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How long after roasting is coffee at its best?

Postby godshot on Mon Feb 07, 2011 12:17 am

I couldn't decide whether to post my question in the Home Roasting forum or the Coffee forum, so I decided it must therefore belong in the Knockbox.

I am trying to reconcile different statements about when roasted coffee is best or at its peak. I've read many comments throughout the forum suggesting that coffees peak from 4 to 7 days after roasting, or 4 to 10 days, or up to 12 days. I found one thread where someone said coffee is best from 2 to 15 days after roasting, but generally the minimum time specified by most people is 4 days and anything over 10 days is usually considered stale.

While purchasing the four pound green bean espresso sampler from Sweet Marias, I found a statement that seems completely at odds with HB collective wisdom:

Coffee is best from 4 to 24 hours after roasting.


To the extent that any such declaration is at least partially a matter of taste, I doubt that SM is wrong. I also doubt that the pervasive HB collective wisdom is wrong. But no one really explains exactly what they mean when they make statements like these, so I'm left to wonder. Could these widely divergent statements be referring to different characteristics of the roasted coffee? Or is it that the preparation method, making a high pressure extraction (espresso) versus brewing coffee in other ways, accounts for the difference? Or is it just that opinion (individual taste) varies so much?

Our own local forum expert cupper, another_jim, says something interesting in What else is going on during coffee resting?

another_jim wrote:Straight out of the roaster, coffee has little aroma and tastes flat and unaromatic, even when cupped. The maximal variety in aroma (both good and bad) is between 8 and 24 hours. After that, the aromatics gradually decline. My guess is that the CO2, being a small molecule and having less mass than the aromatics, outgasses first. After eight hours, it is mostly gone, and the coffee starts losing its aromatics.

As to aging/staling and taste: Is it that coffee that is a day or two old is unpleasant, or just too "in your face." My feeling is that it's mostly the latter. If a coffee is all fruit and flowers, it'll taste good right off the bat; but if it has more aggressive aromatics, then it needs age for these to get into a good proportion.

But coffee chemistry is staggeringly complicated, so blanket statements like this probably have a huge number of exceptions.


Perhaps another_jim's comments hold the answer to my question, or what might be my question if I understood more about coffee than I do. Aroma is only one aspect of coffee. There is also flavor, body, mouthfeel, and acidity, at least. Perhaps different characteristics age or stale at different rates, and the complexity of coffee chemistry is just too great to reduce so simply in any case.

But still I hope to learn why it is for espresso that coffee must age to a point that some would consider it stale before it is regarded as having reached its peak?
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Postby shalenkur on Mon Feb 07, 2011 12:40 am

I'm pretty new to this but I have realized that I've been drinking my coffee too soon after the roast. I couldn't figure out the sourness, and why store-bought coffee that I knew was stale tasted better than my home-roast. Today I pulled shots with beans roasted Thursday night, so almost three days post roast (SM New Classic Espresso blend to city+), and it was awesome. I let these degas on the counter in a loose-lidded canister.

I've read on the forum about about pre-grinding about 20 min. before in order to degas when using beans too early after the roast.
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Postby Randy G. on Mon Feb 07, 2011 1:14 am

I do not think there is just one answer. Even ignoring the subjective side of the equation, it depends on the bean, the roast, and the brewing method. For two "extremes,"

Colombian taken to about past first but before second started a Probat. Taken from the cooling tray, ground and brewed in a Bunn drip. One of the very best cups of coffee I have ever had. Smooth and sweet with a taste and mouthfeel like sugar was added.

The other would be Monsooned Malabar (in my espresso home blend). It benefits from a longer rest after roasting than most other coffees I have tried. Four to five days is not too long.
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Postby Ken Fox on Mon Feb 07, 2011 2:21 am

I can't speak to brewed/French press/filter/etc. methods of preparation since I only drink them when forced :mrgreen:

Espresso is a different animal and the process has a very major effect on when it tastes "best."

There is no "one best," since this depends on the type of coffee that was roasted, how old the green beans were, the degree of roast, the dose used, whether it is to be drunk as a straight shot or in a milk drink, the extraction temperature, etc. etc. etc.

However, there are some generalities that can be made for the use of freshly roasted coffee in espresso, especially when drunk as a straight shot. If the green coffee is of a fresh and "fruity" sort, such as some dry process Ethiopians, one can and should drink them sooner. I'll define "sooner" in this context as being after about 2 days post roast. This sort of coffee, "fresh and fruity," generally has a fairly short "shelf life" at peak, maybe only 3 days, so best get in early on its evolution because it will go by in an instant!

Most single origin coffees will start to show well around 4 days post roast and start to decline on day 8 or 9. Most well made blends, many of which demand higher dosing (at least those "marquee blends" from major roasters in N. America), will peak a little later, maybe on day 5 or 6 or 7, and could last for 4 or 5 days near peak, if they have enough constituent coffees in them so that there is more than one "peak" to contend with.

As a general rule, the more lightly roasted is a coffee, the longer it will take to peak, and the darker is the roast the faster it will peak and decline.

