What's the best way to store coffee grounds?
January 11, 2005 9:56 PM   Subscribe

Another coffee topic:
What is the best way to store coffee grounds?

I mean to say - How should I store my store-bought coffee after opening? I buy 1kg. tin every month or so and keep it in the refrigerator. Should I buy smaller amounts and drink more?
posted by Kilovolt to Food & Drink (39 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The "True Brew" episode of "Good Eats" had a lot of info about beans. Quick summary: store them in an air-tight container, buy a week's worth at a time, and don't store for longer than a week.
posted by Hankins at 10:24 PM on January 11, 2005

I second the grinder. We used to buy pre-ground beans until we got a grinder ourselves (not expensive, you can get a light-duty home grinder for $15-$20). The coffee got much, much better that day.

That said, Alton Brown says that keeping coffee (beans or grind) in the frig is a bad idea, since every time you take it out you're letting water condense on it. An airtight container in the cupboard is a better idea.
posted by Dipsomaniac at 10:25 PM on January 11, 2005

Buy a coffee grinder. Keep beans in a tight, resealable freezer bag, and keep them frozen. Take a set amount of beans out of the freezer and grind as needed. The beans will last forever.
posted by AlexReynolds at 10:43 PM on January 11, 2005

I buy small quantities at a time (about a pound a week) and grind it as I need it. Given the small quantities, I don't bother with the freezer for the coffee. I have a metallic can from illi coffee, in which I put my dark roast beans.

It may cost a little more (in time if not money) to purchase beans more frequently, but the small cost of this action is more than offset by the immense pleasure of drinking coffee made from freshly-ground beans.
posted by seawallrunner at 11:01 PM on January 11, 2005

If you buy a grinder, buy only one with an adjustable grind (very fine - coarse). Do not buy those cheap things with a blender blade in the top!

The experts say freeze and fridge is BAD for the coffee. I can't confirm that by experience. Buying coffee weekly is the best practice.

While fresh ground is the optimum choice, I have found that when keeping coffee around for only a week, buying it pre-ground is okay. For my own taste, I'm happy with store-bought packaged ground coffee, so long as it is a dark roast, and the package is not larger than a half-pound (250 grams). For me, drinking alone, that's a week's supply. I drink a max of 5 mugs a day, but I make 'em strong.
posted by Goofyy at 12:00 AM on January 12, 2005

Grinder grinder grinder!

<bias>This vote from a guy who owns a $650 espresso machine and a $150 grinder</bias>
posted by spaghetti at 12:03 AM on January 12, 2005

Second/third/fourth the grinder (this from someone who owns a 550 $ grinder). If you buy enough coffee (whole beans) for your week's consumption, there's no reason to store them in the fridge.

For ground illy, which has been shipped from a place far away a few months ago, after being roasted too darkly, whatever you do is too little too late. Find a roaster near to you, who roast freshly every day/two days. Roasted whole bean coffee will keep good for at least a week (more if you're making drip coffee).

Mild self-link: see my profile, click on URL for more coffee info + forum!
posted by NekulturnY at 12:34 AM on January 12, 2005

The experts say freeze and fridge is BAD for the coffee. I can't confirm that by experience. Buying coffee weekly is the best practice.

I've read that too. If you drink enough coffee in a week to buy fresh, do so. For me, not taking out more than I need and squeezing the air out of a sealable bag takes care of most of the moisture. I buy good beans and can't notice any appreciable change in taste. YMMV.
posted by AlexReynolds at 1:57 AM on January 12, 2005

This may just be coffee urban legend, but from my days as a barista I was always told that the reason you don't freeze coffee is because it breaks down some of the natural oils on the beans and thus affects the flavor/aroma. Caf├ęs routinely order hundreds of pounds of coffee at a time, and I've never seen one that stores it in refrigeration.

