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Truths, Urban Legends and More about Storing Coffee.
They can be incorrect, misleading and often lead to a low quality coffee (espresso, moka, Neapolitan…).
As soon as we open a new bag, before even seeing the coffee, we are overtaken by the unmistakable aroma that pervades our nostrils. Strong, intense, full bodied, decisive and persistent, but fleeting at the same time. It’s a sensation we risk losing and not to regain a second time.
When it’s hot and we do not finish it quickly or if we keep it wrong, coffee loses its aroma or worse, it ends up becoming something else.
Keeping the magical feeling of the first moment as long as possible is the goal of everyone.
Packaging includes the classic instructions “keep cool and dry” but how does one interpret that?
Against false myths and urban legends about preservation, here’s how to do it and why.
From the roaster to the consumer
To better understand, let’s take a step back and examine the steps leading up to the magical moment the coffee bag is opened.
The last stage of the roasted coffee production process is the packaging, which helps preserve the aromatic and organoleptic characteristics of the product, as well as facilitating its transportation.
No packaging solution is the best over any of the others. It simply depends on how much time will pass between coffee roasting and its consumption.
For the preservation of the roasted coffee beans, the most widespread packaging method is an atmospheric environment in bags with one-way valve.
The material used for packaging is always “dark”. There are no transparent packages.
The unidirectional valve is also called “aroma-saving” because it allows the natural degasification and gas leakage process avoiding the air and oxygen intake.
It’s in the bag, therefore, all of the aromas of the just roasted beans are imprisoned and perfectly preserved for the path from the roaster to the café or our kitchen.
For maintaining coffee’s freshness and aroma, it’s essential to keep it safe. In order of importance:
In order to preserve the aromatic and organoleptic characteristics for as long as possible.
Oxygen is the element that most easily degrades the ideal coffee conditions. Contact with the air leads to oxidation of the bean with the consequent loss of volatile substances.
Air, heat and light make coffee rancid while humidity leads to mold as coffee is hygroscopic (it absorbs water).
Matter of fats
When the bean is roasted, it increases in volume and becomes more porous and more hygroscopic. Therefore, it’s more penetrable by air and moisture than the green bean.
Coffee is also rich in fats, especially concentrated on the bean’s surface thanks to the roasting process.
Fat, such as oil or butter, in contact with the air becomes rancid and oxidizes, and this process is accelerated by the presence of moisture and heat. This is why coffee dislikes air, water and light.
Ground coffee, compared to coffee beans, has a bigger surface in contact with the atmospheric agents and it’s therefore even more delicate.
One of the simplest rules to get an idea of how coffee can quickly change its features is the so called “rule of 2”:
- 50% of the coffee grain aroma degrades in 2 days
- 50% of the grounds degrade in 2 hours
- in espresso cup 50% degrades in 2 minutes
How long does coffee keep?
Like any food product, coffee has its “expiration date” but mainly that refers to its aroma.
Coffee, in fact, cannot perish because it’s a dry product. When the package is closed, coffee keeps its quality for several months.
Roasted coffee therefore has no expiration date (“to be consumed within” related to food safety) but a minimum storage period (labeled as “best before”) of 24 months related to evaluations related to the food quality.
Basically, after that date the coffee is still edible and consuming it will not cause any risk of a stomach ache. However, it certainly will lose taste, aroma, color and consistency. Nutrition may also be reduced, but it remains safe!
In fact, if the life of the product is long, consumers will have more time to buy and consume before the “best before”.
In any case, after opening the bag, it’s always advisable to consume coffee shortly thereafter.
Once the coffee pack has been opened, the inevitable oxygen flow causes a process of daily aroma loss.
Thus: how and where to store coffee?
#1. In a hermetically sealed container
The aromas are volatile, they disperse in the air, and surface fats are powerful odor catalysts.
Coffee should therefore always be stored in a hermetically sealed container made of steel, dark glass or ceramic to minimize the loss of aroma in the environment and conversely to prevent the absorption of other odors present in the air.
This reverse exchange is not to be underestimated! In fact, one of “grandmother’s tips” to remove bad odors from the fridge is to use a jar full of ground coffee (meaning: never to use it in the moka!).
Refrain from using transparent containers since light is the catalyst of rancidness.
Additionally, another tip to follow is to wash the container whenever you add fresh coffee.
#2. In a “cool and dry place”
The best place to store coffee is the famous “cool and dry place” where it’s not damp nor too hot.
The “too hot” makes the coffee rancid where a place “too cold” blocks the aromas.
