To talk about fresh coffee, we need to first understand coffee as a fresh ingredient – where coffee comes from and how it is processed. Coffee as we know it starts its life inside a little red, yellow, green, pink or orange cherry. A fruit that grows on a beautiful broad-leafed tree, the coffee bean is the cherry’s seed.
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The cherries are picked, ideally when they are perfectly ripe (more ripe = higher levels of sugar), then it’s processed in some way. Usually, it is either washed, semi-washed, fermented or dried using a process called the natural or dry processing method.
The coffee seed is then left out to dry in the sun, after which it will be a hard, dull green-colored, dry bean.
What Is Fresh Coffee
This dry little bean is the way fresh coffee is shipped from various exotic locales on earth – Ethiopia, Panama, Guatemala, Costa Rica, there are loads of coffee-producing origins – all the way to a master coffee roaster somewhere near you.
The coffee roaster, so long as the coffee has been correctly dried and stored correctly, can keep this green coffee for up to a year before roasting it. Roasting is like a reawakening of the coffee. The roaster adds heat, which induces multiple chemical reactions. Sugars develop, moisture is lost and the coffee beans expand in volume but decrease in mass as moisture is lost.
So many things happen inside that little coffee bean that coffee after roasting can be too fresh. There are gasses, mostly C02, which develop in the coffee bean during the roast. For around 5 days after the roast, the coffee will release most of its C02.
This period is called the degassing period. You’ll usually want to wait around five days for the coffee to degas before using it. How long a coffee will last and how long it stays fresh, will all depend on how it has been stored and in what form you have it.
Benefits Of Fresh Coffee
T minus 7-12 days post-roast is what we’ll call the coffee’s peak. This delicious peak will begin around 1-week post-roast and continue for around 1 week, up until 2 weeks after the roast date. The benefit of fresh coffee is that it has everything and it’s a flavor explosion.
Fresh coffee also has incredible aromatics both when it’s dry ground coffee and during brewing and drinking. It has a heavenly, velvety mouthfeel. As the weeks go by, depending on how the coffee is stored, all of these tasty things start to slowly degrade and everything becomes less intense. Everything flattens out and becomes a little duller.
Types of Coffee
The roaster roasts the coffee and gives it straight to you in a little bag. This is the only option for truly outstanding coffee at home, with very few exceptions. With whole beans, you’ve got all the freshness locked inside the structure of the bean (for a limited time only).
To use coffee, you must grind it. In all methods of brewing coffee, the coffee beans need to be ground. You can buy the coffee in a bag, all ground up for you, ready to go. This is convenient, no doubt.
The trouble is that ground coffee really only stays tasty for a day or two maybe, though some people would strongly argue that the number is closer to a couple of hours until it’s completely unusable.
The other issue with ground coffee is that you are really relying on whoever grinds it for you. You’re trusting that they will grind it to the correct size you need. Once its ground, you can’t make any adjustment, so you’ll just have to make do.
You could skip the entire coffee beans, ground coffee, brewing at home and simply pick up some already brewed coffee. This could be in the form of a coffee from a coffee shop or in the form of a bottle of readymade cold brew. Your quality mileage will, of course, vary depending on what it is you buy and where you buy it.
Instant coffee or soluble coffee was invented in 1881 by Frenchman Alphonse Allais. It is essentially coffee that has been brewed on mass, reduced down to a syrup then freeze-dried and jarred.
Of late there has been a rise in specialty instant coffee or premium instant coffee. These are usually made using far better quality coffee, to begin with and processed in a way that won’t completely obliterate all of the coffee’s true flavors.
While traditional instant coffee generally doesn’t taste so great, it can be made much tastier using other more delicious things like good quality chocolate powder or coffee syrup. The coffee syrup adds flavor to your coffee, making it far less harsh and bitter.
K-Cups and Capsules
When coffee capsules came out, it was much like instant coffee. Luckily, big strides have been taken by a few companies and now there is quite a great tasting coffee coming from these little capsules, flowing from machines like the Keurig k55, which takes K-cups and ground coffee. Check out our Keurig k55 coffee maker review here. If you’re tossing up between the k475 and the k575, check out our guide to determine is Keurig k475 or k575 for you.
