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Where do you buy a pound of coffee? (Redux) Random thoughts and questions . . .

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Back in November 2011, rworange started a thread entitled "Where to buy a pound of coffee?" -- see http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/820538 -- and I realized that I never posted a comment in that thread. It also got me to thinking about how long it's been since I purchased coffee locally.

Now, I know a lot of people who roast their own beans. Not only do I not have time for that, but I have no personal inclination towards that direction. I view it a bit like winemaking: 35+ years in the wine trade has taught me that, while I can (and have upon occasion) make wine, it's better left to the people who do it professionally. So, too, roasting coffee. Unless I have serious interest and a lot of time to devote to it, I'm far better off buying my coffee already roasted by someone who knows what they're doing, and does it for a living.

(Just my 2¢; YMMV.

)

But that said, I rarely buy ANY coffee locally, and pretty much only on an emergency basis.

The problems I have with locally roasted coffee are relatively simple, but my decision has little to do with taste. That is, I have a strong dislike for Starbucks (I find it "over-roasted"; for me, the nickname of "Charbucks" fits) and prefer Peet's, but I never buy it in beans -- either from a Peet's location or from a market. But taste is NOT the biggest issue . . .

FRESHNESS is.

If one goes to a market, be it Berkeley Bowl, Buy-Rite, Andronico's -- let alone Safeway or Lucky's -- most of the whole coffee beens that are sold are either sold in bulk bins (exposed to air; certainly NOT fresh), or in bags/tins with a "Best By mm/dd/yy" date (also not fresh).

There is an oft-quoted "rule" on the internet, "Babbie's Rule of Fifteens." Simply put, it states that

1. Green (unroasted) coffee beans must be roasted within 15 months of harvesting, or they go stale.
2. Roasted coffee beans must be ground within 15 days of roasting, or they go state.
3. Ground coffee must be used within 15 minutes of grinding, or it goes stale.

Now, people may or may not agree with this, but through personal experience, I've found these "rules" to be a solid and reliable guideline. In other words, give or take a little, it's by and large true, at least in so far as #2-3 are concerned. I've detected considerable drop-off in quality from using beans more than 15-18 days old, and from using beans ground more than 10-15 minutes earlier.

Starbuck's Peet's, Cole's, Peerless, etc. make it difficult to know how fresh the beans are, in that the beans are either stored in bins or in "Best By" dated bags (rather than "Roasted On" dated bags). Places like Blue Bottle, Four Barrel, and Ritual do not use sealed bags with one-way gas valves (to vent the carbon dioxide gas that all freshly roasted bags give off), and so they, too, can get stale very rapidly as the beans interact with oxygen in the atmosphere.

So if one wants freshly roasted beans, what do you do?

/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\

My answer to the above is to buy online. I know this sounds -- at least on the face of it -- someone odd, but places like Flying Goat, Ecco, Intelligentsia, Stumptown, and dozens of others *all* roast and ship on the same day. For example, I usually get my beans from a place called Red Bird Coffee Co. in Bozeman, Montana. I place the order on the weekend, use a credit card or PayPal; my coffee gets roasted on Monday, and I receive the package via USPS Priority Mail on Wednesday or Thursday -- 48 to 72 hours after roasting, and well within the 15-day "window," so it's all gone before staleness can become an issue.

Anyone else do this? How do you insure your coffee beans are freshly roasted?

Cheers,
Jason

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  1. I've been buying Peet's in vacuum-sealed bags at Costco. The "sell by" date stamp is preceded by a "freshness pledge" that it's within 90 days of roasting, so presumably the roast date is 90 days before the sell-by date. When I checked the date on one bag, it had been roasted the week before.

    The hopper of my burr grinder holds about three days of coffee, I put the rest in a zipper bag in the freezer. A bag lasts a couple of weeks. I don't notice any significant change over that time.

    I'd prefer to buy freshly-roasted beans from an independent local roaster, but I haven't found one with a good dark roast.

