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12 December 2008 @ 02:43 pm
A plethora of coffee posts (and comments)  
Since everyone seems to have an opinion about coffee...

Several of my coworkers here have a cool little device that's effectively a drip coffee device that you can use to make an individual cup or two of coffee. I haven't examined them up close but it pretty much appears to be just the cone part of a drip coffee machine mounted on a plastic plate with a small hole in it so you can set it on top of a cup or thermos. Of course since there's no electric parts attached you need to provide your own hot water, but that seems to be a requirement for a french press or an Aeropress as well. The main advantage of this thing, or so i'm told, is that since it uses a normal coffee filter you can just wrap up the grounds in the filter and throw them away and there's nothing else that needs cleaning.

Clearly if i get one of these things i'm also going to get some pre-ground coffee. I am not going to grind my own coffee at work. I am also most definitely not going to be setting fire to roasting my own coffee beans at work. Sorry sithjawa ;)

So the next question is, does all ground coffee need to be frozen? Or does it only really matter for the good stuff? And how long does it last while frozen? And for that matter how long would it be good for if not frozen? :)
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Catbirdcatbird on December 12th, 2008 10:57 pm (UTC)
I consider myself to be fairly low on the coffee snob totem pole so take what I say with a grain of salt or 5.

You can buy individual drips at most super-markets. I like the drip better then the French press because I feel like I get a stronger coffee from them.

Freezing your coffee doesn't matter in my experience as long as you use up your coffee in under 6 months or so. Coffee is like beer imo, doesn't matter what your store it at really as long as it's not too extreme and it's constant (no taking it out of the freezer, thawing it and putting it back in).
Catbirdcatbird on December 12th, 2008 11:34 pm (UTC)
Man! Reading the replies you got I sound like a total uneducated hick :P I admit, I first got hooked on coffee at summer camps. There was one tub of coffee that sat next to the industrial brewer all summer. Depending on who got to it first folks either put one scoop (wuss!) or three and the coffee would sit there until gone. After staying up all night with puking kids or dealing with night-terrors it was the caffeine and heat content that really mattered.

Might be why I think coffee should hold a fork upright and stick to your ribs.
DonAithnendonaithnen on December 12th, 2008 11:38 pm (UTC)
Well i'm (currently at least) pretty low on the coffee snob totem pole as well (what does a coffee snob totem pole look like?) so i probably ought to take your advice with a grain or five of anti-salt :)
Cj: Buzzporfinn on December 12th, 2008 11:56 pm (UTC)
Actually, I think I'm pretty high on the, what you call, "snob totem pole". But, one of my favorite coffee experiences involved instant with non-dairy creamer. It was a cold, foggy morning, and my great uncle brought a cup out to me while I was sitting on the pier over looking the lake. I still remember how perfectly the bitter and hot taste of the coffee contrasted with the cold, wet fog. It makes me tingle just thinking about it. I kind of wonder if I'm "Chasing Amy" with all of my coffee toys in an effort to recreate a sensational memory. If our sense of smell is as closely linked to memory as everyone seems to think it is, I think we should drink coffee the way our memory prefers. And it should be our choice, since it is the drink of revolution (and obviously, I'm a little to prosy about this particular beverage...sigh, I'm such a hopeless romantic :)
Marvin Spencermarvinalone on December 13th, 2008 01:21 am (UTC)
It's like a steak, which is not actually best when you spend a lot of money on it, but when you buy it for yourself as a reward after you've done something to deserve it.
Coraacoraa on December 13th, 2008 04:13 am (UTC)
Oh, yes.

Mmmm, juicy reward steak.....
DonAithnendonaithnen on December 13th, 2008 04:40 am (UTC)
Actually steak always seems to be best at Outback, though i'm not sure why.
Coraacoraa on December 13th, 2008 06:04 am (UTC)
Outback does do yummy steaks.
Coraacoraa on December 12th, 2008 11:01 pm (UTC)
I think it really depends how discerning you are about coffee. In college, I could barely taste the difference between fresh and stale coffee, so I didn't bother much with it. Then I lived with ceph for a couple of years and started to notice that the stuff she made with beans/grounds that had been taken care of tasted much better -- richer, but especially less sour/bitter. I think the more coffee you drink, and the more good coffee you're exposed to, the more you're likely to notice. (It probably does matter to some degree how good the coffee is -- it's not going to lose 'subtle aromatic notes' from sitting out if it never had subtle aromatic notes to begin with -- but on the other hand, to me, poorer-quality coffee tastes harsher to begin with; I'm unlikely to want to encourage it to develop more sour flavors, whereas good-quality coffee can come down a fair bit in taste and still be palatable.)

