How to Store Coffee Beans (and tips for freezing coffee beans)
So you’ve got a luscious bag of freshly roasted coffee beans. You’ve nailed the grind, the timing, and the ratio and you’ve brewed up an insanely delicious cup. Now you want to make sure you can enjoy that fresh-roasted coffee experience for as long as possible.
But how can you prolong the bliss? How can you prevent these beautiful treasures from growing stale, oxidized, even – dare we say it – rancid?
Fear not, my fellow coffee aficionado. I’m here to suggest the best way to store coffee beans and preserve these little nuggets of delight for maximum fresh-coffee enjoyment.
Coffee Beans Are Perishable
Coffee beans are a natural food product, like ripe fruit or freshly baked bread. And like all natural food products (we aren’t talking about plastic cheese or those mystery-meat sandwiches in the vending machine, now) coffee beans have a shelf life.
And the sad truth is, that shelf life is about a month. (This is why we recommend buying only as much coffee as you’ll drink in about a month.) But the even sadder truth is: if you’re not careful, you can reduce that shelf life by half, or more.
So let’s begin by looking at what you’re fighting against, and then we’ll give you a set of strategies for keeping your beans fresh.
The Four Horsemen of the Coffee Apocalypse
We often say that the Four Horsemen of the Coffee Apocalypse are oxygen, heat, light, and moisture.
Oxygen is the biggest danger, as it’s present everywhere you keep your beans. From the moment you break the vacuum seal, oxygen starts creeping in to wreak havoc on your beans’ aroma.
Heat is almost as bad, as heat speeds up the chemical reactions that destroy coffee. For every increase of 10°C, chemical reactions – such as oxidation – happen twice as quickly. So storing your beans in a hot part of your kitchen (over the stove, for example, or even over the coffee maker) will shorten their lifespan by a noticeable amount.
Light also breaks down the delicate flavour and aroma compounds in coffee. So that beautiful glass jar with a polished copper top that you’ve got sitting on a high shelf in the kitchen – oh, wait, that’s my kitchen. Not the best long-term storage place.
The final danger: moisture not only introduces the possibility of mould and mildew (trust me, you don’t even want to think about mildewed coffee beans), but it introduces “off” aromas and can transport smells from other parts of the kitchen.
So faced with all these existential threats to your treasured coffee, how can you make sure your beans stay fresh? The solution: store them properly to protect them from these dangers. Here are three solutions for whole beans, and one bonus for special circumstances.
Bargain Storage: The Coffee Bag
One solution that’s readily available: opaque coffee bags equipped with a one-way valve. You may find coffee already conveniently stored in them in supermarkets and online at Amazon.com. This storage system allows for easy packing of freshly-roasted coffee while keeping as much carbon dioxide intact as possible to prevent oxidation. Plus, the one-way valve lets carbon dioxide escape as the coffee naturally degasses – rather than inflating the bag.
When the time comes to store it till the next brew, don’t just close the bag: roll it tightly to remove as much air as possible from inside, then wrap an elastic band around it to keep it closed and reduce the amount of air that enters. Then keep the bag somewhere cool and dry – not in the refrigerator where moisture will condense around the grounds when you open the bag, and off aromas will permeate it.
Nobody wants a Colombian Caturra that smells like old salad greens. No, it’s not as good as a vacuum-sealed ceramic coffee canister, but it will hold off the worst of the deterioration for a couple of weeks.
Best Storage: A Coffee Container
The National Coffee Association USA offers a very simple requirement for coffee storage: what you need is an air-tight, opaque container. (1)
There are specialty coffee storage canisters available on the market, and some of them are quite good indeed. They’re all better than grinding a week’s worth of coffee and storing it in plastic bags, but the best ones are really superb, and can keep a month’s worth of coffee in as close to fresh-roasted condition as you can expect (assuming you take all other precautions, such as avoiding heat and moisture).
If you’re considering one of these, check out our review of the best coffee containers by reading this guide. It discusses details of seven dedicated coffee storage containers, and of course we have our favourite.
If you’re really intent on keeping your beans fresh as can be, this stainless steel coffee canister from Coffee Gator is your best bet. Designed to aid in releasing carbon dioxide and to minimize oxidation, it makes sure your beans stay the freshest for the longest!
Can You Freeze Coffee Beans?
The freezer is another place to store your beans – with one very serious warning: Don’t open your bean container in the freezer. Remember the concerns about moisture? Cold coffee beans will attract condensation if you open them while still frozen. If you put them back in the freezer after opening, the condensation can lead to that awful freezer-burn aroma.
But with careful use, the freezer can be a good solution if you purchase bulk beans – say, a 2 kg bag of something at a special rate. Make sure you store them in individual airtight containers (or those vacuum-sealed freezer bags), each holding about a month’s worth of coffee. Write the date on the container so you know when they went in, and leave them frozen until you need more coffee. (2)
”For a large amount of coffee, first divide it into smaller portions, then freeze the portions in airtight bags.”
Finally, when you take them out of the freezer, let them come up to room temperature before you open the bag. That will prevent condensation from forming on the beans themselves, as well as the odours that come with it and the risk of mould and mildew.
Storing Ground Coffee
This is the last resort for storing coffee, but sometimes you have no choice. Traveling to a place without good coffee? Your coffee grinder doesn’t get quite fine enough for your espresso maker, so you have your beans ground at the shop? It happens to the best of us.
Even more than with whole beans, it’s important to protect ground coffee from air, light, heat, and moisture. The best solution: buy only about a week’s worth of ground coffee, and then keep it in a dedicated coffee storage container. If you’re traveling, grind just as much coffee as you’ll need, place the grounds in a Ziploc bag, and press all the air out before sealing. Then store it in your luggage where it’ll be safe from heat, light, and moisture. This is adequate for a long weekend, but if you’re traveling much longer, buy fresh coffee on site.
PRO TIP: the stainless steel cans that Illy Caffe uses for their ground espresso are a pretty good solution, and virtually free. Nobody says you can’t refill them with freshly ground espresso from your favourite local roaster.
The Verdict: What’s the Best Way to Store Coffee Beans?
In the end, the best way to store coffee beans is to keep them in a good airtight container that is especially designed for coffee. It gives you the most protection against oxygen, heat, light, and moisture.
Again, here’s our guide on coffee storage containers where you can choose a solid option.
Frequently Asked Questions
Coffee beans are good for about a month, properly stored. Consider that ground coffee begins to deteriorate in as little as 30 minutes, and you understand the recommendation to store whole coffee beans properly and grind them only immediately before brewing.
Although storing grounds in a cooler temperature will slow down the oxidation, they still lose their desirable properties at a faster rate than whole bean coffee. Ground coffee also has more surface area than whole beans, thus, they are at a high risk of being exposed to moisture when stored inside the freezer.
The best way to store coffee beans and protect them from moisture in the freezer is to keep them in airtight bags or canisters. We also recommend that you divide your beans into smaller, consumable portions to lessen the risk of moisture exposure. We only recommend freezing your beans if you don’t plan to consume them within 10 days since they were roasted.
Yes, you can grind frozen coffee beans as they will normally defrost during the grinding process. Coffee made from frozen beans – as long as they were not exposed to moisture in storage – can taste the same as coffee brewed from unfrozen beans
- National Coffee Association. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.ncausa.org/About-Coffee/How-to-Store-Coffe
- Where to Store Coffee: Pantry vs. Freezer. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.realsimple.com/food-recipes/shopping-storing/beverages/store-coffee-pantry-vs-freezer