    1. I too freeze if I need to.I also have this vaccum sealed container that is designed just for coffee beans.

      as far as freshness from the roaster, I find peets has very strict guidelines. However Grafeo is where I choose to get my beans. I prefer a dark roast, so places like sightglass, four barrel, etc are hard for me to enjoy as I like a darker roast

      9 Replies
      1. re: smatbrat

        I should have mentioned this above, but I, too, freeze my beans -- I generally order 5-6 pounds at a time and freeze the beans in canning jars, taking them out as necessary, the night before needed (so they can come to ambient temperature slowly, with no condensation). I generally place an order every two weeks.

        FWIW, I have an Elektra "Sixties" T1 commercial espresso machine in my home, and a second "prosumer" Ala di Vitoria "La Valentina" espresso machine in my office. These get the most use, but I also use a Chemex and siphon brewer from time-to-time.

        1. re: zin1953

          The great freezing debate.....I have read it's best not to freeze coffee whether it be beans or ground since self defrosting temperatures can be a problem and possibly introducing moisture. Now if it is hermatically sealed, then it might be ok. America's Test Kitchen has a lot of knowledge across the board when it comes to food tips.

          Paradise Roasters will 'roast your coffee to order' then ship it to you within 3 days for $3. Coffee Bean Direct and Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf are good sources to buy online.

          My favorite beans:
          Tanzania Peaberry
          Bali Blue Moon
          Sumatra Mandheling
          Ethiopia Yirgacheffe
          El Salvador San Alonso
          Cost Rica Cascada
          Kenya AA

          1. re: freakerdude

            I can name close to 100 shops that will roast to order and ship -- that wasn't the point of this topic . . . or, at least, wasn't MY point in starting this topic. See http://www.home-barista.com/coffees/l... as but one source . . .

            Freezing has, time and time again, been shown to be a superior way to store coffee. You can't take it in-and-out of the freezer, over and over, but to store in a freezer until the entire container is removed, has been proven to be the best way. If you want web references, let me know . . .

            Cheers,
            Jason

            1. re: zin1953

              100....awesome. Roast to order info was for Robert who said he can't find a local roaster. Yes, removing in and out of freezer and opening multiple times will induce moisture.

            2. re: freakerdude

              I've determined by experiment that, at least with the kind of dark-roast beans I buy and the zipper bags I keep them in, freezing has no effect except to keep them fresh. Grinding frozen beans creates a lot of static so I always try to refill the hopper the day before.

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                Agreed.

            3. re: zin1953

              I my personal experience, the "15" after roasting is wrong. The answer is 3 to 4 days, before is off peak, after is off peak.

              My best regime for coffee was when I brought my CMA espresso + Mazzer major to the company I worked at in 2006. Blue Bottle had yet to take over the world, and only roasted monday. We would get our delivery mid-wednesday, which was around 3 or 4 pounds for the 10 of us who partook. By the week we got rid of it all, no "storage".

              The best day was always friday. Friday my pulls would never go wrong. Earlier in the week the beans were dry and hard to press. Friday they had enough water, but still had full flavor. By monday they had lost a lot of flavor.

              There are a few places that pull as good as I would pull on a Friday, that's Local 123, the tall guy at Red Rock Single Origin (you can ask him for bitter vs citrus and he'll pull them different), Back Yard in RWC, Barefoot's original location (south bay bias, there may be good SF places I just don't hang there anymore)

              You say "the best way to store", I say "storage is a sin".

              1. re: bbulkow

                FWIW, I liked Blue Bottle when they first "hit the streets," but in recent years, they seem to have fallen off (IMHO; YMMV). Local 123 is the best of places I've found in the East Bay if I'm "out and about," but I honestly buy an espresso so rarely now (unless I'm traveling) -- far too often it's disappointing, and rarely comes close to what I can make in my home or office, there's little point other than to throw my money away . . .

                Verve in Santa Cruz is another one.

