If fresh is good, then is very fresh very good?
Severely stale coffee can be a terrible waste of both money and potential quality. Once roasted coffee gets too old it can give up all its best aromas, create a thin cup of coffee without much crema and take on some really unpleasant stale flavour taints. In comparison, fresh coffee is so much more enjoyable.
Given this, in a perfect world would we all be drinking coffee that had just come out of the roaster? Is it a case of "the fresher the better"?
This blog post will give some insights into how coffee quality changes over time from when it's roasted and how Cosmorex manages the freshness of your coffees for best results. Also read on for a few quick freshness-related tips and answers to some frequently asked freshness questions.
It's a gas, gas, gas
Like many of us perhaps, roasted coffee tends to have a "difficult early period". The biggest issue in this is gas production. Shortly after roasting, the coffee begins degassing. Gases produced in the roasting process, as well as those produced by chemical reactions that continue after roasting, are expelled from the beans. These include a lot of carbon dioxide.
If you've ever noticed a valve in your coffee bag, that is put there to cope with the large quantities of gas put out by freshly roasted beans. Without a valve, coffee bags can burst from excessive gas pressure. With a valve, the gas can escape after it reaches a certain pressure. The bag survives, there is less chance for environmental oxygen to come into contact with the beans and, as a further bonus, you also get the opportunity to smell what's inside. Win win win.
In the minutes immediately after coffee comes out of the roaster, gas production is not too high and doesn't interfere too much with the making of a coffee for initial quality testing purposes. However, gas production soon increases and the gas can then begin to cause some problems.
Gas tends to surround coffee grinds, making it harder for the water to make contact and extract a full range of desired coffee flavours. This can result in a cup that is unbalanced in flavours and overall less intense.
In espresso-based coffees, coarse gas bubbles can also show up in your cup, popping up in your espresso crema and/or the milk on your latte.
Also in espresso coffees, the combination of carbon dioxide and pressurised water can create carbonic acid, which adds a generic fizzy/tangy quality to your beverage. This can skew the intended character of your coffee, no matter what style of coffee product you have chosen.
Another issue with very fresh coffee -- which can be difficult to separate from the issues of gas production -- is flavour and aroma development.
Reactions started in the roasting process continue for some time after roast. Depending on the particular bean or blend, it is often the case that the most positive, unique and prominent flavour notes take several days to fully emerge. A little rest time can also improve the sense of integration and balance between coffee characters.
For example, current testing shows that our Nicaragua Blueberry Candy single origin coffee takes at least seven days after roast to taste its best in a milk coffee and most clearly display its delicious rum chocolate notes.
The shape of freshness
The chart above gives a very general visual guide to the effect of time on cup quality.
As mentioned above, coffee just minutes out of the roaster can often make quite a decent cup. Soon after, the coffee becomes more difficult to extract due to excessive gas emission and some negative cup characters can also show up for this reason. Once the gas production lessens and coffee flavours further mature, cup quality enters its golden era of maximum enjoyability. Sadly, however, if beans become too old then cup quality will eventually fade away again.
The axes are deliberately not labelled with any units. This is partly in favour of focusing on the general pattern, but also because there is great variation in outcomes depending on the particular coffee and the intended brew method. One coffee that’s intended for filter brewing might shine at, say, 7-14 days from roast, while another coffee intended for espresso usage might need much more rest before use and then produce a good cup quality for several weeks.
Our aims for your coffee
At Cosmorex, we frequently taste all of our roasted coffee products and pay attention to how each of them develops with age after roasting. Taking this information into account, we carefully plan and control our roasting activities with the aim of supplying all our clients with coffee that is ready for use and that will deliver great cup quality over a typical period of consumption.
Our multiple roasting platforms make it possible to appropriately handle everything from small-volume niche coffees, roasted in tiny batches, to popular cafe blends, roasted 60kg at a time.
We offer roasted coffee in multiple bag sizes and generally recommend making smaller, more frequent bean purchases if you can. If you have a particular circumstance to work around (for example, you are buying coffee today but won't start using it for some weeks to come), please mention this to our friendly staff and we'll happily work with you to select the best product for your needs.
Some quick freshness tips
The above information relates to whole bean coffee. If at all possible, we strongly recommend buying whole bean coffee and grinding it yourself just before use. Need a new grinder? Come and visit our coffee equipment showroom, or reach out online.
Pre-ground coffee, unfortunately, loses much of its potential quality shortly after grinding. If circumstances require you to buy pre-ground coffee, we advise purchasing in the smallest practical quantities to promote quick use.
Keeping coffee in the fridge or freezer? Regularly purchasing fresh coffee is a surer path to success in most cases. But if you really need to slow down coffee ageing (perhaps you live in a remote location), refrigeration can offer some advantage. Just be sure to prevent a) foreign aromas getting into the coffee and b) moisture condensing on your beans when you take them from a cold to a warm environment. Suggestion: divide your coffee beans into small, sealed packages for cold storage. When needed, take one pack out of refrigeration and allow it to fully warm to room temperature before opening. Don't put that pack back into refrigeration.
If you're making a pourover or other manually-brewed coffee, you may find that a fresh coffee creates a "bloom" of coarse bubbles when the grounds are first wet. Pour a small quantity of water first and allow 30 seconds or so for the bubbles to dissipate before continuing to add water. This will help to achieve a fuller and more even extraction of flavours.