Have you been to your local cafe and noticed how the coffee just seems to always taste better? You buy some coffee for the house, and the really pronounced flavors just don't come out the same. It may be stale. Old. Decomposed. You wouldn't purchase bananas that are already past their prime, or walnuts that are hard as rocks, so why purchase old coffee?
The problem: enzymatic browning. It's what happens when you cut an apple in half and it turns brown. When coffee beans are roasted, carbon dioxide leaves the bean, creating holes for air to get into and causing the coffee to turn stale. This takes place within 14 days of roasting.
How long has the coffee been sitting on that grocery store shelf? A very long time. Most large coffee companies believe it is okay to lie to the consumer and suggest odd methods for storing coffee to preserve the freshness. Freezing it creates condensation on the exterior of the bean, which gets into your grinder and brewer. Air-tight sealing is okay at room temperature, but it only preserves your product within the 14 days; it does not prolong its life. These are tricks to ward you away from trying the real deal.
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We suggest purchasing smaller supplies of fresh coffee from your friendly local café. That way, it will be fresh, and in the quantity you need. Once you try it this way, it is hard to go back to grocery store coffee. The consumer is responsible for demanding the product is provided in small batches to keep it as fresh as possible. No one buys bread six months in advance -- why do the same for coffee?
After the jump, some tips from a pro.
Max Gonzalez, owner of Catalina Coffee, offers these tips on buying whole bean coffee:
1. Buy from a reputable source, with locally roasted coffee. Less shipping means less variables. 2. Buy only what you need for the week. 3. Don't buy beans without a roast date. No roast date means they don't want you to know when it was roasted. 4. Purchase whole beans and grind what you need when you need it to preserve freshness. 5. Buy from people who can give you as much information on the coffee as possible. Stop buying in a faceless manner, with no information. Transparency equals quality.