How Often Should You Buy Coffee

There’s a common misconception out there. A lot of consumers seem to think that buying coffee is similar to buying sugar or flour, with coffee being viewed as simply a commodity, a good to be purchased in bulk when prices are low or their favorite grocery stores or coffeehouses are offering a promotion or sale. When they find a good coffee they like, they stock up for a few weeks (or months!) to take advantage.

Shelf life

The fact is, coffee is a highly perishable good and cannot be treated the same as sugar, flour or any other item you may regularly buy and stock up on. As an analogy, purchasing coffee in bulk would be like stocking up on bread. Unless you’re able to get through all of it within a week or two, you’re just going to end up with something moldy and stale tasting. I know what you’re thinking: but you can freeze bread. True. But, does it taste the same as freshly baked bread? We’ll talk more about freezing coffee in a bit.

Coffee has a very short shelf life and goes stale 21 days after it’s been roasted. Here’s a general timeline:

Day 0 – Coffee is roasted.

Days 1-3 – Coffee beans are degassing, emitting carbon dioxide as a result of being roasted. Using the beans during the first 3 days will result in a flat, bland tasting brew. The coffee hasn’t settled yet.

Days 4-21 – Coffee beans have finished degassing and are at their peak flavor beginning around day 4, becoming staler as the days pass. The beans need to be stored properly during this time.

Days 22-? – Coffee begins degrading rapidly, even if it is vacuum-packed or stored properly in your home due to the bean’s contact with oxygen. Even if the beans are stored in an airtight container, there’s still oxygen inside the container that will degrade the quality of the beans.

To enjoy truly fresh coffee, it should be consumed within 2-3 weeks after roasting (3 weeks is pushing it). Since degassing is occurring for the first few days after roasting, when using the beans results in flat tasting brew, and anything outside of about 21 days also results in stale tasting coffee, the window to enjoy fresh roasted coffee is really between days 4 and 21.

Don’t buy more coffee than you need

This is why I advise you buy only enough coffee that you can use within a week. Maybe you are the only coffee drinker in your household and it takes you a few weeks to get through a bag of coffee. That’s fine. The point is to not buy more than you can use and to not stock up. This advice only applies if you’re buying truly fresh roasted coffee, though. The coffee in grocery stores is typically 8-12 weeks old since roasting, with some coffee on the shelves being up to 12 months old. Buying coffee weekly from the grocery store won’t help much since they’re already carrying stale coffee as their distribution chains make it very difficult for them to carry fresh roasted coffee. Buy from a local or online roaster.

Roasters purchase and store green coffee beans in bulk which can stay fresh for up to a year and many only roast after receiving online orders. They roast all coffee orders together and ship to customers within 24 hours of roasting. Since customers receive their orders in the mail around day 4, the beans have completed their degassing during the shipping period and the coffee is at its peak flavor when it arrives.

How can you tell if your coffee is fresh roasted?

Only buy coffee that has a roasted on date on the packaging. If the roasted on date isn’t within a few weeks of roasting, it’s not really considered fresh. As an example, you may be able to find coffee in grocery stores that promise on their bags that their coffee has been roasted within 90 days. To me, that’s not good enough. Look for a specific roasted on date and make sure it’s within a few weeks of roasting.

When you brew fresh roasted coffee, you’ll see a crust of carbon dioxide form when making coffee via most methods other than drip brew (ex. French press, pour over, etc.). This CO2 is a visible layer on the top of the steeping coffee and water mix that grows upon pouring hot water over freshly ground beans. This doesn’t happen with coffee older than about a week since roasting. You’ll know your coffee is fresh roasted if it’s not bitter and flat tasting, provided you used the right proportion of coffee and water and ground the coffee to the correct size for your brewing method.

The hack

One last tip for buying fresh roasted coffee. If you don’t have a local roaster to buy from and purchasing coffee online every week or two is too much of a hassle, you can subscribe to a coffee delivery service. Many quality roasters, who roast on demand, sell subscriptions where you can choose what kinds of coffee you like, how much you need and what frequency you need it. You could sign up for a weekly or biweekly delivery (which is usually more expensive) or you can have a pound or two delivered once a month.

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