Did you know that how you store your coffee beans can affect how your brewed coffee tastes? If you decide to indulge in an expensive bag of coffee beans, you had best be sure you know how to store them in order to get the best tasting coffee in every brew. By taking the proper steps, you can rest assured that even over the long term your coffee beans will still create fresh, tasty cups of coffee.
How to store coffee beans long term:
- Opt to buy whole beans rather than pre-ground, if possible
- Store coffee beans in airtight containers
- Remove coffee beans from retail packaging
- Store coffee beans at room temperature or in a cool location
- Keep coffee beans out of direct light
- Consider dividing your coffee supply into portions to limit air exposure when using
- Try not to buy enormous quantities of coffee beans at one time
- Avoid freezing coffee beans, but if you do make sure the container is airtight
- Don’t let coffee beans get moist
- Wait to grind beans until just before using them
- If you roast your beans, wait until you are ready to use them before roasting
- Repurpose stale coffee beans for cold brew
How you store your coffee will often depend on how long you intend to store it for overall. If you intend to drink your supply within a week’s time, then taking steps to ensure your beans’ freshness can be relatively simple and cost-effective. If you intend to store your beans for longer, you may need to take a few extra precautions and put in a little bit more effort to guarantee your beans stay fresh longer.
Coffee beans are hygroscopic, meaning they will absorb any surrounding odors, moisture, and flavors, and so you absolutely want to limit their exposure to elements that will spoil the taste. Preserving coffee beans and keeping their freshness for longer periods of time relies upon being able to limit the beans’ exposure to air, light, heat, and moisture.
The easiest way to prevent these elements from spoiling your coffee bean supply is to invest in the proper type of storage vessel and to make small adjustments to how and where you store your beans. If you want to make sure that your last brew of coffee will be just as fresh as the first, keep reading our complete guide for storing coffee beans long term.
This is probably the question you’re really looking to answer, so I’ll hit on this first. Coffee lasts different lengths of time depending on how well it’s stored and what form it’s in.
If you follow all of the recommendations below, then you can expect your coffee to last toward the longer end of the times given. If you don’t take all of the precautions, then you’re probably going to get less shelf life out of your coffee.
A good rule of thumb for coffee storage times is 3-5 months for ground coffee at room temp and 1-2 tears in the freezer. Whole bean coffee is good for 6-9 months at room temp and 2-3 years in the freezer and instant coffee can go as long as 20 years as long as it’s stored in a sealed can in a cool place.
These times don’t give you the best flavor (which I geek out on pretty hard later on), but you’ll have coffee in the event of a disaster, and that can really help you feel normal in an otherwise abnormal and difficult time!
Opt to Buy Whole Beans Rather Than Pre-Ground
If you are looking for a truly tasty cup of quality coffee, you want to buy your coffee beans whole. The coffee bean itself can help protect the coffee from losing quality when it is stored. As soon you grind up the beans, the coffee is exposed to the air and it begins to oxidize. Oxidation makes for a less flavorful brew. Grinding creates much more surface area for the coffee to be exposed to oxygen, so the oxidation happens more rapidly.
For this reason, if you are buying pre-ground coffee, it means you are already sacrificing a lot of potential flavor. The ground coffee has already been sitting and exposed to oxygen for a significant amount of time, even if it is in a vacuum-sealed package. If you truly want a fresh, aromatic cup, it is best to buy your coffee beans whole and then grind the amount you need just prior to brewing.
Buying whole beans will help preserve the flavor and robustness of the coffee for much longer than buying pre-ground coffee. Even though buying whole beans will require an additional step in preparation to brew coffee, it is worth the hassle if you want to enjoy a better cup of coffee and keep your coffee fresh for longer.
If You Can’t Give Up Buying Pre-Ground Coffee…
Pre-ground coffee definitely has its advantages. For those of us with hectic morning schedules, adding the additional step of grinding the coffee (and then having to clean out the grinder) may not be a viable option. Don’t despair! You can absolutely still enjoy the convenience of pre-ground coffee. You might be making a slight sacrifice in flavor, but it could be worth it for the value of saving precious time.
If you decide to buy pre-ground coffee, try to only buy a week’s worth of grounds at a time. This will ensure that your grounds have a chance of staying fresh from the first brew until the last. The longer your grounds sit around, the less likely they will hold on to whatever flavors and aromatics that they had to begin with and become stale.
