Learning how to store coffee can dramatically improve the quality of your coffee and how long it stays fresh. So I will give you the secret right away. Ready? Here it is: store coffee in an airtight container away from sunlight, moisture, and heat. That is the take home message.
Store coffee in an airtight container away from sunlight, moisture, and heat.
Coffee Gets Stale
Most grocery stores consider coffee shelf stable and safe to consume for up to 2 years after it was roasted. The two year old coffee on the grocery store shelves or in the back of your cupboard won’t kill you but I promise it’s not going to taste very good.
Despite what grocery stores tell us, coffee does get stale. In fact coffee is best when consumed in the first 2-4 weeks after it was roasted. We are talking weeks here, not years.
Coffee Gets Stale From Two Processes
The first process is the loss of aromatic compounds. Aromatic compounds are the molecular compounds that give coffee its lovely aroma and flavor. The thing about aromatic compounds is that they tend to be volatile, meaning they break down over time. So over time the compounds in coffee that give it the flavor and smell that we want will disappear. Thus, stale coffee will taste dull and muted.
At the same time the aromatic compounds are breaking down, another set of processes is happening. The elements (air, water, light, heat) are not kind to coffee. Exposure to air, specifically oxygen in air, causes a chemical reaction called oxidation. Oxidation is the same reaction that causes metals to rust. The reaction changes coffee on a chemical and molecular level. Similar chemical reactions and changes happen from water and light exposure. All of these changes result in stale coffee that tastes flat and similar to chewing on cardboard. Yuck!
How To Store Coffee
So now that we know the things that cause coffee to get stale, we can have a better understanding of how to store and prevent or delay these changes. Let’s go over a few key points.
- Keep coffee away from air: Store coffee in an airtight container. This will limit degradation from oxidation and other reactions. Some coffee roasters sell their coffee in resealable, airtight bag but most is not. Regardless, I prefer to transfer my coffee from the bag to an airtight container for storage.
- Keep coffee dry: Avoid storing coffee in a humid environment. Most airtight containers will also limit the amount of water or moisture the coffee is exposed to.
- Keep coffee away from light: Bright light, particularly sunlight, accelerates the staling process. The best way to prevent this is to use an airtight storage container that you can’t see through. If you can see your coffee beans, light can get to it. So no peaking!
I like to think of coffee as the Gremlins from the 1980s movie. Don’t get them wet, keep them away from bright light, and never feed them after midnight.
The Refrigerator and Freezer
Storing coffee in the refrigerator or freezer is pretty common practice. DO NOT do this. First the refrigerator really does nothing to extend the life of your coffee. In fact, something very bad can happen to coffee stored in the refrigerator. Coffee beans are very porous, allowing them to absorb aromas and flavors of things around it, meaning all of the other food around it. I don’t know about you, but I do not want my coffee tasting like leftover Chinese food.
Storing coffee in the freezer may keep it tasting better if you need to store it for a long period of time (a few months). However, don’t freeze your daily coffee. Each time you take coffee out of the freezer and thaw it, the coffee is exposed to moisture. Not good Gizmo!
Here are the key points: coffee should be stored in an airtight container that you can’t see through in a cool, dry place. That’s it.
There are many containers that will meet these criteria. But I feel like it’s only fair if I share what I personally use. I use and recommend the Airscape coffee storage canister. This canister looks sharp, is made from BPA-free stainless steel, and has a lid that slides up and down allowing you to force excess air out away from the coffee.