Even if you don't buy freshly roasted beans every week, you can still brew a great cup of coffee. Here are a few key strategies to keep in mind.

By Liz Clayton
January 22, 2021
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Credit: John W Banagan / Getty Images

For years, the prevailing wisdom among coffee experts has been not to keep lots of coffee around. Treat it like fresh produce, they said. Buy it in smaller quantities, but more often. It's a noble thought—but it may not be necessary.

While it's lovely to be able to stroll over to a local cafe every week for a new bag of fresh-roasted beans, if your favorite coffee comes from further afield, or if your buying habits have shifted since the pandemic, you may be tempted to buy more coffee at a time than you used to. So, what's the best way to keep it fresh?

For most coffee from high-quality roasters, keeping your coffee beans sealed in the bags they were packed in is still the best way to ensure freshness. Most coffee bags are equipped with one-way valves to allow the proper release of CO2 gasses from the roasting process, while keeping out that pesky oxygen which can degrade your beans. (Some bags are also flushed with nitrogen to force out oxygen, which keeps the beans fresh for even longer.) Keep your coffee sealed in its own bag 'til you're ready to use it, and assuming it's used within two to three months of roasting, you'll still find it produces a flavorful brew.

The Deep Freeze

If you're storing coffee for longer than a few months, the oft-debated solution of storing coffee in the freezer has found new advocates among coffee scientists and experts. Though some folks remain against the practice, many have re-embraced the idea—so long as you keep an eye out against moisture.

"if you have a bag of coffee and throw it straight into the freezer, still sealed, you're great," says Ben Helfen, a Coffee Education Support specialist with Counter Culture Coffee, based in Durham, NC.

"The key is to let it completely come to room temperature after removing from the freezer," Helfen explains. Allowing the coffee to acclimatize to the ambient temperature will prevent condensation from forming on the beans, which will cause structural damage to the beans and significantly impact flavor. Similarly, it's good to avoid storing coffee in a high-traffic freezer or the front of your freezer, where it will encounter more temperature instability and the potential to gain moisture.

Coffee is "hygroscopic", meaning it will internally absorb moisture from the outside air—or from any condensate that develops on the bean. This is the same reason you'll want to keep your coffee stored well even if you don't freeze it: leaving it in a simple kraft bag or hanging out in the hopper of your grinder in the kitchen will make it more susceptible to the deleterious effects of humidity and oxygen.

Buying in Bulk

Since the pandemic, many roasters have begun retailing their beans in larger bags—2-pound or even the 5-pound size usually reserved for wholesale clients like restaurants or coffee shops. If you're keen to shop for coffee in bulk, there are some tricks to keep in mind to keep it as fresh as you can once you've dug into that big bag.

While some larger bags come with resealable closures, most don't. It's recommended to dispense what you can fit into an air-removing vessel, like the coffee-specific Airscape canister or the Fellow Atmos. Then simply squeeze the remaining air out of the bag, roll it down, and zip or tape it shut. "The strength and thickness of those 5-pound bags make them great at storing coffee for a month or more," says Jared Linzmeier, founder of Wisconsin's Ruby Coffee Roasters, which began selling 5-pound bags to retail and mail-order customers in 2020.

Both Helfen and Linzmeier note that you've still got a few weeks to enjoy coffee that's been roasted and stored, or even opened, before it loses all its charm. "I think depending on the coffee, five and six weeks out isn't nearly as bad has previously been stated," says Helfen. Linzmeier agrees: "I don't hesitate to brew any of our coffees that are four to five weeks off roast," he says.

So if you're tempted to stock up on that favorite blend in econo-size—it looks like hoarding just got a little bit more acceptable.

Coffee Bean Canisters

Credit: Amazon

To buy: $30 at amazon.com

Credit: Amazon

To buy: From $30 at amazon.com, westelm.com, or williams-sonoma.com