The cool thing about capsules and what makes the whole thing better than pre-ground coffee (depending on the cups you choose) is that the coffee is never re-exposed to oxygen after it’s initial grinding.
Secondly, capsules are often nitrogen flushed to remove any oxygen which may be present meaning these things can stay surprisingly tasty for quite a long time, up to 1 year. If you do choose this option, make sure to use the 100% recyclable, 100% plastic-free options. P
Different Dates on Coffee Packaging and What Do They Mean
On the backs of coffee packages, you may find one or both of the following dates. Here is what they mean:
This is the date the coffee was roasted. This is not only important for determining how old the coffee might be, it is also so you can determine how fresh the coffee is. Remember, you don’t want coffee that is too fresh, so if you plan on brewing it the day after you’ve bought it, make sure it’s roast date is around five days prior to that.
Best Before Date
The best before date almost always refers to flavor. Best before, meaning the coffee will taste the best and freshest before this date. This is not an expiry or use by date. This is just the date that the roaster or manufacturer feels it loses its quality and flavor.
What Is Coffee Oxidation
The main reason coffee goes stale and loses quality is due to oxidation. While there are other contributing bad guys such as sunlight, moisture and heat – oxygen is the main culprit behind all the staleness.
Oxidation is essentially the oxygen changing and messing with the chemical compounds in the coffee. It makes the coffee taste dull and flat with no aroma. For the long, in-depth and technical version of this, head over to the SCA (specialty coffee association) for an in-depth scientific review on coffee oxidation and staling.
Oxidation will eventually occur in all forms of coffee, but especially ground coffee or a coffee in a bag which has been left open, exposed to the air.
How Long Does Coffee Last by Coffee Type
Here’s a breakdown of each coffee type and how long it will last stored correctly – sealed, away from direct sunlight, heat and moisture.
Unopened and fully sealed: 2 months.
Once the bag is opened: 2 weeks.
Vacuum sealed and in the freezer: 1 year.
Because ground coffee is so open to oxygen, it will last a couple of days, generally no longer than one week.
Unopened and fully sealed: 1 week.
Once the bag is opened: 2 days.
A bottle of cold brew concentrate kept in the refrigerator: 2 weeks.
Once diluted with water or milk, refrigerated: 2 days.
Brewed hot coffee will begin to lose flavor quality within 1 hour after brewing. The quality of brewed espresso really begins degrading almost immediately. You generally want to consume espresso while it’s still warm. Unless of course you’re making an iced drink – in which case, drink it while it’s cold.
An unopened container of instant coffee: Up to twenty years.
Once opened: 1 year.
K-Cups and Capsules
So long as the seal is intact: Up to 1 year.
Factors That Determine Coffee Peak Flavor
There are three main influencing factors that will decide how a coffee will taste. All three are equally important.
To have a delicious coffee in the cup, you need to start with high-quality, ripe coffee cherries on the farm. Growing high quality, specialty grade coffee takes a lot of knowledge and a tremendous amount of care and this is why we pay more for it than the coffee you might see at the local coffee shops.
The way the coffee beans are processed also has a massive impact on flavor and quality. If the coffee is uncontrollably fermented it will taste winey and boozy. If it’s dried too little and left with too high moisture content when shipped to the roaster, the coffee may mold or won’t roast evenly.
The steps a coffee bean undergoes before it even leaves the farm are absolutely crucial. Even the best coffee roaster on the planet can’t salvage or make a poor quality coffee taste great.
Green coffee, as in coffee before it is roasted, would taste nothing coffee like if you were to grind it up and try to brew it. The coffee roaster adds heat, beginning multiple chemical reactions, bringing out the sugars and flavors which are essentially already present in the bean.
A good coffee roaster does no more and no less than this. Their goal is to make it taste as good as possible, without adding any flavors from their roast (the only reason a coffee tastes ashy, smokey, meaty and bitter is the way it was either roasted or brewed), and therefore without taking anything away because of their roast.
