By Anna Stockwell, Epicurious
Photo by Chelsea Kyle
I used to think I grew up in a household of coffee connoisseurs. After all, my parents took the trouble to source great beans from a local roaster. They even ground those beans fresh before brewing every pot. But there was one fatal flaw in their caffeine routine. In a misguided attempt to keep our beans fresh, we stashed them in the freezer. We thought we were keeping our beans as perfectly preserved as frozen limas. But as Dillon Edwards, founder of Parlor Coffee, a boutique coffee roaster and cafe in Brooklyn, pointed out when I spoke with him recently, we were just doing what many well-intentioned coffee drinkers do—wrecking our coffee by accident.
Learn about all the ways you may be messing up your morning cup, and you can avoid needlessly subpar joe:
YOU KEEP LOTS OF COFFEE IN THE HOUSE SO YOU NEVER RUN OUT
We need to start here, because everything that follows depends on knowing this fact: coffee is best when consumed within two weeks of roasting. Dillon explains that being in the coffee-roasting business is almost like being a bread baker: “Coffee is really something that has a very limited shelf life. It’s a little better than bread. We can roast coffee and enjoy it for about two weeks at the most.” After two weeks, it starts to oxidize and go stale, and “you’ll find that a lot of the liveliness and sweetness is diminished, so you’re drinking something that’s diminished, flat, and dull.” If you’re spending good money on good coffee, you want to make sure you’re enjoying it at its best. So, look for a “roasted by” date, try and buy coffee that was roasted as close to that date as possible, and brew it within two weeks.
YOU BUY YOUR COFFEE FROM THE BULK BIN (OR BARREL)
Although those big open bins of coffee beans might smell amazing, “it’s just a lot of ambiance and marketing,” Dillon says. “Unless you’re getting coffee that’s been roasted right there within a few hours, you’re not buying something that’s very high quality. The coffee’s just going stale right there in the open air.” Instead of open bins, buy coffee in small batches in pre-sealed bags from a shop you know has rapid turnover. Look for the most recent roasted date (in bigger stores, you may need to dig to the back of the shelf to find the most recently roasted bag), and if you can, buy it straight from a roaster or roaster-cafe, so you know that it’s super fresh.
YOU STASH YOUR BEANS IN THE FRIDGE (OR FREEZER)
Technically, you can extend the life of your coffee by storing it in the freezer, Dillon says—but there are a few caveats. Repeatedly moving a resealed bag of coffee from the freezer to room temperature and back again accelerates condensation on your beans, allowing them to absorb more of the weird stale aroma of your freezer. In fact, he says that pulling coffee beans in and out of the freezer is about the easiest way to ruin perfectly good, and probably expensive, coffee. Instead, Dillon recommends only freezing unopened, freshly roasted bags of coffee on a “one-time only” basis (no back-and-forths allowed) for no more than 1 month, and giving it plenty of time to come to room temperature before you open the sealed bag to prevent condensation from entering the bag. Once you’ve thawed the beans, they’re only going to stay fresh about a week longer, so drink up!
Photo by Romulo Yanes
YOU STORE YOUR COFFEE IN THE BAG IT CAME IN
Wait. Isn’t coffee supposed to be stored that way? Not always, says Dillon: “It depends on the bag!” Dillon packages his freshly roasted beans in resealable bags, which are great as long as you keep the bag in a cool, dry place (like a cupboard that isn’t next to your oven or stove). But if your favorite beans come packaged in a paper bag with one of those flimsy bendy clamps, and you’re not going to use it within a few days, transfer the beans to a resealable container to protect it from air and light, Dillon says. A container that seals tightly and is opaque is your best bet. Dillon likes this one, since the adjustable inner lid lets you reduce the amount of air that’s in contact with your beans—something that an ordinary jar can’t do.
YOU BUY GROUND BEANS—OR YOU’RE GRINDING YOUR OWN IN ONE BIG BATCH
Sure, grinding a big batch of beans all at once saves time (and spares you from having to do it when you’re bleary-eyed in the morning). But you’re sacrificing quality. Dillon wants you to think of coffee beans as little packages of coffee: Keeping them in their “wrapping” keeps them fresher longer. Once you break open that “package,” you expose more surface area, and it gets staler the longer it sits. You start sacrificing flavor even 20 minutes after grinding beans. Plus, how you grind your coffee gives you a whole other level of control over your finished cup.
So, what if you have coffee that is past its prime? Cook with it!. Or do as Dillon suggests and make cold brew, which is a lot more forgiving of air-exposed coffee than other brewing methods.
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