There’s nothing like the taste of great coffee, so it’s hardly surprising that so many of us go to great lengths to make the perfect cup.
But why are the results not always up to scratch?
As lovers of everything from a wake-me-up-in-the-morning espresso to a creamy lunch-time cappuccino, we want to share with you our secrets to wonderful coffee.
Of course it’s about the beans – but simply buying the most expensive kind won’t do the trick. The real key is proper storage.
So read on for 11 proven tips on how to store coffee beans. We hope you enjoy the results!
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#1 Don’t store your beans for too long
There are lots of ways that good storage can lengthen the life of your coffee beans, but even the best solutions won’t completely eliminate the effects of time.
If you’ve ever wondered how long coffee beans last in the bag once opened, the National Coffee Association USA suggests one to two weeks (1).
The question of why coffee goes stale has occupied a host of scientists but, surprisingly, it seems that roasting is largely to blame.
Yes, the same process that creates the distinctive coffee flavor also begins a series of reactions that over time degrade its quality.
How does it happen?
Roasting causes sugars and amino acids inside the bean to decrease while gases build up. It’s the release of those gases over time that causes the coffee to taste stale.
Grinding the beans speeds up the staling process because it increases the surface area of the coffee, making it easier for the gases to escape.
Research reviewed by the Specialty Coffee Association of America found that there are a few substances that, when released, are responsible for the majority of coffee aroma loss.
More worryingly for those of us searching for the perfect cup of coffee, it found that two of those substances - methanethiol and 2-methylpropanal - gave the most intense aroma and dissipated just two hours after roasting.
Take a look at this video for more information on how long roasted coffee beans last:
#2 Store your beans in an airtight container
Oxygen is the enemy of good coffee, so keep it away from your precious coffee beans!
The air contains between 19 and 21% oxygen and research has found that only 14 cubic centimeters of the gas (or 70 cubic centimeters of air) are enough to make a whole pound of coffee go completely stale .
The good news is that there’s a whole host of products designed to keep your beans airtight.
Premium coffee beans often come packaged in one-way valve foil bags that let out gas but don’t allow air to enter.
If you’re lucky enough to have coffee that’s packaged this way, leave it in the bag. It should stay tasting fresh and lively for up to two weeks (2).
Conversely, paper bags with thin lining won’t keep your coffee at its best for long.
If that’s how your coffee is packaged, consider transferring it to an opaque, airtight container.
A specialist canister can be an excellent investment: the airscape coffee canister, coffeevac, osaka vacuum sealed canister, blinkone coffee canister, lovffee coffee canister or friis coffee vault are all specially designed to keep your coffee away from the air and in tip-top condition for as long as possible.
#3 Buy the right amount
One of the key factors in keeping your beans fresh and your coffee delicious comes before you even make the purchase.
We have already mentioned that the sweet spot for coffee beans is between a couple of days after roasting to around two weeks after.
This means you should always try to buy roasted coffee beans in batches that you will use up in this amount of time.
Of course, in an ideal world, we would all like to follow this rule 100%, but in reality, it might not work like that.
We don’t all have the time or opportunity to buy delicious freshly-roasted beans every two weeks – and we certainly don’t want to leave ourselves short of beans and without our favorite drink when our supply runs out before we can buy more.
What we’re saying is, be aware of the lifespan of coffee beans and try to buy accordingly.
You might have to accept that the coffee you’re drinking when you get to the bottom of the tub is no longer in its optimal condition, but at least with a little forethought, you can ensure that you are drinking the most flavorsome and aromatic coffee for as much of the time as possible.
#4 Keep your beans at room temperature
This one may come as a surprise, but for the best coffee experience don’t be tempted to put your beans in the freezer.
Scientists working with a coffee shop in Bath, England, tested a range of variables including bean size, temperature and country of origin to see how they affected the factors believed to have the biggest impact on coffee flavor (3).
The only variable that had an impact was temperature, with colder beans scoring better.
Coffee Flavor Impaction Chart
So why not try to keep your beans as cold as possible?
Well, unless you have access to liquid nitrogen in your kitchen, for most of us the chilliest option is the fridge freezer or deep freeze.
According to data from the experiments, this is nowhere near cold enough to make much difference. And there are disadvantages to storage in your freezer too.
Freezing will almost certainly form condensation on your coffee beans, and the moisture will affect the oils that give coffee its flavor.
The problem gets worse if you open and close your freezer a lot.
If you take out some of the beans, don't put the rest back in the freezer, or they’ll suffer even more.
The US National Coffee Association recommends storage at room temperature.
It’s possible that the beans may lose their freshness more quickly than if they’re frozen, but you won’t have to worry about moisture damage.
And if you stick to the rule of using them within a fortnight, you should get great results.
#5 But if you have to freeze them – freeze them right
So there’s a great offer on your favorite coffee beans and you just have to buy them while it lasts – what are your options?
Great coffee beans stored for longer than a fortnight will still taste better than sub-standard pre-ground coffee – so don’t completely rule out the freezer as an option.
If you do decide to freeze your beans, start by putting them into airtight containers, with about a week’s worth of beans in each one.
That way you can avoid taking out and replacing beans in the freezer, reducing the risk of condensation and moisture damage.
For real aficionados, it is also worth considering how soon after roasting you should freeze your beans.
Some baristas maintain that it is better to let lighter roasted beans rest for about a week after their roast date before freezing, while medium and dark roasted beans should be frozen as soon as they arrive.
The reason for the different approach is that lighter roasts let out their gases more slowly, and you want to give those gases a chance to dissipate before you freeze the beans.
