All fresh roasted coffee starts going stale and bitter in less than 30 days. Unfortunately, no amount of space age packaging technology can change that fact. So, the key question is this. “How to keep roasted coffee fresh?” The method I use, detailed below, is easy, fast, and cheap. More importantly, it really works to keep your coffee fresh.
As a master coffee roaster, for year’s I’ve been telling everyone that there is NO way on God’s green earth to preserve roasted coffee. Well… as the old saying goes, “Crow is best served warm and eaten in big bites”. Therefore, as much as I hate saying this, I was wrong.
Please forgive my male ego, which requires me to qualify that statement. I haven’t found a way to perfectly preserve fresh roasted coffee that saves the entire wonderful God given taste of those fresh beans, but what I've come up with, it’s pretty darn close.
Pardon the following long story, but it’s a fun story and worth the read.
Cracking The Door
A few years ago, a long-time customer and friend of mine, Dan from Everett, Washington, heard me say that it’s impossible to preserve fresh roasted coffee. Dan called me on this, in front of the whole world, in a comment on my website, he said, “Bullshit! I buy 5 pounds at a time of your Lake City Coffee and freeze most of it. And the last frozen bag is still better than anything else on the market”!
I told Dan, “I agree, 'the last bag is better than anything else that you can buy on the market', but it still it can’t compare to the first bag that was only hours old”. He agreed. So, I was safe in claiming that fresh roasted coffee beans are way better than old bitter and stale beans.
Better Preserved Coffee
Generally speaking, you want to grind your coffee right before you brew it. Why? When you grind those beautiful beans, you’ve just multiplied the surface area by a factor of 100, which means that when exposed to the air (oxygen) those beans will turn bitter very quickly. So, always grind your coffee just before brewing.
Recently a customer and new friend, Jo Ann of Birmingham, Alabama, told me that she’s found that frozen ground coffee tasted much better than frozen whole bean coffee. That sounded weird, so I gave it a try. Sure enough, the frozen ground coffee tasted a little bit better than the frozen whole bean coffee, but it still couldn’t compare to coffee roasted just yesterday or even coffee roasted within the last few weeks.
Free Shipping On 3 Bags or More
I hate paying for shipping, so why would I force my customers to pay for shipping? So, Alisha (my wife and partner) and I agreed to offer free shipping for anyone buying 3 or more bags of coffee. Still, I have a few customers that still buy 1 or 2 bags at a time and gladly pay the shipping charges, just so they could have fresher coffee. That makes sense to me.
Here’s the rub. 90% of our weekly orders are for 3 bags. What bothers me is that 3rd bag isn’t going to be quite as good as the 1st bag. So, how can we keep our roasted coffee fresher longer? How can we make that 3rd bag taste nearly as good as the 1st bag?
How To Keep Roasted Coffee Fresh
Over the last year, I’ve been buying large bags of flour, rice, beans, etc. Then I got to wondering, how am I going to preserve these dry goods?
Apparently, oxygen is the enemy of food preservation. Get rid of the oxygen and food will last for decades instead of months. As it turns out, iron converts oxygen into nitrogen, which is an inert gas, i.e., nitrogen doesn’t interact with other chemicals or food. That’s a good thing. Not surprisingly, you can get “Oxygen Absorbers” (little packets of iron) on the internet or at a zillion other places for just a few cents each.
Most preppers (people preparing for the zombie apocalypse, or whatever), have known about oxygen absorbers for a very long time. Take any can good, look at the label, and you'll find an expiration date. Multiply that date by 100 and you'll understand what Oxygen Absorbers can do for you. Imagine, using this same technique with coffee. And that's exactly what I did.
Mad Scientist On The Loose
1. I armed myself with:
- A dozen or so 100cc Oxygen Absorbers (they come in 100cc, 200cc, 300cc, 500cc, 1,000cc, etc.)
