Have you ever brewed a cup of coffee, hoping to enjoy it, only to feel a funny taste in your mouth? A bad flavor that you would associate with staleness? That often happens when you’ve bought a bad or old bag of coffee.
Coffee is meant to taste fresh, have an aromatic smell, and give you a pleasant kick. If your coffee tastes, looks or smells funny, it could be expired.
It doesn’t matter if you bought a fresh bag recently; you can only measure the freshness of coffee based on how long it’s been in the bag after processing.
It’s best to identify the notes in a coffee bean when it is fresh. That’s the time to pick out its nutty, spicy, floral, fruity, or Umami flavors.
A stale or old bag of coffee lacks these nuances.
Old coffee beans have a musty, cigarette-like smell. They also produce murky, sour, bitter-tasting coffee.
Most people mask these funny flavors with lots of cream and sugar. But that’s the wrong way to approach things.
The best course of action is to find out why coffee goes stale or tastes old and find ways of keeping it fresh.
What Makes Coffee Beans Go stale?
80 percent of how a coffee tastes is due to its aroma. Aromas are determined by coffee oils.
Anything that degrades coffee bean oils will affect their taste, making them less flavorful and aromatic. That’s what happens during oxidation.
Oxygen seeps into coffee beans causing the aromatic compounds in coffee oils to escape. Once the oils lose their aroma, coffee beans smell off or stale.
Exposing coffee beans to moisture will also make them mold, affecting their flavor. Light may also break down the chemical compounds in coffee, drying them out and giving them a funny smell or taste.
How To Test Coffee Beans For Staleness
If you have a bag of coffee beans in the cupboard that you haven’t used for some time, here’s how to find out if it’s old.
Open the coffee bag, and smell the aroma of the coffee beans. You should be able to pick out the aroma of coffee beans ranging from fruity to floral, chocolatey, and nutty.
Next, grind some of the beans and smell them. The aroma you identified when they were whole should be more intense.
Some coffees have fruity aromas like citrus, while others have floral aromas like jasmine.
You may also come across nutty aromas like almonds or umami aromas that remind you of mushrooms.
Old coffee lacks aroma and flavor. It smells musty or off. These beans also have very mild flavors that are hard to identify.
If a smell test is not enough to tell you whether your coffee beans are stale or old, you can perform a carbon dioxide test.
Throw a handful of coffee beans in a ziplock bag and remove all the air from it. Leave the beans out all night and check them in the morning.
A puffed-up coffee bag is a sign of fresh coffee beans. If your bag is flat, it means your coffee beans have oxidized.
Fresh coffee beans emit carbon dioxide, which is what puffs up the bag during a carbon dioxide test.
The crema in your coffee will also tell you if your coffee is stale. Fresh coffee beans produce a thin layer of crema, while old coffee beans have no crema or micro bubbles.
3 Things That Will Help You to Keep Coffee Fresh
1. Monitoring The Storage Period
Once you realize storing coffee poorly can make it stale, you may decide to adopt good coffee storage practices.
Coffee should be stored for a limited amount of time.
Regular coffee is at its best one to three weeks after the roasting date. Espresso coffee is at its best two to four weeks after the roasting date.
Although some people freeze coffee to extend its lifespan, that won’t preserve its flavors.
The best way to keep coffee fresh is to take it within the recommended period. That’s between 10 and 21 days of purchasing a fresh batch.
2. Buying Coffee From Expert Roasters
You can also buy coffee from specialty roasters who know how to extend the shelf life of their coffee.
A good example is Lavazza coffee which is flushed with nitrogen to prolong its expiry date.
Other coffee brands, such as Dark Horse Coffee, Hopscotch Coffee, and Blue Bottle coffee, also make excellent coffee.
And while you may be tempted to buy coffee in bulk, avoid it because that coffee is likely to go old before you can enjoy it. Small batches of coffee beans that you can finish in a week or two are better.
Also, always choose coffee bags with a one-way valve that allows carbon dioxide to exit without letting oxygen in. It should also have a seal to assure you that the coffee has been intact since it was packaged at the roaster.
3. Brewing Your Coffee Correctly
Your coffee could also taste stale or old because of bad brewing methods. Pre-ground coffee starts to lose its freshness within 30 minutes of grinding coffee beans.
Therefore, you should avoid buying pre-ground coffee and get whole coffee beans instead.
Invest in a burr grinder that you can use to grind fresh coffee beans whenever you need to make a batch of coffee.
Note that you have to brew coffee correctly even after grinding fresh beans.
If you over-extract or steep your coffee grounds for too long, expect a sour or bitter taste. Some coffee beans also produce murky, bland, tasting coffee when under-extracted.
These funny tastes may be identified as stale or old. Therefore, always extract your coffee for the recommended brewing time.
Also, monitor the type of water you use to brew coffee. Filtered or distilled water is best because tap water sometimes has a funny smell to it.
Coffee should always be taken immediately after brewing or stored in a thermos to keep it hot. Leaving your coffee in the percolator or coffee mug after brewing it may give it a stale flavor. It also exposes it to bacteria and dust.
How to Recycle Old Coffee Beans
If you have some coffee beans that you cannot use, don’t throw them in the trash. Here’s how to recycle old coffee beans.
- If the coffee is not too far gone, use it in baked dishes such as brownies.
- Grind old coffee beans and add them to your garden compost. Ground coffee acts as a good fertilizer.
- Ground coffee is also great in beauty treatments. Mix it with oils such as coconut oil and use it as a homemade coffee scrub.
- You can also use your stale or old coffee beans as insect repellent. Grind it and sprinkle it around outdoor sitting areas and in plants to keep bugs away.
If you decide to use old coffee to prepare your coffee brew, you may have to use extra coffee to get some taste from them.
You may also add sweetener, creamer, or milk to eliminate any bitterness.
But why suffer when you can have a fresh aromatic cup of coffee. We’ve given you a few tips on how to identify stale coffee and how to get the freshest coffee.
Use these tips to ensure your coffee is fresh and flavorful all the time.