The State of Coffee Bean Storage 2019

Want to talk espresso but not sure which forum? If so, this is the right one.
jeffc

#1: Post by jeffc » Nov 17, 2019, 4:55 pm

So here we are, nearly two decades into the new millennium. I'm wondering if people are happy with the coffee bean storage options currently available. Specifically, I'm referring to solutions that allow users to repeatedly access the beans, not long-term bulk storage. Here's my best attempt at a summary:

Multimaterial bags with one-way valves.
Good option for beans that are actively degassing. Oxygen introduced each time beans are accessed, though headspace can be minimized by rolling/squeezing bag.

Glass or metal containers with one-way valves.
Good option for beans that are actively degassing. Oxygen introduced each time beans are accessed. As bean supply is depleted, the headspace increases while remaining beans degas less, meaning oxygen introduced later in the supply cycle is likely not fully expelled through the valve.

Containers of various materials and sizes with air-tight seals.
Glass jars, plastic containers, etc.
Available in various sizes to accommodate single-serving doses which can then be stored in a freezer. No way to remove trapped oxygen. Takes time to fill and clean lots of small items. Plastic containers may absorb smells.

Containers of various materials that minimize headspace and create an airtight seal.
Airscape Canister, MiiR Coffee Canister, zip-lock bags, etc.
Minimize headspace but remaining gas is still 21% oxygen.

Containers of various materials which create a partial vacuum.
Fellow Atmos, Caffeevac, etc.
Remove some air, but remaining gas is still 21% oxygen. Storing beans under negative pressure speeds up degassing of beneficial CO2 and promotes expulsion of VOCs. Most options create a half-atmosphere vacuum at best, and even then, the seals may not be strong enough to maintain that vacuum indefinitely.

Active devices that use electronics to purge existing gas mix inside a container and replace it with inert gas.
Coffee Freshness System
Capable of lowering oxygen level below FDA minimum guidelines to prevent staling. Some research shows that storing beans under positive pressure has beneficial effect on beans. Expensive. Requires electricity. Clear containers allow light exposure.

Did I miss anything? Anyone have beef with my language? I'm a first-time poster, but long-time lurker, and I know you all have very strong feelings about this issue. I tried to keep my summary broad and non-confrontational.

In my mind, all of these options are imperfect. So I started tinkering. If I told you I've developed a countertop device that doesn't require electricity, and which allows users to store and repeatedly access perishable goods in an oxygen-free, light-free, sanitary environment, would you be interested? It will be cheaper than the Coffee Freshness System, but significantly more expensive than the passive canister options. I tried to make it beautiful and partially open-source, meaning that users will be able to customize the size of the storage area. And it can be pressurized up to 15psi. Are people willing to pay hundreds of dollars for something like this? Or did my students lead me wildly off-track with their blind exuberance and youthful naiveté (I'm a HS teacher)?

Anyone in the SF Bay Area want to play around with a prototype? PM me.

nlukas

#2: Post by nlukas » Nov 17, 2019, 11:09 pm

I'll start off saying this is the right site to ask the question. Most of the members here take coffee probably too seriously :lol: It appears you have done your research on storage methods. We know coffee is a perishable food item, it's enemies are oxygen, heat, & light. Now it gets fuzzy, I've done allot of reading, & tried different methods, I don't know there is a definite right answer. The end user decides where the balance between freshness/cost/convenience lies. I think it's Awesome you are including your students on the project whether it takes off or not. You are teaching them valuable life lessons. I'd lean towards it not being a viable product, mainly due to cost for a niche market. To share my methods, to save on cost I buy in 5lb. quantities. I allow my beans to off-gas until day 5-7 before opening. I then break it down into 1lb. bags & vaccum seal in commercial sealer in black 5 mil bags, then place in chest freezer. I try to bring it in a day before usage, at least an hour to allow beans to come to room temp. I grind around a half lb. at a time & use Airscape containers for both the thawed beans & grounds. We use a couple lb. of coffee per week, so it doesn't get old. If we used less I would probably vaccum seal half lb. packages. That's my routine, if you have any questions feel free to PM me. Thanks for being a teacher.

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AssafL

#3: Post by AssafL » Nov 18, 2019, 3:17 am

Designing products is fun. Funding manufacturing, doing the marketing, getting the nays with the yays (especially if the nays have a real point) - figuring out the market was or wasn't there (or worse - being nascent) - that is far less fun. But that is where entrepreneurs are happiest.

To start - why does 15PSI seem reasonable to you? IMHO, Illy cans puff up with pressure and it seems like more than 15PSI. Maybe there is a way to measure the internal pressure... And you say 15PSI - of what? Illy - I assume - it is CO2. So it is packaged right after the beans are water cooled so the can puffs up with the CO2. The % of oxygen drops as CO2 is formed.

