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Freezing Coffee Beans Keeps them Fresh

Recently articles quoting two respected coffee professionals stated that roasted coffee beans should not be frozen because the water trapped inside the bean will freeze, expand and crack the bean. Starbucks Expert: How to Brew Coffee, Avoid Common Mistakes (quoting Major Cohen)  http://go65g6Boo.gl/dreamstime_s_39353052Don’t Freeze Coffee, and Five Other Tips for Treating Beans (quoting Sherri Johns) http://goo.gl/mXMuHN  The articles raise questions. How do these experts know that ice in the beans will cause cracks?  Roasted coffee beans are full of cracks. How can you tell which cracks are from roasting and which from freezing? In addition, what difference does a few more cracks in the bean make? Neither article stated where the author got the information about freezing and cracked beans.

There are hundreds of theories about storing roasted coffee but very little valid research. Every coffee pundit is convinced that her particular method of storing coffee is correct and that everyone else’s method  is wrong. The belief in freezing or not freezing roasted coffee beans goes beyond vigorous discussion. The discussion approaches the level of religious wars. Coffee “experts” are either for or against freezing. You are either a “freezer” or an “anti-freezer.”

There is no middle ground. Whichever side you choose you will be shunned and punished by the opponents. As an example, a small coffee shop owner in Baltimore froze some coffee beans it had purchased from a large roaster. He says the roaster told him that they were angry because he froze “their” beans and that they wouldn’t sell “their” coffee beans to him anymore. http://goo.gl/q1dzBH

The reasons given for not freezing coffee are varied:

  • beans will crack from freezing.
  • beans will attract odors from the freezer
  • beans will attract water from the freezer
  • beans will attract water when taken out of the freezer
  • bean shelf life is not extended by freezing
  • beans that have been frozen degrade very quickly after thawing
  • freezing breaks down the flavor oils in the bean

However, there is no research, of any kind, which supports any of these reasons.

All of the coffee pundits agree that coffee is best brewed from three to ten days after roasting. The freezing/no freezing discussion comes up when the consumer cannot brew all of her coffee beans in that time period and has to store them.

The National Coffee Association recommends not using a freezer for short term coffee storage. Their reasoning is that taking the beans in and out of the freezer exposes them to moisture in the air which will degrade their flavor. However, they recommend using a freezer for long term storage of roasted coffee. http://goo.gl/mlGbVl

Kalidi Coffee, a major roaster in Denver, freezes their roasted coffee. On their website they say: “Freezing is one practice that sets Kaladi Coffee Roasters apart from other roasting companies. We place our beans in the freezer directly after roasting so the staling process does not begin before you, the customer, purchase our coffee. Gasses expand at higher temperatures and contract at lower temperatures. Lowering the temperature of these gasses slows their rate of dissipation. Studies show that for every decrease in temperature of 10 degrees Celsius, the life of the coffee increases by 50%. Most home freezers are capable of temperatures of -10 to 0 degrees Fahrenheit, sufficient enough to store coffee beans for several months without degradation.” https://goo.gl/eb50E5

Andrew Hetzel, SCAA Board Member and coffee consultant, says ” I decided to try it myself and found that immediate freezing after roasting to be the single most effective method of delaying spoilage, hands-down. I now store coffees, mostly reference samples for purchases and experimental client blends in a dedicated coffee chest freezer for sometimes as long as a year after roasting without significant degradation, though frozen coffee will not have the same full usable shelf life of a fresh product once thawed. As with most coffee topics, scientific proof is practically nonexistent; however, I am entirely confident of the results …” Comment on Jay’s Strange Blog http://goo.gl/q1dzBH

Coffee Review states that “Freezing, however, is an excellent way to preserve whole-bean coffee if you do not intend to drink it within a week. Seal the beans in a freezer bag, put the bag in a part of the freezer that does not lose temperature every time you open the door, and remove only as many beans as you intend to consume in a day, returning the rest to the freezer. Thaw the liberated beans before grinding and brewing.”  http://goo.gl/T0Khkj

A number of sites that advocate freezing roasted coffee refer to “studies” showing that freezing prolongs coffee freshness. However, they all appear to be referring to a book by Michael Sivitz. As stated on the Granite Ledge Coffee website: “Coffee can be stored in the freezer effectively if consumed within two months or so. While this discovery can contradict conventional belief, the empirical evidence is overwhelming.If interested in this subject, we recommend reading the comprehensive text written on the subject: Coffee Technology, Michael Sivitz, AVI Publishing Co., Westport CT, 1979″ http://goo.gl/nOkWTW

