“Freshwashing” and Other Stories People Tell to Sell Coffee
No doubt about it, freshness is one of the most important factors that affects the quality of your coffee. Coffee will loose freshness with time, for sure, making it taste stale and flat. That being said, if coffee (green or roasted) is packed, and stored properly, it can take months before even the most refined palates can detect a difference.
But that’s the science of coffee. Then there’s the marketing. Some publicity-savvy brands have turned coffee freshness into the beverage equivalent of an 8-Minute-Ab routine, where the next big idea is: 7-Minutes Abs.
I hate to ruin a good story, but to me that’s more hype than honesty. Here is what I think you need to know about coffee freshness.
Before coffee is roasted it is called “green coffee.” This is basically the dried and cleaned coffee seed. There are brands that tout the fact that they airfreight green coffee from the producing country, so as to avoid the customary 20 to 30-day voyage it takes to ship by sea. This way, they say, they ensure you get the freshest possible coffee.
That’s a nice idea, but totally unnecessary. If packed correctly, and stored in the proper conditions, green coffee stays fresh for months. In fact, some would argue it’s a good thing to let green coffee age for a few months in order to get a mellower flavor. IMHO, all that fancy flight is doing is increasing the company’s carbon footprint by consuming tons of jet fuel—and also upping the cost to consumer.
The truth is, the clock really starts ticking on freshness the moment you roast coffee. Unlike green coffee, roasted coffee starts loosing freshness rather quickly, especially when it comes into contact with oxygen.
So, rule number one is: Once coffee has been roasted, it should either be consumed or packed in a sealed bag, ideally within a day or two of roasting.
Which leads to my second pet peeve; many coffee concepts, particularly subscriptions, tell you that your coffee will ship hours after roasting. Again, this is nice, but is it necessary? What matters more is whether or not the coffee was properly bagged after roasting. If it was, that coffee can ship weeks or even months after roasting and taste 99% as good as if you’d sipped the fresh-roasted coffee on the spot at the roaster. In other words, whether you open that bag the next day or in 2 months, you’ll be hard pressed to tell the difference in taste.
Which brings me to rule number two: As soon as you open a sealed bag of coffee, do yourself a favor, and store the unused portion in an airtight container. Even the best coffees will begin to loose their brightness in just one night if don’t store them properly—no matter how quickly the coffee got from the roaster to your house.
Finally, my own personal rule number three: If you want the freshest possible taste, buy whole beans, and grind them immediately before brewing. It’s a simple fact that ground coffee will get stale faster than whole bean, whether it’s in a sealed bag, open bag, airtight container, or even on that fancy jet.
I’m all about reducing our carbon footprints. But personally, the main issue I have with these unnecessary “hyperfresh” marketing ploys is that they often bring a higher price tag. In certain cases, I’ve seen 30 to 50% mark-ups. For some people, this can be worth it. Personally, I’d rather save consumers money, and get them the same delicious coffee, while still doing what matters most—helping the small farming communities. In other words, support coffee growers, not coffee gimmicks.
Founder & CEO