Freshly roasted coffee is always brimming with the subtlest of aromas — it is this intoxicating scent that makes a cup of good coffee simply impossible to resist. Unfortunately, the aroma is relatively short-lived. As soon as roasting is over and done with, the clock starts ticking and the beans begin losing their aromatic qualities. If coffee isn’t stored correctly, it turns stale surprisingly quickly.
Ideally, coffee should be consumed over the next few weeks after its roasting date — but sometimes that just isn’t an option. If that’s the case for you, you’ll probably want to learn more about the tricks that might help you maintain the freshness of your coffee for as long as possible.
In this post, we’ll be looking for the answer to this exact question: how should you store coffee beans at home? So sit back, pour yourself a cup of your favourite coffee and get ready to look at ways to store it properly (with a sprinkling of science thrown in for good measure!).
The Arch-Enemies of All Coffee Beans
To store coffee beans correctly, you first need to know their enemies. These are factors that may damage them — namely sunlight, heat, moisture and oxygen. It goes without saying that once you’ve purchased a pack of coffee beans, you should always try and consume them as soon as possible. However, if you can’t do that, then take the four arch-enemies of any coffee beans into account when choosing where you’re going to store your coffee. Let’s go ahead and take a closer look at each of them.
Direct sunlight and heat. Both of these are equally damaging when it comes to coffee beans: as chemicals and compounds in the beans heat up, the flavour ultimately changes.
Moisture. Moisture is dangerous because it can result in mold. The instructions on some bean packaging may advise you to store coffee beans in the fridge, but that’s actually not recommended. It can end up increasing the amount of moisture the coffee is exposed to: every time you take the beans out of the fridge, they warm up slightly, and when you put them back in the fridge, the sudden drop in temperature creates condensation. Also, remember that fridges are often used to store other foods with strong odours, so keeping your coffee in there isn’t the best of ideas — unless, of course, you like onion-flavoured espresso!
Oxygen. Oxygen is undoubtedly the biggest enemy of coffee beans: it reacts with the chemicals found in them and so ruins their aroma and flavour at a surprising speed.
How and Where to Store Coffee Beans to Keep Them Fresh for Longer?
Given the factors discussed above, it’s definitely a good idea to store your coffee in an airtight container, away from direct sunlight and strong odours, somewhere dark and cool.
Some coffee beans are packed in a special manner that’s suited perfectly for storing them. Opaque, airtight packaging is used, with a one-way valve to release the accumulated gas and prevent oxygen from slipping inside the package. Once you’ve opened a package like this, you can close and reseal it.
Now let’s say you’ve purchased coffee beans without a resealable package. In that case, close it with a clip and put the beans somewhere dry and cool, far from sunlight or strong odours. You can store the package in an airtight container or transfer the beans into a container like that, but make sure that it’s non-transparent.
As far as storage containers are concerned, your best bet is definitely a vacuum canister designed specially for coffee beans. A solution like that is guaranteed to protect beans from oxidation and preserve the unique features of your chosen coffee. You might want to take a look at this Fellow “Atmos”, which has been praised by numerous experts lately.
What About Storing the Beans in the Freezer?
Freezing is often used to preserve the flavour of various food products, so it’s quite natural to start wondering whether coffee beans might benefit from being stored in the freezer too. Not so long ago, most experts would’ve probably advised against it. Over the last decade, however, as the specialty coffee revolution kept on spreading and connoisseurs continued on delving deeper into the subtleties of coffee brewing, it’s gradually become clear that freezing your coffee is actually an excellent way to keep your beans from going stale so quickly. Experiments have shown that a more consistent grind is achieved when grinding beans that have just been removed from the freezer and are still cold. It makes the resulting coffee tastier and sweeter too.
To achieve this though, a couple of rules must be followed:
- Put your coffee in an airtight bag or container, with as little oxygen in it as possible — if you want to go even further, it’d be great to have the beans vacuum sealed.
- Once you’ve taken the beans out of the freezer (even if it’s for a minute or two), make sure to never refreeze them. It’d be best to grind them while they’re still cold. Alternatively, once you’ve taken the beans out, allow them to thaw overnight without opening the container (to avoid condensation), then store them just like you’d store fresh beans. Keep in mind though that once the beans have been defrosted, they’ll go stale even more quickly — so if you’re going to freeze your beans at all, divide them into chunks, each suited for around 1–2 weeks of regular coffee drinking.
- Once you’ve purchased beans, freeze them as soon as possible. After all, in order to remain fresh, coffee must be fresh in the first place!
All in all, we’d say that freezing your coffee beans is definitely an interesting storage option and, if you’ve purchased a larger amount, it’s worth a try. However, if you’re going to consume all of the beans you’ve purchased in a few weeks or so, freezing them won’t make much sense (as long as you store them properly, that is).
By the way, did you know that you can store coffee in the freezer for as long as several years?!
Attention! If you use a bean-to-cup coffee machine at home, then avoid grinding cold coffee to protect the grinder from possible damage.
Is Freshly Roasted Coffee the Best?