- 1 Qt Ziploc Freezer Bags
- Fresh Roasted Coffee
- Sharpie Pen
- 1 Qt Mylar Bags & Heat Sealer (Click Here)
2. I marked each bag with the Sharpie and then filled each bag with either whole bean or ground coffee.
- Cupboard – Mylar Bag – Whole Bean
- Cupboard – Mylar Bag – Ground Coffee
- Cupboard - Ziploc Bag – Whole Bean
- Cupboard – Ziploc Bag – Ground Coffee
- Frozen – Mylar Bag – Whole Bean
- Frozen – Mylar Bag – Ground Coffee
- Frozen – Ziploc Bag – Whole Bean
- Frozen – Ziploc Bag – Ground Coffee
3. The final step was to open the Oxygen Absorber bag, pull out 8 oxygen absorbers, then reseal the original Oxygen Absorber bag. You don’t want the oxygen absorbers exposed to the air for more than 5-10 minutes. It actually takes about 2 hours for an oxygen absorber to absorb as much oxygen as it can. So, in this process, haste is good, but don't worry if the absorbers site there for a short time.
4. Then, I put an oxygen absorber in each bag of coffee and sealed the bag.
5. I then tossed the cupboard bags in the back of a cupboard and the freezer bags into the freezer. Finally, I tried my best to forget that they were there.
After 7 weeks in the cupboard and freezer, I pulled all the beans out and started making coffee. To begin with, I ground all the whole beans using the same grinder set on medium-fine. Since I prefer super smooth coffee, I then used the AeroPress brewing technique. I also used identical insulated mugs to maintain the same temperature.
As my baseline, I compared each cup of coffee to this week’s freshest roast, which was only three days ago. So, I made each cup as identical as possible. Keep in mind that under normal conditions, I can tell the difference between this week’s roast and last week’s roast, much less coffee roasted 7 weeks ago. Normally, month old coffee, even mine, might still taste good, but it’s noticeably different from fresh.
That being said, what was the result? The oxygen absorbers worked great! Every package, Ziploc or sealed Mylar; cupboard or frozen; worked very well. The difference between the 7-week old coffee using the oxygen absorbers was at least 90% as good as this week’s roasted coffee. The oxygen absorbers definitely made a big difference.
So, which packaging method was best? Surprisingly, it was the ground frozen with the oxygen absorber. Also a big surprise was that we saw no difference between the heat sealed Mylar bags and the Ziploc bags. Keep in mind that the difference between the frozen ground coffee and the frozen whole bean coffee was nominal. I could tell a difference, but it was minimal at best. To be honest, I personally just toss an oxygen absorber into the whole bean bag, put that bag into a Ziploc, toss it on the freezer, and call it good.
How Long Will Lake City Coffee Last?
As a rule of thumb, our new packaging with O2 absorbers will keep your fresh roasted coffee tasting the following percentages as good as the day it was roasted:
- Cupboard 3 weeks = 98%
- Cupboard 6 weeks = 95%
- Freezer 2 months = 95%
- Freezer 4 months = 95%
- Freezer 6 months = 90%
- Freezer 12 months = 90%
Lake City Coffee
Alisha and I (Russell) started Lake City Coffee shortly after meeting in 2015. We quickly moved from courting for marriage to business partners, much like most people move from one room to the next. Not only did we both have a passion for coffee, but we also had a love of people, especially "our" kind of people.
If you're looking for some exceptionally fresh roasted coffee and some fun people to work with, then you're in the right place.
Update - October 15th, 2021
I know this is going to surprise the hell out of you, but I just found, in the back of my cupboard, several Ziploc and sealed mylar bags of whole bean coffee with an oxygen absorber in each. These bags were dated June 2nd 2020, the day I started this article's experiment in preserving coffee beans.
Yep folks, that would be over a year in the cupboard. Having just run out of coffee. (I know. I know. I's a cobbler's kids kind of thing.) But I used my AeroPress and made a cup of coffee from year old coffee beans.
Guess what, it wasn't bad. Not the best coffee that I've ever had, but still pretty darn good. I'd say it was at least 75% as good as 2 day old fresh roasted coffee. All that to say this. Those oxygen absorbers are awesome!