Imagine you’ve bought quality coffee beans and left them out on the counter, only to find that after 2 weeks they’ve gone stale. To avoid wasting both beans and money, you’ll want to make sure you store your coffee properly.
We’ve answered the most important questions when it comes to storing coffee: like how long your coffee beans will keep, whether you should consider freezing them, and what you should do with them once they go stale.
The Difference Between Pre-Ground Coffee, Whole Bean Coffee, and Brewed Coffee
Pre-ground coffee and whole bean coffee are the two types of coffee you can buy from the store or local roaster. Typically, whole bean coffee in the bag will last about 2 weeks before losing its flavor and freshness while pre-ground coffee in the bag will last a week, max. Some say pre-ground coffee is already stale by the time you buy it at the store. (Source) This is because grinding coffee allows the gases in the bean to escape and exposes more surface area to oxygen.
Once coffee is roasted, it’s a race against time with oxygen because coffee oxidizes. Increasing the surface area (aka grinding coffee) accelerates oxidation. For this reason, we recommend buying whole bean coffee or pre-ground coffee that is freshly ground, so it stays fresher for longer.
Once you brew your coffee, it’s freshest within the first 2 hours. If you stick it in the fridge, it can last up to 3 to 4 days if it’s stored in an airtight container. This is because coffee continues to oxidize even in brewed form, and if you leave it out for too long the coffee can become rancid and even grow mold. It’s best to consume the coffee immediately after you make it.
Does Roast Date Matter?
Most coffee bags at the store or from a local cafe or roaster will have the roast date on them. The roast date is usually stamped or printed on the front or back of the bag. These dates are important because if you buy coffee that was roasted the day before, chances are it’s not ready to drink yet. This is because coffee beans need 3 days to a week to release carbon dioxide after roasting.
However, if you buy coffee beans that were roasted 2 weeks ago, chances are they won’t stay fresh for long. The best coffee beans to get will be roasted 3 to 7 days ago; it’s okay to buy super freshly roasted beans, just make sure to let them degas before brewing.
How to Store Coffee
Coffee’s enemies are air, moisture, heat, and light, so make sure you store them in a cool and airtight container away from direct sunlight. It’s a good idea to get an opaque container to guarantee there’s no light hitting your beans. It’s common for people to store their beans in an opaque, airtight container in a closet or cabinet that is dark. This is a great way to ensure your beans stay the freshest they possibly can.
Another tip to keep beans fresher for longer is to buy the right amount of coffee beans for how much coffee you make on a regular basis. Roasters and stores alike usually offer 6 oz or 12 oz bags depending on how fast and often you drink coffee. The best way to ensure coffee is fresh is to consume it as fast as you can (in a healthy manner).
To Freeze or Not Freeze
If you buy coffee beans in bulk or have multiple bags that you can’t possibly finish in 2 weeks, the freezer is your next best option. But before you go sticking coffee beans in the freezer, here’s some coffee bean science you should know. Coffee is porous and hygroscopic, meaning that it absorbs moisture (including odors and tastes) from the air. So, avoid sticking your coffee beans in the bag in the fridge or freezer because it will take on odors from the fridge.
Make sure to do freeze your beans it in an airtight bag or container and let it thaw out before using. We also suggest portioning the frozen beans accordingly, because taking frozen coffee beans in and out of the freezer will promote condensation. (Source)
How to Tell Your Coffee is Stale
So, you bought a bag of coffee beans, set them on your kitchen counter, and forgot about them for 2 weeks. Now what? The first thing you should do is smell your coffee beans. Stale coffee beans and fresh coffee beans will look the same, but smell different. Stale coffee has a dull, lifeless, even rancid or musty aroma. If the beans smell musty, the brewed coffee will taste that way, usually it tastes less flavorful.
Another way you can tell the coffee is stale is to bloom it. Blooming coffee is the first step in many brewing methods where you add a little bit of hot water and allow the gas in the coffee beans to escape. If the coffee doesn’t bloom within the first couple of seconds after pouring hot water in, your coffee has gone stale because it has released all of its gas. (Source)
What to Do with Stale Coffee
If your coffee beans are stale, they are still usable. They might not have the same freshness in flavor, but they are good to use in other ways. A common way to use stale coffee is to use it in cold brew, as cold brew is not as sensitive to stale coffee compared to a pour over coffee.
You can also compost your coffee if you don’t want to drink it. Coffee beans make a great fertilizer for plants! You can also brew your stale coffee normally, just know that it won’t be as fresh as intended.
Where to buy fresh coffee
A smaller or local coffee brand is your best bet when it comes to getting your hands on fresh beans. At Bean & Bean, our Panama Gesha and La Colombia Gesha coffees are roasted on demand in microbatches to ensure that you're getting the freshest beans possible.