Tapwell: Roast Date

Best Brewing Tips

Although there are a number of factors to be considered when selecting coffee – country of origin, processing method, and roast profile to name a few – the roast date is the single most important detail to look for when selecting fresh quality coffee to brew at home.

Simply put, the closer to the roast date, the fresher the beans. Oxidation begins the moment coffee is roasted, with a de-gassing period of approximately one week (for the excess carbon dioxide gas formed inside the bean during roasting to be released), followed by a 2-3 week period where the coffee is at its truly ideal peak. After the first month, it will become more and more “stale” as time passes.

Some coffee will not have a roast date at all, and instead offer an “expiration date” or a “best by” date. Both are nonsense, as neither clarifies when it was roasted, but suggests an arbitrary date often set at two years after roasting. This is ridiculous for many reasons, especially since coffee that’s stored properly does not technically expire. Instead, it becomes stale and loses it’s fine characteristics, morphing into something boring, plain, flavorless, and watery. Coffee beans stored improperly can also cause the oils to go rancid, in turn causing the coffee to taste undeniably unpleasant to even the most novice of coffee drinkers. Always be sure to store your coffee away from oxygen, moisture, heat, and light. Specialty coffee will come in a bag with a one-way degassing valve, which allows gas given off by freshly-roasted beans to escape while keeping oxygen out.

Avoid the above pitfalls by buying coffee that comes with a roast date – even if the date is not as recent as you’d like, it’s presence instills a level of buyer confidence in the product for two reasons: first, it’s a sign that the company behind the bag takes its coffee seriously; second, it allows us to expect that the other details related to producing excellent coffee have been thoughtfully considered.

Additionally, consider buying whole bean coffee and grind it with a “burr grinder” right before brewing; if you don’t want to invest in a burr, have it ground at the store instead (hint: this is different than buying pre-ground packaged coffee, as the oxidation process will speed up far faster due to the excess surface area). Whole beans keep all the good stuff inside, confirmed by that satisfying burst of aroma that’s released when the beans are ground.

Want confirmation that the coffee you chose is truly fresh? Brew yourself a cup, and notice the air bubbles that appear in the grounds during the bloom (when the coffee first comes into contact with water). Fresh coffee will release bubbles, whereas stale coffee will have no reaction since the gases have already escaped.

Now that you’re on your way to becoming a coffee expert, remember that you can set your own limits (even though coffee industry professionals may reject any beans more than one month after the roast date). It’s your coffee, so if you think it still tastes great a few months later, that’s awesome. After all, coffee is meant to be enjoyed!