This week, a reader asked how long does green coffee stay fresh? Very topical with our new Kolla Bolcha – but enough of me hawking my new favorite coffee, let us chart some of the key aspects of seasonality and coffee!
Several really great people involved in coffee have tackled the topic and composed great articles on it (Tim Wendelboe, Erin Meister, or Jacob Ibarra for example), so I am going to be following along some well tread roads. It does, however, remain a perpetually salient topic because of the huge role it plays on a coffee’s taste.
While coffee is considered a fruit, we luckily only need to worry about the life of the seed. Following picking, sorting, milling, processing, drying, and packing, coffee is shipped and stored around the world. From the farm onward, coffee begins losing moisture. To borrow from my past dispatch on four common coffee faults: as moisture disappears, the flavours ‘flatten’. On a level of biology, the “seeds do not survive complete desiccation”, as they drop below 0.2 grams of water (per gram of total dry weight) and lose the capacity to germinate (Eira, et al: 2006). Essentially, they die on the shelf.
The timeline varies. Generally, “the viability of arabica seeds decreases rapidly after 4-6 months at ambient temperatures” (Eira, et al: 2006). Near the end of that window, coffee ‘fades’ dramatically, losing vibrancy in both sweetness and acidity. The ‘complete desiccation’ is the real danger, as it allows the fats in coffee to oxidize. By going rancid, the roasts will become increasingly bitter, which spirals into sharp and angular flavours of cardboard and eventually wood.
This is really only an applicable issue in modern coffee because dark roasting masks the inherent qualities of the bean. And the solution for us comes on a level of sourcing: always go seasonal! That is why you see rotations in all our filter offerings. If you are curious to see the harvests:
Thank you Roast Coffee and Tea for the chart (cafe imports and sweet maria’s also have great versions).
As the wee disclaimer on the bottom notes, harvests will shift year-to-year and farm-to-farm. There are also smaller ‘fly crops’ in countries like Kenya and Colombia. Other major countries like Brazil can elongate harvest schedules by offsetting crops.
tl;dr: processing, varietal, transportation, and storage will all greatly affect shelf life and freshness but generally coffee lasts roughly 4 to 6 months following the last steps at origin (‘resting’ in its outer parchment layer for 30-60 days).
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.