I gotta lot of respect for Derek Powazek. When it comes to the web he’s been there, done that… Hotwired, Fray, he was a Vividian (before Vivid.com was a porn site, that is). He made the “B” in Blogger, fer gosh sake.
Most of his advice is dead solid… until now. And even then it’s mostly good. But when it comes to coffee, mostly good advice ranks right up there with mostly harmless as a blanket statement on the human animal. (Always carry a towel… now that’s some advice you can bank on.)
Where good Derek goes wrong is when he adds a fatal, “…and one last thing.” Now that I think about it, that’s where I make most of my mistakes, too. I have a solid argument; well-structured, thoroughly considered. And then I add, “…and one last thing.” I guess it’s like saying, “I haven’t really thought this last bit through, but since I have your attention… blah, blah, blah.” Whoops.
Derek’s pregnant ellipsis reads thusly…
“One last thing about beans: Never, ever put them in the freezer. Ever eaten an ice cube that’s sat in a freezer for a while? You know that icky metallic taste? That’s what freezers do to coffee. Store your beans someplace with consistent temperature and very little moisture. The fridge is fine. So is a nice dark cabinet. Just no freezing!”
Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? Plausable, even? And, in fact, there’s a nugget of truth in there. Maybe even two. You should know that roasted coffee has three mortal enemies: light, oxygen and moisture. Now here’s the rest of the story…
The icky “off” tastes that attach themselves to ice cubes that have sat in the freezer for too long aren’t really the product of your freezer. Or, not entirely anyway. Ice is hygroscopic, which means that it’s a magnet for water. Any water vapor that’s lurking in your freezer – or your refrigerator, for that matter, as most refrigerator-freezers share the same closed environment – will be easily snatched up by the ice cubes sitting in your freezer in all their naked, velcro-like glory. And, hitching a ride on that free-wheeling H2O are lots of stray molecules of other stuff… say, the wafted aroma of last week’s lasagna, or the essential essence of that hideous green sludge that’s at the bottom of your vegetable drawer. Ick, indeed.
Roasted coffee is hygroscopic, too… just like ice. Your coffee beans’ cell walls were shattered into awful disarray by roasting, and they’re ready to sponge up whatever moisture they can get. However, where your ice cubes are wholly exposed in their little trays or in the bucket of your ice-maker, your coffee has been nitrogen-flushed to zero percent oxygen and bagged in a heat-sealed, high-tech laminate of plastic and metal foils engineered specifically to inhibit gas permeability. Er… it has been, right? No!? Just where are you buying your coffee, anyway?
If your coffee *is* sealed in such a marvelous storage device (and it should be!) then it can be stored – unopened – in your freezer for months with no ill effects whatsoever. Honest. If that bag has been opened, however, don’t freeze it… there’s simply no way to protect your beans from the ravages of moisture that will find its way into a less-than-perfectly sealed container. And when you do take that bag out of the freezer, be sure to let it reach room temperature before you open it… otherwise you’ll introduce a lot of moisture to the party in the form of condensation.
As for the fridge? Fughetaboudit. Remember all those nasty flavors and smells that found their way to your ice cubes via water vapor? There’s loads more free water vapor in your refrigerator than in your freezer! (For one thing you don’t have a handy store of ice sucking up stray moisture, eh?)
Store your opened coffee beans in a clean, opaque, air-tight container in a relatively cool place… a cupboard is just fine. Most important: use them up within a couple weeks!
And one last thing… Er. On second thought, maybe not.