How You Should REALLY Be Buying Coffee, According To An Expert

Illustrated by Louisa Cannell.
Making coffee at home is both economical and a great way to caffeinate without putting on trousers. But for a relatively simple activity (ground beans + hot water + a short wait), making coffee can get really complicated. From picking out the beans to equipment, there's about a million ways to get to your morning cup of joe — and, it can seem, a million ways to go wrong. Even buying and storing beans (Can you freeze them? Do you need to always grind them yourself?!) can leave us scratching our heads.
To get back to basics, we sought the advice of an expert. Eric Grimm has been serving up New Yorkers their morning buzz at Everyman Espresso for years, and is currently its director of events and cafe manager, as well as covering coffee and culture for Sprudge. Thankfully, even with a resume that impressive, Grimm defies all the stereotypes of a snobby barista and was more than happy to answer our questions about the best ways to buy and store coffee. Now, the only thing we are scared of is accidentally pouring decaf.

Buying Beans

Similar to olive oil with a date of pressing, good coffee beans will have a roast date. Grimm says, when possible, see if you can find one. "Coffee often tastes best 5-14 days off roast, though this can vary from coffee to coffee and some will taste perfectly fine a little further out," he explains. Confused by all the information on origin? If there aren't tasting notes, Grimm recommends Central and South American coffee for a more chocolate-y nutty flavour. Looking for a brighter, fruiter brew? Grimm says, often, the coffees from Africa, particularly Ethiopia, will fit the bill. While it's not always guaranteed ("Note: I said 'often,'" Grimm cautions), it's a good rule of thumb.
The other thing to look for is a valve ,which lets the CO2 the coffee lets off get out — without letting oxygen in (more on why that's important in a minute).

To Grind Or Not To Grind?

Okay, so you know the kind of beans you want — do you buy them pre-ground, grind them at the store, or grind them at home? "There is no easy answer to this, but you don't necessarily have to buy whole bean," explains Grimm. Once coffee is ground, it "off-gasses," or emits more CO2, making it lose complexity and aromas faster. But Grimm says that a good grinder is an "investment" — blade grinders, which are relatively inexpensive, don't provide a precise grind. Plate grinders, which are preferable, are more expensive, and the plates eventually need replacing.
"If buying ground coffee is a better option for you, I'd recommend buying it from a store that will grind the coffee," Grimm says. The taste will change as you go through the bag, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. "When it comes down to it, great coffee from a quality coffee roaster is going to be delicious and maybe wildly different from the first cup of freshly ground coffee to your last cup days later." That said, larger quantities of coffee beans will eventually lose their flavour. It's possible to drink coffee after six months, Grimm says, but it "most certainly" won't taste good.
Coffee beans are actually the seed of a cherry and should be treated that way. "I can't stress enough, that you should buy it like you buy any fruit, which is to say, often and in small quantities," he explained.

The Problem With Freezing

Once you've procured your coffee, how do you store it? As it turns out, the answer is relatively simple: packed airtight, in a cool, dry place. That's it. Exposing it to oxygen will help it age it faster, which is where the valve for off-gassing comes in handy. Freezing coffee may seem like a great way to extend it's age, but Grimm says that's not so.
"Coffee left in the fridge or freezer may take on the smells and taste of foods in the fridge or freezer (which is not necessarily a bad thing if you like meat-tasting coffee)." Here, again, Grimm explains this is another reason that buying in small quantities is helpful. If you're using it over the course of a week or two, storing it at room temperature, as long as it's airtight and in a cool place, is totally fine.
And, when it's time to actually make the coffee, Grimm says have fun with it. "Only you know your palate and what tastes good to you. You might love the slower process of making coffee by hand with a Chemex or Aeropress, or you might make a damn fine cup in your Mr. Coffee every morning." We'll drink to that.
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