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how to store and use coffee beans?

a
akowit Oct 23, 2008 01:42 PM

Someone just sent me 3 lbs of roasted coffee beans from Peet's, which has inspired me to stop buying coffee at $2 a pop and make it myself. Some questions:

1. How long will the whole beans stay fresh at room temp? Should I store the rest in the freezer? I'm planning to grind enough for a week at a time.

3. I thought I'd just grind them in my spice grinder but will that make my coffee taste like cumin? I don't really want to buy a second grinder.

4. Thinking of just using a a cone and filter. Would a french press make a significantly better batch of coffee? Other inexpensive equipment options that are good?

Thanks!

  1. j
    jaykayen Oct 23, 2008 02:17 PM

    1. 3 weeks from the roast date. don't put them in the freezer. green, unroasted beans are ok, but not roasted. it deteriorates shelflife.

    3. used grinders are really not all that expensive. if you drink filter coffee, you can just use the cheapest kind of grinder available. a new blade grinder is like 20 dollars. a used (cheap) burr grinder is 50. About 80-100 new.

    4. french presses are really not expensive...most people think FP is vastly superior to filter, but that is only if your beans are fresh and freshly ground, and you have a decent grinder. otherwise, drink filter. Mokapot is also an inexpensive method, but a cone and filter is the cheapest.

    No matter your brewing method, fresh beans, just run through a good grinder will give you better results.

    1. alanbarnes Oct 23, 2008 03:01 PM

      Definitely start making your own coffee. Not only is it a lot cheaper, you can easily learn to make a cup that's far better than what you can buy at all but the best coffee joints.

      Coffee beans are at their best within a few days of roasting, and they begin to deteriorate noticeably after two weeks. The best bet is to only buy enough to last a few days, but that's not an option for you. So I'd recommend dividing the coffee into packages that will last a week and freezing all but one of them. No, it won't be as good as fresh-roasted, but it will be better than month-old coffee. If you have a FoodSaver, now's the time to use it. Otherwise, use zip-top bags and remove as much air as possible. Freeze the coffee, but only once. When you're ready for a new package, let it thaw and store it in an airtight container in a cool dark place (like a cabinet).

      Please, please, please don't grind enough coffee to last a week. While whole roasted beans deteriorate over a period of days, ground coffee deteriorates over a matter of minutes. Don't grind until you're ready to brew.

      If there are any stray bits of spice in your grinder, you'll taste them in your coffee. A separate grinder is best. If you can't or won't do that, I'd recommend wiping out the grinder as well as possible, processing a couple of tablespoons of rice for 30 seconds, then wiping it out again. You may still taste spices, though.

      A cone and filter make fine coffee. So does a french press. French press coffee tends to have a "thicker" mouthfeel because there are more oils, colloids, and fine solids in the cup. If you use a cone with a high-quality permanent filter like a SwissGold, you'll get more of this stuff, too. Either way, make sure you use enough coffee. An ounce of coffee is good for about 20 ounces of water, and you're better off using too much than too little.

      The french press is fairly sensitive to consistency of grind, though, so you may want to consider upgrading to a burr grinder if you go that route. Otherwise, you tend to get quite a bit of sludge in the bottom of your cup. I don't mind that, but some folks do.

      IMHO the absolute best piece of inexpensive coffee-making equipment is a vacuum pot a/k/a coffee siphon. (Okay, it doesn't have to be inexpensive. You can spend several hundred dollars on a Cona, and Blue Bottle in SF spent $20k for a halogen-powered Japanese jobbie. But a Yama 5-cup stovetop model goes for about $30.) The water only comes into contact with the coffee when it's at the ideal brew temp, full extraction is much easier (and easier to control) than with a filter cone, and the grounds don't sit at the bottom of the pot and get overextracted like with a french press. To my taste, a vac pot makes the best brewed coffee around, period.