Also, be sure to store your grounds as you would your whole beans. Keep them in airtight containers, out of direct light and heat, and far away from any potential moisture. Taking the time to invest in these few simple measures can make a world of difference when it comes to keeping your coffee grounds fresh.
Store Coffee Beans in Airtight Containers
As mentioned earlier, as soon as coffee is exposed to the air it begins to oxidize. Because of this, you want to keep your beans sealed off from the air for as long as possible in order to retain their freshness.
When it comes to storage containers, there are a lot of options on the market. Your typical plastic tub with a snap-on lid or a crock with a ceramic lid just won’t cut it, and you need something with a truly airtight seal.
Other coffee storage canisters, like this one, are not only airtight but also use special valves to vent out carbon dioxide. It is also opaque and watertight, meaning sunlight and moisture also won’t be able to spoil your beans.
For those wanting a minimalist ceramic design, a coffee container like this one can be an excellent option. These ceramic containers still feature an airtight seal but have a warmer and less industrial aesthetic than many other coffee storage containers, due to the handmade ceramic base. Again, the opaque quality of this canister helps further protect the freshness of the beans by shielding them from light.
Some coffee containers, like this one, create a vacuum seal that keeps the coffee fresh for longer. Gases such as carbon dioxide are let out of the container while oxygen is prevented from entering. This will help protect and preserve your beans for longer than if they were just sitting on your kitchen counter.
Remove Coffee Beans from Retail Packaging
For the most part, most coffee is sold in packaging that is not suitable for long term storage. Thin, papercraft bags may be able to keep beans relatively fresh for a few days but after that, it will start to taste stale. Thicker foil bags that were vacuum-sealed to start often don’t have a suitable method for resealing once opened.
Some higher-end coffee retailers will sell their beans in sealed foil bags with one-way valves. These bags are usually capable of maintaining the freshness longer and may be suitable for storing if you plan to consume your coffee within a week or two. After that, your beans might start to taste a little flat and lifeless.
More often than not, it is a good idea to ditch the retail packaging and place your beans in an airtight, opaque, moisture-proof container like the ones described above, especially if the packaging does not have any sort of seal or release valve for letting out gasses.
Store Coffee Beans at Room Temperature or In a Cool Location
Heat is another threat to preserving the freshness of coffee beans over the long term. If you want your beans to be able to give you cup after cup of flavor, you need to keep them somewhere where they won’t get too hot. Coffee beans will preserve better if kept in a stable, consistent temperature.
Room temperature is usually suitable for coffee bean storage, but if you have a slightly cooler location in your home this can be ideal. Resist the temptation to place your coffee beans in the fridge, however, as this is more likely to result in the beans being spoiled by moisture or other surrounding odors and flavors leaching into the fridge air.
If you choose to store your coffee beans in the kitchen, make sure that they aren’t in close proximity with any appliances that periodically generate heat, such as a stove or toaster. Usually, it is better to place beans on a shelf or in a cabinet, where they will be away from heat, moisture, and direct light.
Keep Coffee Beans Out of Direct Light
Some coffee connoisseurs argue that direct sunlight is the most detrimental threat to keeping coffee beans fresh. Ultraviolet light, present in sunlight, accelerates the rate of decay. This means that once it is exposed to sunlight, the chemical components responsible for the flavor of the coffee will begin to break down. The breakdown of these chemicals will inevitably result in a stale, flat brew of coffee.
The longer you can keep your coffee beans from being exposed to sunlight, the longer these chemicals will remain intact and the freshness will be preserved. One of the easiest ways to accomplish this is to store coffee beans in an opaque container. Stainless steel and ceramic are popular materials for coffee canisters because they block out light. Avoid the temptation to showcase your beans in a glass container, as this will accelerate the loss of freshness.
If you don’t have an opaque container, you can protect your coffee beans by storing them somewhere dark, such as a cabinet or pantry. The less light you can expose your coffee beans to, the longer their flavors will be preserved.
Consider Dividing Your Coffee Supply into Portions to Limit Air Exposure When Using
Every time you open your coffee container to brew a pot or cup of coffee, you are exposing it to the air and possibly other offenders, such as moisture, heat, and light. If you want to keep your coffee at its freshest for the long term, it is best to limit the rate it is exposed to the air. But how can you do this when you want to brew at least once a day? The solution is to divide up your coffee supply.
