Working for almost 15 years in the specialty coffee industry, this question comes up quite often. There are several ways to maintain your coffee’s fresh flavors and are usually achieved by simply changing a few habits that are overlooked at home that often play a major role in coffee rapidly losing its fresh coffee flavor and aromatics. The three areas for maintaining freshness include the following: choosing the right type of storage container, selecting an ideal environment for storing coffee containers, and changing purchasing habits to maximize coffee freshness.
Packing and Storage Containers
Oxygen is the enemy of all food. It’s what makes things rot, stale, and decompose. With this in mind, it is important to choose the right storage container to protect coffee from oxygen to help extend its shelf life. There are three main types of storage containers common in the market: coffee foil bags, kraft paper bags, or plastic and aluminum cans. Each of these forms of packaging are made to be airtight —except for the kraft bags which have no protection from the air.
In addition to the type of packaging material, coffee roasters often compliment their packaging line with nitrogen flushing. This process might sound dangerous or even unhealthy to some people, but don’t worry, it is a safe process that helps preserve the freshness of coffee. Air consists of about 21% oxygen while the rest is composed of nitrogen. The nitrogen is then pumped through tubes into the packaging machines and tightly sealed. Since nitrogen is heavier than oxygen, filling the bag with nitrogen will push the oxygen up and out of the release valve (or otherwise used by everyone as a smell portal, so yes, go ahead and squeeze that bag! It’s a one-way valve and no oxygen will get in… although the retail establishment may not appreciate the crumbled-up bags, so be courteous). This process is almost always used for individually wrapped and ground portion packs and common for retail bags that are ground.
Finding a dry, cool, dark place, such as a cupboard or food pantry in your kitchen will be the best place to store coffee for the first few weeks after your coffee purchase. A couple of places that I do not recommend storing coffee is in a refrigerator or area with a great deal of moisture. Since coffee is very low in moisture, it acts like an absorbent of moisture from its surroundings.
More importantly than discussing the best storage container or environment is to build the best purchasing habits. No matter how you store it, if you buy coffee that is already stale, or does not indicate a roast date somewhere on the bag, the coffee may likely have gone stale, and no matter how you store it at home, it will remain stale and flat. The best way to avoid buying stale coffee and keeping it fresh will be to buy coffee from a roasting company or brand that provides a roast date either printed directly on the bag or coded and explained in a quick conversation in person, online, or over the phone with the roaster.
Plan. Only buy enough coffee to last you for about two weeks. If you like to buy coffee in bulk, I would suggest putting what you will not use within the next two weeks in a Tupperware container placed in the freezer. From there, take out only what you will need to brew on a daily basis.
To recap, I would suggest the best way to keep your coffee fresh is to buy less of it more frequently. Then, once you have it at home, store your whole bean coffee in an airtight container of your choice (even as simple as the bag it came in as long as it’s airtight), and keep it on the counter in a dry cool place. Don’t forget to check your roast date. Also, buy a grinder, as freshly ground coffee will withstand longer shelf life.
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