      17 Replies
      1. re: alanbarnes
        scubadoo97 Oct 23, 2008 03:47 PM

        Both alan and jay above are correct. Depending on the use and the level of roast, beans may be at the best a day or two out of the roaster or may mature into a better cup nearing a week old. Just depends. If you roast your own, even at a month it's better than anything you will buy off the shelf. Slurge on a good burr grinder and grind on demand. Enjoy the multitude of methods of brewing. Have fun, experiment if you one day get the bug to go further try home roasting. You can never go back.

        1. re: alanbarnes
          chowser Oct 23, 2008 03:54 PM

          Good information. This should be required reading for anyone who's interested in getting a good cup of coffee. What grind do you use for french press? I'm having trouble getting it just right--if it's too fine, I get a mouthful of it but coarser and I don't get that flavor I want. How long do you let it sit in the french press? Do you stir (asking because I've been told to give it a stir after 30 seconds)? I can get a decent cup of french press but not a great cup. The best coffee I've ever had has been from a french press in a restaurant and I'd love to be able to replicate it. Thanks.

          1. re: chowser
            alanbarnes Oct 23, 2008 05:51 PM

            With a french press you actually have some flexibility with the grind. Fineness is less important than evenness. Conventional wisdom is to use a coarse grind and steep for 5 minutes, but I get good (IMHO better) results with a fairly fine grind (coarser than drip, but just a little) and a 3-minute steep. The finer grind allows a quicker and more complete extraction, so the water stays closer to the ideal temperature range of 195-200F. And I don't think you get too much more sediment.

            The main thing that produces sediment is an uneven grind. Ideally, each individual chunk of ground coffee would be the same size. A whirly-blade grinder will give you a mixture of big chunks, little chunks, and dust. That dust is what makes it through the filter and collects as a layer of sludge on the bottom of your cup. A cheap burr grinder does a better job of producing a uniform grind, and a good grinder with large burrs gives you the most evenly ground coffee. But even if you're using a Mazzer Mini, there's going to be a little sediment. Just pour the last sip down the drain.

            I definitely agitate the coffee a minute or so into the steeping process. You can stir, or you can just swirl the pot, but you want the coffee making contact with the water instead of just floating around on top. Also important is to pour water into the pot so that it agitates the grounds and gets them all wet. If you have a floating island of dry coffee, you're not brewing.

            For a really great cup, there are a lot of variables. You have to start with great beans. They have to be fresh. The roast has to be appropriate to the character of the beans. You have to use enough coffee. You have to use good water. It has to hit the coffee at the right temperature. And they have to stay in contact for exactly the right amount of time - long enough for a full extraction, but not so long that the coffee begins to turn bitter. If I can hit all these things right, I can live with a little sludge in the bottom of my cup.

            In my experience, the thing that's most often overlooked by people who are getting serious about brewing a good cup of coffee is the freshness of the beans. "Premium" coffee beans from large commercial operations are generally at least decent in quality and have been roasted right. But if you buy a pound bag that's been sitting on a supermarket shelf for god knows how long, or go to a local shop and get coffee from a bulk bin that was roasted someplace else on an unknown date, you're likely to get an acceptable cup at best.

            Not everybody is as obsessive (or nerdy) as I am. I buy green beans and roast enough for three or four pots of coffee at a time. But the results are pretty spectacular, if I do say so myself.

            1. re: alanbarnes
              chowser Oct 24, 2008 05:02 AM

              Excellent, thanks. What is "good" water? I'm guessing that means filtered tap water isn't it? And, what temperature water? I've just been boiling.

              I've used coffee beans from a local purveyor who roasts himself but it wasn't worth the extra effort because I couldn't get it right. I love a great cup of coffee. Maybe I should get to the point where I can make a good cup, technique-wise, and then roast my own.

              1. re: chowser
                alanbarnes Oct 24, 2008 08:14 AM

                Good water can come from a bottle, a filter, or the tap. If it tastes okay, use it. If it tastes like something siphoned from a public pool, on the other hand, it won't make good coffee.

