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How Old Is Your Single-Serve Coffee Pod?

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.**

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.