What do we mean when we say fresh? Can coffee be too fresh?
In the realm of food and beverages, freshness often denotes quality. The aroma of freshly baked bread wafting through the air, the taste of ripened fruit picked right off the tree, the sizzle of steaks hot off the grill — freshness is the hallmark of good food. But does the same logic apply to coffee? Is the best coffee the one that’s just left the roaster?
Coffee, unlike most foods, has an interesting paradox when it comes to freshness.
Crafting the Perfect Cup: A Fresh Perspective on Coffee Roasting and Degassing
The roasting process ignites a plethora of chemical changes that significantly impact coffee’s quality. A crucial part of these changes involves the emission of carbon dioxide (CO2), an aspect that sets coffee apart from other consumables. While most CO2 is discharged during roasting, a substantial quantity continues to be released even after roasting, albeit at a slower pace.
This is why bags of coffee have one-way valves, to release gasses inside the bag but keep oxygen and moisture out!
Interestingly, the rate of CO2 emission varies based on the level of roast. Dark roasted coffee, known for reaching the ‘second crack’ or combustion stage of the coffee seed, possesses a porous structure which facilitates quick gas escape. Conversely, light roasted coffee, denser by nature, leads to a slower gas release, hinting at a potential need for a longer resting period post-roast.
Balancing Freshness: The CO2 Conundrum
Straight off the roast, coffee beans are still releasing significant amounts of CO2. This CO2 emission, observable as the ‘bloom’ in a pour-over, signifies the coffee’s freshness. However, when you grind coffee, the degassing process accelerates dramatically.
Ironically, a super-fresh roast may contain an excess of CO2 that can disrupt the flavor profile. This surplus CO2 can dramatically alter the taste of espresso, resulting in an undesirable high acidity or sourness. To avoid this, we allow the beans a few days to degas, particularly for espresso, which, due to its high-pressure brewing environment, can produce too much crema and subpar extraction without proper rest.
The Art of Resting Coffee: Peak Flavor
So why should we let our coffee rest? Coffee connoisseurs and professionals have found that the flavor of most coffees peaks around 8 or more days post-roasting, with some advocating a 10–14 day wait for espresso. However, the specifics may vary depending on the coffee and the processing method (washed, natural, honey, etc). Bear in mind, though, that waiting too long can lead to a complete degassing and loss of aromatic compounds - causing the coffee, especially dark roasts and pre-ground coffee, to lose flavor.
In simpler terms, resting coffee allows it to reach its flavor peak, so super fresh is not necessarily best — too fresh or too rested, you might miss the optimum flavor (hello avocado nightmares). But don’t stress too much, even a few weeks post-roast, you will still have very fresh and flavorful coffee, especially if you grind your coffee just before brewing.
- Dark roasted coffee can stale faster
- Pre-ground coffee loses flavor at a faster rate than whole bean
- Rest coffee for espresso for 10-14 days
- Keep the bag unopened until use
Since each coffee can have different optimal brewing windows, it’s hard to pinpoint each one. And frankly, the difference between a one-week and three-week coffee is not going to be very noticeable. The important thing is to keep your precious beans tight and right.
The Shelf Life of Rested Coffee: How to Store Coffee for Fresh Flavor
What about the shelf life of your rested coffee beans? The rule of thumb is, once you’ve rested and opened your bag of coffee, enjoy it while it’s at its peak (within a week or so). Revisiting an already opened bag of coffee six months later will only lead to disappointment.
You can extend the freshness of your coffee by:
- Keep the bag closed, squeeze out extra air
- Store away from light and heat
- Grind just before brewing
- Use an airtight container such as Airscape
When purchasing your coffee, consider the resting time to ensure you enjoy your coffee at its flavor peak, especially for espresso. A coffee just off the roast, as delicious as that sounds, will get even better when left to rest. Remember, it’s about crafting the perfect cup for you. And we are here to help make your coffee experience truly enjoyable!