I'd leave ground coffee out at room temperature for a couple of days without too much worry, but if I wasn't going to finish it in 3-4 days, I'd freeze it. When I was bringing coffee to the office, I'd grind enough for 2-3 days at home and then put it in a ziplock and bring it to work, and I never worried overmuch about freezing the ziplock of a couple days worth of coffee. But if I had a whole pound or half-pound of ground, I'd freeze it, because it'd take me a few weeks to a month to get through, by which time I know it would taste sour to me.

Blah blah blah!
Coraacoraa on December 12th, 2008 11:02 pm (UTC)
Of course, you could always do an experiment: buy a bag of coffee, leave some of it out for a week or so, freeze the rest, and do a taste test. :)

And actually, in my experience, air is a bigger villain than temperature -- you can probably eke more life out of grounds if you suck the air out of the bag they're in than if not.

Edited at 2008-12-12 11:03 pm (UTC)
Chaos Never Blinkssithjawa on December 12th, 2008 11:21 pm (UTC)
All temperature does is sedate the air.
DonAithnendonaithnen on December 13th, 2008 04:42 am (UTC)
Awww, can't i use drugs for that?
Steven DeFordwillworker on December 13th, 2008 07:06 am (UTC)
Ativan 2mg I-um-air...

Steve
Squidceph on December 13th, 2008 05:13 am (UTC)
I can't tell you how immensely gratified I am that my rampant coffee wonkage has persuaded you of the great benefits of good coffee. ::touched::
Johndolohov on December 12th, 2008 11:08 pm (UTC)
I have a little cup-top filter like that. Keep it clean, and it'll make good coffee. (A hot pot works fine for the hot water, or a glass measuring cup in the microwave) If you like, you can get gold filters for them, but there's more cleaning involved with those.

The big problem with freezing is that you shouldn't use it right out of the freezer -- every time you take it out, water condenses on it, and if you're constantly putting it in and taking it out, it'll go bad fast. It's easier in my experience to grind a week's worth of coffee and keep it in an air-tight opaque container.
Sister Atom Bomb of Courteous Debate: caffeineakiko on December 12th, 2008 11:21 pm (UTC)
I keep mine ground in a Tupperware-like container (with a lid that insets and forces out air) in a cupboard (thereby avoiding the light issue.)

I only wind up getting enough to last me 2 weeks at a time (half a pound), so there's little worry of it going bad.

Edited at 2008-12-12 11:21 pm (UTC)
DonAithnendonaithnen on December 13th, 2008 04:46 am (UTC)
We've got a water cooler with a hot water nozzle, which seems to work for the other people. The gold filter thing wouldn't work so well since the whole bonus of this method is supposed to be having an easy way to dispose of the grounds without having to clean anything.
Johndolohov on December 13th, 2008 03:04 pm (UTC)
Temperature is important -- the hot water from the water cooler is frequently not hot enough to brew coffee.
Chaos Never Blinkssithjawa on December 12th, 2008 11:19 pm (UTC)
TL;DR?
We roast at our office! I got my boss to start doing it! :D Roasting is a lot of work though. Well, not really, but it's one more thing to be lazy about.

Coffee oils spoil (turn rancid - chemical, not bacterial, spoilage) in a matter of hours when exposed to oxygen and heat. Whole beans take longer (up to 2 weeks) to become fully rancid at room temperature because they have less surface area than pre-ground. Pre-ground coffee will go from fresh-roasted to completely rancid in 2-4 days, but keep in mind that if you aren't roasting, some of this will have happened before you ever see the beans, so if *you* keep it at room temperature after buying it, it might degrade from (in your opinion) drinkable to (again in your opinion) undrinkable in under a day.

