When are coffee beans best? Let’s find out together. The FDA considers coffee beans to be perishable goods. However, coffee beans are only considered perishable in specific stages. Here’s what you need to know on when are coffee beans best?
The NCA considers coffee beans as fresh when they are green in color. It means that coffee underwent processing and has yet to undergo roasting. Past the roasting phase, the coffee beans become perishable. Therefore, you should brew and consume the coffee beans as soon as possible.
Many people do not know that coffee beans come from the dried and roasted seeds of the fruit. The fruit comes from a Coffea tree known as the coffee cherry.
The fruit undergoes a series of steps that transform it from an unprocessed fruit to a processed seed ready for roasting and consumption. If you’re interested in learning more about the processing of coffee, you’re welcome to keep reading.
How Fresh Should Coffee Beans Be?
First things first, coffee beans are perishable foods. What are perishable foods? According to the FDA, perishable food is any food that is neither heat-treated nor frozen. You also have not preserved it in a manner that prevents the food’s quality from being affected by negative factors.
It’s a pretty long definition, but all they’re saying is that perishable food equals fresh. So, therefore, you have not exposed the food to any preservatives that may negatively impact the food’s quality.
As shared earlier, the coffee beans’ state of being perishable is dependent on the processing stage. Therefore, the NCA created a 10 step process to show consumers how coffee is processed.
But before the process, you must understand the basics of the coffee fruit. Then, it’s time to break down the structure of a coffee cherry.
The Anatomy Of A Coffee Cherry
As shared earlier, coffee processing involves the coffee fruit and seed. Here’s how it’s broken down:
- The outer skin (the pericarp and the exocarp)
- Pulp (mesocarp)
- Pectin layer
- Parchment ( the hull and the endocarp)
- Silver skin (the testa and the epidermis)
- Bean (endosperm)
Inside each coffee cherry, there’s a likelihood that you will come across two seeds. However, in 5% of the world’s total coffee produced, you have the probability of finding just one coffee seed.
In scenarios where you do find one seed inside the cherry, they are sold separately from average coffee seeds. Coffee suppliers refer to those seeds as peaberries.
The Processing Of Coffee
Now that the basics are covered, it’s time to induct you into the central part of this article correctly. Processing coffee takes a lot of time, effort, and experience.
Regardless of the type of coffee you’re handling (whether it’s Arabica or Robusta), the process remains the same. The NCA has a 10 step process on how processing coffee occurs. This article will cover that and give you the information you need to know when are coffee beans best.
STEP 1: Planting
As shared earlier, coffee is a plant. For those of you who don’t know, coffee is a spice from a strictly botanic perspective. Another exciting thing you didn’t know is that tea is also a herb. That’s just sharing pointers here and there, but that’s the gist of it.
Back to coffee planting, coffee grows like any other plant. First, it has a seedling phase, and then after that, it grows into a mature plant. Coffee plants take three to five years to mature and start producing cherries consistently.
Another exciting fact is that coffee plants can consistently produce cherries for 30 years if you consistently conduct the proper pruning and maintenance. However, the coffee plant can live for over a hundred years.
One single coffee plant can produce between 2 lbs to 12 lbs of coffee beans per year. Once a coffee plant has grown, matured, flowered, and finally produced fruits, it’s time to harvest the coffee cherries.
STEP 2: Harvesting
Farmers can tell when the cherries are ripe because they transform into red or bright yellow. The ripening color does depend on the coffee variety the farmer is growing.
There are two ways of coffee harvesting:
- Farmers handpick the coffee. Through the handpicking process, farmers can select and pick only the ripe coffee cherries. The downside to this method is that it is labor-intensive and will be costly. A single coffee picker can pick between 100 lbs – 200 lbs of cherries in a single day. Out of those picked, manufacturers will only process 20 lbs – 40 lbs.
- Farmers use the mechanical process. It involves using a machine that takes all the coffee cherries, whether ripe or unripe.
