So you’ve finally done it, splurged on a well-designed bag of whole beans from your favorite third wave coffee shop. You get them home—having carried the bag like a precious baby—and make yourself a cup, curious if your palate can pick up on the tasting notes printed on the package: black cherry, dark chocolate, caramel.
But as you give yourself a pat on the back, proud of both your purchase and your palate—maybe more blackberry than black cherry?—your eyes fall upon that open bag, and you start to sweat, wondering how to store your beans to keep them at their freshest and most flavorful.
To keep your best beans in the best shape and make better-tasting coffee at home, there are three simple questions you need to ask, and we have the answers.
Storing Whole vs. Pre-Ground Coffee Beans—Is There a Difference?
Experts agree that the best tasting cup of coffee is made with freshly ground beans. The longer the time between grinding and brewing, the more likely your beans will have begun to oxidize, making for a batch that will taste less aromatic and full. So if you’re a coffee lover with a taste for expensive beans, get into the habit of buying them whole and grinding them yourself right before you plan to brew.
To store your leftover whole beans, it couldn’t be easier—the best vessel is typically the bag the bag the beans come in. Foil-lined bags with a one-way valve help prevent oxygen from getting in, but allow carbon dioxide expelled from freshly roasted beans to escape. If your beans came in a paper bag or another type of packaging without a one-way valve, it’s best to transfer them to a clean and dry, opaque, airtight container and store them in a cool place out of direct sunlight.
If you prefer the convenience of pre-ground beans, it’s best to treat them the same as paper bag packaged whole beans—transfer them to a clean and dry, opaque, airtight container and store in a dark, cool place.
Basically, it boils down to this: avoid contact with air, moisture, light, and heat—and your beans (ground or whole) can be deemed properly stored.
How Long Do Coffee Beans Last?
If stored correctly, whole coffee beans can last for up to three months, but just because they’re not stale or rancid, doesn’t mean they’re fresh. For the liveliest cups with the fullest flavor, it’s recommended to brew your beans between one and two weeks after opening the package. Pre-ground beans can be stored for about a week at room temperature.
Can I Freeze or Refrigerate Coffee Beans?
Coffee is hygroscopic (a fancy term the coffee industry uses instead of absorbent), and storing it in the fridge exposes it to both odors and moisture, both of which will alter the flavor of your coffee and make it lose freshness, faster. For storing coffee, the fridge is a no go.
However, when it comes to freezing coffee beans, the answer isn’t so black and white. While most experts wouldn’t necessarily recommend freezing coffee, they aren’t against it either. According to Peter Guiliano, chief research officer at the Specialty Coffee Association, freezing beans can slow the staling process, but you shouldn’t keep your everyday coffee in the freezer. Erika Vonie, director of coffee at Trade, thinks freezing coffee—especially beans in their original, unopened package with a one-way valve—is fine, as they’re kept at a stable temperature, away from sunlight, and can be degassed.
Keeping unopened packages of whole or ground beans in the freezer for later use gets the thumbs up, but if you’ve been keeping a container of your pre-ground coffee in the freezer and simply take what you need every morning—you might want to rethink your method, as it’s not ideal to keep your coffee going back and forth, in and out of the freezer.
The Rule of Thumb for Buying and Storing Coffee
It’s easy to get lost in the ritual of making yourself a hot cup of joe every morning, but don’t get lost in all the questions over storage—the best way to make the best brew is simply this: Buy only enough whole beans as you can use within 2 weeks and keep them in their original foil-lined bag with a one-way valve (or in an opaque airtight container), in a dark, cool place. Freshly grind only what you need, when you need it, and you’re good to go whether your coffee of choice is best served hot, or on ice.