We often forget that coffee is, after all, a food product. The fresher, the better then, right? Well, not exactly. Let’s explore this further.
The roasting process results in certain chemical reactions, so, once coffee beans have been roasted, they keep on slowly releasing carbon dioxide for a while. That’s exactly why lots of coffee bags are equipped with one-way valves: they prevent gas from building up inside the package.
To put it simply, if you brew a cup of coffee using freshly roasted beans that are still brimming with CO2, you won’t be able to experience their true flavour. Moreover, coffee like that is often very acidic. That’s why it’s said that beans must be allowed to “rest” for a while after roasting — it usually takes around 4 to 14 days. The proper term for this process is degassing, as beans are put aside to release the excess gas. Once the resting period is over, the coffee’s then ready to gift you with the most precious flavours and aromas — and that’s exactly when it should, ideally, be consumed.
Does Coffee Have an Expiration Date?
It might come as a surprise, but coffee doesn’t actually expire. This is why, instead of the use-by date, the best-before date is indicated on coffee packaging. Depending on the manufacturer, the shelf life of most coffees is generally somewhere between 12 and 24 months. What this means is that over the duration of this period, coffee retains the qualities specified by its manufacturer. You’ll notice that the best manufacturers out there indicate the roasting date on their packaging as well. It’s this date, after all, that allows us to assess the freshness of the beans we’re purchasing: the more recent the roasting date, the more fragrant and delicious the coffee.
Of course, to preserve the freshness of such coffee for as long as possible, you’ll have to store it properly: that is, you’ll have to choose between the options of a resealable coffee package, airtight canister, special vacuum container or your freezer.
Never Store Beans in the Grinder
Another option you might be considering is keeping the beans in the grinder. When it comes to coffee stored at home, it may seem very convenient. Is it a good idea though? Well, the short answer is no, it isn’t. First of all, most grinders aren’t completely airtight. Secondly, this might cause coffee oils to build up inside the grinder and eventually damage the grinding mechanism. Finally, if you’re still not convinced, you might want to ask yourself this: what if you feel like switching to different beans from time to time?.. All in all, the conclusion here is quite simple: it’s best to use your grinder for grinding only.
Should You Buy Ground Coffee?
When storing ground coffee, keep the key rules for storing coffee beans in mind: protect coffee from excess moisture by using an airtight container, keep it away from strong odours and try your best to get the temperature right (what you want to aim at here is perfectly medium, i.e. not too hot and not too cold).
If at all possible, grind beans only when you need to and focus on grinding the exact amount you require. Don’t keep ground coffee sitting around for long: its surface area is larger than that of whole beans, so ground coffee is even more sensitive to the effects of moisture and oxygen. Basically, the golden rule is this: consume ground coffee as soon as you can!
If you still tend to go for ground coffee in the mall, yet have already started thinking about purchasing a grinder, go ahead and learn more about coffee grinding here.
Coffee’s Stale and Tasteless? Don’t Just Toss It!
We’ve covered a lot of ground here and, hopefully, you now have a better understanding of how to store coffee at home — and make it last too. Yet even if your beans have gone stale after all, cheer up — all’s far from lost! There are some fascinating, lesser known uses for coffee both in the home and in the garden. You can transform it into:
- a cleaning agent;
- a natural air freshener;
- a body scrub;
- compost in the garden;
- ...and much more!
So, in the future, do your best to store your beans correctly — and if your coffee has unfortunately gone stale, make sure to find another use for it and reduce waste as a result. We, on our part, are hoping you’ll both keep your coffee fresh and keep on enjoying every last bit of it!
FAQ / Quick summary
What are the things I should avoid when storing coffee at home?
The main things to avoid when storing coffee beans or ground coffee at home are sunlight, heat, moisture and oxygen.
Why do I have to avoid these? How do they affect my coffee?
They can result in subtle chemical reactions inside the beans, leading to loss of flavour and even mold.
What are the best containers to store coffee in?
Airtight, opaque canisters work best here. Ideally, you should use vacuum containers designed specially for storing coffee.
Is it okay for me to freeze my coffee to keep it fresh for longer?
Yes, that’s fine. It’s actually a great way to maintain the freshness of your coffee. Make sure to remember the rules discussed earlier on in this post though!
How is the roasting date of my coffee beans helpful?
A roasting date is certainly more valuable than a simple use-by date. It lets you calculate the best time to brew coffee using the beans in question — generally, it’s around 4–14 days after the roasting date, once the beans have been allowed to rest and release extra gas.
How long can I store ground coffee for?
Ground coffee has a larger surface area, so it’s affected even more by moisture, heat, light and strong odours. It’s best to grind your coffee immediately before brewing whenever possible.
Can I store coffee beans in a grinder?
This isn’t a good idea. It can speed up the oxidation process and cause the beans to lose their most valuable qualities.
What should I do if my beans have been stored incorrectly and are now stale?
Coffee can be used as a cleaning agent, natural air freshener, compost and numerous other things, so don’t just toss stale beans out!