One of the easiest and best ways to improve the quality of your coffee is to use freshly roasted and ground beans. This is advice we’re constantly giving our customers, but admittedly it can be hard to put it into practice. How bad could old coffee be? After all, coffee sits dry and unrefrigerated on store shelves anyway, and making a coffee with month old beans isn’t going to make you sick. But a coffee’s age makes a world of difference in terms of taste.
To test for ourselves how our coffees’ flavours change over time, we cupped our Bibi Plantation AA Arabica. It’s a medium roast which we previously noted as having “a light, wine-like acidity, with a full body and caramel, malt finish.” However, we were tasting four versions: one version roasted 3 days prior to our test, the second 10 days before, the third a month old, and the fourth 6 weeks old. Of course, we tasted the coffees blind, only learning which was which at the end. The results make a compelling case for enjoying your coffee fresh!
The coffee samples are weighed so that each cup is brewed identically
The Oldest – 6 weeks old.
After grinding these beans there was almost no aroma. Adding hot water, there was barely any “bloom” (the process of carbon dioxide escaping from the coffee and creating a light, crema-like layer). The coffee smelled smoky in an unpleasant way. Initially tasting it there was barely any discernable flavour. The body of the coffee improved as it cooled down, but the tastes we started to pick up were strange. It was musty and reminiscent of the pungent acquired-taste of bamboo (we’d recommended getting this flavour from a Naga curry, not coffee).
Matt’s comment: Smelled very marker-y
Simon’s comment: Strong fermentation taste at one point.
1 month old.
By themselves, the grounds smelt somehow off. Adding water there was a slight bloom. The hot water and coffee gave off a burnt smell, that vaguely recalled a campfire, sometimes in an oddly pleasant way. However, the taste was basically just bitter. There was no acidity or no subtle notes, just a burnt and bitter flavour.
Matt’s comment: The first few sips were a strong blast of bitterness, but as it cooled it became drinkable, though not great.
Simon’s comment: Tastes like a generic cup of coffee.
10 days old.
The ground beans had a strong fruity aroma, more intense than we were expecting. There was a sizable bloom, but the coffee started to smell a bit green. However, once we tasted the coffee it was rich and sweet. Once it cooled down slightly, it definitely matched the caramel flavour we previously had previously found in Bibi, although the sweetnees dominated the acidity a bit more than expected.
Matt’s comment: It’s surprising, but makes sense that this would have an intense flavour. Some coffees are at their best 5, 7 even 9 days after roasting, so Bibi could be a coffee that does well with a longer rest.
Simon’s comment: I actually thought this was the freshest coffee, but there was something different about the fruit flavour.
Simon takes cupping notes
The Freshest – 3 days old
By themselves the dry fragrance of the grounds smelt a bit sour, but adding the water there was good bloom and the aroma became rich and with strong fruitiness. At slight bitterness in the beginning quickly gave way to the caramel flavor, along with a syrupy mouthfeel. Unlike all the other coffees we tasted, this had a nice, balanced acidity.
Matt’s comment: While I preferred the 10 day sample, this coffee had a nice brightness that should have tipped us off that it was the freshest.
Simon’s comment: Made me want a cup of pourover.
So what did we learn? Identifying which samples were old in the blind tasting was no problem as there was very little flavour in old coffees, and if you wait long enough they can start to taste downright weird. However, if you’re within two weeks of the roast date you’re still in for a good cup, and can even have some fun seeing how the flavour changes over that time span.