How long does coffee last and how much should I buy ?
Author: Roaster Date Posted:24 June 2016
Having been in the business of selling fresh roasted coffee beans online for almost 10 years, we are often asked 2 simple but related questions......
How long does coffee last ?,
How much coffee should I order ?
The answer to the first really depends upon a lot of factors, along with personal preferences.
Our quality principle is built around high grade raw coffees that are fresh roasted daily - those 2 core imperatives must always be managed together and always at the same time. If you don't focus upon both simultaneously, the results are worthless, or rather pointless.
If one of those function drops, e.g. average quality but fresh, it does not produce outstanding. The same goes if you have high quality but it's stale. Both areas need to be firing at the same time, always.
To answer the question for how long will coffee last, it's important to understand what happens when raw coffee is roasted.
Roasting coffee causes the cell structures of the raw bean to change dramatically. The process results in significant levels of carbon dioxide emission from a fresh roasted bean, e.g. the high levels of aromatics you can smell when it's fresh !.
Stabilization (Rest or Development) Period.
Fresh roasted coffee is unstable and under developed for a period from 3 to 12 days from the roast date, depending upon the method of brew, roasting style (depth), bean varietal and processing method (washed, wet-hulled, natural/dry or monsooned).
The terms unstable and un-developed should not be a cause for alarm or concern - it's just that if you wish to use the coffee for say espresso extraction, the beans may still be holding a lot of carbon dioxide which is likely to manifest as "gassy" espresso extraction - lots of initial crema and micro-bubbles, that quickly dissipate.
It's during this stabilization period that the coffee develops deeper flavours, body and sweetness. It may also mean that acid is at a high point.
Coffee straight off the roaster is quite flat and woody as the roasted beans are still in a state of shock and full of gas (CO2). It can lack flavour, character and definition.
The important thing to keep in mind is that there is no general guideline for calculating the optimal stabilization or development period that applies to a given bean or blend. Sometimes it is faster (or sooner) for higher ambient temperatures and how much exposure to oxygen occurs. Some types of coffee such as wet-hulled Indonesian, monsooned Indian, etc. can have stabilization periods that are up to twice as long compared to other coffees.
The roast depth (or style) can also have an impact on the stabilization period. Lighter roasted coffees may need a longer period before being used in an espresso type of brew as the initial acids will be dominating the character of the coffee.
Some dry or natural processes coffees can perform better with a longer stabilization period.
The peak period for when to use fresh roasted coffees can depend upon the target brew method. For espresso, it's generally around Day 7 to 18 from roasting. For brew methods that have short contact time with the coffee, e.g. pour over, etc. it can be beneficial for earlier use of the roasted coffee. Long contact brewing such as plunger, percolator, etc. can work with coffees that are more aged as it's less about the inherent acid in the coffee and more about the flavour oils.
Assuming roasted coffee is kept sealed in appropriate containers (which excludes many plastics), not regularly exposed to oxygen and maintained at or below 20 deg C, you can expect the coffee to be vibrant for up to 18 days. After that period, depending upon the ambient temps (warmer will accelerate degradation) you will experience a gradual decline in the natural fresh features of the coffee. Aromatics will reduce as the beans exhaust their last remnants of CO2, sweetness will decline, body, flavour and acidity will all fall in gradual levels each day - maybe not in a noticeable way from day to day, but certainly over weeks.
What we have described about refers only to whole bean fresh roasted coffee and it does not include ground coffee.
Ground coffee has very short life of just 15 minutes in air. Inside of the packaging, regardless of how good the packaging may attempt to suspend oxydization, there is no denying the fact that ground coffee degrades very fast - in fact there is no point in arguing otherwise, coffee is intended to be fresh ground and used within minutes - not day, weeks or months.
What about the packs I have that are months old ?
Throw them out, or use them for plunger or percolator coffee - they will not make quality espresso.
Coffee is a fresh food - just like apples, oranges and most fruits and vegetables, however, coffee is far more complex in that it has a significant set of additional complex compounds that are essential to the coffee experience. These compounds are highly impacted by oxygen and heat - once they escape, it's a downhill run with the enjoyment/pleasure factor of coffee.
For some fruits and vegetables, it is possible to retard and even suspend the oxidization process simply by lowering the temperature these goods are stored.
There is nothing that can be done to suspend the decline of coffee. Marketing smoke and mirrors like nitrogen flushing is deceptive - almost nobody uses it (except for capsules and pods) or the Italian ground coffees with a 2 year Best Before date.
Freezing coffee is not recommended. The internet is full of contradicting information - vocal supporters that swear by their ritual of freezing fresh coffee and will go to great lengths to shout about how the coffee is still perfect months later once it's thawed - it's not the truth and who are these coffee experts or are they just scrooges as most of the time it's when there is a sale on at the supermarket when they have to clear stale inventory. The people circulating the pro-freezer approach are not dealing with quality coffee and most likely have not changed their buying habits in 20 years. Moisture can be just as bad to coffee quality as heat and oxygen.
Freezing is only beneficial for those living in hot climates that are unable to regularly access fresh roasted coffees.
For everyone else, buy fresh and enjoy coffee as it was intended.
45 days MAX
My rule of thumb on what constitutes barely passable coffee is no longer than 45 days - assuming the ambient temp did not go above 30 deg C.
Personally, I would prefer to have put the finish line at 30 days as a 45 day usage window is likely to result in you not enjoying the last 15 days as much as the first 15 days.
Some people are fussier than others - we have customers that buy weekly or fortnightly and others that buy monthly.
How much to order ?
Now that you have read the above nuances on what happens to fresh roasted coffee you can reliably calculate the optimal purchasing cycle based upon the consumption rates
Historically, people would bulk buy coffee to save on freight costs. As we have eliminated that factor from our pricing, the only decision now is to plan your transit times from order to receipt - allowing an extra day for contingency in case of freight delays.