Nothing beats the smell of fresh coffee brewing in the morning. When you open up that jar, the aroma stimulates your senses, let alone the flavor of a brew of beans you ground minutes ago. But after awhile, your beans may get stale, losing their aroma and potent taste. Without the proper storage, this process can happen in a couple of days, so it’s important to make the right decisions when you put your beans away. Let’s go over what makes your beans go stale, and some of the best ways to store your beans.
You want to store your coffee in an airtight, opaque container with a rubber seal and a lock. It’s a pretty affordable investment, but it can go a long way in making sure that your coffee doesn’t go stale on you. Coffee goes stale from air, heat, moisture, and light. A container like this one will protect your coffee from these factors. And, of course, you want to make sure to drink your coffee within 2-4 weeks, depending on whether or not you have whole beans or coffee grinds.
Never leave your coffee in the bag you bought it in, and don’t leave it exposed to the open air. Some people leave their grinds in plastic tupperware, which isn’t a very effective way to store your coffee. It doesn’t have a good seal, and the plastic can impact the flavor. You want a sealed container, preferably made of glass or ceramic.
Where You Should Store Your Coffee
You want your coffee stored at room temperature or slightly below, in the dark. The pantry is the best place for it, but if you have an opaque container, anywhere is fine as long as it isn’t near a heat source. Some people freeze their coffee, but this isn’t good for the beans, since freezers and refrigerators are very humid. And while you may be tempted to keep them on the window sill as decoration, light is bad for the beans.
What Makes Coffee Go Stale
Like any perishable, coffee has a set shelf life. While you can extend how long your beans last, don’t expect to go months at a time between purchases. There are a few environmental factors that can make your beans get stale and harden faster, like exposure to air, humidity, and the temperature. By understanding what makes your coffee lose its flavor, you can make sure that your beans last longer, giving you more delicious cups per pound.
Time is the only variable that you don’t have control over. As beans sit in your shelf, the compounds that give them their flavor break down, seep out, or get released into the air. You can usually expect your beans to last at least 2 weeks in ideal conditions, but you’ll lose time if you don’t have the right storage. More time in the open air, under heat, or in humid environments will accelerate the process for your coffee going stale.
Really, the only workaround for this is to make sure that you don’t try to hold onto your coffee for too long. While it may be tempting to stock up on a pound or two at a time, you may want to buy half pounds or less. Or use more coffee per brew, or even drink more coffee. That way, you won’t be trying to stretch your coffee for weeks at a time.
Air is one of the primary factors in any dried good losing its flavor. When the air comes into contact with coffee, some of the aromatics from the coffee are carried away by the air. If this happens long enough, then you’re left with flavorless, stale beans that will leave you unsatisfied with your morning cup. Keeping your coffee in an open or unsealed container will make it go stale in a matter of days.
This is why you always want to keep your coffee in an airtight container. When you minimize exposure to the air, you have less of the aromatics being carried away by the air. If your coffee container has a rubber seal and a locking hook, then your coffee is going to last longer. These containers can be really cheap, so make that investment.
While air can make your coffee lose its flavor, humidity and moisture can actually cause your coffee to get moldy. Bacteria and mold need humidity, and coffee provides the nutrients it needs to grow. This is obviously going to ruin the flavor, and is both unsanitary and unsightly. If you live in a humid environment, or if your coffee is kept near the sink, then you’ll want to take precautions to prevent humidity.
The best way to take care of humidity is to make sure that your container is airtight, and keep your coffee away from water. If you spill water into your container, scoop out the wet grinds. Otherwise, you can’t really change the natural humidity of your environment, so make sure that you’re drinking your coffee fast enough.
Extreme temperatures and, more specifically, heat, will ruin your grinds. Coffee should generally be stored in a dark place at room temperature or slightly cooler. Heat will cause the oils to come out of your beans, and can make the aromatics break down. If you keep your coffee on the windowsill, or near your stove, then you’ll want to make sure to move it to a cooler place.
Light can also make your coffee go stale faster, so avoid keeping it in direct sunlight. Even though it makes an excellent countertop decoration, you should keep your coffee in the pantry, or in an opaque container.
How Long Coffee Lasts
Coffee is pretty resilient, doesn’t need to be refrigerated, and can last up to a month under ideal conditions. Of course, if you’re an avid coffee drinkers, you likely won’t be keeping coffee around for that long. 2 cups of drip coffee a day will let you go through a pound of beans in about 10-14 days. But if you don’t drink it regularly, or you’re going out of town for awhile, you’ll want to remember that there are a few things that impact how long your coffee lasts. Primarily whether you have whole beans or ground coffee.
Whole beans will generally last 4 weeks from the roast date before they start to lose flavor under ideal conditions. They have less surface area than ground beans, making them more resistant to degradation. But even if you have your beans for more than 4 weeks, they can still make a good cup. It may be a little less flavorful, but you’ll have a couple more weeks before whole beans go completely stale.
When you buy whole beans, you want to make sure to take them out of their bag and store them in an airtight container. They’re more resistant to their environment, but you don’t want to leave them in their bag. You can also wait to grind them until you’re brewing your coffee. That way you can maximize how long your coffee lasts. Since your beans won’t be exposed to the elements with as much surface area.
Ground coffee has much more surface area, making them go stale in 2 weeks or less. Of course, they’re not as resistant to heat, humidity, or the air, since there’s more surface area to react with the environment. Another thing to consider is your grind size, since finder grinds come with even more surface area. So coarse grinds for french press will last longer than a fine espresso grind. You can get away with pre-grinding your french press beans, and even your drip coffee beans. Remember to wait until you’re actually brewing to grind anything finer.
Coffee drinking experts will typically buy their beans whole, but if you don’t have a lot of time in the mornings, you’ll want to buy them pre ground. If you’re storing ground coffee, then it’s even more important to store your coffee correctly. Or just make sure that you’re drinking your coffee quickly. But poorly stored grinds can go bad in as little as a week. You can also consider purchasing K-cups or nespresso pods, which last longer and are easy to store.
Making Sure Your Coffee Lasts As Long As Possible
Whether you buy your coffee pre-ground or whole bean, you can take the precautions to properly store your beans. An airtight, opaque container in the pantry is the best way to make sure that your beans last their full shelf life. It’s a cheap investment that pays itself off the first time you don’t have to toss out expired beans. No matter how you get your beans, you want to make sure that every cup you brew is packed with that rich, toasty flavor. The proper storage will have your beans giving your that perfect taste for weeks.