San Diego's Finest Organic Coffee & Tea

Properly sealed bags extends coffee life

Every time I am asked this question I have to resist the urge to say, “you shouldn’t!”  We tend to forget that coffee is a food, full of the same sugars, oils and organic compounds found in other consumables.   The short story is that in the ideal (coffee) world, you would buy the amount of freshly roasted coffee that you are able to consume in 1-2 weeks, which is when coffee flavors are at their peak.

“But what about the packaging?” you ask.  It is true that our packaging serves as an excellent barrier to oxygen – for a while.  The reality is that  oxygen still gets through very slowly.  After a month of sitting on the shelf, the concentration of oxygen inside a bag is the same as outside.  It is not surprising then that our cupping experience shows that a sealed bag only extends the “useful life” of our coffee by about a month.   It is important to note that the coffee you buy in the grocery store is commonly a few months out of the roaster.

BUT of course we all wind up storing our coffee, either because we can’t consume it fast enough or we go out of town for a week … etc.  Here is how we like to think about it.  The enemies of coffee are:

  • Oxygen
  • Heat
  • Moisture
  • Other fragrances (e.g. spices, cheese, onions…etc)

So it follows that the ideal environment is a dark, dry place away from spices and other odors.  There is an argument to be made for vacuum containers which remove oxygen, however the vacuum does tend to make oils come to the surface of the bean where they are exposed to oxygen each time you open the container.

We often get questions about refrigerators and freezers.  If your coffee bag has been opened, the answer is easy – Don’t!  While cool is good, these places are both smelly and moist = bad. We can tell you from experience that tuna-flavored coffee “no es bueno!”    If the bag is still sealed, the answer is more hotly debated (even among our staff).  One school of thought points to the fact that some micro changes can occur with freezing.  My advice is for you to do your own experiments if long term storage is necessary, or better yet, adjust the amount of coffee you buy so you are consuming it in 2 weeks or less.  Happy sipping!

 

 

 

2 comments
  1. Emmanuel Boston says: July 3, 20119:43 pm

    Because buying good coffee is difficult depending on where one lives, what if one were to buy several pounds of coffee at a time, but store the excess (what won’t be used in 2 weeks) in a vacuum-sealed container. Then, transfer new coffee out at that point. This way, although the oils surface the bean, they are only exposed to oxygen once every two weeks. Would this be an effective way of preserving coffee?

    • Stephan says: July 5, 20119:48 pm

      The short answer – There are a number of coffee professionals and chefs who use this method and recommend it. There are just as many coffee professionals who cry “blasphemy” at the idea of using the freezer.

      The long(er) answer – There are good and bad things about this method. The bad news is, as you have already noticed, vacuum sealing tends to draw the oils to the surface of the bean where they can react more readily with the oxygen when exposed. Coffee is susceptible to freezer burn, moisture and the absorption of freezer odors, so a quality sealing system is essential. Another argument made against freezing, is that there are microscopic changes seen in the bean matrix which may affect flavor. On the good side of things, cold does slow oxidation and one study done with a panel of professional cuppers found that frozen coffee was substantially better than coffee stored out of the freezer over the same period of time (although not as good as freshly roasted).

      The bottom line – Let your palate be the guide. Do your own experiment by making three cups of coffee; one with frozen, one with some of the coffee left in the cupboard, and a third with freshly roasted coffee. You will be amazed how you can discern the differences when you taste them side by side. One chef that we ship our coffee to every month or two individually wraps single portions and vacuum seals them before freezing – a lot of work, but he swears by the method. Let us know what you find works best for you. Remember coffee, like all culinary arts ultimately comes down to a matter of taste and preference.

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