Let’s get one thing out the way, coffee beans don’t go off. It’s not meat. You won’t wake up one day to find your coffee with a bad smell and covered in flies. In fact, it will be perfectly drinkable years and years down the line. The issue that comes with leaving your beans out in the elements is freshness. Coffee loses freshness fast.
Under optimal conditions, you’re looking at a maximum of 15 days while you’ve got peak flavor and about 30 days before a real staleness kicks in. It’s even less for espresso!
Under suboptimal conditions, your coffee can get ruined fast. Air, heat, moisture, light. It’s kinda disappointing to spend so much effort, time and money on creating a magical brew from your washed Costa Rican just for it to taste loads worse three days later.
IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: I’m talking about freshly roasted coffee here. The bag of coffee beans you got from the grocery store or off the internet doesn’t count! They’ve been sitting in a warehouse for several months already and are way stale. On a happy note, this is the reason why most people can revolutionize their home coffee drinking just by being a bit smarter in where they get their coffee beans from.
When does coffee start getting stale?
Coffee beans do not stay in perfect condition forever. They lose freshness after a while due to oxidation, the same process that causes rust. Oxygen molecules in the air interact with the compounds in the coffee beans and cause it to slowly lose flavor. Even with whole bean coffee, if you leave it exposed to the air it will go stale within days.
The smart move is to keep coffee in a cool, dark place where it has restricted access to air. The best choice is to invest in an airtight coffee storage container. If you’re doing this you can keep that perfect ‘just roasted’ freshness to around at least the 15 day mark and up to around 30 days for those with a less experienced palate.
How to store coffee beans?
We want to avoid our coffee beans interacting with oxygen to prevent oxidization. This is why the key for keeping your coffee fresh is a container that is perfectly airtight.
So the number one quality to look for in a storage container is that it is airtight. The options I’ve selected below all fulfill that, they all keep your coffee away from air in a way that keeps your coffee super fresh for longer. I’ve tried to select a few brands that have unique features that might be of interest.
You should understand that keeping your coffee sealed airtight is only half the battle, it needs to be in a place that is cool, dry and dark to really get the maximum freshness.
How long does coffee stay fresh with one of these?
Let’s get one thing out the way, these coffee storage containers aren’t going to make your beans last forever. As I said, after 30 days of even perfect conditions most people will notice a drop in freshness and flavor. What you’re trying to do is keep it at 30 days and not 3 days.
A good rule of thumb is to buy coffee like you buy bread. Aim to buy enough coffee to last you two weeks or less. I buy a 1kg bag and that lasts me 7-10 days depending on how relentless my caffeine addiction is at that point.
One 30g coffee each morning? A pound bag (456g) is perfect.
Do I really need one?
Well, do you, punk?
It’s a good question that deserves a good answer. Here’s my attempt. The following conditions are where I’d recommend buying a coffee storage container.
1. You buy preground. If you buy preground, which while not optimal sometimes is a good option then a quality storage container is an absolute must. Preground coffee goes stales very fast, we’re talking losing most of its freshness within a day. An airtight container buys you some extra time until you finally get the coffee grinder you deserve.
2. You buy high quality beans. If you’re spending the premium on getting high-quality coffee beans freshly roasted (which by the way is about 60% of making great coffee), then you’ll really notice a difference in how long they last with a decent coffee canister. The converse is also true, if you buy your coffee from the bottom shelf of the grocery store, you’re probably on the wrong article and the wrong website.
3. You buy green beans and roast yourself. If you roast your own coffee beans then you’ll probably know this anyway but I’ll repeat just in case, green beans can go off too and they are also very susceptible to mold. They will last up to a year or more if properly taken care of, but can go south pretty quickly too if they’re in the wrong place.
And here are a couple of reasons why you might want to hold off on the purchase for now.
1. You buy beans without a roast date. If you’re buying grocery store coffee or anything without the roast date then don’t worry about spending extra on something like this. Check back in when you make the switch to freshly roasted coffee.
2. You’re inexperienced with making coffee at home. Unless you have five different methods, a quality grinder and are buying high-class beans on the regular then don’t waste your money on a storage device. Invest it into things that’ll really improve your coffee drinking. (High-quality beans, an effective brew method, and a decent grinder should be your first, second and third ports of call…)
Can’t I just keep them in a refrigerator/freezer?
Freezing your coffee beans is a highly contentious subject in the important world of coffee. I used to believe you should never do it. I was under the impression that the oils would separate and the defrosting would ruin your batch due to condensation. Luckily, we have the scientific method to call upon.
Have a read of this (staggeringly) in-depth blind taste trial done on Home Barista. The conclusion, to save you a few pages of reading, is that given that the container is airtight and the coffee is fresh (i.e. recently roasted) then freezing has no noticeable impact on taste and can be relied upon to give another 8 weeks of freshness.
Now I’ve never frozen coffee, I’ve never needed to and I expect I never will, so I’m not speaking from experience. But it seems like freezing does not (noticeably) negatively affect freshness or taste. So while I wouldn’t recommend it, if you have to then freezing your coffee beans is not the unmitigated disaster that some people make it out to be. The big caveat is that while freezing works, you still need an airtight container for it to work.
Why not keep it in the bag it came in/mason jar/tupperware
As I said earlier, the key is for it to be airtight. A ziplock bag or standard tupperware does not provide a full vacuum seal and nor does most tupperware.
