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April 11, 2020

Storing Coffee in the Freezer, is it Okay?

There was a time (before I started this blog) when my ideal coffee was something like this. I would get a big ol’ bag, store my coffee in the freezer, remove it every morning and brew a pot of coffee with it.
One of the first things I “learned” when I stepped into the craft coffee wormhole, was it is never okay to store coffee in the freezer.
More recently, I’ve read several things that heartily support storing coffee beans in the freezer and some things that stick with the old no freezer rule of thumb.
Well. Which is it? Can I store my coffee in the freezer or is it a bad idea to store coffee in the freezer?
Here is what the experts say and of course (it’s my blog after all) my opinion on the matter.

Why You Should Not Store Your Coffee in the Freezer

According to a leading coffee freshness expert, you should not be storing your coffee in the freezer.
It's reported that the coffee aging process is considerably slowed as you cool down the temperature. He also emphasizes that the small benefits you get from impeding the aging process are more than offset by the risk of structural damage to the coffee as well as the possibility of odor contamination and staling by condensation (warm air condenses on cold coffee beans creating moisture, the sworn enemy of coffee freshness).
“All the changes that we see, especially when it comes to aroma, are slowed down incrementally by 10 degrees at a time. If you cool coffee just 10 degrees below room temperature, this “aging” process will be slowed down by a factor of 2. It has been proven that aging is slowed down if you keep coffee cold, but by no means does this mean you should freeze your coffee”.
One thing is certain, if you are going to venture into the world of freezing (or chilling) your coffee the refrigerator is definitely not the best option (because of all the odors). Daily freezing and unfreezing also seems unwise.
In summary, if you do freeze your coffee:
  1. Use a deep freeze over a constantly used freezer attached to a refrigerator.
  2. Best practice is to only put brand new (unopened) bags in the freezer.
  3. Let the coffee come completely to room temperature before you open the  bag and expose it to the ambient air.
  4. Realize that you run the chance of inflicting structural damage to the coffee that will change the way is grinds, brews and ultimately tastes.
Bonus Thought: In the winter your coffee arrives frozen from sitting on the mail truck all day, be patient, let your coffee beans come to room temperature before you open it up. Your hastiness might inadvertently prematurely stale your coffee. This also leads to the question, if coffee is air freighted (no matter the season, the cargo hold gets cold) or otherwise exposed to freezing tempuratures does your coffee arrive with possible structural damage?*

Why You Should Store Your Coffee in the Freezer

Another PhD weighs in on the proponent side of storing coffee in the freezer. Dr. Chistopher H. Hendon, author of the very popular and groundbreaking Water for Coffee talks about the benefits of freezing coffee.
Although Hendon admits that freezing roasted coffee is “a bit of unknown territory,” he freezes coffee (quite a lot of it actually) and recommends using a vacuum sealer like this one to ensure your beans frozen integrity.
“Most ‘normal’ folks who freeze things are terrible with their protocol. Lots of water exposure. Lots of poorly sealed bags. If that is the case, the coffee will uptake the smells produced by frozen fish sticks and other things…. not good. Simply being mindful is enough to not have these problems.”
If you did want to divide up your coffee into weekly or even daily doses. You could freeze your coffee in individual one dose packages. If you are going to do this, there is some interesting research on grinding coffee while it is still frozen.
The National Coffee Association is a little non committal on the matter saying to buy the right amount of coffee so you can consume it fresh. They also recommend storing your coffee at room temperature in a dark, airtight container (perhaps the best advice on the subject).
“Most home storage containers still let in small amounts of oxygen, which is why food stored a long time in the freezer can suffer freezer burn. Therefore, if you do refrigerate or freeze your beans, be sure to use a truly airtight container.
If you choose to freeze your coffee, quickly remove as much as you need for no more than a week at a time, and return the rest to the freezer before any condensation forms on the frozen coffee.”

My Opinion- Rules of Thumb for Storing Coffee in the Freezer

While my evidence is purely anecdotal (I am certainly no championed coffee scientist with a PhD), over the last month or two, I have formed my own opinion and process for storing coffee in the freezer.
Here is how it happened:
Christmas sales. Starting with Black Friday and moving through the holiday season, I was tempted by all the sweet deals and delicious coffee offerings. I bought way more coffee than my wife and I could reasonably consume.
To make matters worse (on the coffee front, not the life front), my wife slowed her coffee drinking considerably over the same time period because she’s pregnant (our fourth, thus the building up of coffee reserves). I had a surplus of coffee and I didn’t want all that great coffee to go stale.
Turning to my freezer as an option,  I weighed out the evidence. Here are the ground rules I laid out for storing coffee in the freezer.
  1. Use my deep freeze instead of the freezer on my fridge.My fridge and it’s attached freezer get opened and closed constantly. My deep freeze keeps a colder temperature. I decided that, in addition to being out of the way, it would be better to put the coffee where the temperature was more constant and colder. If you don’t have a deep freeze, I wouldn’t put too fine a point on this one.
  2. Only store brand new bags of coffee. I wasn’t willing to purchase a vacuum sealer for the express purpose of coffee storage. Storing only new bags of coffee ensures that the coffee holds it’s original seal with the one way valve still uncompromised.
  3. Get my coffee out the night before I need it. This will ensure my coffee comes up to room temperature completely and eliminates any of the condensation problems. This also is a little on the cautious side of things.
  4. Once the coffee is out and opened, keep it out and use it as normal. I store my fresh coffee in my dark and room temperature cabinet in it’s original bag, squeezing out as much air as possible after each use.
  5. Take out the coffee in order of age.I’m not sure if it matters but I decided when I was ready to open a new bag of coffee, I would get out the oldest bag from the deep freeze.
  6. Keep an open mind.This goes for all things coffee (and pretty much all of life for that matter). I will keep tasting, reading and evaluating my coffee freezing practice.

My Anecdotal Findings

Surprisingly, I really have had no issues with storing coffee in the freezer. All my frozen coffee has been really good (it helps if you start with great coffee). Can I say that it was as good as it would have been if I would have consumed it fresh when it arrived? I cannot. They are all different coffees and I currently have no way to compare before freezing and after freezing (remember the only freeze unopened bags rule.)
I suppose I could buy two bags of the same coffee, freeze one and enjoy one immediately. I would still have to rely on my memory, notes and hope there are no bias’ (there always are) involved in the process.
My recommendation is to try it yourself. Your results may vary. Order some coffee (especially when it is on sale or order in bulk to save on shipping) and try it out. I did not have one coffee of the bunch that I suspected of being flat or stale or anything other that the way it was shipped to me. Try storing your coffee in the freezer yourself and let me know what you think and what you experiences are. Cheers!
*If you are genuinely concerned about structural changes to coffee due to freezing, it seems that buying fresh & from JavaHava.com is your best option.

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