma and taste of the coffee I was about to partake in, and hopefully enjoy.
Freezing Coffee Beans
A little known fact about coffee is that it is porous and absorbs flavors and moisture easily—both of which are found in abundance in a refrigerator or freezer. If you store coffee beans in the fridge or freezer, their quality will quickly deteriorate and taste just like the surrounding contents. And while coffee tastes best when it is fresh, no one wants a fishy tasting or smelling cup of coffee.
When coffee is roasted, the beans release aromatic oils, giving you that rich scent and flavor. These oils are particularly noticeable with dark roasts. So when you freeze or refrigerate coffee, the freezing process in fact breaks down these oils and results in a loss of flavor.
If storing coffee beans in the freezer isn’t the answer, then what is the best way to store coffee? The first thing you need to remember is that the enemies of roasted coffee are: moisture, air, light, and heat. Storing your coffee away from them will keep it fresher longer. Therefore, an airtight container stored in a cool, dry, dark place is the best environment for your whole coffee beans.
Something to keep in mind: if coffee tasted better and fresher from the freezer, then you would buy it in the frozen food section.
So lesson learned, NEVER refrigerate coffee.
Buy Whole Bean Coffee Instead of Grounds
Would you cut a cake into pieces the day before you planned to serve it? Would you buy it pre-sliced? Of course not! The pieces would quickly become stale and the frosting would start to dry out. The same goes for coffee beans. Grinding the whole bean coffee breaks up the beans and their oils, exposes them to air, and makes the coffee go stale much faster—no matter how you store it.
For the best tasting coffee, buy your beans whole and store them in a sealed container in a dark place. Grind right before serving for optimum taste and aroma in the fresh ground coffee.
Vacuum Sealing Bags Don’t Preserve Freshness
Coffee packaged in vacuum seal storage bags is not freshly preserved. When coffee is first roasted, it releases carbon dioxide for days after being roasted. To be vacuum sealed, the coffee has to first release all of its CO gasses, or it will burst the bag. The vacuum bag does help preserve coffee longer while it ships and maybe sits on a store shelf, but before it ships, it sits around for a while before it is "sealed for freshness". Vacuum sealing is best for pre-ground coffee, which we already know is not going to taste as good as fresh-ground coffee.
Instead, fresh-roasted coffee can be packaged in valve-sealed coffee bags, which allow the carbon monoxide gasses to escape while still capturing and preserving the flavor soon after roasting. Packaged like this, coffee tastes best about 48 hours after roasting, but still remains fresh long after being bagged.
A quick review for serving the best tasting coffee:
- Buy whole beans directly from a local coffee roaster.
- Look for valve-sealed bags, not vacuum-sealed.
- Store your coffee beans in a sealed container in a dark and dry place.
- Grind your beans just before brewing.
- Enjoy your flavorful cup of coffee!