Vacuum packages, freeze-dried and airtight containers; options and more
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When it comes to coffee, it can be anything from someone’s calling in life as a connoisseur to something avoided and everything in between. For coffee consumers who drink their favorite beverage with quality in mind rather than just the associated caffeine boost, the storage of coffee for optimal consumption is something that is important. This article presents what we think is the best way to store coffee as well as the other tidbits of knowledge and factors that should be taken into account.
What Bean Varieties Are There?
Coffee beans are a lot like any other types of plants. Namely, they come in a variety of sub-types with different flavor profiles and climatic adaptations. In turn, they also differ in terms of popularity, availability and cost.
Arabica (C. arabica) – Arabica coffee is quite delicate and sweet in terms of flavor profile. It is also distinctly less acidic than the other varieties available on the market. That said, it is the most popular, closely followed by Robusta. If you are buying coffee while in town or as part of a meal at a takeaway, generally it is Arabica that you will be drinking. It is easily drinkable and combines well with a variety of flavors.
Robusta (C. caniphora) – With a strong and almost ‘harsh’ flavor as the name suggests, Robusta coffee packs more of a punch. It has a higher level of innate caffeine than Arabica, something that serves as an evolutionary advantage in the wild as it is off-putting to grazing non-human animals. While the Arabica is quite sensitive to changes in climate and only grows at a high elevation, Robusta is significantly more versatile in terms of what weather conditions that it can endure.
Liberica (C. liberica) – With a woody taste, Liberica coffee beans are only grown in small batches at a time. They used to be more popular and reached their peak in the 19th century when a coffee plant disease known as ‘coffee rust’ ravaged Arabica crops. Liberica, grown in Southeast Asia, was grown in bigger quantities to compensate for the worldwide coffee demand. When Arabica recovered, Liberica went back to being grown on a lesser scale again.
Excelsa (C. liberica vor. dewevrei) – Excelsa coffee is part of the same family as Liberica but it is also wholly distinct in its own right. It is also grown in SE Asia on a smaller scale compared to the two ‘giants’ of Arabica and Robusta. It has a fruity and quite tart flavor. It is a versatile bean with the ability to be used equally well in both light and dark roasts.
Four Main Factors
There are four main factors involved in the storage of coffee beans. Coffee beans, like any other fresh produce, need these factors to be carefully considered in order to maintain optimum freshness to ensure that they reach the customer ready to be consumed.
Air – When it comes to storing anything that falls into the category of ‘food’, which coffee does, air will sooner or later have a negative effect in the form of aerobic bacteria. Aerobic bacteria feed on oxygen and some of the bacteria that fit into this category can cause illnesses in humans. Generally if food has gone ‘off’, it is due to mold growing or the presence of bacteria. To demonstrate, if you have a package with a plastic film lid that has been left for a while and decide to eat it, check the lid first. If the lid is ballooned up, throw it out. Don’t even open it to see if it looks okay. The ballooning is what indicates the presence of bacteria and there is no point chancing it in terms of whether your gut can tolerate it or whether you end up potentially seriously ill. Coffee beans can fall prey to bacteria as well, more so depending on the brewing process.
Heat – Heat, like air, is one of those necessary ingredients in the breeding of bacteria. Exposure to heat before you are ready to go ahead and brew will cause your whole beans to lose flavor.
Moisture – Moisture is easily the enemy of pretty much all foodstuffs. Moisture leads to mold which, on top of looking unpleasant, can cause a whole host of problems. In short, if moisture gets into your coffee beans, it is a recipe for disaster as this then leads to the same issues you get if air gets into your storage container.
Sunlight – Sunlight ties into the heat factor. Heating up coffee beans can cause them to go stale prematurely, affecting the flavor and quite considerably decreasing the optimal time when you can grind the beans.
In short, any beans that you do store should be kept in a cool, dry area away from direct sunlight in an airtight container. Keep your beans in a cupboard if you can, but make sure that it is away from any external sources of heat such as the oven or kettle.
Whole versus Ground Beans
Generally speaking, you shouldn’t be storing ground coffee as a rule of thumb. It is consistently better to only grind your whole beans when you absolutely need them to make a cup of coffee.
Whole beans are the easiest to store but even then, there are things that you need to consider. You generally shouldn’t be storing a lot of coffee beans at a time – a week, maximum. Remember, coffee beans reach their peak about 72 hours after roasting and are in a state of decline after that. That said, buying a week’s worth of coffee beans at a time isn’t realistic for quite a lot of people and so freezing coffee beans is another option to make the excess last longer. Freezing comes with its own considerations that will be detailed later on.
The closer your beans are to their roasting date, the better. This is because once the roasting process is complete, there is still the process of packaging, shipping and then shop display before it gets to your hands. Depending on where the coffee beans are manufactured, packaged and shipped and the length of time involved in each of the respective stages, the time between your beans being roasted and the freshly-ground beans going into your coffee cup could be anywhere from days to weeks depending on a whole host of factors related to the supply chain. Knowing the precise date when your particular beans were roasted is useful when it comes to considering what storage steps to take to make them last as long as possible while tasting as good as possible.
Freshness – How Long?
Broadly speaking, the younger your coffee beans are in relation to their roasting date, the better. It is often worth shelling out that little bit more for beans that you can guarantee are going to test their best and there are plenty of coffee subscription sites available out there to help you find a local source of coffee that ticks all of your boxes.
One indicator to look out for in terms of freshness in relation to coffee beans is its shine. The fresher the bean, the glossier it is. There are some exceptions to this, although it is still a good rule of thumb to follow. Beans that have undergone the decaffeination process will have very little shine – but little doesn’t mean none at all! Additionally, beans that have been lightly roasted will have more of a dull shine than beans that have been darkly roasted.
