Monday, July 13, 2015


Never judged the goodness of the beans merely through the roast dates indicated on the bags, dates can lies but quality of flavours shall prevail on your palate. The very least, opened a bag and calibrate them to the best of your Barista-abilities. Stop whining and do it. You are a coffee professional for goodness sake so let your hand do the talking!

What is the freshest you got?

Don't we all get this question a lot? To that my next very questions will be if the coffees are meant as gifts and/or plan to be consume the week after. I will then mentioned in the reply that all the bags on the shelves are as fresh (between 4 to 7 days old) but too often than not i received ridiculed looks and a clarification that they are looking for coffee roasted from yesterday. 
A handful others understand the theory of 'curing' and 'well roasted coffee' but at the same time claimed that it need just nothing more than 24-hours and the coffee is at its peak on the 3rd day! Look who is the coffee professional here....

Typically after roasting, coffees are kept air-tight in drums like this and stored overnight and left to rest before getting blended or packed the next very day. 

My theory in buying coffee and maintaining freshness is to treat coffee buying like buying bread. You only buy enough for a week supply or so. When the plan is to buy for the advance week, I will then find out when is the best aged period of the particular coffee and then count backwards, searching for coffee roasted within range of 3 to 5 days. If the need to have it consume immediately, of course anything that fall between 7 to 15 days of roasting is best. Again, it also depend on the roaster and barista advise on which coffee performs better as it aged.

The misconception of 'the fresher the better' amongst consumers, I feel is a case of us 3rd-wave roasters, 'being the victim of our own success in educating.' In the surge of artisan and small batch roasting somewhere between year 2007 and 2010, often than not we try differentiating ourselves with commercial roasters with arguments like roasting fresh by batch and selling by roast instead of expiry dates. Of course much later on, we soften up a little by adding a generic remark of 'Best consumed/brewed within 1-month of roast date' on our beautifully hand-crafted 250gm bags. 

Nowadays, consumers and even barista from wholesale accounts we serviced gets ever demanding and hold our word to the above stated. While demanding batches roasted fresh, they like to 'forget' that we also care to mention then that the same coffee is still good within a month from roasting. Speaking about selective hearing!

So when exactly is a coffee too old?

This is really a very subjective topic and while roasting professionals out there can put an average 'age ceiling' on it, there are just too many variables that are out of their control. Among others, it truly depends on the coffee and how different roasters apply a variety style of roasting that changes the profile of the same coffee. This more often than not causes the coffee to peak and/or aged at again, different timing. This can lead to a coffee still in its goodness anywhere between 14 to even 30 days from date of roast! So it is really hard to pass a 'sentence' to the coffee and claiming it past its date of use and/or too fresh. 

Calibrating the grind size and adjusting dosage helps to bring out the best of coffee as it aged. It is a well known fact that as coffee ages, the bean becomes more porous and as it grinds away, the structure easily breaks down and allow water to enter and dissolving the soluble. With an unchanged grind setting (that was calibrated for the same coffee BUT when it was much fresher) on a much aged coffee, the bean becomes too porous that under extraction and/or faster extraction happens which leads to a undesirable flavour on the palate. This then follows with a complaint phonecall to the roaster. ;)

On personal note, I have pull espresso from a lighter roast coffee (read lighter not 'light roast') that is 1 month old and it taste as sweet and as good as a 2 weeks old.  Again, I have encountered coffee past its prime in just the eleventh day! The coffee was so dark roasted that nothing seems to help anymore. Of course, don't bother to salvage a coffee once it's after 2 month old. It doesn't get so bad but it lost too much of its charm to be anywhere near it's peak.

When in doubts, asked! The Roaster and Barista in the cafe know their coffee best because these same people take pride in what they do, they will not usually put something on the shelves or serve an 'old' coffee that they don't drink themselves. Never lose faith with their words.

Tasting is believing and although it is true the saying that taste profile are subjective, quality are usually not. So calibrate the grinder, pull those shots and taste your coffee quality. Don't be too quick on assuming that the coffee is bad by looking at just roasting dates and do not start shooting your roasters down with your tongues. Politician bickers, Barista don't!

Transparency at its best but so often they are abused!

So the next time you go on a shopping spree for coffee and/or received from your coffee supplier bags of coffee that is already 3 weeks old, do not panic and put on your bitching cap. If the coffee is meant for the advanced week buffer, take solace that in general all the coffee is best within a month of roast (which means that you still have enough time to finish consuming/serving them). If they are to be used right away, recall the highlighted point in the 2nd paragraph on the porosity of the bean structure and calibrate the grinder to the best of your ability. When all failed, call upon your roaster and get someone to come down to calibrate them to taste. Often then not, they are happy to provide the service.

Receiving a 2, 3 or 4 week old coffee is all about transparency at its best. This mean the roaster care to remain honest in featuring the true roasting dates as well as having test taste the coffee and passing it as good to be served and delivered. They also have hopes that the receiver is experienced enough to calibrate and fine tuned the coffee to taste as per profiled. 

To avoid unwanted questions and avoid high conflict scenarios, roaster can always 'changed' the dates to 'packed by instead of roasting dates.' This is unethical but too often, we are all blinded by the facts on the bags rather than tasting to calibrate and believe, which result in roaster feeling less obliged to be transparent. 

So be happy when you received the supply which indicated it is 3-weeks old. The least it reflect the honesty of the roaster. Take up the challenge and try to calibrate the coffee to its best. Then again, it is tolerable when it is an isolated situation but if you constantly received a 3-week old coffee, something may be wrong and then it is within your given jurisdiction to ask why.....

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