What Sivitz said is: ” Freezing coffee beans and …[roasted and ground] coffee is not often practiced, nor its usefulness appreciated. But freezing coffee to -10 F or -20 C, as in the household freezer, is a very effective way for extending the freshness of coffee aromatics for several reasons: 1) water reactivity is immobilized; 2) volatility of aromatics is reduced by 4-fold: 3) rates of oxidation are reduced about 50 percent for each 10° C reduction, hence about 15-fold: and 4) the vegetable-like coffee oil is congealed, thereby reducing movement of volatiles dissolved therein from convective rates to diffusional rates.  Altogether, roast beans keep for months and …[roasted and ground] for many weeks, which is at least a 30-fold freshness factor for beans and over a 15-fold freshness factor for …[roasted and ground].”  Coffee Technology, p.280

There are three published experiments about freezing coffee beans. They all used a panel to taste coffee made from beans that had been frozen against the same not frozen beans. The first Coffee: To Freeze or Not by Ken Fox http://goo.gl/wFB2RY compared sixty-four shots of espresso, half from frozen beans and half from never frozen beans. Half of the frozen beans were held in the freezer for four weeks, the other half for eight weeks. The shots were judged by the author and two espresso loving friends based on crema, flavor/aroma and preference. The author found that there was no statistical difference between the scores of the frozen vs the unfrozen beans. He concluded that “…it has demonstrated that freezing, done shortly after roasting in a very cold freezer delays staling for at least two months and hence extends shelf life for at least that long.”

The second To Freeze or Not to Freeze http://goo.gl/KEX3FI  was done by the Don Francisco division of F. Gavina & Sons. In the study, the same roasted coffee was split three ways. One sample was put into a freezer at 0 F degrees, the second was placed in a refrigerator at 32 F degrees and the third was stored on a counter at 72 F degrees. The samples were brewed and cupped every two weeks for 12 weeks by a panel of three Q cuppers. Their conclusion was “… the best cup of coffee is achieved starting with whole beans stored in an airtight container in the freezer for a maximum of 6 weeks.”

The third Taste Test: To Freeze or Not to Freeze Coffee Beans http://goo.gl/lF5alQ was done by Erin Meister, a barista trainer at Counter Culture coffee roasters. She split a sample of coffee and froze half of it for two weeks. (Part of her taste test also included coffee in Ziploc bags vs sealed one way valve bags.) The other half was stored at room temperature.  The frozen packages were all opened  and allowed to defrost in the open before brewing. She then had seven people taste the coffees and rate them on aroma, acidity, body and aftertaste. The unfrozen beans scored significantly higher than the frozen beans. However, there is an anomaly in the test that suggests it may be flawed. All of the ground coffees both frozen and unfrozen scored higher then their whole bean cohort. It isn’t possible that eight samples of two-week old ground coffee would consistently outrank the same two-week old whole bean coffee, whether it was frozen or not.

Here are my conclusions:

Brewing coffee beans between 3  and 10 days after roasting is best.  If coffee cannot be consumed before 10 days after roasting then freezing the coffee is a good alternative.The enemies of coffee freshness are heat, water and oxygen. Properly frozen coffee beans defeat all three. If coffee is going to be frozen, it is best to seal it in an airtight container immediately after roasting and then freeze it. If the coffee beans can’t be frozen immediately after roasting, placing the whole beans in an airtight container and freezing is still a good alternative. Double Ziploc bags, sealed one-way valve bags, airtight coffee containers and vacuum sealed bags are all good ways to store frozen coffee. If coffee is going to be partially extracted from the frozen sample, exposure to air and moisture should be minimized.

Hula Daddy Kona Coffee is the winner of the 2014 Kona Coffee Cupping Competition. Karen is a member of the Hawaii Coffee Association, the Kona Coffee Council, the Kona Coffee Farmers Association, and the Specialty Coffee Association of America. She is also the author of a number of articles on Kona Coffee including: Coffee Fraud http://www.huladaddy.com/?p=2337: Kona Coffee Farmers at a Crossroad  http://www.huladaddy.com/?p=696 ;How Typica is Your Kona Coffee? http://www.huladaddy.com/?p=710 ; Are Roasters Eroding the Kona Coffee Brand?http://www.huladaddy.com/?p=952; Coffee Cupping Competitions – Real or Random Chance? http://www.huladaddy.com/?p=1670 ; Seven Easy Steps to Become a Gourmet Coffee Taster http://www.huladaddy.com/?p=1785 ; How to Brew Coffee Using a Pour Over Filter  http://www.huladaddy.com/?p=1754; Before You Buy an Automatic Single Serve Coffee Brewer http://www.huladaddy.com/?p=1899;  Siphon Coffee Brewers Suck! http://www.huladaddy.com/?p=2026; Sweet Coffee http://www.huladaddy.com/?p=2144;What Color is Your Coffee Roast? http://www.huladaddy.com/?p=4 You can email her at huladaddycoffee@gmail.com 

 

 

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Comments

  1. Couldn’t agree more with your recommendation. My wife and I must limit ourselves to 1 cup of coffee per day, so we usually can’t get through an entire bag of beans quickly enough. Our own experience is that we get much richer coffee (and better crema from espresso) from the last half of the bag by freezing the whole beans in their original bag. We just measure the beans directly from the freezer into the grinder, and return the bag to the freezer. The still-frozen beans grind up perfectly and the flavor is great.

