Of the many simple pleasures in this world, few are as wonderful as the smell of fresh roasted coffee. That first whiff of delicious aroma when breaking into a new bag is one of my favorite moments. But freshness is key and coffee’s full awesomeness is fleeting. Here’s how to hold on to the magic as long as possible.
I’ll assume you’ve gone through the trouble (or in the case of a Blue Bottle at Home coffee subscription, the ease) of obtaining quality, fresh roasted, whole coffee beans. The full flavor of coffee begins to reveal itself a few days after it’s roasted, and starts to wane after a couple weeks. There is not much that can be done to extend that complex, fresh flavor far beyond this. The vast majority of what you find stocked on the grocery shelf is already stale and the pre-ground stuff is particularly flat and lifeless. Technologies such as inert gas flushing and other tricks to extend shelf life have only modest impact and are no substitutes for scoring fresh beans.
The basics are easy: you want to decrease air movement, limit temperature fluctuations, and avoid exposure to light. But there’s more than one way to accomplish these goals. Here are three of my favorites.
The Bag It Came In
Not all coffee bags are created equal. Some bags look nice, but provide no barrier against the effects of oxygen or the escape of aroma. Bags that are made of coated Kraft paper or that don’t have a firm seal will go stale more quickly. Some bags (such as those used at Blue Bottle) use a one-way valve that allows the fresh coffee to off-gas its initial CO2 without bursting the bag and can be resealed.
Keeping your beans snug in one of the good resealable bags is a fine way of staying fresh.
Jar and Lid
This is an easy one and a personal favorite. A mason jar, a recycled sauce jar, even a plastic gatorade bottle makes a fine receptacle for keeping the coffee beans locked down. And scooping your dose out of a nice, wide-mouth jar is often a bit easier than scooping from a bag. The one caveat is that too much exposure to sunlight is not ideal, but odds are you won’t be stashing this on your windowsill.
A Nifty Contraption
There are a number of bean storage devices out there, but the one I find most nifty is the Airscape by Planetary Design. It is simple and unassuming, made of stainless steel, and has a special internal locking lid that lets you push the air out for a snug fit at any volume.
Whatever you use to hold your beans, make sure to keep the container out of direct light, which will help keep the temperature stable. A kitchen cabinet is always a good choice.
There are a few things to avoid if you want your beans to taste fresh after more than a few days.
There are a number of products on the market for bean storage that look like they belong more on the back pages of Sky Mall than in your kitchen. These often feature some ability to create a vacuum for storing your beans, which often will speed up the staling process by going beyond just removing oxygen and actually drawing oils and aromatics out to the surface of the coffee. It is unlikely that such gizmos will extend the life of your stash any more than a simple jar.
Pro tip: if it plugs into a wall outlet, don’t store beans in it.
A little bit of coolness is probably a good thing, but humidity is not, and our fridges have a lot of moisture in the air. Every time you crack open your stash, humidity will creep in, bringing off flavors with it. So don’t store your beans in the fridge. Your countertop or cupboard is cool enough.
There is much debate among coffee nerds about the merits of freezing beans. Here’s my take:
Only consider freezing coffee if you plan on keeping it much longer than a month. For shorter stints, you’re better off just storing it airtight at room temperature.
If you freeze, make sure it is in a fully sealed container, without even a one-way valve.
When you’re ready to use it, allow it to come to room temperature while still fully sealed to avoid condensation. Once it’s been thawed, do not freeze it again.
Out in the Open
Once upon a time many of the early retail pioneers in specialty coffee would merchandise their coffee in big open bins, the sight and smell of the beans enticing shoppers to purchase a scoop or two. It’s a much more rare sight now as the principles of quality and freshness have gained ground, but you still see it crop up in older shops or bulk bins.
Wide open bags or old cookie jars without snug lids are a common kitchen no-no, as is occasional forgetfulness for resealing your containers. (Don’t feel bad, I’m guilty of this, too.)
Many grinders have good size hoppers that can hold a lot of beans, but we would suggest only dropping in there what you need for the current brew and keeping the rest safely sealed elsewhere. They’ll just get stale waiting for your grind.
Bottom line: Keep your fresh beans in something airtight, cool, and out of direct sunlight; grind them fresh every time you brew; and you’ll enjoy your coffee for as long as it lasts. As always, we’re happy to help you with any coffee brewing or storing questions you might have, just drop us a line.