                Correct brewing temperature is 195-200F. With a french press, you're generally in the right neighborhood when you mix boiling water and room-temperature grounds in a room-temperature pot. But now's a good time to break out the thermometer; if the temperature is low, try scalding the pot with boiling water; if it's high, let the coffee sit off the boil for a few seconds before brewing.

                If your source for fresh-roasted coffee is half an hour away, you're a prime candidate for home roasting. Check out http://sweetmarias.com/ for green beans, roasters, and tons of good (if somewhat disorganized) information.

                1. re: alanbarnes
                  chowser Oct 24, 2008 10:34 AM

                  I think I might be using water that is too hot because it's still boiling as I pour it in. I'll take it down. Which roasting method do you use? I have an electric stove so oven roasting is out. I think the only one available to me right now is the wok method and that sounds harder to do. Thanks for all the information, btw.

              2. re: alanbarnes
                z
                zefira Aug 29, 2009 05:22 PM

                OK. I have everything else down - I think - but how do I roast my beans at home? I absolutely LOVE good coffee and would cross a river in a hubcap for it if I had to. If there is any way to improve my methods I am anxious to learn! Thanks!

                1. re: zefira
                  alanbarnes Aug 29, 2009 05:47 PM

                  http://sweetmarias.com/instructions.php

              3. re: chowser
                j
                jaykayen Oct 23, 2008 06:07 PM

                First question to troubleshoot "decent, but not great" is: what is your grinder?

                Second question is: what is your source of beans?

                1. re: jaykayen
                  chowser Oct 24, 2008 05:04 AM

                  I have a fairly inexpensive Cuisinart burr grinder. I've tried all different types of beans, from different places--cheap off the shelf grocery store, mail order, WF or TJ's, to local purveyors but as I said above, my technique didn't warrant going to the local purveyors and while the coffee was better, it wasn't THAT much better that I'd drive half an hour out of my way to get it. That said, if I could get the technique down, I'd do the drive, or try roasting my own as alanbarnes does.

              4. re: alanbarnes
                greygarious Oct 24, 2008 09:00 AM

                Just to be absolutely clear, that's raw rice that you want to grind. I rarely use my cheap grinder for either spice or coffee, but when I do, I grind rice immediately thereafter, on the hypothesis that it's the best way to prevent flavors from getting into the plastic rim.

                This will be heresy, I know, but when I was brewing coffee every morning, I bought a pound each of Dunkin Donuts regular and decaf, had them grind it for espresso, and mixed the two when I got home. It then went into metal-lidded glass jars and into the fridge. I like strong coffee, and the fine grind allowed me to make 16 oz drip using just one rounded scoop. I recently used the last of it, which had been in there for a few years, and was still palatable. Folks can and do get obsessive about coffee, but "good enough" coffee is still pretty darn good. Just last night I watched a "strange foods" program on Boston's WCVB program, Chronicle. The reporter and a coffee maven tasted the ueber-expensive coffee that's predigested by civets, and both pronounced it awful. Perhaps it's an emperor's new clothes thing that drives those who are ultra-fussy about wine, coffee, etc. ?

                1. re: greygarious
                  alanbarnes Oct 24, 2008 11:18 AM

                  Yes, raw rice. Hopefully that was clear, but can't be too careful.

                  Only you can decide what coffee is good enough for you. At some point, though, you might want to go to a good shop and order a french press or vac pot of brewed coffee. You might not find it any better than year-old Dunkin Donuts, or you might be surprised at how wonderful really good coffee tastes. Regardless, it won't break the bank to find out.

                  Speaking of really good coffee, kopi luwak (coffee beans picked from the scat of palm civets) can be very tasty. The operative word here is "can." The civets only eat coffee cherries when they're ripe, so you essentially have a very careful, very skilled picker working for you. But they only care about the quality of the fruit, not the quality of its seed (the coffee bean). They don't even distinguish between arabica and robusta trees, let alone all of the more subtle things that distinguish premium coffee from the mass-market stuff. So the vast majority of kopi luwak, like the vast majority of coffee produced using all other methods, really isn't very good. (If you want excreted coffee at a more reasonable price, take a look at stuff picked from the droppings of the Brazilian Jacu bird.)