    • Aloha Harvey Thank you for the comment. We haven’t seen you lately and we miss talking and cupping coffee with you. We want you to know you are always welcome at Hula Daddy. If you can come again we will roll out our new coffees for you. Mahalo Karen

  2. Laurence Segil says:

    Thank you Karen for the best summary I have read of what is known or suspected, about the storage of coffee. .I have devised a system, not scientifically tested of course, that is designed to minimize the exposure of the beans to oxygen and water while taking advantage of the (I believe) lengthened period of freshness conferred by freezing. After I have had the opportunity to sample the beans when they first arrive at my home, I reseal the beans in their original bag (the purpose of this is only to identify the beans), place the coffee bag in a one gallon Ziplock Vacuum Freezer bag, seal it carefully and then evacuate all the air possible with the included pump. This produces a very good vacuum, tight enough that the coffee beans cannot be moved around inside the two bags. The Ziplock bags typically will hold this vacuum for two weeks or longer, I find about a 10-20% failure rate of the vacuum bags. I place the vacuum sealed bags immediately in the freezer. When I want a cup of coffee, I remove the bag from the freezer and open it, quickly spooning out the beans needed. I then quickly reseal the two bags, pump down the vacuum, and return the bag to the freezer. The total time that the beans are out of the freezer is typically less than two minutes, and I believe that the pump evacuates nearly all of the water and oxygen surrounding the beans. So, the beans are stored frozen with only minimal contact with air or water and I have had satisfactory coffee months after a bag has been first opened. I have not tried thawing the removed beans prior to grinding, but I would think that the grinding process would thoroughly thaw the coffee as it is ground. If thawing prior to grinding is important I am at a loss to think why it might be so. But may all enjoy the finest of cups, however they may like to achieve them.

    Laurence J Segil

    • Aloha Laurance We agree with you. The only comment about grinding frozen beans that I have seen is that the grinder blades will rust. However, we grind all of our coffee frozen and don’t see any rust on the grinder blades. That may be because there is a lot of oil in the beans. Mahalo for your comment. Karen

  3. Kennard Yamada says:

    My wife and I toured the plantation and brought back a 16 oz. bag of whole beans but could not consume it immediately. The sales clerk at Hula Daddy mentioned that freezing the beans for a couple of months would not hurt the falvor. Once we began grinding and dinking the coffee, our taste buds, with limited sophistication, could not detect any negative flavors.

    For the 99.99% of people worldwide that get Kona coffee shipped to them, short-term freezing is the only real option for keeping the coffee at it’s best possible freshness. If tasting experts struggle to identify short-term frozen coffee, than the average “coffee snob” surely won’t notice.

    I do wish that the folks at Hula Daddy would view a great marketing video on Youtube called “QR Codes Kill Kittens.”
    http://youtu.be/ukzY4v_aOEE

    Lastly, I’d take frozen Kona over freshly roasted “any thing else” any day of the week.

  4. Like lots of people, I went looking for advice on freezing vs. not freezing coffee beans, and found your excellent article – the best I’ve found! Thanks!

    There is an issue I haven’t seen discussed anywhere with freezing: the freezer itself. “Frost-free” or “no-defrost” freezers, the kind that virtually everyone has integrated with their refrigerator, become frost-free by periodically blowing warmed air through the freezer. This is the main reason that frozen meat and other goods get “freezer-burned” or dried out on the outside over times as short as weeks. Storage freezers that aren’t “frost-free” don’t do this. It seems to me that this is a BIG deal to anyone storing coffee, since freezing and thawing the outside edge of the package of beans could occur repeatedly unless the packaging is a good insulator. This has made me leery of freezing coffee beans.

    A couple of Christmases ago, we received a frozen cheesecake via Fedex, shipped in a large styrofoam container and packed (though it was pretty much gone) with a big block of dry ice (solid CO2). Being modest cheesecake eaters, we put the cheesecake in its styrofoam box (it took up an entire shelf) in the freezer, and over a period of many months removed a couple of slices once in a while, re-sealing the leftover part with plastic wrap. There was *no* evidence of deterioration or freezer burn that we could detect – the box kept out the temperature swings of opening the door and the defrost cycles from affecting the cheesecake. I have yet to try it with coffee beans since I have the luxury of living near our supplier, but it sure seems like this would be something useful to do! So to your advice about wrapping to keep moisture and air out, I would add temperature change — a layer or two of shipping foam sheet would probably be sufficient if you don’t care to use a big styrofoam box :-).

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