Monday, April 6, 2009

How to tell if your coffee is fresh

Late last week, I was running low on beans and just happened to be in Seattle, so I dropped by Stumptown Roasters to pick up a bag. Even though my fist review of them put them slightly behind some of the other local shops, they are a much better shop than 4.0 on a 5.0 scale. When I need beans or just want some coffee to drink, I just seem to go there instead of some other places. A day or so before I went to REI in downtown Seattle to get a water sterilizer for my wife's upcoming trip to India. Espresso Vivace is right accross the street, so if I'm that close I'm going to get some coffee there. I got an espresso since I didn't have a bunch of time to sit around (isn't that what espresso is all about?). Since I went to Stumptown a day later, I ordered an espresso there for comparison purposes. Honestly, I assumed that the Espresso Vivace would be slightly better, but I was wrong. They tasted similar, but the Stumptown Espresso had a caramely sweet finish. Damn, it was good.

Enough rambling, on to he reason for the post: freshly roasted coffee. The primary way to tell if coffee is fresh without even tasting it is to watch it when it is brewing. Take a look at this video:

This is some Honduras Finca El Puente that was 4 days old when I brewed it. As roasted coffee ages, it continues to off-gas to a point when it becomes stale. When you brew freshly roasted coffee, you can watch the coffee bubble as the gas is released. Midway through the video, you can clearly see the coffee bubble. That is the signal of good things to come. Most of the stuff that you buy in a grocery store is going to be stale by the time that you brew it. I've heard that some of the larger coffee roasters use a technique to help keep the coffee fresh. They package the coffee quickly after it is roasted in a sealed bag. The off-gassing that occurs naturally keeps everything sealed away from oxygen which helps to preserve the coffee.

If you enjoy drinking fresh coffee, try to seek out a local roaster. If you don't have a roaster nearby, most of the coffee shops that I've reviewed will ship their coffee. It is well worth it. I used to add half & half to my coffee. I just realized why. The answer is very simple: I made crappy coffee and the half & half just covered the bad taste. When you make good, fresh coffee adding dairy just kills the subtle nuances of the coffee. Go out and get some good coffee. Life is too short to drink crappy coffee.