While I have said before that you need to “buy fresh roasted coffee” to keep it special, beans can actually be too fresh for brewing.
Let me explain.
The word on the street is that fresher is better. And as a consumer if you want your coffee at home to be exceptional you have to buy your coffee beans from a specialty coffee roaster. This is pretty much the only way to get a decent bag of beans for home.
However, consider this.
Once coffee is roasted there are two elements that impact the flavour in the cup.
Impact factor 1: Degassing
Degassing essentially means the release of Carbon Dioxide (CO2), which is developed during roasting. CO2 is visually manifested in the cup as the crema, which is that foam-like layer on an espresso that looks like the head of a Guinness beer. It is important to note that degassing happens over time. Imagine a slanted curve as a way to represent the degassing process. Most of the degassing happens right after roast then tapers off after the first week. Each day after the first week, less and less degassing occurs.
In the first week after roast, the coffee is extremely active from degassing, which manifests in the cup as volatility. If you’re measuring your brewing time, have you noticed that extraction times change over time from bag to bag? This is what I am referring to. Super fresh coffee releases more CO2 and can be a little erratic. All this results in uneven and unpredictable brewing, particularly in espresso and most noticeable when coffee is in its first few days after roast.
Please note, this does not mean that the coffee cannot or will not taste amazing immediately after roast. There are a lot of people I know who love coffee this fresh. However, it just means that the window of excellence is small and repeatability of getting the same results with the same recipe is hard as the coffee is changing a lot, especially in the first week. But as the coffee ages it becomes more predictable and the window of excellence is wider and you will have a higher strike rate with repeatability. Fun fun!
Also, really fresh roasted coffee tends to mask some of the subtle nuance and flavour that make specialty coffee very special. Super fresh roasted coffee often lacks clarity and the desirable accentuated sweetness of properly roasted coffee will not be very apparent. The defining character of very fresh roasted coffee is usually sharp, edgy and robust.
So in summing up, for the first few days after roast, coffee is generally considered not to be at its peak for brewing or flavour … yet! This is why we age our coffee after roasting.
Impact factor 2: Oxidation
Oxygen impacts everything. It makes bread go stale, it flattens soft drink, and even rusts metal. Coffee is also vulnerable to oxygen and starts oxidising the moment it comes out of the roaster. This is why every bean at White Horse Coffee is packed on the day of roast in a foil bag with a one way valve. This one way valve allows oxygen to escape out of the bag, while creating a nurturing environment free of oxygen for the beans to age perfectly. Interestingly, most studies have shown that the oxygen left behind in these bags is lower than 0.1% after 24 hours of being packed.
What about ground coffee?
Glad you asked. When coffee is ground the rate of oxidation increases because the structure of the coffee has changed. Grinding coffee increases the amount of permeable walls (by the thousands) making it more vulnerable to oxygen. This is why it is preferable to grind your coffee on demand, just as you’re about to brew at home.
Determining your peak freshness
I wish I had the golden answer, but the truth is that it fluctuates. As a general rule we’re noticing 6 – 7 days after roast is the earliest we would recommend to start using White Horse Coffee espresso roasts. Filter roasts, being lighter, tend to take a little longer to degas, but at the same time are easier to brew fresher. This is because the contact time between coffee and water in filter brewing is longer. But that’s another article altogether. After this 7 day period your coffee should taste wonderful and very close to the flavour descriptions on the bag. The coffee will be sweet and have both predictability and stability in brewing.
And how long does the peak period last for?
Generally at White Horse Coffee our coffee is gone well before this happens. But I often run experiments where I test our coffee weeks and weeks after roast to see how it’s holding up and tasting. Through these experiments I have noticed 4 – 6 weeks is most likely the maximum you would want to keep espresso roasted coffee before the flavour isn’t what it should be. For ground espresso roast, I would aim to drink it within 7 days.
As long as coffee is stored correctly
Once again I need to stress the importance of storage. If your coffee is stored correctly – in a bag with a one way valve, in a cool, dark cupboard away from moisture, light and temperature fluctuations, it will age much much better.
I hope you found this article interesting and that it helps you enjoy your coffee and keep it special at home.
PS. And by the way, if you’d like to get our fresh roasted coffee delivered to your door, you can join here.