As far a grinders, I like the idea of these combo grinders/brewers that will grind your coffee for you right before they brew it in the morning. I don't know how well any of them work though.
posted by Who_Am_I at 4:51 AM on January 12, 2005

i have an electric grinder/beans in one house and pre-ground coffee in the other. grinding makes no difference, as far as i can tell (i'm no coffee conoisseur, but can taste the difference between different roasts, so grinding is certainly less significant than the roast you choose).

for what it's worth, i keep ground coffee (and beans) in glass jars in the fridge. the coffee is just the standard stuff from the supermarket (there are a couple of local companies that sell both ground and beans, in a variety of roasts, foil packed).
posted by andrew cooke at 5:28 AM on January 12, 2005

So, for the people who own the pricey grinders (spaghetti and NekulturnY), would you ever consider a subscription service wherein you'd receive a weekly amount of freshly-roasted beans? (As in, roasted at 10 am, put in a bag and DHL'd at 1 pm, arriving at your place the next midday.)

Or at that level of obsession are you more inclined to roast your own beans?
posted by Alt F4 at 5:31 AM on January 12, 2005

incidentally, it's hard to see how freezing can "break down" oils. chemical reactions generally happen more slowly at lower temperatures. the only physical process i know of that makes freezing things a bad idea is the damage done when water freezes and expands. this ruptures cell walls in frozen veg, for example (a friend of mine was working on research aimed at avoiding this, many years ago, but it seems to have come to nothing). so freezing might damage the physical structure of beans. but then so does grinding, in a pretty major way, so it's not clear that's a problem for coffee.
posted by andrew cooke at 5:33 AM on January 12, 2005

There's a lot of fuss made. I buy a half kilo bag of beans and it stays open on my counter. I scoop a handful of beans into my cheap grinder whenever I want a coffee. This is for moka pot brewing, which isn't fussy about consistent grind. Drip coffee isn't fussy either: you only need the better kind of grinder if you're using an espresso machine.

The fridge does not need to come into the picture in any way.

And do everyone a favour: buy fair trade beans.
posted by zadcat at 6:12 AM on January 12, 2005

Alt. I'm drinking my coffee from by roaster ground by my grinder and brewed in my funky brewer.
I roasted today's coffee yesterday and will roast tomorrow's coffee today. Always fresh.
I might be interested in a green bean (unroasted) service, but since greens have a looooong shelf life it would have to be cheap and or exotic to be interesting.
What would be more interesting would be some kind of roasting co-op where I could play with a really good commercial roaster.
posted by tayknight at 6:20 AM on January 12, 2005

For longer-term storage, one of those vacuum things (eg, Foodsaver) works well. You just put the grounds or beans in one of the bags and the machine sucks all the air out of it and seals it. I've had beans packed like this and stored in the freezer for months and they tasted like they were fresh when I made some joe from them.

You can use this for short-term storage as well, but you'd spend and waste more on the bags.
posted by shoos at 6:50 AM on January 12, 2005

Water will destroy your beans, not temperature. That said, every single coffee-only store I've ever been in stores their beans in plain-jane containers in the store itself (probably to give the store a good smell). I've never seen anyone who made their living off coffee to refridgerate or freeze it, ever. Of course, they probably go through beans a lot faster than you will.

If you can, get whole beans and grind per-use. That way the beans are as unmolested as possible.

If you pre-grind, store it in a refridgerator, not the freezer. Every time you open the bag it will introduce air (and thus moisture) into the grounds, and sticking it back into the freezer will cause the water to freeze and break apart the cellular structure.

I don't know if there's an advantage to basic refridgeration over leaving it out, however. My gut instinct is to say that it would preserve the freshness longer, only because every other form of plant matter degrades faster in a warm environment.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:50 AM on January 12, 2005

What I think Alton Brown said in the episode linked above about freezing/refridgerating is that if you pull it out of the cold every day, moisture will condense on the coffee and wash away some of the oils. On preview: what Civil_Disobedent said.