A mason jar is airtight, at least it’s supposed to be, but it’s not always reliable. Some designs simply do not work as advertised and it’s very easy for the seal to not actually provide an airtight boundary and it’s also difficult to figure out if it is or not. By all means, you can try this, just accept that results may not be what you are after.
I need one with a CO2 valve, right?
The little chips or valves you see on bags of coffee or some coffee storage containers – even a couple of the ones I’ve listed below! – are CO2 valves. They allow the CO2 inside the bag that is released by the (fresh) coffee to escape without letting oxygen in. They work, but they don’t provide any benefit to freshness.
CO2 is an inert gas. Just to go all high school chemistry on you for a second… the reason oxygen is so potent is that it has a chemical structure that ‘wants’ an extra electron and so will react with just about anything that it can get an electron from. CO2 doesn’t and so would have little effect on your coffee.
Want more evidence? Here’s an exceptionally well researched and written article on one of the coffee containers that didn’t make my list: the Friis Coffee Vault.
A lot of companies use this device but it’s nothing more than a marketing gimmick. One that works pretty well apparently.
P.S. I’m happy to be proven wrong on this, I know it’s another issue subject to fiery debate.
P.S.S I found another interesting piece since writing this article that agrees: CO2 venting is not necessary or desirable.
Below I have listed some of the best coffee canisters available right now. Each of these does what you need it to do. It keeps oxygen out and your coffee fresh. They all have slight features or perks that might make you swing one way or the other and I’ve included the ‘Unique Features’ for easy picking of the one you like the sound of. Or just the one that matches your kitchen drapes. Happy reading!
1. Planetary Designs Airscape
Unique features: Sucks out all the air.
2. OXO Good Grips
Unique features: Transparent case, large size.
3. Coffee Gator
Unique features: Date wheel that you can set on top.
4. Tightpac Coffeevac
Unique features: Cheap, lots of size options.
1. Planetary Designs
|Size options||32 fl oz / 64 fl oz (1/2 lb / 1lb)|
|Colors||Brushed Steel, Candy Apple Red, Mocha, Obsidian|
|Unique features||Sucks out all the air|
The Airscape (Amazon link) is an airtight coffee canister with a twist – the seal itself sucks all the air out creating a near vacuum. What happens is this… You have a seal which you push down inside the canister and onto your coffee beans which forces excess air out. It goes kinda halfway into the canister if your beans fill it to halfway. You can even hear the “swoosh” (Planetary Design’s word, not mine) of the air coming out. Then you put the lid on the top of the device. A nice touch, but I’m not 100% sure how much difference it would make.
You can get this coffee storage container in a range of snazzy colors like brushed steel or candy apple red, all done with top-of-the-line enamel paint so it’s gonna look sleek. This lid is clear so you can see how much is left. So not only can air not get inside, but the air already inside is removed. It’s made of stainless steel, it’s not too pricey, it’s entirely BPA-free and it’s also made in the USA, happily.
2. OXO good grips
|Size options||8 options from 0.5 qt (16 fl oz) to 4 qt (128 fl oz = 2lb of coffee)|
|Material||Stainless Steel lid and plastic container|
|Unique features||Transparent case, large size.|
The OXO Good Grips is sold as an airtight storage container for many products including flour, sugar and lots of other things that aren’t as good as coffee. What this means is they offer a larger size than some of the specialty airtight coffee container options. If you buy your coffee in bulk, over 1lb at a time, then the larger 4 qt or 128 fl oz will give you a 2lb storage space. You can check out all the options as well as the current price by clicking this Amazon link.
A nice touch is that when you push down the lid, you get a satisfying “pop” and your coffee is sealed. The case is transparent, so it’s super simple to see how much you have left. And its cuboid shape might be a better fit for your kitchen than the rest of these cylindrical ones. And they stack as well.
3. Coffee Gator
|Size options||One size – 1lb capacity|
|Colors||Gunmetal Gray, Red, Stainless Steel, Blue Orange|
|Unique features||Can set roast date (or expiration date) on side of the canister.|
The Coffee Gator (Amazon link) is a futuristic looking device that could come from a Star Trek episode (and we know Kathryn Janeway loved her coffee). I mentioned above about the dubious claims of certain companies with respect to CO2 valves… well, this is one. If you ignore that though, it still keeps an airtight seal and has a lovely little feature not found on any other coffee storage container…
On the top of this canister is a ‘date wheel’. This little gadget can be set to the roast date of your coffee or maybe 2-3 weeks after depending on your taste or tolerance. Now you can throw away the bag and quickly see how much time you’ve got left with your coffee at peak freshness!
You also get a nice little stainless steel scoop for your coffee beans.
4. Tightpac Coffeevac
|Size options||Lots of options from 2oz all the way up to 5lbs.|
|Colors||Too many to list|
|BPA-Free?||No, has ps6 symbol|
|Unique features||Cheap, lots of size options.|
The CoffeeVac (Amazon link) is a perfectly functional coffee canister and is by some way the cheapest one I can find that works well. It’s airtight and will keep your coffee fresh. There’s a boatload of options for colors and will do the job handsomely if you’re happy with a no-frills choice.
There’s a huge amount of size options too. Bear in mind that the largest size (5lb) is called the Breadvac, originally designed for… well, I’m sure you can work it out.