Last but not least, make sure you defrost your beans thoroughly before you use them!
As well as being hard work for your coffee grinder, the moisture in frozen beans will cause it to rust.
#6 Leave them in the bag they came in
First, understand that beans from a regular grocery store will probably already be past the golden two-week limit for optimum flavor.
But if you’re reading this, you probably buy beans from a specialist and you’re looking for tips on how to preserve your freshly-roasted coffee.
If your coffee beans are packaged in a paper bag, they will need to be transferred as quickly as possible to a proper container, as we’ve discussed, to keep them in the best possible condition.
However, if your beans are supplied in a plastic pack with a one-way valve, you can safely leave them in the pack until you need them – although of course the two-week limit still applies.
A valve allows beans to be sealed in the pack right after roasting since the valve allows CO2 to escape.
With no valve, the gas would cause the bag to expand and eventually explode, but a valve allows you to receive the freshest possible beans that are still giving off lots of gas.
They’re well-protected in there so don’t take them out until you need them.
#7 Store your beans in the dark
Like oxygen, light will impair the flavor of your beans. However beautiful those glass jars look on your kitchen shelf, replace them with an opaque coffee bean storage container for a better tasting beverage.
The science behind the impact of light on coffee relates more to thermal energy – i.e. heat – than to the light itself.
The rate at which coffee goes stale depends on the thermal energy transferred to the coffee beans and the way that the energy is distributed.
Moisture is particularly effective in transferring thermal energy, so a combination of light and water marks disaster for your coffee beans!
Illy, the coffee experts, maintain that arabica blends are particularly badly affected by light because they are rich in unsaturated fatty acids.
Light, they say, speeds up the main trigger of the oxidation process, damaging the flavor.
Store valve sealed coffee bags in a dark cupboard to keep your beans fresher for longer.
#8 Keep your beans away from water
…Until you want to turn them into coffee, of course!
Water damage from condensation is the key reason to avoid freezing your coffee beans if you can, but it’s equally essential to keep them away other sources of moisture.
Storing your beans a safe distance from the sink and unwanted splashes of water is one obvious step, but you also need to consider the dangers of steam.
Keep your vacuum sealed coffee bags away from stoves, kettles or anywhere else steam is likely to be generated.
Ground coffee is particularly vulnerable to humidity, so don’t store ground beans for any longer than a week.
If you want the best flavor, don’t grind the beans at all until you need them. However, if pre-ground coffee is unavoidable, make sure you store it in an airtight container.
Ceramic containers are better than plastic, because they avoid the risk of transferring unwanted flavors from the container to your coffee.
#9 Consider buying green coffee beans
If you’re struggling to use your roasted coffee beans before they go stale, you might want to consider buying green coffee beans instead.
Stored properly, they can produce delicious coffee after as long as a year of storage. Nevertheless, there are some downsides…
First and foremost, green coffee beans can be hard to track down – you’ll probably need to source them from specialist suppliers. Then there’s the task of roasting them.
Try not to let that deter you – there are lots of different methods to try, and who cares if you don’t get it right first time?
The ideal storage temperature is 60 degrees Fahrenheit, with humidity of about 60 per cent to avoid the twin dangers of mold and drying out.
If you’re up for the challenge, proper storage will allow you to make the most of green coffee beans’ longer shelf life.
If you’re expecting your beans to be used up within a few months, it will be fine to keep them in the plastic bags they’re sold in.
Store them in a cupboard or even on the countertop at normal room temperature.
If it’s likely that they’ll need to keep for longer, the beans will need to “breathe”.
There’s more than way to achieve this: you can either leave the plastic bag open and give them a shake now and again, or even better transfer them to cotton bags.
#10 Don’t buy pre-ground coffee
For those passionate about coffee, the only way to make the drink is by grinding it yourself.
While pre-ground coffee is much quicker and more practical, it loses flavor and aroma so much faster than coffee beans and will become stale in a very short space of time.
This means if you refuse to drink bad coffee, beans are the only option.
If you want to know how to store the ground coffee beans, you should simply follow all the same advice as for beans – just don’t expect pre-ground coffee to last anywhere near as long.
#11 Use up your stale beans to make cold-brew iced coffee
If you’ve run out of storage solutions and find yourself in a race against time to use up those coffee beans, don’t despair!
Stale coffee beans taste just as good as fresh ones when used for cold-brew iced coffee.
Making cold brew isn’t a quick task. After grinding your coffee beans (a coarse grind is best for a translucent drink) you’ll need to let them steep in a container of water for around 15 hours.
The resulting liquid is strained through a cheesecloth-lined sieve and then sieved for a second time, this time with the sieve lined with a coffee filter.
It can take up to 45 minutes for the coffee to strain through the filter, but don’t be tempted to help it along – stirring the liquid will make it cloudy.
The resulting concentrated brew is tasty but strong, so handle with care! When you’re ready to drink it, fill a glass with ice and dilute one part concentrate with one part water or milk.
If you’re wondering, “Does cold brew coffee need to be refrigerated?”.
The answer is, “Yes”.
Like iced tea, it doesn’t have a particularly long shelf life. Keep it in the fridge as soon as it’s finished filtering and drink it within two weeks.
Wait any longer and you’ll find it grows moldy.
You’re ready to go!
We hope you enjoyed our list of practical tips to keep your coffee beans fresh for as long as possible!
A great cup of coffee really is one of life’s essentials, so we hope these handy hints will help you get a top quality brew to savor.
If you’ve found something here you think is useful, please let us know by commenting and sharing. Together, we can make the world a better place for coffee drinkers!