If you brew regularly and buy in small quantity sizes, you may not need to divide up your supply of beans. However, if you have a larger supply of beans or you simply want to keep your beans as fresh as possible, it can be helpful to portion out your coffee beans into separate containers.
By only exposing a small portion of beans to the air rather than a whole supply, you will only start to oxidize a small quantity of the beans, leaving the rest to stay sealed away from the threats of air, moisture, heat, and light.
Storing coffee beans in smaller portions also helps if you decide you need to store some in a freezer, as this will reduce the risk of the beans being damaged by moisture or freezer burn. More on this in a later section, however.
Try Not to Buy Large Quantities of Coffee Beans at One Time
In an age of bulk discount retail stores, it may be very tempting to buy a massive quantity of coffee beans at one time with the hopes of storing them and using them over the course of the year. In all honesty, even with the best storage techniques, it is difficult to maintain the freshness and nuanced flavors of coffee longer than a month. If you really want a good cup of coffee, you are better off buying a moderate supply that you can use within a few weeks.
The savings and convenience you may reap by buying your coffee in bulk are negated by the fact the beans will start to taste stale and flat if you aren’t able to consume them in a reasonable amount of time.
If you’re storing coffee as part of your food storage, then this isn’t an option for you. I wanted to include this section since my food storage coffee and day to day coffee are two different things in my mind.
If you detest the idea of regularly venturing to the cafe or grocery store to purchase your supply of beans, there are luckily some great options available for you so you don’t have to buy your beans in bulk.
Online coffee subscription services such as Trade can have a rotation of fresh coffee sent directly to your doorstep at your preferred frequency. These services also frequently feature options to help customize the beans sent to you, allowing you to discover new blends tailored to your tastes or routinely receive your favorite coffee bean staple roast. Thanks to these service options, you’ll never run out of fresh coffee again.
Avoid Freezing Coffee Beans, But Take Necessary Steps If You Do
There has been some debate about whether it is advisable to keep your coffee beans in the freezer. Some coffee specialists strictly state that your coffee beans have no place in the freezer. Other experts think that with certain precautions, the freezer can be a suitable storage place for coffee.
Most everyone agrees, however, that the fridge is a definite no-go when it comes to storing coffee beans. Since coffee is hygroscopic, it will absorb any moisture, odors, or tastes around it. In the cool, moist climate of your fridge, your coffee is more likely to get condensation and be spoiled. Also, any aromas in your fridge will be transferred to the beans. So, while your garlic pasta leftovers may make for a great dinner, it’s probably not the taste you want in your morning cup.
This same hygroscopic quality needs to be considered if you are storing your beans in the freezer, too. Sometimes storing in the freezer isn’t avoidable. Perhaps you bought several bags of your favorite roast from a distant shop and you know you won’t get through it all in a couple of weeks. Your best option may be to store it in the fridge but you should take precautions to make sure your beans have the best chance of staying fresh.
If you’re storing in the freezer, you must have an absolutely airtight container. If your coffee comes in a vacuum-sealed bag or a bag with carbon dioxide vents, leave it sealed and store this directly in the freezer. If it comes in a thin paper bag or breathable container, transfer it to an airtight container. Anything less than airtight means that moisture can sneak in, which will ruin your beans.
When you remove your coffee from the freezer, only take out what you need to brew for the week and then quickly return the beans to the freezer. According to the National Coffee Association, you do not want any condensation to form on the beans, and letting frozen beans thaw before refreezing is thus a recipe for flavorless, flat brews. Only let the beans you plan to brew thaw and keep the rest sealed away at a constantly stable, cold temperature.
Don’t Let Coffee Beans Get Moist
As mentioned above, you don’t want to let your coffee beans come in contact with any moisture. The bright little beans will be quick to soak up any available moisture, which will lead to a flat, stale taste if it is happening any time before you start brewing. Because of this, you want to make sure your beans are stored in a dry location.
This may seem fairly obvious, but it is easier than you may think for moisture can seep into your coffee bean supply. If you store your beans in the freezer, every time you take them out and they begin to thaw, condensation will form and start to leach the flavor out of the beans. If your beans are stored near a sink, unintentional splashes may transfer droplets onto your coffee.
Steam is another potential source of moisture that may be easy to overlook. If your beans are stored near anything that generates heat or steam, such as a stove, a brewer, or dishwasher, these can all potentially let moisture reach your coffee bean supply.
