Fresh coffee at home for one moderate coffee drinker?
June 22, 2012 3:50 PM   Subscribe

I like coffee a lot, but I don't like a lot of coffee. How to I have fresh coffee when I'm just making a cup or two for myself occassionally?

I love my French press. It's perfect for me because I'm the only coffee drinker in the house, and if I drink two or three 6-oz cups, I'm good. I don't even drink coffee every day because sometimes I prefer tea.

I've been buying preground beans in those teeny 2-oz bags, which is great from a freshness standpoint, but it's a fairly expensive way to buy coffee, and, in a French press, the ordinary grind results in pretty muddy coffee.

For my birthday, I just got a manual burr grinder! Yay! So now I would like to buy whole beans, but the problem is I can't get 2-oz bags of whole beans.

The smallest bag from the local snobby roaster is 12 oz, which would take me about a month to go through at my rate. Our local grocery stores have the typical bulk-purchasing setup, but none of their coffee is fair trade, which I would prefer, plus also, it's not from a gourmet roaster or anything, and who knows how long it has been sitting around.

Probably the answer is roasting at home, but it seems like probably more work than I want to go through, and is even that practical considering the small amounts I'll be using?

Can I get somebody to mail me 2 oz of whole beans a week?

Coffee snobs say freezing ruins the coffee, but how bad is it, really, and if I'm going to do it, what are the best practices?

I appreciate any suggestions.

(I really dig light roasts, if that's relevant.)
posted by BrashTech to Food & Drink (37 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe you could buy a few oz of beans at a time from a nearby coffee shop (perhaps you could ask your preferred snobby roaster who they sell to)?
posted by hattifattener at 3:55 PM on June 22, 2012

If you're buying grocery store pre-ground beans they were probably roasted months and months ago, so if you buy a 12oz bag of fresh roasted coffee and just keep it in an airtight and light-proof container until you use it all it won't be the freshest brew but it should still be better than the pre-ground stuff.
posted by ghharr at 3:57 PM on June 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

1. Acquire air-pop popcorn maker. I find them at yard sales for about 3 bucks. I buy everyone I can get my hands on as they work GREAT for roasting coffee.
2. Either or for 5 pounds of green bean sent to your house.
3. Once a week or so (maybe less for you) roast up a few cups by simply dropping about 1/2 measuring cup of beans in the air-popper and waiting for the color you like to see in your beans.
4. Put on counter in container until tomorrow AM.
5. Enjoy best coffee ever.
posted by BrodieShadeTree at 3:57 PM on June 22, 2012 [21 favorites]

From what I've read, you're better off keeping it sealed air-tight, away from light at room temperature. Also, the Aeropress makes a great cup of coffee.
posted by backwards guitar at 3:57 PM on June 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm in a similar boat. I also make coffee in a French Press, a couple of times a week, just for myself. I consider myself somewhat of a coffee snob, but frankly, I just let it take me a month to go through a bag. I don't freeze it, but I keep it in an airtight container. If I taste a fresh batch of beans back to back with a month-old batch, the fresh is better. But on a day to day basis, it's not a big deal. It's not worth it to me to deal with roasting myself or anything like that.
posted by primethyme at 3:57 PM on June 22, 2012 [4 favorites]

The argument I've heard against freezing is that water condenses on the beans when you take them out of the fridge. I would think if you portioned a weeks worth of coffee into separate containers, froze them, and then didn't reopen a container until it returned to room temp you'd be fine. Hell, I used to keep my coffee in the freezer and personally never noticed a difference.

On preview: Brodie's idea sounds awesome.
posted by Perthuz at 3:58 PM on June 22, 2012

Screw the coffee snobs. Just seal your beans in a Tupperware container. Buy a 12oz bag and try it.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:58 PM on June 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

Coffee snobs say freezing ruins the coffee, but how bad is it, really, and if I'm going to do it, what are the best practices?

Some coffee snobs disagree.

I freeze coffee on occasion, stick it in the coolest part of the freezer, follow what the first link says, and you should be fine.
posted by Gygesringtone at 4:00 PM on June 22, 2012

Note: My way of doing coffee is simple, geeky and reduces the per pound cost to about 5.50 US.
posted by BrodieShadeTree at 4:01 PM on June 22, 2012

I am a drink snob and love me some amazing coffee. I freeze my beans. It'll be okay!
posted by joan_holloway at 4:03 PM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

We do what BrodieShadeTree does. It is not only tasty but pretty fun.

If that doesn't work for you for whatever reason, many coffee shops will have beans available by the pound (and you can buy less than a pound), and it will be better than grocery store coffee. If your profile location is correct, I can't be much help in any specific places, but for example, Peet's does this.