Coffee Storage Containers
Now we are on to the main subject of this article! You might be wondering why we’ve gone into the other points but they all play a part. After all, there is no point in going through with the effort to properly store your coffee beans if you don’t know why storing them properly is important. Understanding the different factors involved in coffee storage is as important as the storage itself. This is also the best way to store coffee without getting into the speciality, pricier options while also keeping in mind the quality of the beans.
While the image isn’t of coffee beans in an airtight container, it does demonstrate the versatility of the containers themselves and just goes to show the benefits that they confer for storage. Remember, coffee beans are a perishable product so store your coffee with this in mind!
All coffee storage containers should come complete with an airtight locking mechanism that keeps oxygen and anything else out of your precious beans. This should be checked regularly. Wear and tear happens to everything and these containers are no exception. If you see any signs of splitting, tearing or jagged edges on your container, play it safe and get a new one. It isn’t worth compromising your coffee beans by letting the airtight mechanism stay compromised.
Thankfully, airtight containers are fairly popular kitchen storage items anyway so getting hold of as many as you need shouldn’t be too difficult. While there are other options for coffee storage containers out there, there are a popular option that shouldn’t be understated.
Your airtight containers should be made of non-reactive – also known as inert – materials where absolutely possible. Some examples of suitable materials include glass, ceramic and non-reactive metals. If none of these are an option, you can also invest in vacuum containers in which to store your coffee beans.
Is Freezing an Option?
Freeze-dried coffee beans are a subject that divides coffee fans! Some see it as an option to store surplus beans so then they can be consumed later on without having to keep in mind their sell by date. Others see freeze-dried coffee beans as a massive social faux pas.
If you do go this route, store your beans in the freezer in their original packaging. This is where vacuum packages come in handy as these will remove the air and moisture factors. Vacuum packaging is definitely something worth investing in if you intend to freeze your coffee beans seriously while keeping your beans fresh.
Buy What You Need
If there is one thing that can generally solve or at least lessen the problem of coffee bean storage, it is only buying what you need. That said, it isn’t an option for everyone depending on how often they drink coffee. Someone who drinks only a cup every couple of days can likely get away with buying a week at a time. Someone who drinks multiple cups a day, however, is going to generally find buying in larger portions to be more cost-effective, particularly if you have to factor in delivery depending on the source of the coffee.
Roast Your Own
Another way to guarantee the freshness of your coffee beans is to roast your own. Buying green or raw beans means that you can, with a little practice, refine your roast until it is precisely how you like it. This is optimal for those who want to know exactly how fresh their brew is when they go to drink it, not to mention that it can also be a way to become more involved in the making of your coffee instead of being just a consumer.
Roasting your own coffee beans isn’t as daunting as it sounds. All it takes is a baking tray, greaseproof paper and your oven. Look out for color changes that will indicate you are going in the right direction.
If you prefer a light roast, you will want to stop at the sound of the first crack.
If you prefer a stronger roast, wait until the second crack and there is a degree of caramelization.
Roasted coffee, in this way, can be tailored to your preferences. After you’ve finished the roasting, you can go ahead and make your ground coffee how you usually would. Don’t slack off after mind – keep your beans safe and secure just like you would if you’d bought them from a professional.
Another thing to bear in mind is carbon dioxide. Too much carbon dioxide results in too much silky foam, which isn’t ideal. Give your freshly roasted beans time to breathe at room temperature before you store them. Whole bean roasting definitely is a challenge for some but it is worth at least experimenting with if you have trouble finding the right balance between buying what you need and storage otherwise.
Recycling Stale Beans
If your beans go stale, don’t throw them out immediately! There are a handful of options available to you if your beans past their best use by date. Now more than ever, minimizing waste is important.
Cold Brew – Cold brew coffee is ideal for those hot summer days when you want caffeine or the taste of coffee but you don’t want to drink something hot. Cold brew coffee is made by coarsely grinding down the beans you have available before adding water – hot, cold, it doesn’t matter as what you’ll be doing is putting it all in the fridge regardless for at least 12 hours. From there, you’ve generally got a couple of choices. You can either serve and drink the coffee or you can re-freeze it again; this increases its strength and adds more of a flavorful punch. There is no one way to make cold brew coffee as everyone will have different preferences.
Compost – This is an ideal way to use up any coffee that you consider to be past its consumption date. Whether you have leftover grounds or beans that are past their best, grinding them all together and then spreading them on the garden is a sure fire way to boost the growth of any plants, vegetables and herbs growing by adding more nitrogen to the soil. They also improve water retention, drainage and how well your plants absorb minerals from the soil. As an added bonus, the high caffeine content that keeps insects away from coffee plants in the wild will also deter slugs and snails, who find it equally repulsive!
Odor Banishing – If you engage in any hobbies that involve things that are particularly fragrant as a side-effect like model-making or painting, sometimes even the best ventilation in the world isn’t enough to completely banish the odor. That is where your past-their-best coffee beans come in handy. While they might not be ideal for consuming, their fragrance generally lasts longer. It is an ideal way of ‘resetting’ your nose.
When it comes to storing your coffee beans, there are quite a few things that you need to consider. This includes what causes your coffee beans to go stale, how to make your own and how to store them so then what you do have lasts as long as possible. It is certainly a far more involved subject than most initially assume which is what truly distinguishes between those who are self-titled coffee connoisseurs, those who enjoy a brew but not necessarily the technical details of their roast and those who don’t give it too much thought so long as they have some in the house. And none of those are wrong! This article is intended for those who put some thought into their beverage, who have an eye for what makes the best freshly roasted beans and for those who care about keeping their fresh beans be at their best for as long as possible.