Coffee is a carefully grown and processed agricultural product, not a package of gummy worms. You wouldn’t buy a head of lettuce from the store that had been there for three weeks already. You wouldn’t buy an onion that was pre-sliced and bagged.
Why do we think it’s okay to buy coffee that’s old and ground?
Generous estimates claim that coffee beans stay fresh for about four weeks after roasting. Conservative claims give you about two weeks. One thing is sure: there is a noticeable decline in coffee flavor between weeks two and four.
Dark roasted coffee has long been the grocery store standard since it takes longer for the aromatics and compounds to break down. However, dark roasted beans have the unique flavors from the country of origin and processing method literally roasted out from them. Instead, you get a roasty (often burnt) flavor instead.
Light to medium roasted coffee has gained huge momentum in recent years because they retain the flavor characteristics of their origin countries. Flavor comes at a cost. These flavors break down more quickly.
Most of your Walmart coffee brands have light and dark roasted coffee, but the scale for grocery store coffee and the specialty industry is not consistent. By the specialty coffee industry’s standards, all of that coffee is dark. Here’s help on how to tell what’s good quality and what’s not.
Why does coffee go bad?
Once your coffee is opened and introduced to oxygen, the shelf life timer begins to tick. Storing coffee in hot, humid, or sunlight areas will only make matters worse. The best way to keep your coffee fresh is to store it in a container that is air tight and will remain cool – but not in the refrigerator.
Do you typically buy your coffee ground for you? With a far greater surface area of coffee coming in contact with the oxygen, those grounds are going to stale much quicker than whole beans will. I highly recommend investing in a hand or electric grinder to experience the fresh taste and aroma of beans you’ve ground yourself.
When coffee goes bad, it can become bitter and even rancid. Every bean will react differently to oxidation. If you start to notice your expertly roasted beans losing quality and general yumminess, it may be time to buy some fresh beans. Don’t know how to find amazing, fresh coffee? I wrote a guide on that.
No matter what you do, you will not be able to get that fresh flavor back once it has left the bean. The most important thing to do is keep it locked up tight. However, if you are a true coffee lover, it may not sit around long enough to even think about going bad. Just remember this rule of thumb: about two weeks after roast the coffee will start decaying.