I freeze my (non-self-roasted) coffee, and I'm happy with that.
posted by freezer cake at 4:10 PM on June 22, 2012

My reputable source of coffee knowledge says that whole roasted beans last a very long time, unfrozen. A month should not be a problem.
posted by springload at 4:12 PM on June 22, 2012

My approach is this:

Buy 12-oz bag of whole beans. Keep in airtight crockery on counter. Your beans will last ~2 weeks this way. If you don't use 12 ounces worth of coffee beans in two or three weeks, store half in an airtight container in the freezer.

Measure out just enough coffee beans for each pot of coffee. Grind to desired consistency.

Brew and enjoy!

I find that, for 18-24 ounces of coffee (i.e. about half or two thirds of a standard litre-sized french press), I use 8 or 10 tablespoons of whole beans. Not sure what that is in ounces, or how that compares to the volume of pre-ground coffee. I usually don't have trouble finishing a 12 ounce bag of beans in two weeks if I'm drinking coffee regularly, and if there's any left it's not enough to worry about waste.

If you're making less or like a weaker brew, you may use less coffee than I do, but storing half the bag in the freezer should get you a few more weeks of fresh beans.
posted by Sara C. at 4:15 PM on June 22, 2012

Re coffee snobs and freezing: freezing whole beans in airtight container does not destroy the coffee enough for me to notice the difference. Granted, I don't have the best palate in the world for coffee, and I don't freeze beans for longer than a week or two.
posted by Sara C. at 4:16 PM on June 22, 2012

If you like iced coffee, you might make a full pot and freeze what you don't drink in ice cube trays. I generally keep a bag of frozen coffee cubes in the freezer and am always glad to have them on hand.
posted by judith at 4:18 PM on June 22, 2012

you might make a full pot and freeze what you don't drink in ice cube trays.

If you can drink this without gagging, putting whole beans in the freezer for a couple weeks is not going to be a problem for you.
posted by Sara C. at 4:21 PM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have definitely bought a quarter-pound of fresh-roasted (I believe they sell within a week of roasting) from Peet's Coffee - that's 4oz. I think Peet's is only on the West Coast though, and according to your profile, you are not. But, I would look into whether there are other coffee shops around that will sell you a quarter pound at a time.

I personally do not taste a difference when coffee beans have been been in the freezer. I hear that it's bad to store it in the freezer and take it out every day, because there is condensation that that happens every day, and then re-freezing of the condensation. I hear that it's not such a big deal to store your extra in the freezer for a couple weeks, then take out what you need at the beginning of each week.
posted by insectosaurus at 4:22 PM on June 22, 2012

Freezing in very small batches is the answer. Oxygen, moisture, temperature, and temperature fluctuations are what cause coffee to oxidize. Keep it well sealed in a very tight container with as little extra airspace as possible, keep it dry, keep it cold, and don't let it warm up until you use it, and it will last longer without degradation than coffee on the counter (it is variable depending on the moisture content of the beans themselves). Whole beans stored this way are likely to taste better than the pre-ground coffee you were buying before the grinder. You can experiment to find out when it no longer tastes nice if you date your little frozen coffee bundles.
posted by oneirodynia at 4:35 PM on June 22, 2012

Came in here to say your situation is really ideal for home roasting in a popcorn popper because you're only roasting about ~100gm (approx 1/4 lb) at a time. Home roasting is not at all practical for households of more than three regular drinkers without upgrading to pro equipment, but for someone like you it's perfect. The green beans keep for months and the price per pound will work out to 30-50% less than the snobby roaster in town, and your coffee will be of equal quality if you practice. The gear to get started is just the popper and a kitchen scale, so if you don't like it you're not out much.

The only drawback is the mess it makes (the light papery skin on the beans gets everywhere). If you have a patio, fire escape, backyard or any other outdoor space to do it in plus an extension cord, you're good. I still roast in my kitchen when the weather is bad and just clean up after.
posted by slow graffiti at 4:35 PM on June 22, 2012

My approach, similar to zippy's patented guide to buying milk and bread. Go to local coffee snob roaster or outlet. Check roast dates on bags and buy the freshest whole beans.

Return home and put loot in a sealed container in the freezer.

Burr-grind beans and brew in a Clever Coffee dropper. It's less fuss to clean than a french press or coffee maker, so less chance of leftover rancid brew oil in the mix.

Fourto five minutes later, a single serving of the best coffee evar.
posted by zippy at 5:03 PM on June 22, 2012

If you try the home roasting, I encourage you to do it outdoors or under a powerful exhaust fan. I was disappointed to find that the smell generated by the roasting process was more closely related to the smell of burning rubber than to the delightful aroma of roasted coffee.