Total chemistry noob moment: To minimize spoilage, you want to minimize the rate at which oxygens hit the oils in the coffee. You can do this by decreasing the number of oxygens with access to the coffee (airtight container, vacuum packing, filling the container with nitrogen, etc.), by blocking the oils in the coffee away from the oxygens (leaving the beans whole), and/or by decreasing the bounciness of the oxygens (via lowering the temperature). How severely you need to protect your coffee kind of depends on how much you care. I do not know how expensive partial-vacuum coffee chambers compare to freezing, but freezing in a generally airtight container works pretty darn well (months).

The reaction is not (as far as I know) reversible, so once a certain percentage of the oils have been allowed to go rancid, even if you completely block off the oxygens, the reaction will proceed from there next time the oxygens get their playtime.

This is pretty much identical to the way other plant oils become rancid (including for example olive oil), but proceeds much faster with coffee than with most other oils.

I do not know of anyone who has ever tried coating coffee beans with something to block out the oxygen.

There is a limit to how far the coffee can spoil - it will become bitter, but never, you know, poisonous. Thus, if you buy coffee that is already completely rancid, there is no point to freezing it.

How much you need to retard the reaction (and, equivalently, how important it is to buy not-already-spoiled coffee) depends on how bitter you can stand your coffee. If you don't care how bitter it is, you can buy bulk supermarket coffee pre-ground and leave it out. This will taste a step below even Platt coffee, however, and you won't be saving money if you can't stand to drink it and end up going to Starbucks anyway.

Many store brands are not properly treated and go rancid even in the sealed package. Also, if you buy bulk, many grocery stores let it sit around in the unsealed coffee hoppers until it's completely rancid even if you grind it at the store.

One notable exception to the "supermarket bulk coffee is already spoiled" rule is Whole Foods (~$12/pound). I forgot to mention them as a source of goodcoffee. There are probably other properly managed supermarket bulk coffee sources that I don't know about as well.

If you find that rancid coffee does not appeal to you, some brands store their coffee better than others, and these will need to be frozen (or re-vacuumed or otherwise reaction-retarded) once opened.

If you discover that you're picky about your coffee, but can't grind at the office, I'd recommend the following procedure:
* Buy beans from a source you like
* Either get them ground at the store or grind them at home
* Put them into an airtight container as quickly as possible
* Store it at as low a temperature as possible
Coraacoraa on December 12th, 2008 11:25 pm (UTC)
Re: TL;DR?
Rancidity! That explains why stale coffee tastes specifically harsh and sour to me. Thank you! (I hadn't really thought about how the staling process works for coffee -- the food product I'm familiar with when it comes to staling is bread, and then the most noticeable side-effect is getting tough and hard from moisture loss.)

If you don't care how bitter it is, you can buy bulk supermarket coffee pre-ground and leave it out. This will taste a step below even Platt coffee, however, and you won't be saving money if you can't stand to drink it and end up going to Starbucks anyway.

This made me think of the huge tub of Folgers left at room temperature in the Support department kitchen. It's sort of drinkable in an emergency (a coffee emergency?), but I swear, you could etch metal with it.
Chaos Never Blinkssithjawa on December 12th, 2008 11:33 pm (UTC)
Re: TL;DR?
Ever accidentally eaten/cooked with with really old olive or grapeseed oil? The taste is less pronounced than it is in coffee - and less bitter, which I think makes it more noticably icky because you can taste the subtleties of the badness - but there are some distinct similarities.

I'd have to ask a chemist to know for sure, but I think it's some kind of oxidation thing. Certainly it's not the same as bread or vegetable spoilage - both of which I believe are caused by bacteria and/or water loss. I believe it *is* the same as the kind of spoilage that certain grain products (most notably wild rice and wheat germ) are prone to.
Kirin: CoffeeAndAlcoholkirinn on December 12th, 2008 11:41 pm (UTC)
Since most of these coffee folks here end up grinding and/or roasting their own coffee, I don't think your question of where to get fresh roast ground coffee's been addressed yet.