Regarding the value: I have 2 airscapes I hardly use. Yes - it works somewhat - But I roast about 1.5Lbs at a time. And I finish it in the degassing period. So why bother (I don't). Getting that extra week isn't worth it to me. Making it 2 weeks instead of 1 is of limited value to me and my sense of "value".

Here is the fun part (and perhaps an opportunity) - Illy cans keep for a year or more. Coffee quality is high right up to when one opens the can. They stale very quickly after that. If there is a way to make it so that the coffee remains fresh well after the first few weeks and still accessible (without a freezer) - that may be interesting.

One also needs to consider the usage scenarios. If one roasts or buys one type of coffee - a large canister is great. Also - larger volumes of coffee stales slower than smaller ones. In any case, these customers either roast their own or have a standing order once a fortnight (or maybe 3 weeks) for a big bag they keep (or freeze).

But many here like to taste 2 or more coffees at a time (keep a "coffee library" on hand). Small canisters can be labelled an allow one to taste different coffees. I would bet that the ones who keep "coffee libraries" are more in need of such a system as they tend to buy smaller bags, more expensive bags, want to taste the coffee over time, etc.

So the question is how to build such a system that supports multiple coffees.
Scraping away (slowly) at the tyranny of biases and dogma.

CraigF

#4: Post by CraigF » Nov 18, 2019, 12:10 pm

I would anticipate a costly storage solution to be a difficult sell. I think there are highly effective, inexpensive solutions readily available that fit into one's routine and workflow. For me, I roast my coffee once every 1-2 weeks. For storage, I use mason jars with a vacuum seal lid...hard to beat $8 for 4 of them. I lightly close the lid for the first 24 hours post roast for degassing, then vacuum seal close after each use. Works just like those wine stoppers. I have been using mine of almost 2 years now and they work very well. They can be a little quirky, just need to be sure they are aligned when closing. Link to lids on amazon: https://www.amazon.com/4-Pack-Fermentat ... 832&sr=8-5

jpender

#5: Post by jpender » Nov 18, 2019, 4:32 pm

AssafL wrote:To start - why does 15PSI seem reasonable to you? IMHO, Illy cans puff up with pressure and it seems like more than 15PSI. Maybe there is a way to measure the internal pressure... And you say 15PSI - of what? Illy - I assume - it is CO2. So it is packaged right after the beans are water cooled so the can puffs up with the CO2. The % of oxygen drops as CO2 is formed.

Illy uses N2. In their book they refer to packaging with nitrogen at "up to" 1.2 bar gauge, which would be 17 PSI. I would assume they don't just add nitrogen but actually flush the beans. So the O2 level would be very low.

jpender

#6: Post by jpender » Nov 18, 2019, 4:35 pm

jeffc wrote:Containers of various materials that minimize headspace and create an airtight seal.
Airscape Canister, MiiR Coffee Canister, zip-lock bags, etc.
Minimize headspace but remaining gas is still 21% oxygen.
A minor point: standard grocery store ziplock bags are usually not airtight.

jeffc wrote:Are people willing to pay hundreds of dollars for something like this?

Somebody is buying the Coffee Freshness System at ~$600. If your device works as well and is significantly less expensive then you'd be competing for those customers. Whether or not you'd gain additional people would likely depend on the price. I doubt that it being electricity-free would be that important. Does that mean you're turning valves and reading pressure gauges manually?

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AssafL

#7: Post by AssafL » Nov 18, 2019, 5:26 pm

jpender wrote: Illy uses N2. In their book they refer to packaging with nitrogen at "up to" 1.2 bar gauge, which would be 17 PSI. I would assume they don't just add nitrogen but actually flush the beans. So the O2 level would be very low.
That is not what I read him to mean. He states:
"6.2.2.4 Pressurization
Pressurization is the same as inert gas packaging except that the internal pressure is higher than atmospheric pressure. If coffee is immediately packaged after air cooling, the pressure normally rises due to degassing. "

He even adds: "...containers must be made of tinplate or aluminum, they must also be equipped with a safety valve opening when pressure increases by 0.5bar."

They do flush the can with Nitrogen (he explains that they put a drop of liquified Nitrogen it in the can and it pushes the air/oxygen out) but then my understanding is that the bean create the puffing and swelling of the can. That is also why they need the safety valve (degassing is less predictable then just puffing it with gas).
Scraping away (slowly) at the tyranny of biases and dogma.

jpender

#8: Post by jpender » Nov 18, 2019, 7:36 pm

AssafL wrote:That is not what I read him to mean.

I'm not sure what you're disagreeing with. Are you saying their cans aren't pressurized with nitrogen?

There's the book and then there's Illy the coffee company. Illy the coffee company clearly states on their website that they pressurize with nitrogen. The book suggests an upper pressure limit for this packaging method but that may not actually be what the Illy cans are pumped up to. You could figure it out pretty easily, if you really cared.