Also, I never thought it was that big a deal to grind beans until I started doing it and then had a cup of canned grounds. As God as my witness I will never drink freeze dried grounds again! I don't think I'm a coffee snob but damn if it isn't so much better. If you start roasting your own beans, then you might have gone too far...
posted by revgeorge at 7:22 AM on January 12, 2005

For all the grinder advocates: I am considering buying one myself, but there's one thing I never figured out: is the difference between filter grounds and espresso grounds just the fine-ness of the ground? i.e. aren't they roasted differently as well?
posted by costas at 7:27 AM on January 12, 2005

I only drink "conventional" coffee (no lattes, espressos or the like). I've been drinking it for years. And I can't tell the difference between Starbucks, 7-11, or the coffee I brew at home out of a can that's been open for a month and a half in the cupboard. I think the value of special storage methods or fresh grinding is overblown. It is a way to get self-absorbed urban professionals to spend their money.
posted by Doohickie at 7:32 AM on January 12, 2005

revgeorge - unless i've misunderstood something, i think people are talking about storing ground coffee (ground from beans) rather than freeze dried instant (granules made from "liquid coffee").
also, where does this water wasy oils away to? is there a pool of water at the bottom of the jar? i've never noticed anything like that.
posted by andrew cooke at 7:33 AM on January 12, 2005

People, people.

What is the best way to store coffee grounds?

In the little sealed pouch from Timmy's. Duh.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:53 AM on January 12, 2005

For all the grinder advocates: I am considering buying one myself, but there's one thing I never figured out: is the difference between filter grounds and espresso grounds just the fine-ness of the ground? i.e. aren't they roasted differently as well?

Basically it's just the fineness of the grind - coffeetechnically, anyway. For espresso, you really need a fine grind.

Re the taste of the coffee: a really light roast would not be acceptable for espresso, and a very fruity single origin wouldn't either, because they would taste like orange juice: too sour. What you look for in espresso, is a good balance between sour, sugary and bitter. This is why espresso is mostly made of a blend from different origins with different characteristics: Brazil for the base, an Ethiopian Harar for the leathery, animal taste, and some Guatemalan for the fruits, for instance. (One of our members at www.toomuchcoffee.com (warning: selflink) wrote an excellent article on blending espresso, he's a professional). A drip coffee can be a bit higher on the fruity notes, because it tends to be more bitter in the first place.

As I said, and as others have said: if you grind your own beans and use them within a week (or two or three when making drip coffee), there's really no need to store them in the fridge, or the freezer, or special containers. My own espresso beans are stored in the bean hopper of my grinder, and will last four days. I buy them locally chez a roaster who roasts everyday.

If you can find a local roaster who roasts fresh, I would advise that. I would also advise a cheap grinder, you can find one for 50 $ that will last a lifetime (well, almost). I don't know about those mailing things, we tend to be a bit more conservative about those things here in the old world :)
posted by NekulturnY at 8:06 AM on January 12, 2005

andrew cooke - I don't know about any of that "washing away the oils" stuff. I do know that cells and ice don't mix. I spent the better part of a year trying to perfect a cryogenics experiment on mice, and the problem was always ice. The expansion of water will tear apart cells. That's why I say keep it cool, but don't freeze.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 8:13 AM on January 12, 2005

Freezing vs. refrigerating vs. room-temp:

The reason I was given for not freezing and not storing at room temp was that at room-temp and sub-freezing temp, the oils evaporate more readily.

The theory is that at low temps, the low moisture-content draws out not only water, but oils. That's supposed to be the reason freezers are so bad about spreading around food odors, when you'd think they wouldn't be. At room temps, the oils are closer to their vapor point, and will evaporate more readily for that reason. But at fridge temps, they're cool enough that they don't evaporate readily, but the air isn't so dry that it doesn't draw out the oils.

