Storing Coffee: How (and Why) to Do It Right
Unless you're having a horde of coffee enthusiasts over for breakfast, or your coffee habit makes you shake like a Tickle Me Elmo with a fresh set of batteries, it's a safe bet that you don't drink all the coffee you buy all at once. Even if you buy in moderation and try to use the beans while they're still fresh, there's still the problem of storing the beans between uses. Why is proper coffee storage important, and what's the best way to store your coffee? Read on to find out. First, let's review what degrades your coffee beans:
Grinding: Peel a banana, or cut an apple, and you'll notice that in minutes the color and taste changes. In much the same way that keeping your fruit whole until you eat it keeps it fresher longer, whole coffee beans retain their freshness better.
Moisture, Heat and Light: When you stop to think about it, heat and water are what's extracting the flavor from your beans. If you're storing them somewhere that's hot and humid, you're extracting the flavor before you've even brewed a cup of coffee. Light also has an adverse effect on the shelf-life and flavor of your coffee.
Air: Like spices, coffee contains flavor compounds that can evaporate or oxydize with exposure to the air. Leaving beans or ground coffee in the open air degrades flavor, and humidity can also lead to mold.
Time: Coffee beans aren't made up of coffee molecules. They contain complex carbohydrates, sugars, lipids, amino acids, and a number of other compounds. Just like any other food that contains those chemicals, coffee degrades and spoils over time. Now that we know what keeps your beans from being their best, let's see how to address each:
Buy Whole Coffee Beans: As a rule of thumb, don't grind your beans until you're ready to use them, and don't let them sit for any longer than fifteen minutes once they're ground. Like a cut apple, their flavor changes as they sit.
Use Your Coffee Promptly: The longer your coffee sits, the greater the chances it goes stale. The closer your coffee is to its roast date, the better.
Store Your Coffee Properly: Since we know that air, light and heat are bad for coffee, the best thing to do is store it somewhere cool and dry, and make sure that the container is opaque and air/water-tight. If you're storing beans in the bag they came in, it's best to squeeze as much air as possible out of the bag. An even safer bet is to buy an opaque jar with an airtight lid (a screw-top lid is good, while a Mason jar or other jar with a gasket is better still). Avoid plastics, since they tend to absorb the flavors of whatever's stored in them (and, often as not, whatever's used to clean them).
Many coffee grinders feature large hoppers that can store a pound or more of coffee at a time. Unless you're operating a coffee shop and going through those beans quickly, that's not a good idea; even if the hopper is tinted and has a lid on it, the beans are still exposed to light and air. And while coffee beans can add a certain decorative touch to your kitchen,* storing them on the counter or a windowsill in clear glass jars isn't a good idea. And remember: whether it's whole bean or ground, NEVER refreigerate or freeze your coffee!
Nobody likes stale, flat coffee. And nobody -- at least nobody we know -- has money to waste. Knowing how to store your beans means a better cup every time, less wasted money, and less wasted coffee. *Not unlike those jars of layered dried beans and grains that are supposed to be a soup starter, but that usually get regifted through several successive Christmases 'til they make their way back to the person who first assembled or bought them.