There is nothing better than waking up to the glorious smell of fresh coffee. Many people love to start their day with a pot of fresh coffee, which means that you have to ensure that you use freshly ground beans. But how do you know if they are fresh or not?
There is an inner barista in all of us. Coffee is one of the globe's most widely consumed beverages and possesses unique sensory and physiological properties. Whether you purchase whole beans, pre-ground beans, have them ground in your local coffee shop, or grind them yourself at home, you'll always want to smell that nutty chocolate aroma and savour the bitter-sweetness that only coffee can provide. Making coffee is a complex, costly and timely scientific process where hundreds of chemical reactions occur at various stages, including roasting, grinding, and storing.
How do you know if your coffee is fresh?
Storing coffee and keeping it fresh is an art. Coffee grounds will stay nice and fresh for a week, two, or even several weeks if you use an appropriate container and store it at the optimal temperature. Once ground, they are susceptible to oxygen, light, and moisture, which can be harmful. There are some sensible tips that you can follow to keep them fresh, longer. It's worth understanding that beans will store exceptionally well in an air and watertight opaque container.
From Seed to Cup
Producing coffee isn't an overnight process, far from it. From seed to cup can take several years. Interestingly a coffee bean is a seed that comes from a berry. Coffee growers will plant the seeds in nurseries so that they can attend to the regular watering before the seedlings are strong enough to be permanently planted. Coffee tends to be grown in a warm, sub-tropical climate like The Caribbean or Latin America. Depending on the coffee variety, it can take up to four years for the trees to bear fruit. The fruit is called the coffee cherry and is deep red when it is ripe for harvest.
Each year, the crop is hand-picked under challenging and labour-intensive conditions to produce the finest Arabica beans. A skilled picker can harvest up to 200 pounds of the coffee cherries each day, resulting in about 40 pounds of coffee beans. Processing must begin quickly to avoid any fruit spoilage. Despite modern technology, the fruit tends to be spread out on huge canvasses to dry naturally under the sun. The cherries are regularly raked and turned throughout the day to prevent spoilage. The cherries will be ready when the water content drops to 11 percent. Next, the beans are cleaned of their skins in processes known as hulling and polishing. Finally, they are reviewed for flaws and imperfections, graded, and sorted before being exported worldwide.
A Good Roasting
Roasting the green coffee beans allows the beautiful coffee aromas and flavours to be released. The soft, grassy-scented green beans are transformed through the chemical changes from roasting at very high temperatures. Once they reach their peak of perfection, they are quickly cooled to retain the flavours and stop the process. The beans are now a rich brown, crunchy to the bite and smell of coffee. To become a coffee roaster takes many years of training and experience to 'read' the beans and make instantaneous timing decisions. The 'perfection' window is a mere second or two. It's best to brew coffee as soon after roasting as possible so that you can enjoy the heady sub-tropical tastes.
Although there are no official industry standards, there tend to be light, medium, medium-dark, and dark roast categories. The lighter the bean, the more caffeine content, the darker the bean, the richer the flavour.
The final stage involves a cupper, a professional taster that evaluates the quality of the beans and observes the tastes and aromas of freshly brewed coffee.
Now that you have access to coffee in your local coffee shop or grocery store, you'll need to see if you can find out when the coffee was roasted so that you know its shelf life. Usually, coffee roasters will label the coffee bags with a 'roasted on' date label telling you exactly when they roasted the coffee. Be sure to choose the freshest coffee. There is nothing better than the aroma and flavour of a fresh cup of coffee in the morning.
Coffee beans are considered stable dry goods that would take many years for them to go stale. After roasting, they tend to lose their freshness in about 10-days. The beans go through a natural degassing process to release carbon dioxide (C02) during the roasting process. You might notice a hole in a roasted coffee bag to allow the excess carbon dioxide to be released. When the C02 is fully released, the beans begin to absorb oxygen which triggers the oxidization degradation process. When the coffee is ground, the grounds are porous, which, combined with the extended surface area, speeds up the degassing process causing the coffee to stale more quickly.
What's best? Whole beans or ground coffee?
While pre-ground roasted coffee is the most convenient option for your morning brew, it can lack freshly ground coffee's flavour intensity and freshness. Pre-ground coffee means that you don't have to invest in a coffee grinder or risk not grinding the beans correctly, which could result in a substandard flavour. Whole coffee beans retain their aroma and taste for a much longer time, but it means that you have to add an extra step into your barista coffee routine each morning. Once you've mastered how to grind the coffee beans, you'll never look back. Like the rest of the coffee-making process, grinding the beans to the exact consistency is an art, but the flavour is well worth it.
Measures over the years have been taken to harness technology to preserve the fresh taste of coffee. Coffee giants like Nespresso and Keurig have developed single-serve pods to retain freshness. Each pod is filled with nitrogen to push out the oxygen to preserve freshness and flavour. They are, however, not recyclable and therefore damaging to the environment.
To prevent overexposure to oxygen, you should store the coffee beans in an airtight container to prevent exposure to oxygen, light, or moisture. You can even purchase containers designed to store coffee grounds with a one-way degassing valve. Temperature also plays an integral part in storage. Experts and manufacturers recommend storing your coffee grounds at a mild room temperature. While many people keep their coffee in the freezer, research shows that if your coffee experiences daily temperature fluctuations, the grounds can attract moisture, leaving your morning coffee tasting stale and a little like cardboard.
Oxidation of your coffee continues once it is brewed. As soon as the coffee comes into contact with hot water, the aromatic oils and acids get to work to give you a gorgeous bitter-sweet cup of coffee. Your brewed coffee will only remain fresh between 15 minutes and one hour. Make your coffee-making routine a straightforward affair. By grinding fresh coffee every day, you'll be able to enjoy the complete coffee freshness. You'll also keep coffee grounds to a minimum and avoid storage worries.
Savour every last drop of coffee; it's had a long and very complex journey from seed to cup.
Don't throw those coffee grounds away. You can use them for all sorts of handy things such as repelling insects and pests, a natural body exfoliator, neutralizing natural odours, and even scouring your pots and pans.
Written by Katie Hollamby