My physical chemistry isn't up to evaluating this technically, but I can offer evidence from casual experimentation. I drink crappy coffee. It's what I can afford, sue me; I buy good stuff for company or when I'm feeling sorry for myself, and it usually doesn't hang around long enough to make a judgement. But a 3 pound container of Folgers or Maxwell House will last me long enough that I can tell the diff between refrigerated and room-temp, and refrigerated seems to me to be better.
posted by lodurr at 8:26 AM on January 12, 2005

i was thinking about that too (see here). it's still not clear how rupturing the cell structure by freezing is a bad thing, while smashing it with chunks of metal is ok. one possible difference might be that the cell structure holds different chemicals apart. these might mix and react in some way once the structure is ruptured. that would explain any difference between freezing/not and also suggest a way for ground coffee to deteriorate (apart from reacting more easily with the air or losing oils through evaporation, which are both exacerbated by the much larger surface area of ground coffee).
posted by andrew cooke at 8:26 AM on January 12, 2005

evaporation is a temperature-related thing, so it's true that refrigeration should reduce it (this is the reason i've always heard for doing this - i do it mainly because the fridge is the main food storage area in our kitchen).
however, bread dries out noticeably if you keep it in the fridge, so there's something strange going on there.
sorry i'm posting a lot - i just find it interesting to know which of these traditions have any "scientific" basis, and/or learn a bit more about the relevant science by understanding the "folk science".
posted by andrew cooke at 8:30 AM on January 12, 2005

Since we're already OT: What kind of grind should one have for a french press? If I'm grinding for the press, I usually do what I always do and go as fine as I reasonably can, but is there a theory of practice that says a coarser or finer grind is better?
posted by lodurr at 8:30 AM on January 12, 2005

Freezing could hasten the breakdown of oils, or other chemical reactions. From a solely thermodynamic perspective it is true that a lower energy level (i.e. colder) should mean slower reactions. However, thermodynamics aren't the only thing that determines the speed of a reaction. You have to take kinetics into account as well, particularly in reactions involving a catalyst. Further explanation.
</biochemistry nerd>
posted by TimeFactor at 8:44 AM on January 12, 2005

Not in a snarky way, but I suggest reading sites like I Need Coffee. Great article on coffee storage can be found there as well.
posted by terrapin at 8:56 AM on January 12, 2005

terrapin, FWIW/IMO, links are a fine response. Better than simple opinions, even.
posted by lodurr at 8:59 AM on January 12, 2005

i'm not a biochemist, but your link only implies that a lower temperature can select between two different products. you still lose more of the original chemical as the temperature increases. i'm not saying you;re wrong, just don't see the argument.
posted by andrew cooke at 9:04 AM on January 12, 2005

In the research I did before purchasing an espresso machine, I came to the conclusion that the best bang-for-the-buck is in Starbuck's Barista espresso machine and Barista grinder.

These are both relabeled products built by a reputable Italian company. The next step up for espresso would cost nearly double the price; and likewise the grinder.

Coupled with Starbuck's unbeatable customer service policies, you can't really go wrong.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:14 AM on January 12, 2005

Also, I recommend buying fair trade/organic whole-bean coffees roasted locally. It will cost an extra buck or two, but it ensures that the coffee growers aren't starving to death -- which they are when you purchase big-name products.

Do some googling on fair trade. It will likely change your shopping habits. In our privileged society, it behooves us to make purchases that don't unnecessarily screw-over third-world farmers.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:16 AM on January 12, 2005

Best coffee ever-- better than Fair Trade for the globe, and by far the tastiest --is Allegro. On their site, some storage and brewing tips as well.

If you do defy the wisdom and decide to store beans in your freezer, what you'll need to do is take them out well before you brew and allow them to come back to room temp before making coffee.

I think the value of special storage methods or fresh grinding is overblown. It is a way to get self-absorbed urban professionals to spend their money.