To preserve the peak flavors in the coffee, most good specialty coffee roasters go for a light to light-medium roast. Coffee should never look oily after it is roasted.
Of course, to really taste the peak of a coffee’s flavor, you want to be brewing and drinking it black. No milk, no sugar, no-nonsense. The most honest representation of any coffee would be a simple French press or cupping bowl.
These are both full immersion methods, meaning all the coffee is in contact with all the water, fully immersed, for the whole brew time. The French press brews a delicious, essentially unfiltered extraction. Almost no technique is required.
Factors That Degrade Coffee Beans
As mentioned earlier, the main villain in the game of coffee freshness vs the elements is oxygen. Keep you coffee sealed off from oxygen at all time.
Direct sunlight aka UV radiation has enough energy to induce oxidation. Coffee should be stored in a dark area. This could mean a cupboard or a lightproof bag the coffee came in. So long as the bag is sealed from the air and the light, everything will be fine.
Moisture will stale coffee very quickly and make it taste duller and flatter than an old boot. This is why keeping coffee in the refrigerator or freezer (though freezing coffee can be great as long as you prep it properly first) is a bad idea. Keep your coffee at room temperature.
The heat will essentially do the same thing as everything else above. The coffee will lose its flavor when faced with the heat so keep it away from the oven, windows with sunlight pouring through and the stove.
How To Properly Store Coffee To Extend Its Shelf Life
There are three main ways to store coffee with quality in mind. These three ways are a sliding scale of effort, as well as reward.
Bag of Coffee to Use Within 2 Weeks
If you buy a bag of coffee for the week or two weeks, you really don’t need to do anything. You can use a specially made coffee canister which vacuums out the oxygen after each time you open it, but for a week or two, it’s not really necessary.
Here are a couple of rules:
- Keep it in the bag, sealed at all times (unless you need to get some coffee out).
- Keep the bag out of direct sunlight, away from heat and moisture.
You could also throw a couple of oxygen absorbers in the bag with the coffee.
Bag of Coffee to Use Within 2 Months
A bag of coffee, unopened, stored out of direct sunlight is totally fine in the packaging in which it came for up to two months. If you want to open the bag and use some and then reseal it and store it for longer than a week or two without using it, you have two main options.
- Use a vacuum-sealed jar.
- Use a vacuum sealer machine and bag.
Whichever option you choose, follow these rules:
- Keep the jar or bag out of direct sunlight, preferably in an environment that doesn’t vary much in temperature, is not humid (not the fridge) and away from heat.
- Each time you open the jar or bag, reseal it immediately.
Again, an oxygen absorption pad or two couldn’t hurt.
Bag of Coffee You Want to Keep for Up to a Year
Only one real option here – vacuum seal and freeze.
Here’s how you do it:
- Transfer the coffee to a vacuum seal bag.
- Vacuum seal the bag as per your sealer’s instructions. Make sure it is fully vacuumed and sealed. Fully vacuumed and sealed is crucial, so really make sure.
- Place the bag in a plastic container. This is to make sure that nothing in your freezer pokes a hole in your vac-sealed coffee package. Damage to it may mean moisture, oxygen and freezer smells will penetrate your coffee.
- Place the container in the freezer.
- Thaw the coffee overnight in the vac-sealed bag before use.
This method should keep the coffee tasting pretty fantastic for around one year. The colder your freezer gets, the better.
How to Use Extra Before Your Coffee Goes Bad
Your local specialty coffee roaster has four new coffees out and there is a limited amount of each of them. So of course, you buy a bag of each. Over the course of the following fortnight, you open each bag, enjoying the peak flavors and aromas. But now, you’ve still got almost a whole bag worth of coffee, and it isn’t getting any fresher.
You don’t have a vacuum sealer. At this point, you should cold brew. Cold-brew is exactly what it sounds like. You brew coffee using cold water, rather than hot. A batch of cold brew takes around 18 hours.
This is because cold water extracts much more slowly than hot water. After the 18 hours, you’ll be left with a smooth delicious coffee concentrate, which will last in the fridge for 2 weeks.
