To freeze, or not to freeze, that is the question.
Luckily, I’ve been in the coffee business long enough to give you the actual answer:
Freezing your coffee beans in small quantities can effectively prevent staleness, though they should be kept in the right container.
4 Steps to Prepare and Freeze Coffee Beans
If done properly, freezing your coffee beans won’t impact their flavor and will help to extend their life.
In fact, studies show that grinding cold coffee beans actually helps to disperse oils and flavors better, giving you an even more delicious cup of coffee or a better shot of espresso.
1. You need Fresh Beans
Remember, only fresh degassed coffee beans can be frozen and preserved.
If your coffee beans have been sitting out for a few days, you may still be able to save them, but only if you get them in the freezer while they’re still within their “freshness” window.
Check the roast date, You should have coffee beans that have been roasted no longer than two weeks ago.
2. Divide Coffee Beans Into One Week Portion Sizes
You’ll want to separate your coffee into smaller batches.
After your coffee beans have been frozen once, they shouldn’t be frozen again.
Divide your coffee beans into portion sizes that you can grind one week of thawing.
3. Repackage Your Beans
You’ll want to keep your beans in an airtight container. I like Efak’s Airless canisters for freezing purposes, they allow you to keep beans with as little air as possible (Oxygen degrades coffee beans)
This means that you can’t use the bag that they come in.
Even bags with a zip seal aren’t going to do the trick. This is because these bags let in air and are also not thick enough to keep out the humidity of your freezer.
4. The Importance of Thawing Properly
One of the biggest reasons that coffee bean freezing is debated comes in with the thawing process.
When things thaw, condensation is created.
However, there’s a pretty easy way to avoid this.
Completely thaw out your coffee beans before opening the container that you’re storing them in.
Where there’s no condensation, there will be no water damage.
You should let your dry frozen coffee beans thaw in your fridge for a few hours, and then in a safe, clean, dark place for another hour or two before you open them.
The 4 Most Important External Factors to Eliminate
When you’re planning to freeze your coffee beans, there are 5 things that you will need to eliminate: Oxygen, water, light, and bacteria.
Otherwise, freezing them won’t help much. The good news is that freezers are cold and dark, so that’s two factors taken care of already.
Here’s why it’s so important to get rid of all of these factors for freezing to be most effective.
Oxygen Hurts Beans
Oxygen can cause the precious oils in your coffee beans to disperse and break down. This will lead to less caffeine and worse flavors.
Water Causes Staleness
Humidity causes staleness in coffee beans. Humid conditions can also lead to mold and bacterial growth.
This is a definite no-go when you’re trying to make your coffee beans last longer.
UV Light Damages Beans (Usually Not An Issue Inside A Freezer)
UV rays emit energy. This energy breaks down all organic matter. Sunlight, or any light really, should be avoided. Light damage is known asphotodegradation.
Have you ever noticed that all coffee storage containers and bags are opaque? This is why.
Choose a storage container that’s totally opaque if you can. Otherwise, every time you open your freezer, your coffee beans will be exposed to light.
If you can’t find opaque containers, you can cover them with a cloth in your freezer.
Before Freezing: About Coffee Beans
Before you go putting all of your coffee beans into a cryogenic state, there are some important factors that you’ll need to consider.
To effectively store and protect your coffee beans, You’ll first need to understand some few basic coffee bean concepts.
The Picking and Prepping Process
Coffee beans are actually the seeds, or pits, of the Coffea plant. Picked as a ripened fruit, each green coffee cherry must be dried out, cleaned, and then roasted before coming anywhere near your coffee cup.
In the roasting process, many complex chemical processes will take place. Certain gasses are released within the beans that will later escape as CO2.
The lipids, minerals, oils, starches, sugars, and other important components are altered and broken down to create the unique flavors and aromas in each coffee bean that will later be enjoyed as a coffee or espresso drink.
Caffeol, the oil responsible for giving coffee its caffeine, is also created during the roasting process.
After roasting, the beans must be degassed, otherwise known as resting. This is an aging process in which most of the CO2 gasses formed in the roasting process will escape from the beans.
Around 40% of these gasses will escape in the first 24-hours of the degassing process.
Depending on the type of coffee bean you have and whether a dark or light roast has taken place, degassing can take anywhere from 2 to 12 days.
At the end of this process, 10% of C02 gasses will still remain in the beans.
This is the Ideal moment to grind, or put your coffee beans into the freezer.
This is an important factor to consider when grinding and brewing coffee.
Finally, beans will be processed or packaged. Processed coffee beans are generally nitro-flushed.
Nitro-flushing involves the use of nitrogen to help remove air from the beans and their packaging so that it can not contaminate beans and cause them to spoil, go stale, or lose their carefully crafted flavors.
With most Italian blends, nitro-flushing is necessary to keep coffee beans fresh.
Otherwise, they couldn’t be shipped out internationally.
While there’s some debate about the impact of nitro flushing on the overall flavor of beans, in my opinion, nitro-flushing doesn’t really impact the flavor of coffee beans after they’ve been ground down and brewed.
Impact on storing beans in a frozen state
So what does this have to do with freezing your coffee beans? Well, a lot actually.
For one, coffee beans have a fairly limited usability window. Once your beans have been degassed, they should be ground and roasted within a couple of weeks.
After three weeks, coffee beans will be entirely CO2-free and can start to absorb the air around them.
So, if the air around them happens to be the air in your cabinets or pantry, your coffee beans will start to taste less like freshly crafted Italian goodness and more like your kitchen.
Nitrogen flushed beans can be stored longer, though as soon as you open them, whether they’ve been nitrogen flushed or not will not matter much.
The key to coffee bean storage is the elimination of air and storing them in a cool, dry place.
Other important components to eliminate include light, humidity, and heat.
Wrapping it up
While many people argue about whether or not you can freeze your coffee beans, in my experience (while fresh, recently roasted beans are better) if it has been done properly, it can work out pretty well.
What do you think? Do you have any coffee bean freezing tips that I’ve left out? Please feel free to leave your comments and feedback!