The age-old coffee storage technique has experienced a lot of whiplash lately. Traditionally, storing coffee in the freezer was good. Then specialty coffee came along and said it was evil. Now, new research seems to suggest freezer stored coffee has merit.
It’s a little confusing.
I want to dive deep to find the truth about storing coffee beans in the freezer. I want to find the facts, separate them from assumptions, and give you the knowledge you need to keep your coffee as fresh as possible for as long as possible.
There’s absolutely no question that fresh coffee is the best coffee, so that’s the ultimate goal.
This one’s going to be a little more technical, but if you’re determined to brew the best coffee you possibly can, you’ll want to keep reading.
The Unquestionable Fundamentals Of Coffee Bean Storage
Before we get too complicated, let’s quickly review what we know for certain about coffee bean storage. These things are non-negotiables when it comes to food storage of any kind, so any claim that’s made about freezer storage has to be consistent with these.
Firstly, oxygen kills coffee and any other kind of food. A tight seal to reduce the free flow of oxygen is always best when storing food.
Secondly. Light kills coffee. Whether from the sun or a lamp, light breaks down organic cell structures in what we call photodegradation. Opaque storage containers are ideal.
Thirdly, heat kills coffee. The hotter the environment, the more quickly molecules move and break apart - and the more quickly bacteria grows.
Fourthly, humidity kills coffee. Humid environments encourage bacterial growth and can alter the moisture level of the beans rapidly, which destroys flavor.
If you’d like to get a little deeper into these principles and other storage strategies, check out our Easy Guide to Coffee Bean Storage.
The Arguments Against Storing Coffee Beans In The Freezer
The specialty coffee community has long been opposed to storing coffee in the freezer. The main argument centers around the idea that there is a large amount of humidity in refrigerators and freezers.
Roasted coffee beans have a low moisture level, which means they’re open to absorbing moisture from their environment (they’re hygroscopic). When they soak up moisture, the original flavors become tainted, muddy, and plain weird. The beans become a shadow of their former selves, flavor-speaking.
In a freezer, this humidity comes packaged with flavors from nearby foods. Trust me on this one, coffee that’s soaked up the aromas of garlic or lasagna is not something you want to wake up to in the morning.
Humidity also speeds the decay of coffee bean chemical structures. Hundreds of chemical reactions can be ignited by an increase in bean moisture. You want this to happen during regular brewing, but not while your coffee is in storage.
Microorganisms typically thrive in humid climates as well since they often need water to digest their food. You’re unlikely to run into microbial growth in a freezer, but it’s still possible.
You may be thinking to yourself that you can easily avoid all of these things if you just store the beans in a dry, airtight container. That was my first thought too. Then I discovered this.
When you open an airtight container that was just pulled out of the freezer, condensation rapidly forms on the surface of your food or coffee beans. This condensation brings about all the humidity issues we’re talking about immediately.
For now, just know that there are a million and one things that can go wrong when you store coffee beans in your freezer.
Now, there actually is one (and only one) way to avoid this post-freezer coffee bean death.
The Arguments For Storing Coffee Beans In The Freezer
Advocates for coffee bean storage using the freezer rally behind one main point: if done correctly, you can preserve the life of your coffee beans.
As you just read, doing this properly is not easy, but I’ll show you how it can be done.
If you have more beans than you can use in the next two or three weeks, freezing can preserve the flavor and fresh qualities of those beans if you store them in a truly airtight container.
This disqualifies the bag that your beans come in when you buy them. You’ll need to repackage your beans into something else.
Store them in smaller batches - enough for one week or so. When you pull the beans out, allow them to thaw to room temperature completely before opening the container. If you open the container prematurely, you’ll get that nasty, coffee killing condensation.
The Cold Grinding Debacle
There’s recently been a lot of fuss about new research that claims cold coffee beans grind more uniformly and consistently. Many have taken this to mean that coffee tastes better when the beans are ground cold.
While the actual research is technically accurate, the way it’s communicated via news outlets is not. There’s no reason to believe the flavor quality is any higher.
The research compared coffee ground uniformity between beans ground at different temperatures. They found that the cooler the beans, the more consistent the ground particles are.
In their tests, coffee stored at freezer temp could be ground with marginally more uniformity. However, coffee stored at liquid nitrogen temps (-320 degrees Fahrenheit) ground dramatically better.
Notice what the research is actually about: ground uniformity at different temperatures.
Notice what the research is not about: the effect on flavor.
There’s no discussion on condensation that forms when your beans come out of the freezer. There’s no claim about flavor quality at all.
The assertion that this means your coffee will taste better if you freeze your beans is simply that - an assertion. At the moment, there’s no proof at improved ground uniformity can counteract the damaging effects of condensation on your coffee beans.
On A Practical Level, Here’s What You Should Be Doing
Here’s the thing: storing small batches of coffee beans in an airtight container can preserve freshness to some degree. As long as your container is completely airtight and as long as you allow the beans to thaw completely before opening the container, it can be done.
It’s actually pretty effective if you can plan ahead enough for the thawing time.
However, there’s absolutely no substitution for freshly roasted and ground coffee. If you’re after the best coffee you can possibly brew, your most important tool is your burr coffee grinder.
A coffee grinder allows you to turn those whole beans into brewable grounds. A coffee grinder allows those beans to stay whole and fresh until you’re ready to grind and brew them. A coffee grinder changes the game when it comes to taste and balance.
The JavaPresse Burr Coffee Grinder is light, small, and features powerful ceramic burrs. It’s designed to empower you to brew the best, freshest coffee you can and use any brewer you want.
Freezer or no freezer, the grinder is the coffee lover’s best friend.