STEP 3: Processing The Cherries
Now that the picking and harvesting parts are complete, it’s time for the processing phase. Processing of the cherries can happen in two ways:
- The Dry Method
- The Wet Method
The Dry Method
As the name suggests, it involves a source that will dry the moisture out of the cherries. It’s also the oldest out of the two methods. Farmers used the dry method because it was the most convenient at the time.
The Dry Method involves spreading out the coffee cherries on a flat surface and using the sun as a heating and drying source to dry them out. Again, it’s free resources that are pretty handy.
As the day wanes on, farmers will rake through the coffee cherries to prevent them from rotting. It’s like turning the egg from one side to another to stop it from burning.
Farmers will cover the coffee cherries at night to prevent any moisture from seeping back into the cherries. This method aims to remove 89% of the moisture in the cherries as efficiently as possible.
Experts recommend using this method during the summer because there will be enough heat to dry out the coffee cherries. But, how long can this method take? This method can take up to several weeks to dry out the coffee cherries to the intended level.
Once the fruit is dried, farmers use a machine to separate the seed from the fruit.
The Wet Method
The wet method is the modern and faster version of the dry version. Interestingly enough, it utilizes water and other resources to dry out the coffee cherries. Here’s how it works:
First, the farmers get rid of the fruit that isn’t required to make coffee beans. How do they do this? They use a pulping machine to remove the pulp from the seed. The pulping machine removes the skin and the pulp from the coffee bean.
After that, whatever remains is left to ferment. Then, the farmers place them in water-filled fermentation tanks for 12 to 48 hours to remove any remaining parts of the coffee cherry that the farmers still deemed unnecessary.
Due to the wet processing of beans, some minerals and sugars leach out, producing a final coffee bean with a more petite body and more acidity than dry-processed beans.
STEP 4: Drying The Coffee Beans
Now that the farmers have processed the cherries, it’s time to deal with the remaining coffee seed. It’s still not at the stage where you can easily make a cup of coffee. You have a long way to go to get to that point.
The coffee beans still contain some moisture and require drying to remove the remaining moisture present. There are two ways to do this:
- Sun-drying. It’s economical, and you have the sun, which is a free resource.
- Using tumblers. Tumblers are drying machines that reduce the moisture content in the beans by about 8% or 12%.
When coffee beans that underwent the wet processing method undergo drying, the coffee is known as parchment coffee.
Now that the drying is complete, it’s time for the next stage.
STEP 5: Milling
The purpose of the milling process is to remove the parchment still present on the coffee bean. Therefore, the milling process mainly occurs on the parchment coffee mentioned earlier.
Here are the two main parts of the milling process:
- Hulling – The coffee cherries that underwent the wet processing method will have the parchment removed. At the same time, the coffee cherries that underwent the dry processing method will have the exocarp, mesocarp, and endocarp removed from the dried coffee beans.
- Polishing – It’s an optional part of the milling process. If the farmers have any remaining parts of the seed they want to remove, the coffee bean will undergo polishing. Some experts argue that polished coffee beans are superior to unpolished coffee beans. However, there’s little difference between the two which renders the argument useless.
The NCA shares another part of the milling process, which is grading and sorting. The coffee beans are graded and reviewed according to size, weight, color flaws, and other imperfections.
There are a series of screens that the milled coffee beans go through. They use a scale to represent the bean sizes and put them against the scale to grade them. Producers also use an air jet to separate the heavy coffee beans from the lighter coffee beans.
The producers remove any defective coffee beans by hand. Some countries use both machines and manual labor as a form of quality assessment.
STEP 6: Exporting
Now that the milling is complete, the coffee beans are ready for export. Usually, the coffee beans are green in color. The green color is good because it indicates the state of the coffee. In addition, it’s dry enough to ensure proper storage.
Coffee experts consider the green coffee bean to be at its best state. It’s also considered the freshest form of the coffee bean, which is why it’s an excellent state for producers to export them in.
STEP 7: Tasting The Coffee
Once the coffee beans have reached their intended location, the client has to check the quality of the product. What better way to do it than to taste the coffee before releasing it to their customer base.
