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I was gifted several bags of great coffee beans, which I won't be able to use all at once. If I store them in the freezer, how long will they last without losing flavor?

I know some have noted that they can last months in the freezer, but I seem to notice a difference in taste after just a few weeks.

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related: cooking.stackexchange.com/q/4641/3649 –  MandoMando Aug 20 '13 at 15:47
    
Related: As an additional comment this question has been proposed here: Area 51 Coffee Proposal. You may find some other interesting questions there. –  Patrick Sebastien Aug 20 '13 at 17:33
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3 Answers 3

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They will technically last a long time in the freezer - up to many months - but this is not the best way to store them as they lose flavor quickly (as little as 5-6 uses). Even though the beans will last, storing them in the freezer is not ideal. It affects flavor for a number of reasons. (See below)

If you haven't opened the bag, store the bag in the cupboard, away from sunlight, heat, and excess humidity.

The best way to store coffee beans after being opened is in an opaque, airtight container at room temperature (unless you have a resealable bag with a degassing valve designed for storing coffee). After being opened, the beans are considered fresh for 2-3 weeks, although if you are strict about the storage you may be able to get up to 5 out of them. (When I say fresh, I mean with minimal flavor change/loss)


Why the freezer is bad:

Freezing beans severely lowers the humidity in the bag or container. This causes the beans to become stale very quickly. In effect, you are slowly freeze drying them. Also using cold beans in a grinder can mess with grind due to the oil on the beans being in a more solid state, which in turn affects the brewing.


If you do decide to store them in the freezer, put them in an airtight container and when you go to use the beans let the container warm up to room temperature before opening. This way you do not mess with the overall humidity content of the container too much. Especially let them warm up to room temperature before grinding.


Sources:

I am a Barista in a cafe and a lover of coffee at home. I have tried both methods of coffee storage and have dealt with many customers who have tried both.

In my store we follow these regulations:

  • Beans that go into an opaque container that is not totally airtight are fresh for two weeks max.
  • Packaged beans with a degassing valve are fresh for six months or longer in the bag.
  • Beans, once ground, cannot be used after two hours (that being said, ground coffee starts losing flavor immediately).

Obviously, the sooner you use everything the better, but we follow those guidelines.

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So in terms of flavor, the freezer is actually worse than room temperature? –  virginia Aug 20 '13 at 20:21
    
@virginia precisely –  Patrick Sebastien Aug 21 '13 at 3:53
    
I am not a barista, but I have been into good coffee for several years. Some of the statements above are contrary to conventional wisdom - as summarized in Babbie's rule of fifteens. Most home roasters agree that packaged beans with a degassing valve are fresh for about fifteen days in the bag. I have verified this based on personal experience. If you want to keep them longer than that, you MUST freeze them. Once the beans are ground, they start losing flavor in fifteen minutes. –  Rick G Aug 27 '13 at 13:59
    
@RickG I completely disagree with this rule of fifteens. Most rules in this format (survival rule ie: 3 weeks without food, 3 days without water, 3 hours without shelter) are false. They are conveniently packaged like this so that they are easier to remember while sacrificing accuracy. Based on my professional and personal experience freezing beans is a terrible idea. Every training manual and guideline that I have read recommends against this. My coworkers who have 5-10 years of experience also recommend against this. Other cafes that roast their own beans recommend against this. –  Patrick Sebastien Sep 12 '13 at 14:03
    
@RickG Furthermore, about this rule of fifteens, coffee doesn't go stale at a specific instant in time. It gradually goes stale. Ground coffee starts to lose aromatics within seconds of being ground, if you want to get really technical about it, I would say that ground coffee can be considered 'stale' after 1-2 mins. Extracted coffee must be served within fifteen seconds? This is absurd. Of course it is going to depend on what form. You can't drink drip or perc coffee after fifteen seconds of extraction unless you want second degree burns. –  Patrick Sebastien Sep 12 '13 at 14:07
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According to Home Barista, freezing coffee is pretty controversial.

He has, however, performed blind tasting experiments and concludes (emphasis added):

Two months is safe: Freshly roasted coffee that is immediately frozen after roasting in a near airtight container in a very cold freezer, can be kept undisturbed in the freezer for at least 2 months and be expected to produce espressos that are not obviously inferior to those made from fresh coffee that has never been frozen.

The article is fascinating; I recommend looking through it, even if you don't read every detail of his experimental methodology.

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In the air tight containers with the degassing valve in the freezer should last till you consume them. The degassing valve was designed by Fresco to keep freshly roasted coffee for up to Six Months and gave rise to StarBucks putting branches everywhere.

Barista Champions and international competitors run a very different game than the rest of us. Some don't even check-in the coffee in luggage when flying due to the colder temperatures in the luggage compartment. They also like to let the coffee breath for a couple of days after roasting to peak flavour.

For the rest of us mere mortals, unless you have a serious espresso machine and calibrate your machine and grinder hourly, you won't notice too much degradation and can enjoy it till the end. This is because your extraction won't be optimal anyway.

Even after a whole year the freezer, good coffee that were frozen fresh will taste good to most coffee enthusiast. Left outside, however, you will notice it much more.

Make sure you pull the bag out of the freezer and put in the hopper (grinder hopper) a couple of days before grinding.

In the end, you'll notice that there are more forces at play here and as a home barista you can't control them all. So just focus on enjoying the coffee.

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In the past, I thought you should thaw the coffee before grinding it. Most people on coffeegeek and home-barista disagree. Based on a few experiments, I changed my mind. Now I take the coffee beans from the freezer and grind them immediately. –  Rick G Aug 27 '13 at 13:51
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@RickG the 2012 award winning roaster that we get our coffee from recommends thawing it for a couple of days. My thought is that the cold beans will sweat humidity from the air and start 'brewing' in the grinder. Also, unless one's measuring the grind to sub grams and correct tamping pressure, none of this stuff matters as the extraction will be off anyway. –  MandoMando Aug 27 '13 at 18:57
    
For espresso, I measure out 16g of beans and put them in 1 inch plastic bags BEFORE freezing. So I only place that small amount of frozen coffee into the grinder - it thaws VERY rapidly. –  Rick G Aug 28 '13 at 20:03
    
@RickG It's not about rapid thawing, it's about the beans having a few days to once again reach an equilibrium in humidity that they had when they went into the freezer. –  Patrick Sebastien Sep 12 '13 at 14:12
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