For that (aside from the mail-order gevalia-type option), you might want to scope out local co-op or hippy groceries, or local coffee shops that roast their own beans. Some of these places will probably sell you the roast beans from a bin, and then have either a self-service grinder or offer to grind them for you when you buy them. akiko gets most of her coffee from a local coffee shop that way these days.

For all I know, even a bigger place like Trader Joe's or something might do it.

Of course, you can also buy roast pre-ground coffee in sealed bags from most groceries, though that'll be less fresh. Me, I only drink coffee with so much cream, sugar, and added flavors that it's desert, so I'm not an authority on actual coffee quality.

At least I have an appropriate icon for this post, though.
Squidceph on December 13th, 2008 06:22 am (UTC)
TJ's does indeed have self-serve coffee grinders. They even have some coffees in sealable canisters, for improved storage. I don't have much experience freezing ground coffee--if you run into the issues dolohov mentions and really don't want to grind it yourself, then an airtight room-temp container probably is your best choice.
Cjporfinn on December 12th, 2008 11:42 pm (UTC)
I think what really matters is what tastes good to you. I don't like really dark roasts, so Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts do not appeal to me (I do like Krispy Kreme's). Trader Joes coffee always tastes bitter to me. But, truthfully, My taste buds aren't very discriminating (one reason high quality champagne or extremely expensive sashmi is a waste on me-- I'm a cheap date :). It seems my sense of taste is just good enough to appreciate fresh ground coffee. I tend to put enough coffee beans for a week or two in an airtight cannister, and freeze the rest. I've heard both pros and cons on freezing (Alton Brown is against it). I don't drink a lot of coffee quickly. If I freeze half of what I buy the beans seem to stay fresher. When I buy ground coffee I try not to buy more than two to three weeks at a time. I can taste a stale quality if ground coffee sits around longer than that.
I tend to prefer Peets (now available at Vons), Seattles Best, and the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf when I am in a hurry. But I would rather buy from a local roaster if I can just because it is nice to support a small business. Pollys Pies is a local restaurant chain that roasts their own coffee, so I tend to buy my fresh beans from them (though, I'm not sure how small a business they are these days). The beans available at the restaurants are very fresh because the turn over is high, but they only sell the roasts they use in the restaurant. I like going down to Belmont Shore and buying my beans from their coffee retail store primarily because it smells so good, they have a bean-card (buy so many pounds you get one free), and I like the experience of buying my beans from a place that actually roasts the beans on the premises (or "grounds", if you prefer).
I recently bought a nice, four-cup coffee maker for my tenant (it was her birthday) from Target. She seems to really like it. I replaced mine when I broke the carafe with something from a thrift store. It doesn't seem to effect the taste.
http://www.pollys.com/store/coffee.html
That way you can read about the different roasts and try one that sounds like it might appeal to your palate.
Cj: took the red oneporfinn on December 12th, 2008 11:47 pm (UTC)
Hmm...now you have made me want some!
Squidceph on December 13th, 2008 06:16 am (UTC)
Man, I had a whole comment written and then Windows restarted on me. I have got to get Ubuntu installed on this thing.

Anyway, to summarize:

- Those top-of-cup coffee dealies are pretty good, to the best of my knowledge, and also quite cheap and have no moving parts. So that ought to work.

- Yes, freeze your coffee--even questionable stuff can always get worse. Ideally, freeze whole beans and grind them every few days to bring into the office, like Cora says.

- Places near you to get beans: Coffee Cartel has beans, but I've never tried them so I don't know if they're any good. Peet's (on PCH next to CPK) takes coffee very seriously and has a quite wide variety available. For maximum convenience and relative cheapness, Costco and Trader Joe's both have entirely acceptable coffee.

Groundwork is really good, but the nearest one's in Venice. Kaladi's is even better, but that's in Alaska. (Are you coming to MMP? I can bring you a pound of it if you like.)
Andrewneonelephant on December 15th, 2008 09:53 am (UTC)
Well, I consider myself somewhat picky, but obviously I can't be too far up the snob totem pole since I have no problem buying a pound of coffee, having it all ground at once, and then leaving it out at room temperature in the bag for the month or two it takes me to drink it.