Of course there will be some CO2 as well, depending on how fresh vs. degassed the beans are before packaging. But it's N2 that they add initially.

jeffc

#9: Post by jeffc » Nov 18, 2019, 9:11 pm

nlukas wrote:The end user decides where the balance between freshness/cost/convenience lies... To share my methods, to save on cost I buy in 5lb. quantities. I allow my beans to off-gas until day 5-7 before opening. I then break it down into 1lb. bags & vaccum seal in commercial sealer in black 5 mil bags, then place in chest freezer. I try to bring it in a day before usage, at least an hour to allow beans to come to room temp...
Thanks for weighing in. I'm not surprised by your response and I appreciate the feedback. My post was long already, so I didn't mention that my use case is different from that of many HB members. I drink my good, hot coffee at home on the weekends (pour over v60) and then I have N2 coldbrew on tap in my classroom (not trying to derail this conversation, I swear... different thread ppl :wink:) and occasionally succumb to cafeteria coffee (is it possible to get ban from HB??) As such, I go through 12oz of beans every two weeks. Not enough to buy in bulk, and it definitely limits my ability to try new things, or to even just have a couple different roasts/producers at the ready. Espresso machine is on the horizon, so at a minimum I want small amounts of two types of beans on deck.

From a science POV, your method makes total sense. But despite having a decent palette, buying good beans and using sound preparation methods, I have a low threshold for bean management. I just wanted a way to keep (up to three types of) beans fresh and on my counter without the hassle of dividing, packaging, freezing, bringing up to room temp, etc. A few days post-roast they get dumped in my thing, and then I open and close it whenever I want. Each time, I can return the container to its "never opened" state.

But I'm fully willing to accept that the problem I'm trying to solve is too specific. I knew when I went down this rabbit hole, that my device won't make me enough money to quit my day job. Which brings me to my last point: Thanks so much for your kind words about my career. A lot of teachers feel under-appreciated, and many are, but I consider myself so lucky to have a job that I care about... one that challenges me and makes me smile and laugh every day.

jeffc

#10: Post by jeffc » Nov 18, 2019, 10:00 pm

AssafL wrote:Designing products is fun. Funding manufacturing, doing the marketing, getting the nays with the yays (especially if the nays have a real point) - figuring out the market was or wasn't there (or worse - being nascent) - that is far less fun. But that is where entrepreneurs are happiest.
No doubt. This has always been an enjoyable side project, not a mid-life crisis and potential career change. I did all the CAD work myself. Marketing collateral is also in my wheelhouse. I spend my days as a teacher extolling the virtue of being able to take feedback well, so I'd be a huge hypocrite if I can't myself. I have thick skin and nothing you guys say will hurt my feelings; it's all free market research (thanks ad-supported internet capitalism!)

I'm most worried about fulfillment. Packaging, mailing and warranty service sound like a pain in the butt.
AssafL wrote:To start - why does 15PSI seem reasonable to you? IMHO, Illy cans puff up with pressure and it seems like more than 15PSI. Maybe there is a way to measure the internal pressure... And you say 15PSI - of what? Illy - I assume - it is CO2. So it is packaged right after the beans are water cooled so the can puffs up with the CO2. The % of oxygen drops as CO2 is formed.
15psi because I don't want to deal with hydro testing and ASME pressure vessel regulation. Without giving unsafe advice to any potential future users, let's just say that its factor of safety is very high. It's designed to work with N2, AR and CO2.

I'm not sure, but my guess is that Illy doesn't "bottle condition" (sorry, I worked in brewing for a while) the beans. If they did, then the cans would still have an atmospheric gas mix inside of them when they are sealed. CO2 production in the beans might lower the overall percentage a bit, but still. I thought I read somewhere that they let the beans degas/age before canning them. And from there I assumed they add a drop of liquid nitrogen to purge the tin as it's being sealed. I'd be curious to hear from someone on here who knows...
AssafL wrote:Here is the fun part (and perhaps an opportunity) - Illy cans keep for a year or more. Coffee quality is high right up to when one opens the can. They stale very quickly after that. If there is a way to make it so that the coffee remains fresh well after the first few weeks and still accessible (without a freezer) - that may be interesting.
It takes less than a minute to open my container, retrieve some beans, close it, lower the oxygen level below 2% and pressurize it. I'm assuming that's about as good as it gets, but I know most people won't want to bother. It is my assumption though, that it is the only manually-operated consumer device (almost) available that allows users to frequently access perishable goods and quickly return them to their "never opened" state. Coffee isn't my only target market btw. THC degrades into less-psychoactive cannabinol in the presence of oxygen, but lord knows that is a whole different topic...
AssafL wrote:But many here like to taste 2 or more coffees at a time (keep a "coffee library" on hand). Small canisters can be labelled an allow one to taste different coffees. I would bet that the ones who keep "coffee libraries" are more in need of such a system as they tend to buy smaller bags, more expensive bags, want to taste the coffee over time, etc.

So the question is how to build such a system that supports multiple coffees.
We're on the same page; I already have a 3-up version designed :)