Does More Spending Mean More Quality
In general, yes, but not always. A cup of coffee and a bag of beans at Starbucks is more expensive than most specialty coffee shops and roasters around. Is the coffee at the particular Starbucks or any other Starbucks for that matter good? No, it isn’t.
When you go to a good specialty coffee roaster, you are not only paying for a superior tasting product which is crafted with more care from crop to cup, you are also paying the farmers a decent wage for their hard work.
Many specialty coffee roasters have direct trade deals with farmers, meaning the farmers get paid a far higher than commodity grade value for far higher than commodity grade quality. This rate is often much higher than Fair Trade rates. This may not always be the case, but you can speak with your roaster about where they get their green from – most are more than happy to discuss this with anyone who asks.
Do’s and Don’ts With Coffee
- Do keep your coffee fully sealed in an airtight container.
- Do try to only buy as much coffee as you can use within two weeks.
- Do support small coffee roasters who support farmers and their families.
- Don’t put your coffee in the refrigerator.
- Don’t buy or grind coffee in advance unless you absolutely have to.
- Don’t keep your coffee near direct sunlight, heat and moisture.
How to Make Coffee Using a French Press
What You’ll Need
- 40g of good coffee
- 600g of clean boiling hot water
- A burr coffee grinder
- Coffee scales accurate to 0.1 of a gram
- A French press with at least a 600ml capacity
Step 1 – Using your scales, weigh out 40g of coffee
We will be using 600g of water, so this is a 1:15 ratio (1 part coffee: 15 parts water).
Step 2 – Grind your coffee to the size of raw sugar
Place the French press on the scale, add the coffee and press tare.
Step 3 – Ensure all the coffee is saturated
Pour 600g of water straight off the boil into the French press making sure all the coffee is saturated and there are no clumps or dry bits left stuck to the bottom. Start your timer.
Step 4 – Stir and serve
At 3:30, stir then using a spoon, scoop off the foam layer and discard. Insert the plunger and press down. Pour into your cup, allow it to cool a little then enjoy! This is the most ‘honest to the coffees flavor’ way of brewing.
However, on the other hand, the process of brewing coffee is a thing of beauty. It’s somewhat a ritual for most people who do it, which is why many coffee geeks globally use a pour-over the device, usually a V60, a Chemex or a Kalita Wave.
This way is much more hands-on. More of a craft. A pour-over device is usually used in combination with a coffee scale, a coffee grinder and a pour-over kettle like the world’s best pour-over kettle.
How To Make Coffee Using a V60
For this method, you need to break up your water into 6 pours.
What You’ll Need
- 40g of good coffee
- 600g of clean boiling hot water
- 02 or larger sized V60
- V60 filter paper
- Carafe or cup to brew into
- Scales accurate to 0.1 of a gram
- Pour-over kettle
Step 1 – Preheat everything
Your pour-over kettle, your cup, anything which will come into contact with the coffee (other than the scale of course). Add the filter to the brewing device and rinse paper filter thoroughly using hot water. Weigh out 40 grams of coffee and grind about the coarseness of raw sugar.
Step 2 – Add the coffee
Add the coffee to the V60, give it a little shake to flatten the brew bed. Place your V60 onto your carafe or whatever you’ll brew into and place that onto your scales. Press tare.
Step 3 – Pour water in a circular motion
Press start on your timer and quickly pour 100g of water in a circular motion. Make sure all the coffee is saturated. Wait 40 seconds. This is called the bloom phase.
At 0:40 pour 100g of water in a circular motion. Do the same at 1:10, 1:40, 2:10 and 2:40, totaling 600g. Total brew time should be between 3 minutes and 3:30. Using a preheated spoon, stir your delicious brew and enjoy.
If your brew is tasting thin and watery and is finishing brewing too quickly, make your grind finer. If your coffee is tasting a little bitter with little acidity, sweetness and is finishing too late, make your grind coarser.