If you live in a humid environment, it is critical to store your beans in as dry and airtight of a container as possible. Humidity in the air will allow water to collect on the beans and begin to degrade the flavors. According to the International Coffee Organization, the ideal storage humidity levels for coffee beans is 11-12.5%. You don’t need to be this precise for home storage, but just be aware that significantly higher environmental humidity can spoil your brew.
Wait to Grind Beans Until Just Before Using Them
As mentioned earlier, your best bet for keeping coffee fresher for longer is to buy whole beans rather than pre-ground. When you grind the beans, it creates more surface area. This is great for brewing, as it means more availability of flavors and oils to soak into the water and create a better brew. But for storage, it is letting the beans be much more accessible to oxygen, which will quickly oxidize the chemicals in coffee beans which impart the flavors.
When you wait to grind coffee until right before you brew, it will preserve the aromas and tastes and you’ll have a much richer, complex assortment of flavors in your cup. Of course, some may read this and think “great, an extra piece of equipment and an extra step in the process, just what I need.” But, honestly, if you are making the investment in a good quality coffee it is worth the time and energy to take this extra step.
Some coffee grinders such as this one by OXO BREW are small and don’t take up much counter space and also feature settings that allow you grind to precisely your preferred taste. If you prefer to grind by hand, then there are plenty of options like this Hario Coffee Mill.
If you really want to get technical, there are some precision grinders that can help you make the best of your beans. This OXO BREW model comes with a built-in scale, meaning you will grind the precise amount of coffee you need every time, without waste.
Another popular model among baristas is the Baratza Encore. It has a range of features and 40 grind settings, meaning you can adjust to adapt to any mode of brewing.
If You Roast Your Beans, Wait Until You Are Ready to Use Them Before Roasting
If you are planning to filter-brew your coffee, use your beans as close to the roast date as possible. However, if you roast your own beans or purchase them freshly roasted, it is advised to let the beans rest for 24 to 48 hours before using. This helps release some of the gases trapped inside the beans and allows the flavor to develop.
If you are planning to brew espresso, it is recommended to let the beans sit for closer to five days before using.
Once your coffee is done roasting, make sure it is cool enough to touch before you attempt to store it. Treat roasted coffee as you would other purchased coffee and store it in an airtight container, out of direct light and in a cool, dry location. Try to consume roasted coffee within a week for the best flavor.
Roasting your coffee can give your beans a supreme freshness and robust flavor, so being able to roast your coffee shortly before you use it means you will be able to enjoy the best coffee possible. The flavor from roasting is best enjoyed within a week, so it is often best to only roast in quantities you know you will consume within a week.
Repurpose Stale Coffee Beans for Cold Brew
Inevitably, at some point, you will end up with some stale coffee beans on your hands. It may be that you just weren’t able to drink the amount you purchased, or perhaps your storage container wasn’t as airtight as you thought it was. Whatever the case, don’t immediately throw the beans away. You might be able to still use them for cold brew coffee.
Cold brew coffee is strong, and it isn’t as critical to have fresh ground coffee in order to get a flavorful brew. In fact, many experts argue that using freshly ground coffee beans for cold brew is a waste. The cold brew process involves a much longer extraction time, so the flavor isn’t as impacted by less-than-fresh coffee beans.
To make cold brew, the process is very simple and remarkably forgiving.
- Start by placing 12 ounces of coarsely ground beans into a large container
- Add seven cups of cold water
- Stir gently, making sure all the coffee grounds are saturated
- Cover and refrigerate overnight, or at least 12 hours
- Cold-brew can sit at room temperature, which will require slightly less steep time but might result in a more acidic brew
- Transfer the cold brew to a pitcher, using a fine-mesh sieve and/or cheesecloth to filter out the grounds
- Discard the grounds
- Strain the coffee once again, this time through the sieve while lined with a coffee filter
- It may take a significant amount of time for the coffee to drain through the filter if it still has a lot of grounds in it
- Once filtered, cover the coffee container and place it in the fridge
Cold-brew coffee can last up to 2 weeks in the fridge. If desired, you can dilute the cold brew when serving by adding an equal part of milk and/or water.
By following these steps and making a few modifications to your routine, you can store coffee beans long term and still have a flavorful, fresh cup of coffee each day. Regardless of if it’s just a normal day before work, or a late-night during some kind of disaster, a fresh pot of coffee can raise your spirits and make things seem just a little bit more manageable!