Quick answer: Not really, but it does require some patience. And too-fresh of coffee is often not that great, yet.
This topic came to mind recently when a customer/acquaintance reached out to me to figure out if it is possible he had gotten the wrong coffee in a bag. Or maybe old. Or maybe something wrong with it. They were trying a blend they hadn’t tried before, Laura, and made their first batch immediately after the mailman delivered it. And it didn’t have much taste. Tasted like almost nothing.
I looked up their order and in fact they were drinking from a batch that had been roasted less than 48 hours before. “But if it’s that fresh, why doesn’t it taste better? I thought fresh coffee was the best?” they asked.
This is a topic that has come up a lot over the years, and my take on it has evolved the more I realize the bigger picture of coffee. Coffee is a thing that is wonderful to consume fresh, but when it’s too fresh, it’s often not as good as if it were not fresh at all. The last decade has heard from a lot of pseudo-scientific coffee roasters pictured using scales and thermometers in the effort to appear more scientific, but the advice proclaimed by the movement has not been clearly interpreted and opinions have been mistaken as fact. Fresh coffee can be too fresh. “Old coffee”, especially as defined by the “speciality” coffee club, is probably not “old” at all.
When coffee is roasted there are a plethora of chemical changes occurring inside the bean. Compounds react to the heat, and transform. The resulting coffee begins off-gassing that happens rapidly at first but then slows after a few days. The flavor of the coffee does not really begin to stabilize or fully come to into itself for at least 3-4 days. At that point the degradation slows tremendously, the flavors stabilize, and the coffee begins to taste delicious. The coffee tastes best now for several weeks. The hole idea that coffee is “old” because it is three weeks old is ridiculous, and when you consider the work that it takes to bring to market, is a disservice to everyone that has been involved in the chain. Yes, perhaps after a year two we can safely say a coffee is “getting old” but even then, a properly roasted coffee will still taste good, at least after one year. How do we know? We’ve done the tests. I hold coffee bagged for a year regularly to see how it holds up, and this last one I tried, a Hunt bag I tried this October from September 2021, tasted quite delicious, much better in fact than it would have tasted at 2 days old. Did it have the dynamic qualities that are present between the end of week 1 to week 5 or so? No, it looses some of the nuance, but there is absolutely nothing “bad” about it, and in fact tastes better than anything sold on the mass market grocery shelves.
When you order our coffees online those coffees are shipping within one day of being roasted. If you live in our region, you are often getting the coffee within a day or two of it shipping. That means it is very likely has not gotten past the point of heavy off gassing, and is not yet optimal. Once it has gotten to about day five it is entering the ready phase. But even still it will evolve over the next couple weeks before it stabilizes. This evolution is fun. It is a great time to witness first hand the evolution that the coffee will make day to day as it changes. If your coffee is a few weeks old it has stabilized and so long as you store it in a cool dry place where it can not pick up the smells of near by foods, it will stay delicious for quite some time.
There you have it, our take on what actually constitutes “old” coffee and fresh, and it is true, coffee can be too fresh, and when it’s too fresh you just need to wait, let the coffee off gas and develop. The customer/acquaintance mentioned at the beginning of this waited a few days and got back to me that the bag developed into one of his favorites ever. And currently right now I’m drinking a bag of too-fresh Laura in my house. It was roasted yesterday and tastes nothing like the Laura I know it will develop into in a few days, but I was out and needed to grab something fast. It’s fine but in a few days, and even a few weeks (I brought a bag home to have with visiting family and friends over the next few weeks) it will be amazing.
*Laura is one of my very favorite coffee blends. I have drank more of it than any of our other coffees over the years, and it truly hits all the marks. I can’t recommend it enough.