I've tried every approach to this issue. I get the best results from storing the beans at room temperature in the heavy foil bag they come in, with the top rolled down tight to keep air out. Even after ~6 weeks, they taste nearly as good as fresh; the flavor after the same length of time in either the fridge or freezer is not so good. It's nice when the easiest approach is also the best.
posted by Corvid at 5:14 PM on June 22, 2012

Yeah, I was just coming in to say what Corvid said. Mr HotToddy did this for a couple of years. Before doing it for the first time I think we had some romantic idea that the whole block would have the delicious aroma of fresh-roasted coffee and all the little kids would grow up with the memory of old man Toddy roasting coffee every Sunday morning. Instead the whole block reeked like burning tires. Also our car, from being in there while the coffee was going. But the coffee was amazing!
posted by HotToddy at 6:10 PM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Odd - I've always heard freezing was best for unused coffee, as long as it was sat 24 hours at room temp before use.

I go through a lot of coffee - I'll buy about 40 oz and each month, and pour one week's use into a dispenser to sit at room temperature, and freeze the rest.
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 6:23 PM on June 22, 2012

I suppose it's OK for making coffee flavored foods or maybe adding into a White Russian, but I find any coffee that brewed hot and then served cold to be bitter. And, again, I don't have a finicky palate when it comes to coffee.

Which isn't to say that coffee ice cubes are inferior, just that if you can stomach that, all these fine distinctions over the proper care of whole coffee beans are not going to make any real difference.
posted by Sara C. at 6:29 PM on June 22, 2012

Whoops, I misunderstood and thought you were talking about freezing un-drunk leftover coffee, not freezing extra beans.
posted by Sara C. at 6:30 PM on June 22, 2012

If the OP likes light roasts, they do not want Peet's coffee. I like it, but it's not unreasonable to describe it as char-roasted. (Their "Major Dickason's blend" is like getting punched in the mouth with a sack of coffee beans.)

Aside from the snobbish roaster, are there any other possible sources for beans near you? A coffee house might be willing to sell you a quarter or half pound of beans at a time.

If not, it might be worth trying the experiment of getting 12 ounces and drinking your way through them at your usual pace. Maybe you'll get to the last cup and find it unpalatably stale; maybe it'll be fine, in which case hey presto, problem solved.
posted by Lexica at 6:32 PM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

According to sweet marias, after roasting, beans stay fresh for 5 days.

I home roast occasionally, and it's the easiest thing ever. It takes 5 minutes. You have to be careful when buying the air popper, though, because only some types are suitable (sweet marias has details on how to tell, but in short the good type usually (always?) has little holes on the sides near the bottom of the chamber, and that's where hot air blows in).

The procedure is to add a little bit of beans, enough for maybe 15-20 cups, turn it on, put a deep bowl under the chute so that chaff blows into the bowl; wait for the "second crack" (faster one) to start and then depending on how dark you want it, wait a bit more and then put the beans into a colander or something like that to cool off. When storing the beans, allow a bit of air access for the first 24 hours for the gases to air out.

Oh, and buy aeropress. It's so much better than a french press, at least to my taste. I've always liked pour over and vac pots but aeropress is both very easy and quick and tastes almost as good as a vac pot coffee.
posted by rainy at 7:15 PM on June 22, 2012

I'm sorry, but I just can not get behind the idea that beans only stay good for 5 days. Or even two weeks as Sara C said above. I'm not claiming there's no difference, but I am claiming that the difference is small enough that it's not worth sweating a lot over. And I start with what I think are pretty good beans: Blue Bottle. I guarantee that my month-old Blue Bottle beans, ground fresh, will taste incomparably better than any pre-ground coffee you can get at the grocery store. Or I'll give you your money back.

I also vociferously disagree that an aeropress is better than a French Press, but YMMV. I have both, and use both, but I don't really think either is dramatically better. They're just different. If anything, I'd have to pick the French Press as my preference.
posted by primethyme at 7:44 PM on June 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

I have roasted my own beans. It's fun and tasty (though I have screwed it up too - usually by under-roasting - though occasionally by over-roasting - and sometimes by doing both (scorching the outsides and under-roasting the insides)).

It's fun, but if you're not interested in trying home roasting, maybe just buy some fresh fancy fresh roasted beans (look for a "roasted on" date) and store them in an airtight jar. Or maybe a few airtight jars. Maybe freeze some.

Use your taste buds.

