Don't be mistaken. Coffee, just like most food in your pantry, is not known for aging gracefully. When stored improperly and left unused over time, coffee beans grow stale and lose their flavor. Even worse, some store-bought blends may already be old before you even check out.
If you want to brew a cup of coffee that is worth savoring every sip, then you need to be sure that the beans you are using are fresh. Certain coffee connoisseurs may be able to instantly tell if their coffee beans are passed their prime, but not all of us can. What are some practical ways you can tell whether your coffee beans are fresh or not?
To make an accurate call, you first need to understand what happens to a coffee bean when it is picked, roasted, and packed. When a raw, green coffee bean is picked, it contains the precursors to its complex, unique flavor profile. These flavors come to life during the roasting process as bright, sweet, dark, or fruity tones give the bean a specific smell and taste. However, the moment a roasted coffee bean is exposed to air, it immediately begins to degrade and lose its tasty flavor. So if you want to brew a cup at the peak of its freshness, most roasters will advise you to purchase and consume coffee beans shortly after roasting.
How to tell if your coffee beans are fresh
There are a few easy ways to tell whether your coffee beans are fresh based on appearance, smell, and feel.
1.) Only purchase bags with a recent roasting date
Bags with a clearly labeled roasting date (make sure it was recent!) allow you to remove guessing from the equation and purchase with confidence. Roasters who care enough to provide this information before putting their beans on the shelf possess a genuine concern over the quality of their product and want to ensure that you receive the freshest beans possible. It's their careful attention to detail that makes your cup taste so wonderfully delicious.
2.) Take a whiff
Beans that are freshly roasted will have a rich intense aroma. If you squeeze a bag of beans, and your nose doesn't immediately meet a cloud of bliss, these beans are most likely passed their prime.
3.) Check for a glossy finish and residue
Coffee beans are full of natural oils, acids, and other compounds called "solubles," which give them a glossy appearance. When coffee beans are roasted, they are exposed to intense heat that extracts moisture from the heart of the bean while simultaneously drawing out the oil-like substances that, then, coat the outside of the bean. As a coffee bean is exposed to air, this oil-like substance will evaporate, which is why the longer it sits out, the less oily it becomes.
However, not all coffee beans are created equal. Before you judge the freshness of your coffee based on appearance, it's important to note that this gloss will vary in intensity based on how dark or light the roast is. Light roasts will not contain as high of a gloss as a dark roast because they were not roasted as long. However, a light roast will still contain a dull shininess.
Since freshly roasted coffee beans are oily they typically leave a coating. If you pick up a handful of beans and they leave a residue on your hands, or you see a lining of residue on the inside of the bag, these beans are fresh for brewing.
4.) Check for a valve on the sealed bag
When coffee beans are roasted, they release high amounts of Carbon Dioxide. The release of gas will continue to last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks after roasting. This process is known as the degassing period.
As actively degassing beans are carefully packaged into vacuum-sealed bags, a one-way valve is inserted, giving the remaining CO2 somewhere to escape. Without a valve, the bag will begin to puff up like a balloon and can potentially pop.
In simple terms, if your bag of coffee does not possess a valve, then your coffee beans are not actively releasing CO2-- and are not fresh.
5.) Use the ziplock bag test
Place a 1/2 cup of whole coffee beans in a ziplock bag. Press out the remaining air before sealing, let it sit overnight, and check in the morning. If the bag appears to be inflated due to the release of CO2, then your beans are fresh. If the bag remains flat, then your beans are sadly past their prime.
How to properly store your coffee beans at home
For optimal freshness, store your beans in an air-tight container, away from heat and light. If you bought your beans in bulk and don’t plan to consume them within several days of purchase, try storing them in your freezer where they will have limited contact with air and moisture. It is NOT recommended that you store your coffee beans in the fridge as they tend to absorb other flavors causing them to lose their unique flavor profile.
To avoid purchasing beans that are old, try buying smaller portions more frequently. This will ensure that your coffee beans don't become stale before you can use them.
Fresh is best
As an enthusiastic coffee roaster, we can't stress enough how important freshly roasted beans are to brewing a cup of coffee that is bursting with the aroma and flavor that make it so enjoyable. That is why all of our beans are roasted daily and sold at the peak of their freshness.
If you’re anxious to switch things up a bit, then check out our coffee subscription. Discover new favorites and enjoy freshly roasted beans at your doorstep each month. We’ll even let you choose your own terms!
We hope this post helped expand your coffee knowledge and prevents you from drinking a cup that is less than perfect. A cup that is fresh is always best!