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Friday, February 18, 2011

Long Term Coffee Storage For When TSHTF

I’m a coffee addict.  If there’s a recommended daily allowance of caffeine I surely take in five times what they suggest.  For starters I’ll drink three cups of coffee first thing in the morning.  There’s nothing better than getting up in the morning and having a delicious hot cup of dark roast while my son is eating breakfast.  At work I’ll occasionally wait until noon time for my next two or three cups, but usually I have another cup or two at 9:30 am or so.  Then I’ll have another cup or two around 2:00 pm.  And then another cup or two – or even a CoffeeArmy cappuccino – around 7:00 pm.  Just enough to smooth me out and put me to sleep.  Crazy eh?
So imagine my chagrin when I read the headlines talking about how commodities are all rising.  I’m reading the story and it’s saying, “… wheat is going up because of blah blah, and cotton is going up because blah blah…” then I read a little further and my eyes zeroed in on the word I didn’t want to see… “coffee.”  What????  Coffee is going up?  Uh uh, no way man.  Read here for the sordid details.
That’s all I needed to see.  I sprang into action like a startled gazelle and started calling around to various coffee shops and hitting the coffee web sites.   The burning question: What’s the best way to store coffee long term?
Now here’s the thing:  I like good coffee.  Over the years I’ve developed a taste for the dark brew and I’m now a slave to the bean, but that’s not such a bad thing.  I don’t drink alcohol, I don’t do drugs,  and I don’t smoke cigarettes.  This is my one addiction and I don’t mind feeding it some first class java.
I called a local coffee shop and the conversation went something like this:
Me:  Hi.  I’d like to ask you a question about storing coffee.
Young Woman:  Ok. Go ahead.
Me:  Ok, what’s the best way to store coffee long term?  Can I vacuum pack it?
Young Woman:  How long do you plan on storing it for?
Me:  Oh I don’t know.  How about five years?
Young Woman:  Hahaha!
Me:  No.  Seriously.
Young Woman:  Seriously?  (long pause)  Well.  If we grind coffee and don’t use it within fifteen minutes we throw it out.
Me (stunned):  Fifteen minutes?  But how long will it last otherwise?”
I’ll spare you the rest of the conversation, but it only went down hill from there.   A pound of  their Jet coffee was $13.50 and if I bought a pound of that stuff at that price you’d better believe I’m going to use every bean in the bag.
Next I called that bastion of Canadian coffee,  Tim Hortons.  If anybody is going to know how to store coffee long term it’s gotta be those folks, I reasoned.  They make a pretty good cup of coffee and you can’t tell me they ground it fifteen minutes ago.  Here’s that conversation (I decided to change tactics a little because the other girl thought I was insane by the end of our conversation):
Me:  Hi.  I’m a writer and I’m doing a piece on coffee prices going up and how to store coffee long term.
Tim’s Rep (a woman):  How can I help?
Me:  Well, how long will those big cans you sell last if I bought them and put them in my basement.
Tim’s Rep:  About a year.
Me:  Ok.  Is that a rough guideline or does the coffee go bad after a year?  Is that a “’use by” date?’
Tim’s Rep:  What?
Me:  For example:  Could I store the coffee for five years?
Tim’s Rep:  Yes.
Me (brightening up):  Really?  That’s great.
Tim’s Rep.  Yes.  The coffee can be stored for one year.
Me (confused):  You just said five years.
Tim’s Rep:  Yes.  The coffee is good for one year.
Me (staring at the phone):  Oooookay.  But, can I store it for five years?
Tim’s Rep (getting exasperated):  Yes.  The coffee will be good for one year.

I’m not kidding!  I’m not sure what happened there, but I hung up quickly after that.  I didn’t even bother trying to talk to Dunkin’ Donuts.  Something that seemed so simple all of a sudden seemed like a daunting task.
After a lot of web research here are some things I found out about coffee:
For ultimate freshness buy your coffee beans green and roast them yourself – they last up to a year green and probably longer.  As you might expect this is a lot more work, but supposedly the taste is much better.  Too much hassle and equipment for me though.  Check out Sweet Maria’s for more ideas about green coffee.
If you want to store ground coffee either freeze it or put it in an airtight container, but don’t let it sit longer than a couple of weeks for maximum freshness.  Don’t refrigerate – due to its porous nature it will pick up moisture and flavor from anything else you might have in there.  (Fish, for example)
Once you’ve taken coffee out of the freezer don’t refreeze it.
Once you grind coffee it starts to lose flavor right away.  It’s good for about two weeks.
I read several comments by people on various boards and blogs saying that they’d stored canned coffee for years and when they opened it up and used it it was fine.  This probably depends on the coffee too though.  According to one guy I read (sorry – I lost the hyperlink!), he said that any coffee coming out of a can was stale anyway, so if you like it don’t sweat it because it’ll stay that way for years.  Of course, once you open the can you’ll need to use it up in a couple of weeks, but at least I’ll be able to have coffee for a few years after TSHTF.  (If I store enough.)
Now, let’s talk about canned coffee for a minute.  I’ve got a couple of the #10 cans full of coffee in my basement as a hedge against rising prices and the other day I decided to try one out.  It was  Shaw’s French Roast.  If it’s French roast it can’t be half bad right?   Ha!  What I discovered is that it tasted like it had been strained through an old jock strap.  You can put a pig in a jacket, but it’s still a pig.
I’ve also had Folgers and brands like that of course, and while I’m not the biggest fan if there’s nothing else available I’ll drink it.  I’m sure if I hadn’t had a cup of coffee in two months and someone handed me a cup I’d say, “That was the best cup of coffee I ever had!”
Another option is instant coffee.  Again, not a big fan, but it is an option and I believe it would last a long time.  I seem to remember having a jar of instant in my kitchen at one point for a couple of years and every time I made coffee with it it tasted, well, like instant coffee.
Here’s a partial list I found at Demesne – a blog full of all kinds of good advice.  This list was part of a bigger list of how long different foods will last.
Coffee (whole beans from bulk bin)
2-4 weeks in air tight container
Vacuum pack and freeze (3-4 months)
Coffee (ground, in can)
2 years
Refrigerate after opening (2 weeks)
Coffee (instant)
1 year
Refrigerate after opening (2-3 months)
Coffee Creamer, Powder
6 months
6 months
Coffee also comes in little coffee bags.  I use these camping and they’re actually quite good, although they’re little  pricey.
coffee bags
In looking for a better tasting coffee I bought a bag of Tim Hortons to see how it would taste brewed at home.  It wasn’t half bad!  Dunkin Donut’s isn’t bad either, so here’s my inflation/TEOTWAWKI plan:
I’m going to start buying Tim Hortons coffee in the big cans and rotate through those as the coffee isn’t bad.  I’ll probably get some of the Dunkin Donuts coffee too just for variety.  I’ll still buy the fresh ground dark roast from time to time as that’s my all time favorite, but these two are pretty good substitutes.
In conclusion, there are as many different opinions about storing coffee as there are people who store it.  My personal feeling is coffee stored in a can will retain at least some of it’s flavor for many years if stored in a cool place out of sunlight.  As an experiment I am going to get a small can of Tim Hortons coffee and put on the back shelf somewhere and label it, “Do not open until February 2016.”  I will then brew myself a cup and see how it tastes.  I’ll get back to you and let you know how it goes.
-Jarhead Survivor
BTW:
As usual I’m interested in your feedback.  If you have any experience/opinions/or general comments I want to hear from you!
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