How to Make a Batch of Cold Brew
You’re going to make approximately 500ml of cold brew. Approximately, because the coffee grinds will inevitably soak up some of this water, so you’ll be left with a little shy of 500ml. You can upsize or downsize this depending on the capacity of your chosen brewing vessel.
If you make a liter, use about 170g of coffee. 2 liters equals about 340g. Cold-brew isn’t fussy. It isn’t an exact science. Just go for it. There are a number of devices you can use to make a batch of cold brew. All you need is something to brew and something to filter the grounds after brewing is complete.
You should use a 1:6 ratio, which again, means 1 part coffee, 6 parts water. This will be 83g of ground coffee and 500g of water.
Step 1 – Weigh out and grind your coffee
Weigh out your 83g of coffee using scales. Grind your coffee around the coarseness of raw sugar. Grind size for cold brew doesn’t really matter too much.
Step 2 – Put your coffee in your French press or brewing vessel
Add 500g of cold water. Give it all a good stir to make sure there are no dry bits of coffee anywhere.
Step 3 – Put it in the fridge
Cover and either place in the fridge or leave it somewhere in your kitchen that doesn’t see any direct sunlight or too much heat. Leave to brew for 18 hours.,16 is fine, 20 is also fine. It doesn’t need to be exact.
After 18 hours, If you are using a French press, fix the filter in place and plunge it down. If you are using another kind of filter, say, a V60 or something, pour your cold brew through it into a vessel for storing.
Step 4 – Store in the refrigerator
Decant your delicious cold brew concentrate, store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. Generally, a cold brew concentrate is served diluted, usually a 1:1 ratio. One part coffee, one part either water, milk, almond or oat milk. Give tonic or soda water a try with a dash of basic sugar syrup.
Can you freeze coffee beans?
So long as you correctly vacuum seal your coffee, yes. In fact, freezing is a great way to keep coffee for a long time.
Can you drink day-old coffee?
Yes, but… the flavors of brewed coffee start to degrade pretty quickly. While you absolutely can drink day-old coffee, it doesn’t taste great.
Can expired coffee make you sick?
If there is any mold present, you absolutely should NOT brew with it. If there is no mold but is expired, the coffee will probably just taste pretty flat and dull, but safe to drink.
Can you freeze brewed coffee?
Yes, you can. You will lose a fair bit of flavor though. In order to have your coffee not pick up any of the freezer taste and smell, you’ll want to freeze it in something fully airtight. A ziplock bag might work.
Does coffee need to be refrigerated?
One of the majestic coffee beans mortal enemies is moisture. And a refrigerator is a very moist place. So best to avoid storing coffee in the fridge. If you’re talking cold brew, yes. Cold-brew will last up to 2 weeks in the fridge.
How to tell if coffee is bad, rotten or spoiled?
If you’ve had a bag of coffee beans ground or whole laying around the house in an open bag for 6 months, it’ll taste terrible. The best way is to smell or taste it. Old/bad/rotten or spoiled coffee will have little to no smell. It will taste dull and flat. So as long as there is no mold, you’re good to give it a try.
How long is coffee good for when prepared in a dish?
Coffee doesn’t particularly preserve, nor does it make food go bad. The presence of coffee in food won’t affect how long the dish will last.
What are the signs of bad coffee?
Visually, a bad coffee will be very dark (close to black) and oily. It will have the aroma of burnt meat and ash, maybe cigarettes. Coffee should smell fruity, chocolaty and be a light to a medium shade of brown.
How long can coffee sit out with milk?
Dairy is a tricky one. You never want to consume dairy that has been left out, so best to consume within an hour or so of brewing for best taste.
Can coffee go rancid?
Coffee can develop mold and mildew if left in particularly humid and warm environments. Coffee like this should be discarded.
How long after grinding will coffee go bad?
2 days. The quality of a coffee begins to decline immediately after grinding. It can still be relatively tasty for 2 days after its ground. It will have lost most of its aroma by then, though.
Remember, coffee is a fresh product, just like fruit and it should be treated as such. Try to buy only as much as you can use within two weeks, though sometimes, ending up with surplus will happen.
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