Knowing just how fresh your coffee beans are is one of the many challenges faced by someone new to home coffee brewing. Unlike other foods that have a use-by date or best before date, coffee typically has a roast date as well as a best before date (in some cases).
Unlike other perishable food, coffee isn’t going to make you sick if it’s a little past its prime. However, there is a window of ideal freshness that you should know if you’re serious about great tasting coffee. So when it comes to choosing fresh coffee, you need to be paying particular attention to the roast date.
However, this is where it gets a little confusing because that alone won’t let you know if the coffee is actually any good.
Confused? If you want to get your hands on the freshest coffee possible read on because I’ve got all the answers, you need regarding the coffee roasting date, and some of the answers might actually surprise you.
What’s the Ideal Roasting Date?
When you buy coffee, treat it like regular perishable food such as bread so only buy enough coffee to get you through the week; I recommend you DON’T bulk buy.
When looking at the roast date on the coffee, you intend to buy I suggest searching for coffee that’s been roasted anywhere from 7 to 21 days from the said roasted date, any coffee in this time frame should be okay.
That being said, if the roaster has labeled the peak roast age on the packaging take that into consideration because not all coffee is going to be the same.
It’s long been understood by coffee geeks, roasters, and barista’s that coffee is at its best and ready to consume anywhere between 7 and 14 days after it has been roasted.
If the coffee has been roasted under 7 days ago, it’s simply too fresh and is still releasing CO2 and degassing. This degassing will actually hinder the extraction of the ground coffee particles during the brewing process.
On the other hand, coffee that’s older than say 14 days is viewed as being stale and the coffee’s sweetness and acidity are in decline at this stage; but this isn’t true with all coffee or roasters.
So with so many variables such as bean quality and the actual coffee process playing a role in just how fresh your coffee is you should never judge the quality of the coffee beans solely on the roast dates.
Unlike fresh food, you can’t judge the freshness by sight or touch, for example, like the bruising on an onion, or the firmness of an avocado, so at the very least, you’ll need to open the bag of coffee, taste, and then evaluate (see: coffee cupping). This is even more true with a batch of coffee you’ve never tried before.
Is Fresher Really Better?
Fresher really isn’t better when it comes to whole coffee, as I talked about above, if your coffee is too fresh it is still degassing (releasing CO2).
The misconception of the fresher the coffee, the better comes from artisan and small-batch coffee roasters trying to differentiate themselves from the bigger commercial coffee roasters. By selling by the roast date instead of the expiry date found on other retail bags of coffee they’re trying to be superior from the competition by somehow distinguishing themselves of being better quality and a higher standard coffee bean.
When is Your Coffee too old?
This is a constant debate with coffee geeks, but while roasting professionals typically claim average age ceilings on their roasted coffee, there are simply too many variables to give a definitive answer.
Why is there so much confusion figuring out when coffee is past its prime?
For starters, the actual coffee plays a significant role in how well it ages once roasted. Also, different coffee roasters will apply their personal roasting style which can change a coffee’s profile, causing it to age or peak differently.
So as you can see having a coffee roast date, set-in-stone is extremely difficult if not impossible with so many variables coming into play.
Where some types of coffee will come into their prime within 14 days, others can be at their best closer to 30 days from the date of the roast.
The only way to actually know if your coffee is at its best is to taste and when in doubt ask your local roaster or barista who will always be able to give you the best advice on a particular coffee.