If you can't taste the difference, all I can say is, I'm sorry. When you begin exploring the world of coffee, you quickly learn that from a flavor point of view, coffee is every bit as complicated and varied as wine, chocolate, or cheese. Yes, it's more expensive, and it's a luxury item, but it's not B.S. to say that more carefully grown, selected, roasted, and brewed coffee is better. For some of us, it's worth the splurge.

I'll never forget the first time I had a really fine cup of coffee (I think it was Allegro's Ethiopian Yirga Chaffe) it was astounding. I've always loved coffee, but after tasting it I knew the meaning of satisfying.

Also -- lattes, mochas, cappucino: those are coffee drinks, not coffees in themselves. Espresso is a richly roasted, brewed-under-high-pressure, fine-grind coffee. And adding milk, steamed milk, and other flavorings turns espresso into lattes, cappucino, mocha, and the sweet barely-coffee drinks that I think of as hot milkshakes that teenagers like.

And finally, most coffee aficionados are not terribly impressed with starbucks. Their basic coffee blends and darker-than-City roasting targets make for a quite acidic flavor profile that tastes sour or bitter to many people. Coffee gourmands also recommend avoiding French Roasts. They are 90% carbon by the time they are roasted, so the primary flavor is charcoal. Because you can't detect flavor variation in them anyway, coffee companies reserve their crappiest beans for French Roast.
posted by Miko at 10:01 AM on January 12, 2005

andrew - Here's a better explanation of what I'm talking about. Ultimately, yes, higher temperature means faster reaction. But within a given temperature range (i.e. from the energy level of an intermediate state to the activation energy of the final reaction), the opposite may be true.
posted by TimeFactor at 10:28 AM on January 12, 2005

is there a theory of practice that says a coarser or finer grind is better?

If you grind it too fine, the sieve mechanism in the French press won't function properly -- that is, you'll end up with grinds in your coffee.

As for the anti-flavor police: coffee does go bad. It takes a lot longer for Foldgers and their ilk to go bad, perhaps because they use preservatives of some kind, but if you have the time or inclination, I recommend this experiment:

Go to a supermarket that sells coffee beans. They'll usually also have a grinder there for customer use. Pick their low-end brand. Take it home, and make a pot of coffee. Leave the remaining coffee in the fridge, but don't touch it again for three weeks. It will almost certainly go bad, and by bad, I mean stale as fuck.

The larger supermarket chains tend to get their beans from huge distributors, and don't refill their selections very often, which means the beans are already old when you buy them. Once they're ground up, the process of funkification rapidly takes hold. I would rather have Foldgers than ground-bean coffee that's gone stale.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:42 AM on January 12, 2005

Because you can't detect flavor variation in them anyway, coffee companies reserve their crappiest beans for French Roast.

Amen. I only ever buy dark roast at someplace I trust to know what beans it's good for.
posted by lodurr at 11:34 AM on January 12, 2005

Go to a supermarket that sells coffee beans. They'll usually also have a grinder there for customer use. Pick their low-end brand.

This is probably another good reason to buy your own grinder. A shared grinder is an easy way to make expensive coffee taste like stale, low-end pablum.
posted by AlexReynolds at 12:29 PM on January 12, 2005

Re the French Press grind: I have always used espresso grind in a press. I think you get better extraction and flavour, the fine dust that escapes the filter sinks to the bottom of the cup anyway, and I don't care about the filter clogging because let's face it, cafetieres are now cheap as chips anyway - I'd just get a new one.

(I currently have an elderly Krups espresso machine at home. Through long practice I've figured out how to get a reliable good shot from it. When it dies, I don't know if I can afford a really good machine, and I may just revert to the cafetiere again. It's different coffee from espresso, but it's really good.)

Back to the original question: I think my policy is best. I buy 200g of whole beans per week from a local roaster I know and trust, I store it in a tin in a shady corner, and I grind as required. Until I can be bothered roasting my own at home, I think that's as good as it gets.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:41 PM on January 12, 2005

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