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What does “fresh” really mean for your coffee?

(Photo by Frame Harirak on Unsplash)

 

To many of us, brewing a good cup of coffee means using the freshest beans. Well, that may be true but it depends on how you define “fresh”.  A common misconception among consumers is that coffee is at its freshest stage immediately after roasting.

However, if you ask a coffee roaster, their definition of fresh might be completely different and they will definitely not tell you that coffee is freshest as soon as it is roasted. Our head roaster tells me that, “fresh coffee to me is when the coffee flavours are at its peak”.

This means that you actually need to give time for your coffee to rest and de-gas before consumption, so that their flavours can fully develop. Read on to understand more about the degassing process, how long you need to let your coffee rest and some practical tips to enjoy fresh coffee.

What is degassing?

Degassing is the release of carbon dioxide (CO2) that builds up in the beans during roasting. The reason why we need to allow enough time for roasted beans to degas before brewing is because CO2 will result in the formation of bubbles which interrupts the contact between water and the coffee grounds. This will cause uneven extraction which can damage your coffee’s flavour and aroma, ultimately leading to a disappointing taste experience.

Having said that, you should not let your beans degas for too long because this might cause your coffee flavour to go flat and stale

So, how long should I let my beans “rest”?

There is no fixed recommended resting period because coffee beans will reach their peak freshness depending on many factors such as the type of beans, roast profile and processing methods, just to name a few. For example, in his book, The Coffee Roaster’s Companion, Scott Rao suggests that darker roasts tend to degas faster than lighter roasts. He explains, “roasting hotter or darker produces more gas, greater internal bean pressure, and a more expanded cell structure, with larger pores.”

It is usually recommended for roasted coffee to be consumed within 3-14 days. For us, our head roaster personally recommends consumption within 8 - 21 days from the roast date.

Does this mean that coffee will expire after 2 - 3 weeks?

It will not expire per se but your coffee may not taste as wonderful after a long period of time. Again, the freshness window will depend on the beans itself. In our experience, some coffee can still taste great up until 3 months past roast date. 

4 Practical tips to enjoy fresh coffee

1. When purchasing coffee, look for the “roasted on” date instead of the “best by” date. If there is no date, there is a high chance that the coffee is more than 2 weeks old or longer. Roasters who are driven by quality will always inform consumers of their roasting date, so that consumers can make appropriate decisions on how long they can store the beans based on the estimated freshness window.

2. Speak to your roaster or barista to get their advice on the coffee’s peak roast age because different beans and roast profile can lead to the beans aging differently

3. Four simple ways to check if your coffee is too old:

(a) Smell : smell stale, musky or like “masuk angin”

(b) Taste : your coffee tastes flat, musky or flavourless

(c) Crema : low to no crema for espresso

(d) Bloom: no bloom during the pre wet stage or blooming stage for pour-over coffee

4. Remember to properly store your beans to prevent exposure to oxygen, moisture, heat and light, which are all factors that can alter the quality of your beans. We recommend keeping them in an airtight container or keep your coffee bags sealed. Most coffee bags are equipped with one-way degassing valve that releases CO2 without letting oxygen in.

Conclusion

It is important to keep in mind that “fresh may not be best”. Judging the freshness of coffee is subjective and there are just too many variables that need to be taken into consideration. Ultimately, it all boils down to the taste of your cup of coffee. 

At First Crack Coffee Roastery, we roast our coffee fresh for every order. By fresh, we mean that your coffee will be delivered to you within the freshness window and ready to be enjoyed at its peak flavour.

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