The coffee quality and taste testing is known as Cupping. The person in charge of testing the coffee is known as the Cupper. Cupping takes place in a room designed specifically to test the quality of the coffee. The Speciality Coffee Association has a list of protocols and best practices that cuppers follow.
Here’s how it takes place:
- The Cupper evaluates the overall appearance of the coffee bean, roasts it, and smells the brew to evaluate its aroma.
- After that, the Cupper leaves the coffee for a few minutes. They will then break the crust at the top of the cup. They will smell the coffee one more time.
- Now that that’s complete, the Cupper will take a spoon and taste the coffee. The Cupper will let the coffee roll in their mouth before eventually spitting it out.
STEP 8: Roasting The Coffee
Once the testing is complete, the supplier will then sell the beans to their clients. From here, the beans will undergo roasting. Once baristas have roasted the coffee beans, the roasted coffee beans become perishable.
The FDA advises quickly brewing and consuming the coffee after roasting. After some time, the roasted coffee beans are not safe to consume. So when are coffee beans best? Coffee sommeliers consider fresh coffee as the coffee before brewing.
It’s still not in the perishable state, and once you roast the coffee beans, the taste is still present. So the green coffee beans can retain the flavor and the aroma, but the roasted coffee beans cannot.
STEP 9: Grinding The Coffee
Once you have roasted the coffee beans, you can grind them into a powder form which baristas use to make coffee. The powder can be either fine or coarse, it depends on what type of coffee you’re making and the brewing method you will be using.
STEP 10: Brew The Coffee
The final part of the ten-step process is finally brewing the coffee, serving yourself a cup of your favorite coffee, and enjoy. You’re not dealing with coffee beans at this stage but just a nice and warm cup of coffee.
The Proper Way To Efficiently Store Coffe Beans
Now that you know the stage at which coffee experts consider the bean to be fresh. It won’t hurt to know how you can efficiently store coffee beans to keep them fresh for as long as you possibly can.
The main agents that you need to keep your coffee beans from are:
They’re like vampires but edible in some sense. The best container to store your coffee beans is in an opaque and air-tight container. You should also ensure that the container is at room temperature at all times.
If you didn’t know, manufacturers do not make retail coffee packaging for long-term purposes. Instead, experts recommend that you buy air-tight containers to store for favorite blends of coffee. It may seem like a long process, but it’s for your sake and that of your health.
Another recommendation from experts is that you buy coffee beans in small amounts. As shared earlier, experts do not consider coffee beans fresh after roasting. You need to brew and drink the coffee as soon as possible.
However, if you have small amounts of your favorite coffee, you will always buy a fresh batch each time. By going through this method, you will enjoy a fresh cup of coffee. Although it is a bit tiring, it’s worth it in the long run.
Helpful Coffee FAQs
How Do You Know If Coffee Is Fresh Or Not?
After roasting, coffee beans remain fresh for around seven to ten days. That’s your window to brew your favorite cup. There are some tricks to know when your coffee beans are fresh, but the best one so far would be to put some of the beans in a ziplock bag.
Keep them there for a couple of seconds; if the bag inflates, your coffee is fresh. If the bag deflates, your coffee beans are not fresh, and you need to change them pronto.
Can You Tell The Freshness Of The Coffee Beans When Buying Bags Of Coffee?
Unfortunately, you cannot. At that point, it’s up to the manufacturer and when they roast the coffee. Experts do not recommend buying bags of coffee without knowing when the manufacturers roasted them regardless of its convenience.
You can try out other coffee beans in your local area, where you can ask the baristas the roast date of the coffee beans and how long you can use the coffee beans.
If you prioritize a fresh cup of coffee in the morning, this method will work out for you well in the long run.
- Will Coffee Taste Better If One Has Ground The Coffee Beans Just Before Making The Pot Of Coffee?
Unfortunately, no. Baristas ascertain the freshness of coffee beans during the roasting phase. Once you have roasted the coffee beans, you have seven to ten days to grind, brew, and consume the coffee beans.
The grinding will not ascertain the taste of the coffee, but the roasting method surely will.