If you just bought some coffee beans, storing your coffee correctly is essential to keep them fresh and as tasty as the day you bought them.
The four things you want to avoid when storing your coffee at all costs are:
Let’s take a look at them in more detail.
I think this one is pretty self-explanatory. Air contains oxygen, and oxygen causes oxidation. Oxidation is the same thing that makes metal rust and the flesh of cut apples to go brown. In case it isn’t obvious, oxidation is bad and will reduce the quality of your coffee dramatically over time. So, the more you expose it to air, the faster the coffee will oxidise.
Keeping air at bay
To keep oxidation at bay for longer, storing coffee beans in an airtight, resealable zip-lock coffee bag – usually the same bag you bought your beans in. Make sure to remove as much air as you can before sealing.
An alternative to the zipper coffee bag is an airtight container – make sure it’s brand new as your coffee will take on any odours and flavours from foods stored in it previously. Spaghetti bolognese latte? No thanks!
If you’re after something made specifically for coffee, there are two main options out there. The first is an air displacement canister which allows you to remove most of the air by pushing the lid down closer to the beans and maintaining an airtight seal like the Airscape by Planetary Design.
Other coffee storage canisters utilise a vacuum (the same tech as wine bottle vacuum pumps) to remove all the air from the canister.
The Atmos by Fellow Products is a great example of a vacuum canister design by integrating the air removal mechanism directly into the lid without having to worry about losing a handheld pump. To evacuate all of the air from the canister, simply twist the lid a few times and you’re done.
Keeping your beans away from humid and damp environments is key for longevity and locking in their quality. Exposing your coffee to water will turn it into a soft mess that will clog your coffee grinder. Coffee beans need to be brittle to be ground effectively, so keep those beans nice and dry!
Don’t store your coffee in the fridge or freezer
Storing foods in a cooler environment is a great way to extend your foods shelf life, however, the issue with coffee is that the fridge is a damp and smelly place. This means storing your coffee in the fridge and freezer is generally a big no-no. Coffee is hygroscopic, which essentially means it will absorb moisture. Your coffee beans are like little sponges that will willingly take on any off-odours and moisture from the storage environment.
Condensation is bad
The other big issue is moisture, namely in the form of water condensation. If you pull a bottle or can out of the fridge and set it on the kitchen countertop and come back a few minutes later, you’ll notice a small pool of water on the countertop as well as lots of water on the surface of the bottle/can. Condensation occurs when warm moist air in the room is rapidly cooled on a cold surface, causing those all too familiar droplets of water. This happens on your bathroom mirror, Coca-Cola cans, and windows on a warm rainy day.
If water condenses on the surface of your coffee beans, given enough exposure time, the water will be absorbed into the cellular structure. This turns your coffee beans into a soft soggy mess. Putting this through your grinder is a surefire way to clog the burrs. Beans need to maintain brittleness to grind correctly.
A word on freezing coffee
At this point, we must acknowledge freezing coffee beans when done in a specific and controlled way is a wonderful way to extend their shelflife almost indefinitely.
Admittedly, I freeze a lot of coffee at home. All the coffee is frozen in pre-measured doses and ground immediately using a grinder designed specifically for single dosing which negates the issue of condensation. At this stage, if you’re new to coffee, I do not recommend freezing your coffee. It’s better to buy coffee in smaller quantities more often than buying in bulk and having your coffee stale faster than you can drink it.
Heat is great for coffee if you’re brewing it and trying to unlock all of the wonderful flavours and aromas inside. If you’re storing coffee, you want to keep it in a cool environment away from sources of heat.
You may remember from your high school science classes that heat causes reactions to speed up. The warmer your beans are, the more excited the molecules are, which prematurely speeds up degassing and the release of volatile aromatics (the stuff that makes coffee smell so good!).
Degassing is the process that describes the release of carbon dioxide found within the coffee beans to the environment. Fresh coffee has lots of carbon dioxide and helps combat the effects of oxidation covered earlier. So in the absence of carbon dioxide, oxidation can take place much more quickly.
Light is the least understood in terms of how it affects coffee quality. UV is the main culprit in decreasing quality here. If you have a darker roasted coffee that has oils on the surface of the bean, UV will cause these oils to go rancid and oxidise faster.
Rancid oils smell and taste bad. So long as your coffee isn’t sitting in a transparent container on the window sill in direct contact with sunlight (double whammy of UV and heat), you’ll be fine. It’s best practice to store your coffee in a dark cool area. Typically an opaque airtight container or coffee bag is preferred, but not absolutely necessary if you’re storing the coffee in a dark pantry.
Limiting your coffee’s exposure to air, heat, light and moisture will ensure your beans stay vibrant and fresher for longer.