If you’ve invested in high quality coffee beans then make sure you store them properly. I’m often asked - do coffee beans expire or go bad? They sure do, and much sooner than the packet will tell you. They may be “safe” to use for a long time, but it doesn’t mean they’re good for a long time. Storing them properly can extend their life though, so read on to find out how.
The principles of storing coffee are kind of like storing bread that you will end up toasting. Good bread for toasting doesn’t need to be straight out of the oven, but it does need to be in good shape. As you read through this guide, think back to how it may relate to the storage of bread you are going to toast. That will help you relate to these suggestions with a food that goes stale in a much more obvious way than coffee.
Like bread, you want to keep your beans in an airtight container. When it comes to exposure to air, less is more. Because the more exposure to air, the more exposure to oxygen and so the more oxidation.
For the first week after roasting it is useful to either have them in a bag that has a one-way valve, or have them in a plastic container (rather than glass). During this period the beans will be expelling CO2 gas and so something that lets the air out (without letting air in) is handy. If you don’t have a bag with a one-way valve then a plastic container is useful because when you open the lid the built-up pressure inside won’t give you a fright like a jar might. But it’s very unlikely that a roaster would not pack beans in bags with a one-way valve. In fact, it would be a massive red flag if that’s the case. They’re probably not a roaster you want to be dealing with.
Oxidisation is a big reason coffee beans go stale. If you store your beans in multiple smaller plastic containers then it will help keep the beans you use last to have less exposure to air/oxygen (as they have not been in a container that has been opened and closed multiple times). This is even more important with ground coffee because the increased surface area of the grinds compared to beans means that oxidisation happens faster.
A café may be able to get away with having a big hopper sitting on top of their grinder because they are going through so much coffee, but it’s counterproductive in the home. Hoppers aren’t air tight, so don’t store lots of your coffee in them. This is also good to remember when buying a grinder – a big hopper is actually a disadvantage because it just takes up extra space without adding any value. Side note – a restaurant with a big hopper full of beans is only acceptable if they open for breakfast. Otherwise they won’t be doing the volume of coffee to justify having all those beans exposed to air for extended periods. It’s just lazy storage.
Things stale faster in warmer conditions, so the cooler the better, although putting coffee beans in the fridge or freezer creates some complications that can be avoided by regularly buying fresh coffee. I’ll discuss storing beans in the fridge or freezer later in this article. But for now just keep them in a cupboard away from the light. Ideally the cupboard should be away from heat sources (like ovens, sinks or above stove tops).
If you want to have coffee beans in a glass jar to enhance the aesthetics of your kitchen (and why not) then just buy some cheap coffee from the supermarket and have “display coffee” and “drinking coffee”. A clear jar sitting in the light is going to warm up.
Moisture will very quickly wreak your coffee beans, and this is mainly relevant to situations where you choose to freeze your coffee.
Can you store coffee in the fridge or freezer?
You can coffee in the fridge or freezer if you take the appropriate precautions. However, if you’re going to go down this route then you may as well use the freezer and not bother with the fridge.
Storing coffee in the freezer can lead to condensation and spoilage. But done right, it can also keep beans fresh for longer.
The colder food is kept, the slower the staling process and so the longer it lasts. However, when cold things come into contact with warmer air, condensation forms. Think about last time you pulled a bottle of cold water out of the fridge. After a short period, water droplets formed on the outside of the bottle.
This is because warm air can hold more moisture than cold air. So when warm air comes into contact with the cold item, it cools down and leaves moisture behind in the form of condensation.
If moisture forms on coffee beans it greatly reduces their quality. So to avoid this, if storing in the freezer, you need to let the whole bag or container (including the contents) warm up to room temperate before opening. Once opened, I’d recommend keeping in the cupboard. Taking in and out of freezer just increases the chances of condensation – better to split into smaller quantities and only take each container out once.
If using the freezer to store coffee then small containers that have strong clip on lids would be a good investment. If a container is in the freezer and the lid comes off, or isn’t done up tight enough, then it’s game over for those beans. They’ll get freezer burn.
Coffee freezer burn
Freezer burn happens when a significant volume of icy cold air dries the coffee. It’s still safe to brew with, but who considers “safe” as acceptable when it comes to coffee? Sickos, that’s who.
Did you know that if air is cold enough it can evaporate ice? The water goes straight from ice to vapour without ever going through the liquid stage (this is called sublimation). This is kind of what could happen to the very small amount of moisture in your coffee beans. Some of the water could rattle (microscopically) to the surface of the bean and form tiny ice crystals, and some of the water could be whisked away by that nasty cold air.
Good packaging helps reduce freezer burn risk because when it’s air-tight the packaging allows “local homeostasis of humidity”. Which is to say, the beans don’t dry out and there’s no sublimation.
As a side note, you may see small spots of “moisture” on coffee beans even when they have not been exposed to temperature changes as described above. These are actually spots of coffee oils which get released by the beans and are not something to be concerned about if you are using the coffee within the next month. Coffee oils will go rancid in time though, so even if you use them fairly quickly it’s a good reminder that hoppers need regular cleaning.
Having explored the complexities of storing coffee in the freezer, if you’re purchasing Roasted On coffee then we ship out coffee so fresh it’s perfectly fine to store the beans in the cupboard.
Don’t get too obsessed. Remember that coffee should bring joy into your life and so resist the fear that everything must be perfect in order to have a great cup of coffee. Ultimately, it’s your state of mind that determines how much you will enjoy your cup of joe, so avoid the trap of getting OCD about your beans.
In summary your best strategy is to:
- Buy beans fresh and ideally not more than one months’ worth.
- Once you’ve opened the bag, split up the beans into small airtight plastic containers
- Store the containers in a cupboard that’s away from any avoidable heat sources such as ovens.