March 2011

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!




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March 26 from 6-10 pm

See what’s blooming in South Park’s shops and cafes — fresh colors, tasty flavors, and festive happenings.  Shops are open late, plus live entertainment, samples and surprises throughout the neighborhood.  Free trolley 6-10pm, and 6:30pm walking tour from Juniper to Beech St.

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Fair Trade San Diego’s next general meeting.

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