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When Does Coffee Go Stale?

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A beginners guide to the importance of grinding coffee fresh.

With Sensei Joe

Coffee is at its absolute best between 3 days after the roast and 1 week if it is in its whole bean form. It is during the first week that coffee can be considered absolutely fresh. The week that follows coffee will begin to oxidize much like iron does when it rusts. That is where the stale taste comes from and if no protection is put in place like an airtight container the coffee will be completely stale at the end of the second week.

If you purchase ground coffee the results are much different. Ground coffee will begin to oxidize within 10 minutes of being ground and be completely stale shortly after that if no protective measures are taken. This is why the very first pot of that new bag of ground coffee is always so much better than the rest. Because the rest of it goes stale rapidly once oxygen is reintroduced to the ground coffee, and there is nothing you can do to remove oxygen from the coffee once oxygen is introduced to it in its ground form. With whole bean coffee, you get that first pot of coffee taste every day for two weeks even if left sitting out on the counter and it is even possible to last a little longer with extra measures of protection from oxygen (How Do I Keep My Coffee Fresh video). Grinding fresh is ultimately the best way to get the highest possible quality cup from your coffee!

“My coffee is always so much stronger when I use whole bean.” This is a comment I often get from people who have tried and failed at grinding coffee for themselves. There is nothing about whole bean coffee that makes it stronger because it is whole bean. The problem is in the grind itself. The finer you grind it the faster coffee will extract. So odds are these people ground close to powder size and over extraction occurred causing their coffee to be bitter. Think of it in terms of dirt and sand. Dirt is much finer than sand and when mixed with water, dirt will hold the water but with sand, water passes right through. That is similar to what happens with fine coffee, it will hold water like dirt and it will be much harder for the water to find a way “out” of the coffee. I speak a little about this at the end of The Manual Pour Over method of brewing coffee video.

I suggest that beginners have a small amount of store bought ground coffee handy for comparison with their own grind especially when using a drip brewer. If the textures feel the same then you should be able to use the exact same as with the store bought pre ground. With practice grinding coffee will be second nature, along with the brewing technique you are using. Beginners using a blade grinder will eventually be able to hear and see the blade grinder working and know just the right time to stop. You can even feel the way the grinder is working and stop it at the right time. Check out the video on what goes into a perfect cup of coffee for more information. Grinding coffee is a science so there is more to come and much more advanced techniques to discuss on the issue.

As a beginner, you might be interested in Coffee 101. What Goes Into A Perfect Cup of Coffee?

Posted by Joe Kuehler, your Sensei at The Art of Coffee
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