To brew good coffee, many things need to go right.

Most of those are little things: minor nuances in technique, minute details that make good gear work well. All are details that should be kept in focus without losing sight of the full picture:

In order to brew good coffee, one must start with good coffee.

Brewing coffee is like photography. The camera doesn’t create, the sunset, mountains, or that unsightly cell tower. Instead, the skilled photographer use it to carefully compose their shot, finding and emphasizing the beauty of their subject.

In previous installments of “Barista at Home”, we discussed the brewing process and how to choose and use tools to manage the extraction. Today, we’ll focus on the idea that we’re not making a good coffee. Like skilled photographers, we’re finding and celebrating the distinctive beauty already in the coffee bean.

The first step in brewing a good cup of coffee? Start with good coffee beans.

As followers of Dilworth Coffee’s Beanology blog know, the flavors of coffee trace back to both the local roaster and origin country. This makes for a diverse landscape of delicious and distinctive flavors which are the definition of specialty coffee for many people.

While distinctive flavor is prized in coffees, that means that not every coffee drinker will enjoy every coffee. With so many unique coffee experiences are available, it’s important to choose your coffee carefully.

One oft-overlooked source for coffee beans is your neighborhood coffeehouse. This is an excellent place to buy fresh coffee, since they offer the chance to taste some of their options. Even if you don’t enjoy today’s brew, you’ll have a starting point for discussion with your friendly barista about coffees you might prefer.

Like photographing a beautiful sunset, timing is critical with roasted coffee.

From the moment those coffee beans leave the roasting machine, the clock is ticking. With each passing day, irreversible chemical reactions are changing the flavors inside.

This is helpful at first. In the hours right after roasting, too much trapped Carbon Dioxide gas can ruin your extraction like the glare from the sun hovering above the horizon. Gas levels drop quickly, though, and most coffees are ready for drip brewing after 1-2 days of rest, twice that for espresso. From this point forward time is no longer on our side as vibrant flavors begin to fade and change.

Fresh coffees will continue to have trapped CO2, even after initial rest. That’s why skilled baristas begin brewing by first wetting the grounds with a small amount of brewing water, then pausing. Letting the coffee “bloom” for 30-45 seconds gives gasses time to dissipate, helping the rest of the extraction be more effective.

How long is a delicious and distinctive coffee still considered fresh?

The answer is: “as long as they still taste delicious and distinctive”. Like every sunset is unique, every coffee ages differently. Some fade quickly into grey, while others’ seem to glow forever. So “how long?” depends on the coffee. That said, most of what makes fresh coffee so good will have faded noticeably after 3-4 weeks. Could you drink it? Sure. But that blah purgatory is best avoided if you’re looking for delicious brews.

It’s worth noting the difference between “faded” and “stale”. The processes responsible for the negative flavors we call stale are much slower moving, and a coffee will cease to be fresh weeks or months before it begins to be truly stale.

We can delay the inevitable.

While the loss of good coffee flavor is unavoidable, careful storage can slow down the chemical reactions responsible.

Oxygen is great for life, but it’s presence means death for fresh coffee. That’s because one of the reactions linked to flavor loss is oxidation. Since “air” is 21% Oxygen, it’s best to buy coffee in sealed bags, leave them sealed until you’re ready to brew, then roll down and re-close the bag between brews.

That’s another great reason to buy coffee in whole-bean form and grind it immediately before brewing. Increased surface area speeds up oxidation and the other freshness-robbing reactions.

Flavors also fade due to loss of volatile aromatic compounds. Those reactions occur faster at higher temperatures and humidity levels. That’s why we recommend storing your (tightly sealed) coffee bags at cooler room temperature.

Why not the refrigerator and freezer?

While those do provide better storage temperatures, there’s an increased risk of humidity-related problems. We don’t generally recommend storing coffee in the freezer or refrigerator.

Picture perfect results

Want a great cup? Choose a good coffee you enjoy, buy it fresh, store it properly, and brew it well. Then bask in the glow of your coffee’s distinctive beauty.

For even more tips on brewing good coffee at home, call Dilworth Coffee at 866-849-1682. Or join us for an upcoming Specialty Coffee Association Brewing class.

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