The ideal location is a cabinet away from the oven or the refrigerator’s motor and where the sun does not strike directly.
In summary, it’s a good practice to store coffee in hermetically sealed containers sheltered from light at a temperature between 10°C and 25°C and a humidity lower than 50%.
#3. Refrigerate or not?
Storing coffee in the fridge is a topic that raises more than one dispute.
Some argue that the refrigerator…
- May not be the best place to store coffee because it’s damp and full of odors
- In the fridge, volatile coffee substances tend to evaporate more slowly
- Unless it’s summer or unless coffee is in a canister, the fridge should be avoided because the cold cools the fats in the coffee too much
It’s unmistakable that keeping the coffee in the refrigerator slows down the process of modifying the organoleptic properties.
However, be aware of thermal shocks that are combined with humidity variation when the canister is removed from the fridge (you know, the condensation made of water droplets formed on the container when removed from the fridge?).
#4. False beliefs
It’s unnecessary and indeed harmful to add an apple peel, cork or other elements where coffee is stored. While such items are thought to preserve coffee by absorbing moisture in its container, they may in fact ruin the precious beans by making them rancid.
It’s always advisable to buy small amounts of coffee so to avoid having a package open for months since that will inevitably cause the coffee to lose its flavor and taste.
The right packaging also cuts down on food waste!
Cutting down on food waste along the entire chain is one of the easiest ways to “think green”.
Let start buying only what we (and/or our business) need and keep it in the best possible way.
Let’s not forget that food requires energy, land, water, fuel, natural resources, human labor, and money to be produced, transported, processed, packaged, stored, sold, purchased, re-transported and stored at home.
Food production has an impact on the environment as it emits CO2 emissions in the atmosphere which contribute to change.
Reduction in food waste is also a demonstration of transparency and commitment to sustainability which is something that we appreciate as modern consumers.
To meet these standards, the package’s size, portions and product quantity must all be taken into consideration. In addition to preserving quality and freshness, mindful packaging also allows us to calibrate our purchasing choices (and therefore savings) on the amount of product we are actually able to consume.
If we have a low or uneven consumption of a given product, to avoid unnecessary waste, it’s best to buy a smaller package that can guarantee us the freshness.
Quality and freshness for a sustainable future!
How? Finding a balance with packaging that helps reduce waste without creating an excess of packaging that will lead to increased economic and environmental costs!
The coffee in beans
To have (even at home) an excellent espresso coffee like in the best cafés, coffee beans are the wisest choice you can make.
True coffee lovers, those who seek perfection in each cup, choose coffee beans for home use and grind them the moment they want a cup in a coffee grinder or an automatic “bean to cup” coffee machine with built-in coffee grinder.
Coffee beans keep their characteristics and freshness much longer than ground coffee, thus another reason to choose coffee beans in small amounts proportionate to consumption.
Grinding the beans
If at all possible, it’s good to grind the coffee at the moment it will be prepared.
Less time between grinding and preparation, means more aroma remains in the cup.
In fact, coffee loses and disperses in the air more than 50% of its organoleptic and aromatic properties after 30 minutes.
The ideal time is a maximum of one hour in the doser so don’t make too much ground coffee in the doser, if it’s not ready to use!
Let’s remember that once the bean is broken and the aroma is released, the ground coffee that is in contact with the air tends to lose its fragrance. Besides the fact that grinding a lot of coffee together may overheat the engine of the grinder, it will also weaken the coffee aroma.
Hey barista, don’t forget about taking care of the grinder!
Since the care of the grinder contributes decisively to the preservation of aroma and, consequently, to the quality of the coffee, it’s very important to regularly and thoroughly clean the coffee bean/ground container and the star doser.
Simple daily routine operations for a perfect espresso will avoid the dispersal of aroma.
- The coffee bean container must be filled with only the real quantity of beans needed per day. To prevent the aroma dispersing, fill the container shortly before starting the service
- Check the setting of the grinding degree by preparing a 25 ml espresso in 25 seconds (indicative values for traditional machines)
- Lastly, also check the mobility of the star doser and the quantity of coffee
- The pair of mills must be replaced in case there is an obvious slowing of the process or if there is a very dusty or noisy grinding
Moreover, since coffee absorbs moisture from the surrounding air, you need to be very mindful of changes in the air.
In the case of humidity, a change in the grinding degree setting may be necessary since ground coffee is more susceptible to absorbing moisture than coffee beans.
What are your tips for storing coffee and reducing food waste?