                For ME (and as I've always said, I can only speak for me), when ordering beans online, I find the coffee is better *and* less expensive than buying locally at a brick-and-mortar shop. Buying once every other week, and having it delivered 72 hours after roast, works for me. (YMMV.)

                You say that "Friday" was your "best day." My point about storage is that *every* day for me is Friday . . . well, OK, let's say "Thursday thru Saturday." It goes into the freezer on Day Four and stays at Day 4-7. (I've accidentally left a jar frozen for over a month, and it was *still* "Friday.")

                Again, it works for me. What can I say?

                /\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\

                BTW, this isn't to say that one never has to "tweak" to get the best shot. That's one reason all of my grinders are step less; it makes subtle adjustments for grind, for humidity, etc. so much easier. That, and with my HX machines not only is repeatability easy, but so too are temperature adjustments "on the fly," as it were.

                As I say, it works for me . . .

                Cheers,
                Jason

                1. re: bbulkow

                  In the FWIW Dept.,

                  http://www.ielogical.com/coffee/FrzCa...

            4. “1. Green (unroasted) coffee beans must be roasted within 15 months of harvesting, or they go stale.” When I toured a coffee receiving station and dryer in Costa Rica, they showed me how they dried the arriving red colored beans in a column dryer just like a grain dryer in the U.S. Then to prepare the beans for storage, the coffee was lightly roasted in the same type of roasters used in the country of destination to finish the process. The partially roasted beans looked like raw pinto beans. I was informed that the best beans went to Europe, 2nd best stayed in Costa Rica and 3rd best went to the U.S. I believe undried/unroasted beans would spoil shortly. I know grain has to be below 12% moisture or it spoils quickly.

              4 Replies
              1. re: BN1

                The obvious question, here, is how do the people in Costa Rica know what type of roaster Company X in the country of destination uses?

                I would *think* that you were misinformed -- not intentionally, but by an error in translation/language. Greens are dried prior to shipment, and there are two ways to do this: dry or wet processing. The beans can be dried in the sun, or dried through processing . . . but I've never heard of them being "partially roasted."

                1. re: BN1

                  "... coffee was lightly roasted ..."

                  When processing coffee to make "green" beans, they don't call that roasting, they call it drying. They might use the same or similar machines used for roasting, but drying is done at much lower temperatures, not much more than 110F maximum, higher than that damages the coffee.

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    Yes, they were drying the beans for storage and shipment. That is what I meant by lightly roasted. What I thought was interesting is that they used both a Berico column dryer first and then a bank of modern coffee roasters. Perhaps it is easier to precisely control the moisture content in a roaster rather than a bulk dryer. They were receiving beans both in trucks from large commercial groves and in little pickups from mom & pop plantings. The column dryer was heated not by burners but by tree sized logs inserted into a firebrick lined shed. The whole tour was fascinating. As Jason points out, everything learned was a result of our questionable translation, but I am reporting what I saw. The plant manager gave us the tour and could not have been nicer.

                    1. re: BN1

                      Yes, well -- DRYING makes sense . . . "partially roasting" did not. Thanks for the clarification.

                2. I buy coffee beans from Equator Coffee in San Rafael. Since I live in Marin I pick mine up the day it is roasted as they do a small retail business from the office of their business/roasting facility. They ship it out the day it is roasted to most of their customers. They do blends for a number of restaurants including all of the Thomas Keller empire. They have contacts with growers in Latin America and Africa and offer free trade and organic coffees. I am really pleased with them and with their business ethic--how nice when doing right also tastes good. http://www.equatorcoffees.com

                  1. It's fine to do mail order, with quick ship in order to obtain beans you like - but how is freshness an issue?

                    What's the difference if Intelligentsia, or Stumptown ship, or you go to a local roaster and buy from the shop where everything on sale is freshly roasted? Many of these coffees aren't prime immediately after their roast dates anyway.

                    Likewise, if you enjoy Peets, why not go to a Peets location, or find a seller that stocks within the freshness period you desire and avoid the bulk bins?

