Does Coffee Go 'Off'?
By David Huggett • April 2014
It’s not very often that we get asked this question, so having spoken with a number of customers this week who brought this subject up, I felt it was time to put pen to paper (figuratively speaking) and explain what we've experienced on the subject.
Sell-by and best before (BBE) dates have been in the news earlier this year, with consumers and retailers alike complaining to the Food Standards Agency that the current UK system of food labelling results in a mountain of wasted food every year, and costs businesses a small fortune.
The first thing to say is that the crucial stage in coffee going stale is, of course, when it's opened and exposed to the air. Until this point, coffee does store surpringly well and normally has a long shelf life, depending on the blend. As a rule of thumb, the darker the roast, the longer it lasts. Manufacturers go to quite a lot of trouble to keep coffee fresh, using packaging with one-way valves for example, so the coffee can still discharge gas without splitting the bags open. Our Planet Java bags were developed with this in mind.
Filter coffee doesn’t need to have one-way valves and is therefore normally packed either in individual pre-measured sachets, or in ‘brick packs’ where the air has been sucked out during the packing process to reduce the amount of oxygen that is present to react with the coffee. This also has the added benefit of making the product more space-efficient when being shipped or stocked on shelves. Most of the big name brands like Lavazza use these packs, though they can't be resealed.
Here's the important point – so long as you store your unopened pack of coffee somewhere cool and dry, and preferably somewhere dark too, it can last anything up to two years before it starts to become noticeable to the taste. This is why BBE dates are particularly frustrating – they give you an indication of what’s inside the packaging, but if not stored correctly, the coffee can already be rubbish before the date expires, and what good is that to anyone?
Much better is to look at the roasting date, if it's present on the packaging. If there's no date displayed (most coffee doesn't show this), then use your discretion. It’s not going to poison you the day after the BBE date has come around, and quite honestly, properly stored coffee will taste no different on that day than the day it was packed. It’s a guide, and nothing more.
As soon as you open the packaging, the clock is ticking. However, this really depends again how you’ve stored it. Leave a kilo of coffee beans in your grinder hopper for a few days and you’ll be drinking bitter and flat coffee all day. Keep it in a container somewhere cool and you’ll be able to use it for a couple of weeks. Basically, the elements that cause coffee to go stale are air, water and heat. Keeping it cold, dry and air-tight will mean you don’t have to throw away the coffee you haven’t used. You don’t need to store it in a refrigerator though, just somewhere cool will do the job.
Having said all of this, the best guide is your own taste buds. If your coffee deteriorates to the point where you can taste the difference, then it's time to empty your bean hopper and open another bag, simple as that. If it still tastes fresh, then carry on!
Fresh coffee beans and filter coffee can be purchased online at https://www.a1coffee.net/coffee-supplies.html
April 2014, A1 Coffee