Coffee Freshness and Roast Dating

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Did you know that at its peak, specialty coffee has even more flavour compounds than wine?  When everything is just right, specialty coffees have natural flavours like chocolate, hazelnut, caramel, sweetness and even fruit, flower and spices.   

These flavours are available in high quality arabica beans when good varietals are carefully tended under the right geographic conditions and when they are coaxed out by a skilled roast-master.

Our roast-master, David Pritchard, uses Roast Architect® to define a unique roasting profile for every crop of our Bird Friendly arabica beans and then our Loring Smart Roast® system consistently reproduces that profile on every roast.

But the delicate flavours molecules are volatile and have a short shelf life best measured in weeks. 

After roasting, coffee’s volatile flavours begin escaping the coffee in a process known as “degassing” — a process of gradual gas release after coffee roasting that takes the yummy flavours with it.  The flavour gradually declines so that coffee a month old is perceptibly less dynamic than coffee in the first week*.  

Worse, oxygen reacts with coffee oils causing them to go rancid and to have a rancid aroma.   Yuck!

But having said that, coffee is not best when it is first roasted.  It needs a day or two before its flavour develops. This is known as “resting”.

In our experience coffee is best after resting at least one or two days, before the flavours taper off a lot from degassing and absolutely before any hint of rancid flavours are created by oxidation.  

Birds and Beans introduced Roast Dating to Canada in 2003

We find our coffee tastes best within the first month, but is usually free of rancid flavours for about 3 months. Then, after about 3 months foul smells and acrid tastes begin to develop and at some point it becomes utterly nasty.

While the coffee industry at large tends to date coffee with best-by dates a year from roasting — even for ground coffee — the specialty coffee market acknowledges that roasted coffee beans stale within a a month or two.

We each have our own assessment of when stale is too stale.  A connoisseur may insist on coffee being roasted within a week, while coffee enthusiast finds their coffee is great for a month, while another coffee lover enjoys their favourite coffee for 3 months.  So, rather than define a best-by date, way back in 2003, Birds and Beans was the first roaster in Canada to roast date all of our coffee! 

* The degassing process is greatly accelerated in ground coffee and the SCA recommends using ground coffee within hours of grinding.

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