There’s nothing that compares to fresh coffee and if you have a coffee shopping habit, then storing your high-quality coffee for maximum freshness becomes a pressing concern. After all, no one wants to buy the best coffee on the market only to watch it go stale in the kitchen. How can you store ground coffee and ensure that you get a good cup 1 or 2 or even 3 weeks after roasting and grinding? To start with, we need to understand how freshness and storage work for ground coffee.
How Long Does Ground Coffee Last?
Technically, unroasted coffee beans don’t expire the way other beverages and foods expire. Rather, coffee beans are shelf-stable like dry rice or pasta, meaning it can last for a long time if kept sealed in the original packaging.
Ground coffee and roasted whole beans are a whole other game. Coffee beans start to go bad as soon as they are roasted and this degradation becomes faster after grinding the beans. Ground coffee goes bad due to a process called degassing which involves the release of carbon dioxide from the coffee. Once all the carbon dioxide is released, the ground coffee starts to absorb oxygen from the air and becomes oxidised. Oxidisation causes the ground coffee to lose freshness and flavour, making it taste stale.
Pre-ground coffee starts to undergo the degassing process about a week after being ground. This is why it’s recommended to either grind your beans fresh in small batches or consume your ground coffee within 2-3 weeks.
Essentials for Storage of Ground Coffee
There are four aspects to consider when storing ground coffee to maximise freshness: air, moisture, light, and heat. So, when considering the storage of ground coffee, you need to control these factors to minimize exposure to the elements. Airtight, opaque containers are the best option when it comes to storage of coffee grounds as well as whole coffee beans.
Ground coffee stored in an airtight container will retain freshness for up to a month. An airtight seal reduces contact with air and moisture, slowing down oxidisation. Avoiding direct light is also important to control the temperature so make sure to store your ground coffee in a cool, dark space away from direct heat and light.
Many people like to keep their ground coffee on the kitchen counter, close to the brewing equipment but this is probably the worst place to store your coffee. This area often gets plenty of light and the moisture content of the air can fluctuate. It's best to keep your coffee in the pantry or a closed cabinet.
7 Tips for Storing Ground Coffee
Storing coffee grounds doesn’t need to be rocket science! Just keep these tips in mind:
1. Check the ‘best by’ date when you buy your coffee
If you buy pre-ground coffee or get it ground at your local café, make a note of the roasting date and the ‘best by’ or expiration date. This will help you keep track of how long you can store your ground coffee and makes sure that you don’t accidentally store it beyond the expiry date.
2. Use non-reactive containers for storage of ground coffee
Non-reactive materials are simply those that don’t react to acid. The best options for the storage of ground coffee are glass, stainless steel, and ceramic. The containers still need to be airtight and if you use glass containers, make sure it’s dark glass or that it’s away from direct light at all times.
3. Buy smaller batches
Of course, the ideal option would be to only grind coffee beans just before brewing. But we don’t live in an ideal world and many people don’t have the time to grind coffee every day. A good compromise here is to buy smaller batches of ground coffee. Don’t be tempted to get the biggest bag available but consider how much coffee you consume in 2-3 weeks and only get that amount.
4. Consider using an oxygen absorber
Oxygen-absorbing packets contain iron which binds with oxygen molecules in the container. Oxygen absorbers are safe to use, easy to find online, and fairly inexpensive.
5. Consume your ground coffee quickly
Don’t let your ground coffee sit around collecting dust in your pantry! If you buy smaller batches then this shouldn’t be an issue for you but either way, remember that ground coffee needs to be consumed within 3 weeks at most (when stored properly).
6. Avoid storing ground coffee in the fridge
We keep many foods and beverages in the refrigerator to keep them fresh longer so why not for storage of coffee grounds? Fridges may be cold but the air is moist. The high moisture content within the fridge will seep into your ground coffee and make it go stale much faster, ruining the flavour and aroma.
7. Choose a cool, dark space
To wrap up the previous tips, it’s very important to store ground coffee in a cool, dark place like your pantry. Avoid direct light, humidity above 55%, and temperatures above 30°C.
Should You Freeze Ground Coffee?
There’s considerable debate about how to store ground coffee in the freezer and if you should do it at all. Many coffee purists would baulk at the idea of freezing coffee, especially ground coffee, but it can be a practical solution in certain situations.
Unlike a refrigerator, a freezer doesn’t cause as much condensation so there’ll be less moisture entering the ground coffee. However, it’s not a perfect solution since your coffee will still only last about 2-4 weeks. Also, you will need a truly airtight, opaque container to ensure that your coffee doesn’t absorb odours from the freezer and doesn’t get freezer burn. Vacuum sealing is an excellent option if you want to store ground coffee in bulk in your freezer.
How Do You Know if Ground Coffee is Fresh?
Even if you follow all these steps, you may still wonder from time to time, “is my coffee still fresh?”. Since there’s no real expiration date on ground coffee and whole coffee beans but only a ‘best by’ date, it can be tricky to know when to toss out your ground coffee or if it still has some freshness left.
Start by checking the appearance of your coffee- if it has a shiny appearance, this could indicate that the coffee oils have started to oxidise and go rancid. This is a definite sign that your coffee has gone stale. However, dark roasts tend to have an oily appearance even when fresh so keep in mind the roast level when evaluating for freshness.
The next indicator of freshness is the aroma. We all know just how powerful the aroma of fresh coffee is, so if you can’t smell the coffee (literally) then it indicates a loss of freshness.
Lastly, you can put some ground coffee in a sealed bag and leave it overnight. If it’s still fresh, the grounds will release carbon dioxide, and the bag will be puffed. Simple and fun!
Nobody wants a cup of old, stale coffee and if you follow the tips listed above, you can avoid this nightmare. Fresh coffee lets you appreciate the complexity, flavour, and aroma of the beans as it was intended to be enjoyed. Follow the best practices to store ground coffee and make sure you never have to settle for less than fresh!