Back when I was a bit of a coffee snob (what, I still am one?), I used to ask upscale café owners what date their packaged beans had been roasted.
The invariable answer, which skirted the question, was: “Oh, it’s fresh.”
Well, maybe it was, but where was the proof? Unlike most of the food and beverage industry—which dutifully proclaims the date when the product was packaged or was “best before”—the coffee business mainly ignores the question.
The line of defence seems to be that their just-roasted beans are packed inside vacuum-sealed bags and are thus fresh for a considerable period. A Starbucks bag I bought in September 2021 says “Best before 28 January 2022” and then goes on to say, “Use within a week of opening.”
So, it’s putting a lot of faith in that vacuum-sealed bag to keep those beans reliably fresh for nearly five months.
I’ve been sporadically roasting my own beans for many years. So I think I have a pretty good idea what fresh coffee smells and tastes like and, just as importantly, looks like.
For several days after coffee beans are roasted, they produce a visible bloom of bubbles when ground and then brewed in a drip system. It’s the carbon dioxide that’s being emitted (though hopefully not in volumes destined to destroy the planet). You can also notice this emission of gases if you store your fresh beans in a Ziploc bag; a few hours later, there’s more air in the bag.
My point is that when I brew a cup of coffee from a bag of sealed beans that were roasted months ago, there’s no bloom. The one thing I and Starbucks agree on is that once opened or, in my case, roasted, coffee beans only stay fresh for about a week.
The good news is more roasters, especially small and independent ones, are now stamping their bags with a roasting date. Which means we all stand a better chance of getting fresh beans. I’d say it’s about blooming time!