                    Now, if you just prefer mail order, there's nothing wrong with that, but if you're buying 5 pound bags in bulk, and then storing it long past the date you would find acceptable if sold to you in a store locally, that strikes me as counterproductive.

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: sugartoof

                      Without getting too deeply into the picking of nits . . .

                      >>> if you're buying 5 pound bags in bulk, and then storing it long past the date you would find acceptable if sold to you in a store locally, that strikes me as counterproductive. <<<

                      First of all, I order beans every two weeks, but -- more to the point -- I take it you haven't looked at this:

                      -- http://www.ielogical.com/coffee/FrzCa... . . .

                      . . . or, perhaps, not seen any of the following:

                      -- http://www.coffeegeek.com/forums/coff... "Freezing coffee — why not?"
                      -- http://www.coffeegeek.com/forums/coff... "Coffee storage and the freezer ... again"
                      -- http://www.coffeegeek.com/forums/espr... "Freeze your beans?"
                      -- http://www.coffeegeek.com/forums/coff... "To freeze or not to freeze . . . ?"
                      -- http://www.home-barista.com/store-cof... "Coffee: To Freeze or Not to Freeze," by Ken Fox
                      -- http://www.home-barista.com/tips/free... "Freezing Espresso Coffee, Part Two," by Ken Fox and Jim Schulman
                      --http://www.home-barista.com/coffees/r... "Rate of Coffee Staling"
                      -- http://www.home-barista.com/tips/froz... "Frozen Coffee Storage Calculator"
                      -- http://www.home-barista.com/coffees/r... "Refrigerator or Freezer for Coffee Storage?"
                      -- http://www.home-barista.com/tips/bett... "Better Espresso Thru Freezing"
                      -- http://www.home-barista.com/coffees/q... "Quick Guide to Freezing Coffee"
                      -- http://www.home-barista.com/coffees/s... "Some Venting on Freezing"
                      -- http://www.home-barista.com/coffees/f... "Freeze 'n' Re-freeze"
                      -- http://www.home-barista.com/coffees/q... "Questions for those who freeze coffee still in the bag..."
                      -- http://www.home-barista.com/home-roas... "When to freeze coffee, the roasting day or wait?"
                      -- among many others . . .

                      Cheers,
                      Jason

                      1. re: zin1953

                        Trivial. You're storing instead of the shop, but you're still storing it.

                        If you want to think you're preserving your beans, more power to you, there are different theories about the freezing thing, and it's neither here nor there.

                        You also seem stuck on roast dates, rather than using beans when they're optimal. That can depend wildly on many variables, but in any case, I'm glad you found a system which you enjoy. The major point I'm making though, is this notion that you can't buy fresh beans locally makes zero sense.

                        1. re: sugartoof

                          Theories about freezing beans are irrelevant to anyone who has frozen them successfully.

                          I have so far had no luck finding fresh beans I like locally.

                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                            Even if you freeze successfully (and I have), there's still issues that come up, and alter your beans. Realize you're freezing a dried fruit.

                            Your inability to find fresh beans you like is due to your own particular taste in beans, and personalized standards - it's not due to a lack in availability of fresh roasts. The Bay Area offers over a dozen small batch roasters, including ones that have won awards nationwide.

                            1. re: sugartoof

                              Yes, not being able to find beans that I like is by definition about my taste.

                              Most of the Berkeley / Oakland roasters don't do dark roasts and I don't care for light or medium roast. That leaves only a few places and I don't like any of them.

                    2. Years ago I would buy Vigal coffee by mail five pounds at a time, and freeze it. Now I prefer to buy Graffeo locally in two pound bags, which lasts me about three weeks. It comes in a plain brown paper bag, not a fancy airtight bag with a valve. I should divide it into sealed bags and freeze it, or buy it a pound at a time, but I don't bother. For me it's a matter of diminishing returns. The first-order effects are the blend and roast, buying freshly roasted whole beans, and using them in a reasonably short time. After that, it's all small potatoes, in my opinion.