Trying to keep your coffee beans fresher longer is a goal for most coffee lovers because fresh is always better. Not only will your cup of coffee taste better, but the aroma of freshly ground coffee beans is also sought after. You may have heard that keeping your coffee beans in the refrigerator will help them stay fresh, but is this true?
Should coffee beans be refrigerated? You should not store coffee beans or ground coffee in a refrigerator. Not because the cold, dark fridge will do something terrible to your coffee, but because it won’t keep them fresh longer. But what about the freezer?
Before we talk about storing your coffee in the freezer, let me explain why you don’t want to refrigerate coffee beans. Let’s say you put your coffee beans in a fridge with the leftover dinner from the previous night. There could be some cross-contamination of smell or taste. You would agree no one wants their coffee smelling or tasting like the garlic chicken they had last night.
Coffee beans should be kept in a resealable, airtight container like a food container or even a ziplock bag and stored in a dry, dark place. Now, let’s get back to keeping them in the freezer. Coffee beans can be put in the freezer. We’ll discuss why later in the article.
What Affects the Freshness of Coffee Beans?
The most significant effect on the freshness of your coffee beans is air, light, and moisture. Air (primarily oxygen) makes coffee beans lose freshness quickly.
This is why many big coffee roasteries will do “nitro-flushing.” This process involves flushing the bags of coffee beans with nitrogen to remove as much oxygen as possible and then sealing the bag to keep the beans fresher for longer. If you’re worried by the sound of nitro-flushing, don’t be. It’s perfectly normal. Nitro-flushing is highly preferred for freshness over using preservatives.
Second, is light. Sunlight especially makes coffee lose its freshness quicker. Coffee will lose its freshness (go stale) as time passes, but light and moisture speed up this process. As freshness lessens, that delicious smell will become less pungent, and the flavors will become less intense.
Also, new, less tasty flavors will start to develop. Once this happens, you will have stale coffee beans. When you make a coffee with them, it will taste flat, woody, and papery. And for those lovers of dark roast coffees, unfortunately, they tend to go stale quicker than lighter roast coffee. This is because air can get to it more easily because it’s more permeable.
Does the Same Apply to Ground Coffee as Coffee Beans?
Yes and no. Yes, all the above factors will have the same adverse effects on the freshness of your ground coffee. However, ground coffee will lose freshness much more quickly than beans.
When coffee is ground, the oxidation process speeds up. This is because there is more surface area exposed to the air.
This is why coffee roasters often recommend their customers purchase whole bean coffee and a coffee grinder. Freshly grind smaller portions for your morning cup of coffee. It will be fresher and, therefore, taste better. If you want to learn how to grind your coffee properly or how fine you should grind your coffee, click the link.
Where to Store Coffee Beans?
Considering all the above factors, we want to limit as much air, light, and moisture as possible. If you’ve bought a bag of coffee, chances are it will be in an airtight bag. Before you open it, store it in a dark, dry place like a cupboard or pantry.
Try to avoid any heat sources, like an oven as this increase the temperatures and create a more humid environment for the coffee. Heat and humidity are big no nos when it comes to keeping coffee fresh.
On many quality pre-ground coffee and ground beans bags you’ll notice a one-way valve. This is to allow carbon dioxide, CO2, to escape without letting oxygen in.
Once you open it, if the bag can be resealed, great; keep it in that and the cupboard, and you are good to go. If you cannot reseal the bag, transfer all the coffee into an air-tight sealed container. There are many canisters designed to keep your coffee in. Below are some of the ones I use and love.
The Coffee Gator and Airscape are my two preferred methods of storage out of the three. I like how they are both opaque containers to guarantee no light is able to penetrate through.
Related Reading: Coffee Gator vs. Airscape: Which Container is Better?
How Long do Coffee Beans Stay Fresh?
There are two parts to this answer. How long do they stay fresh before you have opened the (airtight sealed) bag? And how long will they stay fresh after you’ve opened them?
Before You’ve Opened the Bag
This is a tricky one. I have two bags of coffee in my house right now. One I bought from a supermarket has a best-before date of a year from now. The second I got from a specialty coffee roaster has a roasted date of 3 days ago (they roasted it the day I ordered it, then shipped it out, and it arrived two days later. Impressive, right! This bag states, “best enjoyed within three months.”
I have a friend who roasts coffee for a supermarket, and I asked her why supermarket coffee had a longer best-before date on it. It’s a combination of reasons. First, coffee is classed as an ambient product, meaning processed. Ambient products can be bought in larger quantities and stored longer because they last longer and don’t require refrigeration.
So the supermarkets need coffee roasters to put long shelf lives on them. Will it taste as good in a year? No, even in an airtight bag, it will have lost freshness. Will it harm you? Other than possibly offending your taste buds, no.
So, why does specialty coffee have a 3-month shelf life? Three months is the time when it will taste best. After three months, even if the bag is unopened, the aromas may start to be lost, and the woody flavors begin to appear.
In an ideal world, I would drink my coffee within a month of being roasted for maximum freshness. But there is a catch. I wouldn’t want to drink it the day after it was roasted.
After You’ve Opened the Bag
I recommend using coffee beans within the first three months after being opened from their bag, even if stored in an airtight container. But some people will say that if you use it within the first six months after opening, you’re good. Even then, you will still lose some of the taste and aroma.
Don’t Use Beans the Day After Being Roasted
You may think I’m being ridiculous now, and perhaps I am, but if we’re talking about coffee freshness, let’s touch on resting coffee.
To keep it short, when coffee is roasted, chemical reactions occur. This causes carbon dioxide to be released from the coffee beans. A lot of this can’t escape from inside the beans right away. The coffee releases quite a bit of carbon dioxide in the first few days after roasting, but this will begin to slow down.
This is the purpose of those tiny valves on the bag. Let the coffee rest for 3 – 5 days after it’s been roasted to hit that sweet spot of maximum coffee deliciousness.
Should you Freeze Coffee Beans?
Finally, we’ve come to why coffee beans can be stored in the freezer. Freezing the beans will lock in the flavors and keep the coffee in the same condition as it was only a handful of days after roasting it. If you’ve found yourself in an accidental bulk-buy-coffee situation (we’ve all been there), you can put your coffee beans in the freezer. Still, keep them in an airtight container, and only get out as much as you need each time.
To read more on freezing coffee beans or grounds, click the link.
Many recommend defrosting them overnight, but I’ve also seen baristas throw frozen beans straight into their grinder with no problems. Recently, freezing coffee beans has been a hot topic, so if you want to know more, look up Manchester Coffee Archive. They are the frozen coffee experts.
Here is a quick rundown of coffee bean storage tips:
- Do not refrigerate.
- Store in an airtight container in a dry, dark place.
- Purchase whole beans over ground coffee.
- Only grind what you need.
- Rest for at least 3 days and drink within 3 months.
- If you won’t use your beans within 3 months, get them in the freezer.
- If you’re drinking year-old coffee and enjoying it, it’s not harming you. Feel free to ignore everything in this post – the only thing that matters is what’s in your cup!