On Freezing Coffee

January 23, 2011

The idea of being able to freeze coffee is attractive. Maybe you don't even come close to using up a bag before the beans start to go stale. If you could freeze coffee, however, then you could enjoy beans at their peak for a long period of time. Cool beans right?

(Sorry about that back there.)

When I decided that I wanted to make tasty coffee myself first thing in the morning, I asked my friendly tattooed barista bro what he thought about freezing coffee beans. I could see an intricate dance between shock and repulsion and politesse play across his face. No! Don't do it! Buy fresh, he said.

So I did. I bought small quantities of beans and used them within a week. The coffee was excellent.

Then I did some snooping on the interwebs and came across this popular thread on Home Barista, a message board. A couple of experienced coffee drinkers decided to test proper freezing's effect on coffee beans. They claimed that they couldn't tell the difference between properly frozen beans (beans in airtight packages that are kept sealed until the beans are up to room temperature) and fresh beans. You can see the thread for the details.

So I started to freeze bags of coffee properly. The coffee was very good.

But I suspected something was a little off. I decided to do a little informal test. I had two sealed bags of a fresh coffee from a small-batch roaster. Same origin and roast-level, same roast-date, indeed very likely the same batch.

I froze one bag properly (or so I thought) for a couple days and then defrosted it overnight. Over the next week, I brewed the never-frozen coffee and the frozen coffee side-by-side in a # of different ways. The once-frozen coffee was very similar to the fresh. Same big bloom, pretty much same aroma. But the fresh never-frozen coffee had a much superior mouth-feel and flavor. It was super sweet and syrupy...the once-frozen coffee was just an echo of it.

* Obvious caveats. This was not a scientific test or anything. It wasn't double-blind and my brewing of each coffee was slightly different no doubt. I can't emphasize enough that this was a casual test. Moreover, I have a basic freezer, no semi-professional Sub Zero or whatever, the kind used in the Home Barista experiment (itself not that scientific, but much moreso than my little curiosity here). Note too that I tested out a really light, delicate roast, not a darker espresso-style roast.

I'm back at my original position now. I don't freeze coffee; I buy fresh. Which is not to say that you should follow suit. Maybe you'd like to do your own little test and see for yourself whether (1) you can notice a difference between fresh coffee and coffee that's been frozen by your particular freezer (2) you care!

This is a not-so-subtle way of saying that I think ROASTe's new prime shipping program is awesome. I can buy coffee weekly and not have to worry about shipping costs or freezing. Sign me up.

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