Why Shelf Life is Being Re-Thought
Coffee shelf life is a thing that’s been debated for some time. Instinctually, it seems like there should be a time when you want to throw those beans away. And it’s true - whole bean coffee doesn’t last for eternity. It’s subject to the same sort of decay and breakdown over time as any dry food item. With that said though, the way we think about coffee freshness is starting to change.
In the past, we as an industry treated whole bean coffee in a “fresh is best.” There has been a mentality that after a few days of degassing, coffee should be consumed as soon as possible. This is still a viewpoint that many people hold. Freshly roasted coffee definitely does have an incredible smell, and it tastes great very soon after roasting, but there’s actually a lot more to the coffee freshness story.
Flavor Sweet Spot
Different coffees have different “sweet spots” for their flavor, but as a general rule, guidance from roasters is moving towards coffee being at its best flavor 2-3 weeks after roasting. This might surprise you if you’re used to trying to drink your coffee as quickly as you can. Opinions definitely are varied on this, but more and more roasters and coffee drinkers are coming to the opinion that by letting coffee rest a bit longer you can actually get a little bit of extra flavor from the beans.
So when does coffee go bad?
How Long is Too Long?
This question of how long coffee actually lasts is tricky. Obviously if you notice any moldiness, foul odor, or other sign of your coffee going bad then it’s time to toss it. This is actually pretty rare though, as coffee stored at room temperature in a dry environment usually doesn’t mold or go rancid. Instead, coffee just loses its flavor over time. You might notice a stale taste or just a lack of flavor and aroma.
This, however, can actually take months. You can often enjoy a great 3, or even 4 months after the roast date. That’s just for traditionally bagged specialty coffee. Nitrogen sealed Italian coffees can last years thanks to their storage techniques. There’s even strategies you can use to extend shelf life even longer.
Proper Storage and Freezing
If you use a vacuum packed storage container like a Fellow Atmos or an Airscape Canister then you can actually enjoy your coffee at optimum freshness for a few months after the roast date. These canisters help create the optimal conditions for coffee storage, and are well worth it, especially if you like to buy in bulk.
Freezing your coffee beans can also help preserve them. In fact, some people will freeze those beans for many months, which can be a great way to enjoy a seasonal roast after it’s not longer available.
For us, we’re working to find the perfect shelf life to waste less coffee and ensure freshness, which is always a balancing act. With that in mind, we’re moving to a shelf-life of 4 weeks in our warehouses, and 6 weeks in our stores. This means that you’ll always get coffee in that optimal freshness band, and we can expire out less coffee that’s still delicious!