MYTH: Fresh Roasted Coffee is Best

If you missed Part One of our three-part series on Coffee Myths, you can check that here.

If you’re here for more myth-roastin’, you’re in the right place.

PART TWO: Fresh roasted coffee is best.

Well, not exactly.

Coffee is not best fresh out of the roaster.

But wait--what? Coffee isn’t ideal when it’s straight out of the oven, like pizza or bread or cookies?

HOLD ON A SECOND WE HAVE TO GO EAT PIZZA AND BREAD AND COOKIES

No, as crazy as it sounds, coffee is not ideal when it’s hot and sizzlin’ (fajitas, anyone?), fresh from the roaster.

As a part of the roasting process, gases develop inside the structure of the coffee bean. Upon exiting the roaster, these gases--carbon dioxide chief among them--begin escaping the bean: “degassing,” as it’s called. When a coffee is still very fresh (say, one or two days old), the carbon dioxide degassing that’s occurring is so rapid and volatile that it adversely affects coffee brewing.

If your coffee is fresh, you’ll experience more degassing. If you experience more degassing, your coffee’s extraction (a measurement of how much mass is removed from dry coffee grounds by water--basically, “how well you brewed the coffee”) will be uneven and unpredictable.  

Interestingly, as carbon dioxide makes its effort to escape the bean, oxygen attempts to make its way in. This process--called oxidation--leads to coffee’s staling, and the general decline of its flavor. So there is--certainly--a point where coffee can be old, stale, and unimpressive. We wouldn’t blame you for wanting a “fresh” coffee.

We’re just suggesting that “fresh” is a relative term.

For our coffee at CREMA--which is profile roasted and fully developed--we find it extracts most evenly and consistently (which, in turn, makes the coffee taste better across the board) 7-12 days after roasting. At this point, the carbon dioxide degassing that inhibits proper extraction has calmed, while the staling effects of oxidation have not begun to settle in. This timetable is not hard-and-fast (our espresso, for instance, performs great at even older ages), but is a general guideline we go by.

And that’s all this is meant to be: a general guideline. If you are buying darker roasted coffee, for instance, “fresh” most likely is better, as darker roasts degas and stale more quickly (perhaps this is even where this “myth” comes from). If you are buying coffee from the grocery store and the stuff on the shelf was roasted when George W. was still president, yeah, you need some “fresher” beans, bro.

Wherever you buy from, your best bet is to ask your roaster or barista, who’ll be able to unpack some of the nuance and depth stored in those complicated little beans.  

Don’t brew anything too fresh, though. Some things--like those Ancient Greek myths--just get better with time.