Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Should coffee be as fresh as sushi?

Yesterday I got a question from one of our costumers comparing the freshness of sushi and coffee. I really thought it was an interesting comparison since to me there is no doubt that sushi should be as fresh as practically possible and with coffee there seemes to be different opinions regarding freshness.

In Denmark I believe on the one hand that most coffee sold claims to be good for 2 years (even though it is ground) and on the other hand we also have some mikroroasters claiming that the freshness of coffee is the ultimate quality criteria (but usually they only refer freshness to the freshness of roast not the freshness since harvest or the freshness of the coffee flavour it self). While the first of course has nothing to do with good flavours the second seemes to be the 'sushi-thought' (I am sure that sushi chefs could teach me that there also are a lot more to quality of sushi than freshness even though it is fundamental).

Our approach to freshness is close to the sushi-thought. Nevertheless our tests of freshness related to espresso has learned us that our blend is actually best 16-18 days after roasting (similar to what we used for Klaus WBC espresso) ! At this time most of the CO2 formed during roasting has degassed and flavours seemes to have settled to a point where the sweetness, oily mouthfeel and marcipan notes is extremely clear. It is our experience that when the espresso is rested this short period of time the innner qualities of the beans steps forward. Before this the aroma of roasting seemes to cover up many nuances and sometimes making different coffees taste more similar. But when they have rested (much like when coffee cools down during a cupping) the inner quality of the beans shines through - poor quality green beans or poor roasting will be obvious whereas good beans will show their more complex qualities.

Of course if the time since roasting is too long the flavours starts disappearing again. Therefore we set the 'best before' date to 6 weeks after roasting on our espresso - which of course only is valid since we pack the coffee on nitrogen flushed airtight valvebags right after roasting.

We will never send out beans roasted longer ago than last week to make sure that our customers will have the coffee at home well in time before it peaks!


Jaime van Schyndel said...

Fresh roast is the first line drawn up by those trying to distinguish themselves from the commodity traders.

What is much more curious is the topic of fresh when related to green coffee. Green coffee preservation is a multi faceted debate.

Nick said...

Freshness as "number of days" is one important element, but "days off roast" must, in my experience, go hand in hand with how the coffee was stored (bagged, open-to-room-air, nitrogen-flushed, etc.), as well as temperature, humidity, barometric pressure.

One time, we had a couple of bags of espresso out "loose," and a couple of bags that were pack tightly in a box. Same coffee, from the same roast, etc. They pulled very differently (tightly-packed coffee acted more "fresh").

Freshness-management is a fascinating and dynamic topic for sure!

alexanderruas said...

I really appreciate the fact that you not only write the Roas Date but also the Best Before Date on the bags of coffee you sell!
It creates a higher standard for all other roasters and coffee sellers!
One day maybe we will be able to hold even the biggest coffee giants to those high standards!


alexanderruas said...

I quoted you Peter and started a discussion on coffeegeek on this topic. very interesting indeed!
check it out!


Peter Dupont said...


Thanks for your comments!

For sure green coffee freshness is interesting as well. When I have cupped new crops coming in on a table with last crop of the same selection from same producer it is clear that most coffees loose sweetness but most of all the fragile aromas and the acidity is damaged. I belive this has mainly (other things like temperature fluctuations are fore sure also relevant) to do with oxidation (or what it is called in english?) and humidity exchange and therefore we try re-packing our greens from the jutebags to nitrogenflushed/vacuumed foilbags untill roasting.

@nick, interesting observation regarding the loose bags! Do you think the tight packaging acted as a higher surronding pressure and therefore slowing down degassing?

Finally I would like to add that our experience with coffee for french press is a bit different. Here the peak seemes to come even slower after roasting making freshness of roast less important compared to green bean quality and roast quality. One of the best coffees I ever tasted was a Kenyan coffee from Terroir Coffee that was extremely clean and sweet and had the most outstanding notes of dark berries. I almost felt that it was to good to finish the bag of coffee so the last part of the bag stayed (open) in my kitchen for 5 month before I finally made the last can. Of course it had staled out a bit but the distinct aromas were still very clear and definitely a lot clearer than what you get from many other specialty kenya AA's!

This showed me that freshness of roast is just one of a line of quality parameters important for the final cup experience.

@alexander, thanks for taking the discussion on!