There are plenty of coffee snobs that will gasp and avert their eyes from this post. I won’t argue that fresh coffee is best (I don’t think anyone thinks frozen coffee is BETTER than fresh), but I wanted to see for myself if freezing whole coffee beans is a terrible idea, or if it is a viable way to store beans you physically cannot drink in the small window of time before they go stale. After all, there are plenty of reasons why someone might want to freeze their beans. Buying beans in bulk (such as 5-pound bags) and breaking them down into smaller portions is cheaper than buying 12-oz bags, especially if shipping is a factor. Someone might be lucky enough to have received a bunch of roasted coffee as gifts. You might have to give up coffee temporarily for one reason or another. Let’s go through several ways of freezing the beans to see if any give us an acceptable (or even GREAT) result!
For this experiment, I chose to use the remainder of my Tweed Colombia Los Naranjos. My favorite preparation for this coffee was in the Chemex, so I divided the coffee into 44 gram portions and froze it in the following ways:
A) In a Ziploc quart-size freezer bag. I didn’t take special care to press air out of the bag.
B) In a FoodSaver vacuum sealed bag, with all the air removed.
C) In a glass jar, full to the brim (there was NO room between the top of the coffee and the lid).
D) In the original bag from Tweed, with as much air pressed out as possible.
The coffee was roasted on April 27. I froze the beans on April 29 and did this experiment on June 23. Each batch was allowed to come to room temperature before grinding (left out at room temperature overnight). All batches of coffee were ground and brewed exactly the same, in my Chemex with 700 grams of 200 degree F water at 4:00 minutes extraction time.
In all of the samples, there was a very impressive amount of bloom when the hot water hit the ground beans, especially considering the beans were two months old. Freezing really did seem to arrest/slow the aging process.
A) Ziploc: The whole beans smelled slightly like frozen vegetables, but the brewed coffee was not bad. It was sweet with a rich buttery body. There was the very slightest hint of a funky aftertaste but on the whole it was quite close to fresh.
B) FoodSaver vacuum bag: Sweet with no funky aftertaste. Honestly, this tasted indistinguishable from fresh to my palate.
C) Glass jar: This was confounding to me – my initial reaction was that this coffee was more sour than the previous two. However, after the coffee sat for a bit and I tried it again, it smoothed out and I actually enjoyed it more than the previous cups. It had a really creamy mouthfeel.
D) Original bag: Quite sweet and creamy. A bit more tart than the glass jar sample but I like the liveliness.
Someone with a more developed palate than mine might be able to taste more flaws, but I don’t think that any of the cups were totally terrible (though I wouldn’t choose to drink the Ziploc/frozen vegetable coffee again). In fact, I think I would be hard pressed to tell the difference in a blind taste test between most of these four. How do they compare to fresh? I didn’t have a fresh bag of this particular coffee to sample alongside these four cups but I honestly think they compare quite well. The coffee frozen in the FoodSaver bag tasted just as good to me as the coffee I had fresh on April 28.
I expected there to be much more of a stark difference between the four methods but they all made good cups from coffee that was frozen very shortly (3 days) after roasting. This experiment has proved to me that freezing the coffee won’t necessarily result in a terrible result in the cup if the coffee is fresh upon freezing. I do think that removing as much of the air as possible is a good idea, though.
1st place: Tie – Vacuum bag (hot)/glass jar (after it cooled a little)
3rd place: original bag with air pressed out
4th place: Ziploc bag with air left in the bag
Summary: I still plan to buy and consume fresh coffee as much as possible, but if you are lucky enough to have an abundance of freshly roasted whole bean coffee around and you want to save some for later consumption, freezing it can allow you to enjoy it at a later date without ill-effect. I would freeze the beans in either a vacuum bag or glass jar (full to the brim, so there is as little air as possible in with the beans) in about the quantity I could drink in one week, and thaw as needed.