One of the most asked questions related to coffee is: What is the best way to store coffee? In this article, we will go the best ways to keep the coffee you purchase fresher longer. We will also cover what not to do and then end with a few product recommendations for storing your coffee beans.
It needs to be said that no matter how well you store your coffee beans at home if you are buying older coffee, your coffee is not going to be at its best. There are many bags of stale coffee that line the shelves of grocery stores. You’ll want to look for a roast date on the bag. Even if the bag is vacuum-sealed, time is the enemy. If you do not see a roast date, assume it is stale and find another option.
Darker roasts are less forgiving than lighter roasts. If you like darker coffee, look for coffee a few days off roast. Lighter roasts can be 1-2 weeks old. Sometimes even 3 weeks. If you are making cold brew coffee, you can use older coffee.
Here in Seattle, I figured out that my favorite roaster made their fresh coffee delivery to stores on Friday afternoons. Guess when I timed my grocery store visit? That evening.
Whole Bean vs Ground Coffee
Ground coffee will go stale at a much faster rate than whole beans, because of the much greater surface area. Grinding your coffee at home just prior to brewing is a very important step for maximizing coffee freshness. If you aren’t able to grind coffee at home, buying smaller amounts of coffee more frequently is your best plan.
The Enemy of Coffee Freshness
Coffee freshness has five enemies.
- Depth of Roast
The worst thing you can do is store your coffee in the refrigerator. Not only is it a moist environment, but the coffee can absorb the flavors of the food being stored in the frig.
The freezer is more complicated. As a general rule, you want to keep coffee out of the freezer for similar reasons. However, if you have a lot of coffee you want to save, placing those beans in an airtight freezer bag is not a bad idea. Taking coffee in and out of the freezer repeatedly is not advised.
When coffee is exposed to air, like other perishable food items, it begins to lose its flavor potential. Keeping coffee sealed in a bag or container is one of the most important things you can do to extend the life of your coffee.
I never really thought much about the role heat plays in coffee freshness until a few years ago. I visited a coffee shop that kept their coffee in bags next to a window where the sun was beating down. Despite having access to the fresh coffee delivered by the roaster, the coffee there tasted stale. The coffee was fine, as I had it before at a different coffee shop. The heat had destroyed the flavor.
Keep your coffee away from heat to extend its freshness.
Light exposure is probably the least violated rule of coffee storage. Unless you are taking the coffee out of its bag, placing it in a glass container, and then storing that coffee out in the open, you are likely fine. Just note that coffee prefers darkness.
Depth of Roast
Other coffee sites that tackle the subject of coffee storage never seem to mention the role roast level plays in the coffee freshness equation. Darker roasted coffees, regardless of how they are stored, go stale quicker than lighter roasted coffees. Coffees taken to French Roast or Italian Roast are more porous than lighter-roasted coffees.
From the article Hacking Dark Roast – Tips on Brewing a Better Bold Coffee:
When coffee is roasted well into and even beyond the second crack, the structure of the coffee bean is more fragile and porous. This greatly shortens the window of freshness. I talked with one Seattle roaster that told me a dark French roast coffee might start to taste flat in as little as four days. That is four days from roast. You can try and seal the coffee as best as you can to preserve and extend freshness, but a heavily roasted coffee will age faster.
There are three solutions for the dark roast fan:
- Make more frequent purchases of smaller amounts of coffee. Time your purchases close to the roast date.
- Shift to a medium-dark roast to extend the freshness window.
- Start the rewarding hobby of home-roasting, so you are always guaranteed of getting fresh coffee in the exact amounts you want. Plus you’ll save money. All you need is a porch and an old popcorn popper. (Roasting Coffee in a Popcorn Popper)
Coffee Storage Options
Now that we know what not to do with coffee, let us explore the options we have for storing coffee correctly.
The simplest solution is to seal the coffee bag as best as possible and place it in a cabinet. It will be away from moisture, light, and heat.
#2 Jars, Containers
Phase two is placing the coffee in a jar or some variation of a kitchen container and then storing the container in a dark cabinet (if it is glass). I did this variation for many years, especially during periods when I had a lot of different home roasting samples.
#3 Vacuum-Sealed Containers
Today, I use a vacuum-sealed container. My coffee never goes stale. The first cup out of the bag tastes just as good as the last. And this is the ideal situation. Ankomn makes a vacuum-seal container that seals with a quick turn.
Ankomn Turn-N-Seal Container
Putting it All Together
To maximize coffee freshness, we are only going to buy fresh coffee, especially if we prefer darker roasted coffee. Ideally, we will grind the coffee just prior to brewing, but if we can’t, we’ll still do our best to keep the coffee fresh.
We will keep the coffee out of the refrigerator. We won’t purchase too much coffee at once, to minimize the chance some goes flat. If we do buy too much coffee, we can store the coffee in an air-tight freezer-safe bag in the freezer and then move it to room-temperature storage when we are ready to consume it.
At a minimum, we will keep coffee sealed in its bag and stored in a dark cabinet. Finding a jar or container to place the coffee into is the next step and eventually graduating to a vacuum-sealed solution.
Coffee Storage – Our original article that dives deeper into the best way to use the freezer to store coffee.