An occasional coffee, like some single origin Yemens, could take 7 or 8 days to reach its peak and could evolve for several more days thereafter. I generally think of these coffees as being a good example of a coffee with a lot of interest that is hidden behind some offensive elements that tend to air off more quickly than the more desirable parts.

I have found no coffees that I did not at least like by day 5 that I liked on day 10. It is a bit like wine; if you don't like it young, you will probably not like it after it has aged. This is a good guideline to keep in mind. I have yet to find a coffee that was better on day 10 or 12 than it was on day 7, and if you have to wait that long for it to be drinkable, it probably doesn't much matter how long you keep it. In that sort of case it has started to taste like "generic coffee," something I would not put a whole lot of effort into seeking out.

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Postby SlowRain on Mon Feb 07, 2011 3:02 am

Ken Fox wrote:As a general rule, the more lightly roasted is a coffee, the longer it will take to peak, and the darker is the roast the faster it will peak and decline.

I've found this to be true for brewed coffee. I don't have enough experience with different espresso roasts to offer any comments.
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Postby godshot on Mon Feb 07, 2011 10:16 pm

Ken Fox wrote:Espresso is a different animal and the process has a very major effect on when it tastes "best."


Perhaps this, then, is the difference; the method used to produce coffee. I wonder if SM was referring to every form of coffee but espresso when saying that coffee is best from 4 to 24 hours after roasting. That would be a very young coffee by the standards of espresso drinkers on this forum. I will inquire once I get my green beans and I'm ready to have a go at roasting.

When a coffee has aged more than 24 hours after roasting, no longer at its best by some accounts, then what is it? Stale? Is it fair to say that espresso drinkers prefer stale coffee, or that espresso is best produced from stale coffee?

I'll experiment and make up my own mind over time, I'm sure.
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Postby Ken Fox on Mon Feb 07, 2011 10:38 pm

godshot wrote:
When a coffee has aged more than 24 hours after roasting, no longer at its best by some accounts, then what is it? Stale? Is it fair to say that espresso drinkers prefer stale coffee, or that espresso is best produced from stale coffee?

I'll experiment and make up my own mind over time, I'm sure.


This is what we call "one trial learning." Have a go at it, and after you have made espresso from coffee that is "still fresh" by these guidelines, then report back to us about the experience.

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Postby another_jim on Mon Feb 07, 2011 10:52 pm

This is not complicated in concept, only in detail. As the coffee ages, the aromatics and flavor carrying chemicals dissipate. The lighter ones dissipate faster, the heavier ones more slowly, the heaviest ones not at all. There is also oxidation, but this is what careful packing prevents.

Lighter flavors are the florals and fruit flavors; woody & malty flavors are in the middle, dry distillates, i.e. smoky and spicy flavors are heaviest and slowest changing. As far as a I know, caramels and chocolate flavors are stable and do not change.

The age at which a coffee tastes best depends on which balance of flavors you like best for that particular bean and roast. So there is no rule of X days; just a knowledge of which flavors change more quickly, and which change more slowly.
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Postby da gino on Mon Feb 07, 2011 10:53 pm

I think there isn't a conventional wisdom on the topic of how fresh coffee should be on the forum. Some people usually prefer it within a day or two of roast and others a little later. I often prefer a coffee in its second week (although there are some roasts that I prefer after a day or two), but others such as Malachi (who obviously knows a ton about espresso) have said that espresso is almost never better in the second week. I know roasters such as Counter Culture and Intelligentsia both tout their coffees to be best after a week of rest.

I brought this up in a previous thread to back up my preference as not totally crazy and someone replied that they thought this recommendation must have been for people who want to drink their coffee in milk. I disagree since I am a straight espresso drinker. I think it is more about how much you like or dislike the super fresh taste - ie it is a valid area for difference based on personal preference. For me personally a really fresh coffee tastes a little too much like baking soda.

I've often wondered if those who are sensitive to overly fresh coffee can't have better espresso from frozen beans than fresh because it allows the negative early tastes to go away (at least I've never detected them in frozen coffee) and yet perhaps it doesn't start the decline in the positive tastes.
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Postby appa on Wed Feb 09, 2011 4:00 pm

Hi Da Gino,

This is no generalization, Im just giving you a specific example, which seems similar to your
experience.

Using counter culture coffees as an example, I've indeed had the "best results" after 6-7 days of resting.

What I mean by "best results" is in terms of the recommended parameters and flavor profiles
they publish . I may be able to get good results with less rest, but I think i would
have to change the grind (not sure dose change is enough when its that fresh).
The last few times I tried, I wasnt too successful. But not sure how much
of this is my lack of ability, or the way they roast.

As far as freezing goes, I just opened a bag of Aficionado from CC from the freezer. I put it in the
freezer the day it came in the mail (unopened,roasted the day before), I pulled it out today after 20 days in the freezer. The shot didnt have as much of a baking soda taste, but it was still a blonde-gusher, and acted like a super fresh coffee.

I still need to find out if I have to wait another 6 days for the "best results", or less..
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