Coffee beans are one of nature’s marvels – the seed of a plant that when roasted turns into a delicious and energising drink.
Having coffee at home can be an enjoyable experience, not just drinking it but selecting different types of beans, grinding them, even roasting the beans at home.
Storage is very important, so we will be looking at the various methods of storage, and what can go wrong.
- Do Unroasted Coffee Beans Go Bad?
- How Long Can You Store Unroasted Coffee Beans?
- When Are Green Coffee Beans Too Old to Roast?
- How Do You Store Roasted Coffee Beans?
- How Long Can You Store Roasted Coffee Beans?
- Should You Store Coffee Beans in the Fridge?
- Should You Freeze Roasted Coffee Beans?
- What is the Best Way to Store Roasted Coffee Beans?
- How Long Will Roasted Coffee Beans Stay Fresh?
- Final thoughts
Do Unroasted Coffee Beans Go Bad?
Everything (even people) has a life-span and unroasted beans (or green beans as they are called) are no different. However they can be kept for quite a long time provided you look after them properly.
To keep them as fresh as possible they need to be stored in a dark, dry place at a reasonable ambient temperature.
They have to be kept dry or they might get mouldy which would not be very good for the flavour, although if they are stored in direct sunlight they will dry out, again affecting the taste when roasted.
As with most food items, moisture and heat can cause the most problems. Remove these two factors and the green beans should be ok until ready to be roasted.
How Long Can You Store Unroasted Coffee Beans?
If stored and handled with care, green coffee beans can last anything from six to twelve months. They can actually last longer if hermetically sealed and packaged.
That means they are stored in sealed packaging that does not allow anything to get in from outside – no air or moisture.
In reality no-one really needs to store green beans for that long. Usually within a maximum of a year they are roasted and consumed.
When Are Green Coffee Beans Too Old to Roast?
Coffee beans are some of the most widely produced and cheapest commodities on the world market, and so there should really be no reason to keep them stored forever. It is not as if the world will run out of beans at some stage!
Provided they are stored correctly the green coffee beans will last for around a year.
After that the flavour starts to deteriorate, mainly due to the moisture content of the bean.
When green beans are first picked they have quite a high moisture content some of which is still retained in the roasting process particularly for light and light / medium roasts. Dark roasts tend to have very low moisture.
As the beans age they start to lose moisture which will affect the quality of the roast, so it is always best to roast the green beans within the first year after picking.
How Do You Store Roasted Coffee Beans?
Storing roasted coffee beans follows the same principles as the green beans – avoid light, heat, cold and moisture.
This make it sound a bit complicated, but what it really means is you just need to keep the roasted beans in an airtight container in a cool, dark place, possibly at the back of your pantry.
Experts often say store them at room temperature. This depends where you live – overnight room temperature in Vietnam in the summer might be around 30 degrees C once the air-conditioning has been switched off, or minus-something degrees in Alaska in the middle of winter.
Common sense should prevail and provided you understand what a “cool, dark place” looks like you will have no problems.
How Long Can You Store Roasted Coffee Beans?
The first thing to understand is that coffee beans are not a standard, uniform product. Their consistency, flavour, roasting properties and shelf-life can depend on where they are grown and picked.
Beans grown in regions such as Central America have a different moisture level to beans grown in Africa, for example. Beans from Indonesia, grown on the lava slopes of volcanoes have completely different properties again.
So you need to pay attention to information about the beans’ origins in terms of how best to store and handle the beans.
Having said all that, in general coffee beans are at their best around 5 to 7 days after roasting.
After that the flavours will start to deteriorate slightly, and this becomes more pronounced after about 2 months, which should be as long as you should keep them stored if you want a good cup of coffee.
Should You Store Coffee Beans in the Fridge?
Some people swear by refrigerating their roasted beans, after all, the fridge is a cool, dark place, right?
Wrong – there are three good reasons why you should not keep roasted coffee beans in the fridge:
- Firstly, the moisture content. We know you should keep beans dry, and stored in the fridge will cause some condensation inside whatever container you use, affecting the beans’ structure, their oils and acidity levels.
- Secondly, the temperature can be inconsistent – unless of course you never open the fridge! Every time you open the fridge door the inside temperature increases a little, and cools down again when you close the door. Temperature variations are not good for stored coffee beans.
- Thirdly, the beans can absorb smells from other items in the fridge, like onions or garlic, or other strong scents.
So the pantry is always a better option than the fridge to store coffee beans.
Should You Freeze Roasted Coffee Beans?
It is possible to freeze roasted coffee beans to make them last longer, for example if you have purchased or home-roasted more than you can use in a few weeks, but only under special conditions.
The recommended method is to first divide the beans into small batches, as much as you would use in a couple of days. If you store in bulk, pulling the whole lot out, taking out a batch and then putting the rest back in the freezer will cause condensation problems.
Vacuum sealing is important, you don’t want much air in with the beans – none at all if you can manage it.
After dividing the beans into smaller batches preferably put them in bags which can have the air removed and then sealed. You can use small sealable containers but it can be difficult to remove the air out of them.
Another point to note is that when you take some beans out, do not open the bag or container straight away. Let them thaw to room temperature first to avoid a rush of air and condensation.
There is one exception to this however. Some home coffee enthusiasts say that grinding the beans when they are frozen gives quite good results, giving a more consistent particle size which allows better extraction, and hence better tasting coffee.
What is the Best Way to Store Roasted Coffee Beans?
To retain the best flavours the beans should be stored in opaque containers in a cool dark place, away from a heat source like your oven, and not somewhere that gets strong afternoon sun.
The retail packaging the beans come in when you buy them is not intended for long-term storage, but you can keep them in the original pack inside a sealed container.
How Long Will Roasted Coffee Beans Stay Fresh?
Coffee beans start to lose their freshness immediately after roasting, although home roasting experts argue that the best flavours develop when the beans settle down between five to seven days after roasting.
Either way, the quality of fresh roasted beans starts to deteriorate after a couple of weeks, so its best to only buy what you will actually use within that period. If you are a home roaster, just roast enough for a couple of weeks.
The type of roast is actually a factor:
- A light roast will last longer, because the roasting process has not degraded the bean’s cell structure as much and the beans still retain most of their natural oils and acidity.
- A medium roast will last two to three weeks
- But a dark roast has a much shorter shelf life since most of the moisture and the oils have gone, giving them that stronger, more bitter flavour.
Of course, all of this advice is only as good as the bean!
The factor that most influences the flavour of your coffee is the quality of the coffee bean, single origin or blend, what part of the world it comes from (just like fine wines), how much you paid for them (yes, quality costs more!), not to mention how the beans have been roasted and handled since being picked.
If you just want an average morning cup of joe, buy some instant. But if you prefer a great beverage, with a fine aroma and complexity of taste, make sure you buy good quality beans, roasted to your taste, and take care of them.