                  As far as the "emperor's new clothes" thing, there are definitely people who care more about the fact that what they're consuming is expensive than whether it's any good. And there are those on the opposite end of the spectrum who also don't care about quality and just want to find the cheapest thing out there. But true coffee and wine lovers are constantly on the hunt for the next incredible thing, and get really excited when they find it at a bargain price.

                  There's not a direct correlation between cost and quality. 90% of the coffee I've bought in the last year has been $6 a pound or less. That's quite a bit less than what Dunkin Donuts gets. And I'll put a cup of my Sumatran Lintong "Blue Batak" or Colombian "Perros Bravos de Huila" up against Dunkin Donuts in a blind tasting any day of the week.

                  1. re: alanbarnes
                    greygarious Oct 24, 2008 11:57 AM

                    I use the vacuum pot when brewing larger amounts but usually am not making over 16 oz.. Never did a head-on comparison but haven't preferred it to drip. Also, I'm making half-caff so I'm not getting the full experience either way.

                  2. re: greygarious
                    scubadoo97 Oct 24, 2008 06:16 PM

                    Even better than raw rice IMO is instant rice. Not something I would eat but it is dessicated rice that helps to pick up oils and produces little if any oil itself. It's easy on the burrs when grinding and cleans up very well.

                    1. re: scubadoo97
                      greygarious Oct 24, 2008 06:44 PM

                      Good tip - but unless you have babies you probably don't use instant rice. This gets me thinking, though, that possibly tapioca, cream of wheat, instant potato flakes, or even sugar would also suffice. I happened to grind coffee today, and am out of rice.

                      1. re: greygarious
                        scubadoo97 Oct 25, 2008 07:30 AM

                        I buy instant rice just to clean my grinders. Works like a charm. Would never think to eat the stufff. <Shudder>

                        1. re: scubadoo97
                          greygarious Oct 25, 2008 10:27 AM

                          I used arrowroot powder, which took everything out, including the scent, but left a little white film. So then I tried sugar, which took out the film. Next time I'll try the instant potato or tapioca, just out of curiosity. As I said, I rarely use the grinder. It just happened that I was given a bag of beans and decided (horrors!) to do all the grinding at once, then refrigerate in glass.

                2. Boccone Dolce Oct 23, 2008 04:42 PM

                  We used to store in the freezer but then I read that it doesn't add anything to the bean.
                  We just clamp the bag shut and stick in the panty.

                  I've had a cuisinart grind -n- brew for about 10 years I guess, and I love it, just fill with water (we use non-tap) and beans, and press start (weekends) and during the week we program it to go off.

                  It can be difficult to find whole beans here, we get ours from Costco- it's the Blue Mt. and my favorite.

                  1. paulj Oct 23, 2008 07:03 PM

                    Since you are starting with 3 lb of roasted coffee, your only variables are how much to leave out, and how much to freeze. How's it packaged? Separate lb bags? Depending on your rate of use, leave 1/2 to 1 lb out, and freeze the rest.

                    Especially with the spice grinder, grind only a few tablespoons at a time. The grinder won't handle a weeks worth at a time. I use 1 'standard coffee scoop' (2T) per 6oz of water.

                    While I have used a French press in the past, now I either use the #2 paper filter (with a fine grind), or a steep and strain method with a coarser grind. Steep and strain is basically the same as the press - steep the coffee in a sauce pan for a couple of minutes, and strain into your cup. The trick is to find a strainer that has about the same mesh as a French press - fine enough to catch most of the grounds, not so fine that is clogs. A variant is to steep, and then strain through the paper filter. In general, the finer the grind, the less steeping time.

                    I also like to use stainless steel Vietnamese filter. That works well with the same grind as the press. These sell for about $5.

                    1. paulj Oct 24, 2008 08:36 AM

                      There's a Chow video on using a paper filter. Read the comments as well.
                      http://www.chow.com/stories/11067

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