Coffee loses about half of its flavor in the first 10 days after roasting and even more after grinding. After coffee is roasted, it should degas or breathe (also referred to as aging) for an initial 8 hours in an open container. This allows for the extremely pungent gasses (that heavy coffee smell) to dissipate. These heavy gasses actually cause the coffee to taste overbearing. It's not bad to drink at this point; it just tastes better in a few days. The coffee should sit in a semi-closed container in a cool, dry and dark place for another 3-5 days to further degas. Freshly roasted coffee is ready to be brewed from day 5 after roasting.
For the next 10 days after the degassing period, the coffee is at its peak of freshness with every ripe note and flavor coming out in its aroma, body, and acidity. At 15-20 days old, you should really begin to finish brewing it as it is now beginning to stale and will taste flat in about 5 more days. At 20-25 days old it's time to brew it or get more!
Air (oxygen), light, moisture and temperature (other than room temperature) are the culprits that kill your fresh coffee, roasted or brewed. If you follow these tips you will get longer life from your specialty coffee, and undoubtedly enjoy a fresher, fuller-flavored and more superior cup of coffee:
o Whole beans will last longer than ground coffee so don't grind the beans until you are ready to brew them.
o Remove your beans from the original bag the coffee came in, and put in an airtight container like Tupperware or Glad Ware. A plastic Ziplock-type bag will work (but is not recommended) if containers are not available. The more opaque the container, the better to keep harmful light out (read more about light below). Be sure to wipe container clean with damp cloth (no soap or chemicals) in order to reuse.
o Contrary to popular belief whole beans should never be stored in the freezer or refrigerator. Not even a deep freeze freezer. Keep them in an airtight container in a cool, dry and dark place like a cupboard or pantry. Freezers can cause freezer burn, condensation (moisture) freeze and the coffees natural flavor oils to crack and/or dissipate. These oils are where all the flavor is. Storing in the freezer builds condensation and each time the coffee is taken out of the freezer condensation has more ability to set in because of the temperature change. Excess moisture will cause your beans to stale faster and shorten the life span of your coffee so a cool, dry and dark place it recommended for storage.
o Refrigerators harbor many odors. Coffee is very porous and will act like a sponge to odors whether it's ground or whole bean. Coffee in your refrigerator will act the same as baking soda if left open or in a poorly sealed container. In an enclosed container even if sealed properly, beans will build condensation the same as in the freezer. Again, moisture will cause your beans to stale faster.
o Extreme light (like keeping coffee in a glass jar on the sink) can cause deterioration of your beans, allowing your final cup of coffee to taste flat or stale. As described earlier, we suggest keeping your freshly roasted coffee in an opaque, air tight container at room temperature. A cool, dry and dark place like in a cupboard or pantry works the best.
o Any degree heat over room temperature will also harm your coffee because heat will actually promote more degassing and that will only shorten the life of your beans. Remember that cupboards are best for storage but none over or next to an oven or stove.
o Before grinding, weigh your beans. Use approximately .75 oz (by weight) of coffee per 8 oz of COLD water. You can +/- the coffee to taste. Fresh, clean tap water or quality spring water is recommended. Do not use mineral water, distilled water or tap water with any type of odor. It will make your coffee taste bad.
o Rule of thumb is to only grind enough coffee to use immediately, however if ground coffee is stored correctly (see above, store same as whole bean), it should stay fresh for a maximum of 3 days. Any longer or stored improperly and it will stale. Stale coffee makes awful coffee!
o After brewing, drink your fresh coffee within approximately a half hour. DO NOT keep it on a hot plate or burner to keep 'warm'. This will just cook your coffee giving it that strong, bitter taste. If you brew too much coffee, at the very least shut off your coffee maker's hot plate. In actuality though we do not recommend it, reheating your coffee in the microwave would be better than letting it cook on a hot plate. However as your coffee cools the air will stale it so don't wait too long! If you put your coffee in a carafe or thermos, this will hold temperature for about 2-3 hours depending on how much you consume or use. You should drink your coffee from one of these holding containers within this time frame because even though the temperature of the coffee keeps for a few hours, the coffee can still cook itself giving it that funny, bitter taste.
You can buy an inexpensive coffee grinder at Target or Wal-Mart for about $20. It is a good idea to only purchase what you intend to be able to grind and brew within a reasonable amount of time, 3-4 weeks at the most.
Coffee stales relatively quickly so following these helpful hints will get you better tasting coffee than you have ever had, ever! Bet you didn't know there was so much to know about quality coffee, now did 'ya? Happy coffee drinking!
Tony DiCorpo is a coffee shop owner, operator, barista and entrepreneur. He is also a coffee shop business consultant. He has authored many articles on the specialty coffee business and a coffee shop business plan package that can be found at http://www.tonys-coffee-shop-business-plan.com