Why fresh coffee is paramount!
I mention the importance of fresh coffee on my website multiple times but never really explain why freshness is important. Coffee is extremely complex and the taste you get in your cup is influenced by hundreds of different outside forces before you even open the bag.
Some of the earliest components that affect the taste of your coffee comes from where it is grown. Factors such as location, elevation, direct or indirect sunlight, water quality, water quantity, soil quality, and plant arrangement all impact the final taste and experience you get. Once all of those external factors are taken into account, there are hundreds more that come into play, but these are typically influenced by human interaction. Once the coffee is ready to be harvested, the cherry (the fruit which encases the coffee beans) is removed from the tree and then this is where the next extravagant list of items that can influence taste comes into play. There are multiple different ways to process the coffee at this point such as washed, natural/dry, and honey/pulped which up to this point is one of the biggest influences on how that final cup will present itself to your taste buds. Once those beans are removed from their fruit and dried, they are ready to be shipped to typically a broker who sells what at this point is called green coffee beans to a roaster. Yet again, there is a myriad of factors that can influence taste such as how long the beans sit, how they are shipped, what they're packed in, and finally how the broker stores the beans and how quickly they can place them with a roaster. This is essentially the first half of the major components of the bean's life cycle (growing, harvesting, processing, and storing).
The second half of that life cycle is when they finally get to the hands of your favorite roaster (Palisade Coffee Company). Hoping that the beans have been grown in ideal conditions, harvested at optimal times, and processed and stored adequately, it is up to roaster to take the potential of those beans to where they should be. At this time the green coffee beans have very little taste but packed inside are around 700 different flavor compounds that are ready to influence not only the taste, but also the aroma and mouthfeel of that final cup. Coffee roasting is arguably the most important step in the life cycle of the bean. Some of the best coffee in the world can be ruined by a matter of seconds when it comes to roasting, and mediocre beans can be turned into a palatable cup of coffee. The roaster's job is to analyze a bean's flavor profile and all the nuances going on inside that bean to decide what type of roast is best for that bean, and how best to get to that particular roast. Some Ethiopian varietals are really fun at a light roast with bright acidity and fruit flavors where some Colombian beans fare best from a dark roast that bolsters their body and chocolaty finish. Yet again, with fresh roasted coffee comes many more factors such as type of roaster, cleanliness of roaster (machine and human), airflow, temperature, and approach that all influence that final cup of coffee. Once the beans have finally been roasted they need to be cooled off quickly and stored appropriately to preserve the flavor.
This is finally where the freshness piece comes in and is so important! I have done a mediocre job of outlining the life cycle of the bean and how many things can influence the taste of that bean, but none of that matters if you don't have an opportunity to try that bean while it is still fresh. From the moment the beans leave the roaster and begin cooling they start the downhill degradation of their life and this is where us a coffee consumers should do our part to enjoy them while they are still in their prime. This is why Palisade Coffee Company ships all of their beans the day they are roasted. The beans begin releasing CO2 which will ultimately be the taste destroyer of those very beans that have gone through such a journey just to get to your cup. Whole coffee beans are at their best between about 24 hours after roasting to about 15 days after roasting. They may still taste good after that time, but they aren't at their freshest state and showing off all those flavor compounds intended. This brings us to the next piece which is the final stage in the bean's life cycle...brewing that perfect cup.
Brewing a cup is almost as important as roasting because there are so many things that impact flavor, yet again. In order to assure the freshest taste and enjoyment from your cup of coffee, coffee beans should be ground right before they are brewed. Ground coffee experiences a very rapid loss of those flavor compounds that we described earlier, and can display "off" tastes within hours of being ground. In the coffee world a burr grinder is the best option when it comes to grinders but even a $10-$15 investment in a blade grinder will elevate your coffee world to new heights. Other factors such as size of grind, and temperature of the water will have an impact on your results as well as brewing method whether it be drip, pour over, or press. With all this being said, and all of those factors being outlined, none of it matters if you drink old beans.
I know this was a brief and jumbled overview of the entire coffee process and why freshness is so important, but my objective is to continue writing about the process in more detail and hopefully sharing my passion for coffee with you.
Matt Sayers - Palisade Coffee Company - palisadecoffee.com