How Old Is Your Single-Serve Coffee Pod?

Stock Exchange Dark Roast Pods for Keurig

Stock Exchange Dark Roast Pods for Keurig

In case you hadn’t figured out, coffee is a big deal here at HiLine. Such a big deal, in fact, that we even review other Third Wave roasters and cafes, and have even subjected ourselves to the wide world of mass market coffee. In the last few entries, we’ve talked about how single-serve coffee “works,” and why freshness matters for single-serve coffee. But that raises a question: if freshness matters, how can you tell if what’s going into your Keurig or Nespresso is fresh?

The answer, it turns out, can be difficult to pin down. In much the same way that they can be opaque about their manufacturing methods, neither Keurig nor Nespresso is particularly transparent about the age of the coffee they sell. Sure, they’re happy to tell you it’s smooth and delicious. They’ll trot out adjectives that aren’t typically found outside a thesaurus or Scrabble board to extol its virtues. But when it’s roasted? Good luck.

We should add that this isn’t limited to Keurig Green Mountain or Nestle. Other brands, like Folgers, Maxwell House, Dunkin’ Donuts, and Starbucks* don’t advertise their roasting dates either. In fact, companies like HiLine that go out of their way to advertise when the beans in their single-serve cups are roasted are a relative rarity.

How can you tell if you’re getting the good stuff?
Look For A Roasting Date: The company’s packaging or website should give an indication of when the beans have been roasted and ground. In the absence of a roasting date, look for a use-by date. Here again, it’s pretty opaque, but bear in mind that the expiration date can be (and often is) anywhere from several months to a year after the beans are roasted.

Where Are You Buying? There’s no polite way to say this: if you’re buying your coffee at a supermarket, you’re going in with two strikes against you already. Age degrades taste. Pre-ground coffee, which single-serve coffee pods are by necessity, degrades faster still. Buy in a store and your coffee’s already on its way to going stale.**

Wall Street Dark Pods for Nespresso -- Fresh!

Wall Street Dark Pods for Nespresso — Fresh!

How Old Is It Really? When you’re dealing with a mass-market coffee company, the beans can sit for some time before they’re roasted, another three to five months before reaching supermarket shelves, anywhere from a week to a month (or longer) on the shelf before it’s purchased, and even longer at your home (especially if it’s put away behind the boxes of pasta in your cabinets and forgotten about… not that we’d know from experience or anything).

Buying Keurig or Nespresso pods online from a Third Wave roaster like HiLine has its advantages. You’ll know where your coffee came from and when it was roasted (remember, the closer to the ship date, the better). Perhaps most importantly, you’ll get a better value for your money. Fresher tastes better!

*Here, we’re singling out Starbucks’ K-Cups; they’re typically more forthcoming on the coffee sold in their own stores.

**There are exceptions. If your local grocer carries coffee from a local roaster, your odds are better of getting fresh coffee. Then again, there’s usually a roasting date on the package, and many local roasters are particular about not allowing their coffee to sit on the shelves ’til it’s gone stale.

Why Freshness Matters: Single Serve Coffee Pods

Buy Pods for Keurig

Buy Pods for Keurig

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: freshness matters. That’s true whether you’re buying Folger’s at the supermarket, whole beans at your local Starbucks, buying K-Cups or Nespresso capsules, or buying from your favorite Third Wave roaster (though we’re partial to that last option, for obvious reasons). The fresher your coffee is, the better it’s going to taste.

That can actually pose a problem when you’re buying K-Cups and Nespresso pods. To figure out why, let’s review why freshness matters:

Yes, Coffee Can Go Bad: The sage wisdom of the Rolling Stones aside, when it comes to coffee, time is not on your side. Neither are environmental factors like heat, light, air, and humidity. Over time, the many components of coffee beans — including lipids (fats), carbohydrates, sugars and proteins — break down or go stale. Your old coffee may be perfectly safe to drink, but it certainly won’t wow your tastebuds.


Buy Pods for Nespresso

Buy Pods for Nespresso

Fresher Coffee Has More Health Benefits: It sometimes seems as though science is finding new health benefits for coffee on a nearly daily basis. Its proteins, amino acids, and antioxidants have been proven to help fight the effects of aging, Alzheimers, diabetes, certain cancers, and quite a bit else besides. But there’s a catch. Many of those beneficial compounds, like the coffee itself, have a shelf life. The longer your coffee sits, the fewer benefits you reap.

Fresh Coffee Tastes Better: If you’re still not convinced by your coffee’s ability to spoil, or by losing its healthful properties, consider this: old coffee tastes lousy. Smell a bag of coffee you’ve just purchased, and then smell one that’s been open for a few weeks. The difference can be stark. Your sense of smell is a major component of how things taste, so those flat-smelling beans are going to make some very flat-tasting coffee.

Broadway Dark Pods for Nespresso

Broadway Dark Pods for Nespresso

Single-serve coffee pods like the ones made for your Keurig and Nespresso have, on one hand, been carefully engineered to keep out some of your coffee’s biggest enemies. When they’re manufactured correctly and stored properly, the air and moisture that degrade the coffee inside are locked out, and the exposure to heat and light can be minimized. There’s one thing that those cups, nifty though they are, can’t do; they can’t halt the passage of time, unless your kitchen has a TARDIS (in which case, can we come over? We’ll bring coffee). As you’ll find out in the next post, most single-serve coffee is pre-aged to begin with, then it sits in a warehouse, followed by more sitting on a supermarket shelf, and then even more sitting in your kitchen cabinets. If it spent any more time sitting, you’d be vacuuming potato chip crumbs out of its bellybutton.

Luckily for you, there’s a solution: buy pods for Keurig and Nespresso that are roasted, packed, and shipped fresh. That’s what we do, and we’re confident you can taste the difference.