If the beans don't taste as good after two or three weeks, you have your answer! If you can't taste the difference, don't worry about it!
posted by sarah_pdx at 9:12 PM on June 22, 2012

I'm sort of in the same boat as you, being the only coffee drinker in my house as well. My poison, though, is my morning espresso (or two).

I have a local fair-trade roaster that I buy my beans from, and it take me, roughly, about 4 weeks to go through a pound of beans. I spoke with the head roaster about storage and freshness and whatnot once, and he said that, as long as I keep the beans tightly sealed in an airtight, dark container, they'll be fine for the time it takes me to use the pound up. This is a guy who's very serious about his beans, so I take him at his word on that.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:15 PM on June 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

I am a coffee snob. I am a professional coffee roaster. It is okay to freeze your beans, especially if you won't be using them for a while. One of the roasteries I worked for recommended exclusive freezer storage, never on the counter. It's all okay, as long as you have a good quality, fresh roasted, whole bean coffee to start with.

The problem with freezing comes about if you freeze the entire lot, then ddefrost the entire lot, then refreeze, repeat, repeat. If you are just storing them in the freezer and taking out what you need, when you need it, you're all good. You should allow the beans you are goong to use to get up to room temp rather than using them cold; you'll get better flavor.
posted by esmerelda_jenkins at 10:07 PM on June 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

I freeze my beans too, but I came here to also recommend Aeropress.

I take some beans out of the freezer and grind about a cups worth and put it in a ziplock bag and take it to work. When I get to work I put 2 or 3 heaping spoonfulls in my aeropress and add hot water. Stir. Wait 3mins. Extract. Top off my mug with hot water and enjoy. I keep the grounds in a desk drawer and they're still pretty decent at the end of the week.. I try to push as much air out of the bag as possible to keep them fresh.
posted by j03 at 12:15 AM on June 23, 2012

The main advantage aeropress has over French press, in my opinion, is cleanup.
posted by backwards guitar at 4:09 AM on June 23, 2012

Another coffee snob/industry perspective here: I'm going to echo alot of what's already been said in this thread, but if I were drinking coffee at your consumption levels, this is what I would do:

-Buy 12oz of coffee from a really good roaster that you trust (this might mean ordering it). With a reputable roaster, you will realistically get 2-3 weeks of enjoyable use out of the coffee.
-Open up the bag and put it in a sealed jar (mason jars are fine, but Bodum's Yohki works wonders). Keep it in a cool, dark cupboard, out of the sun; treat it like a spice.
-Make the coffee as you usually would on your regular schedule, however you want to brew it.
-At the 3 week mark, take the remaining coffee, and turn it into cold-brew. Older coffee that has released most of it's co2 makes REALLY GODDAMN GOOD cold-brew. This will yield you a concentrate that will last 1-2 weeks. If you don't have enough coffee to do a full batch of cold-brew, set it aside and let it age a bit more...Month old coffee can be really tasty turned into cold brew...I know it's counterintuitive, but it's fantastic, and that is how a couple of the larger fancypants roasters make their cold brew. This also has the ability to be frozen very easily, just make sure it's an airtight container.

And, yes, freezing coffee can work fairly well, it's just really hard, and usually not worth the time and energy to do it properly. If you have a vacuum sealer it's more plausible and effective (but still a chore).
posted by furnace.heart at 5:00 AM on June 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

Thanks everyone for the great suggestions. I guess I'll just buy a bag of beans and give it a whirl, to see how I feel about the freshness when I get to the bottom, and freeze on future bags if necessary.

And I'll keep an eye out for an air popper, because it sounds fun to try. :)
posted by BrashTech at 10:45 AM on June 23, 2012

I'd suggest taking a look at Craft Coffee. They'll send you 3 small bags of awesome coffee every month, and they're small enough that they should be fresh long enough to get through the beans. And if you like any of the coffees, you can buy more and freeze them.
posted by iamscott at 11:04 AM on June 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

Are there other good coffee shops in your area? About 1/3 the ones I go to have bulk coffee that they will sell in any reasonable quantity. It may also be worth visiting your local snobby roaster for coffee drinks or other coffee-related supplies often enough that you can get friendly with the staff and explain your predicament.

Other options:

Four Barrel, a wonderful roaster in SF that's directly involved with the coffee buying process, offers a subscription where you get 2 4-ounce bags twice a month. Yes, that works out to be even more than the 12-ounce bag you can't go through, but if you're not local to Four Barrel and you have a friend who also loves good coffee, maybe you could go in on it together and split the order?

You could of course split 12-ounce bags from anywhere with a friend, too.
posted by rhiannonstone at 8:24 PM on June 23, 2012

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