Not so fresh, freshly roasted coffee

Many people confuse fresh coffee with freshly roasted coffee. Perhaps the best way to explain the difference is through my own experience during a visit to a major city in North America. This, like many major cities, is now bustling with coffee roasteries and sidewalk cafes everywhere.

There, I noticed “copy and paste” baristas– all super cool guys who put on an amazing show of getting the coffee into our cup. They love their job and have a passion for presenting coffee – but how much do they actually know about coffee?  

As a coffee connoisseur, I can’t help but start a casual conversation with the barista. While he prepared my brew, he offered superficial information about the origins of the coffee. It became clear to me that he had very little idea of what happened to the coffee beans before they landed in his hands. I realised that having him share details with me about coffee is like someone trying to explain to an Italian how to make pasta.  

Yes, but is your coffee bean really fresh?

He was so proud of his freshly roasted coffee, but I had to take the time to explain to him the difference between “fresh” coffee and “freshly roasted” coffee.

When people think of freshly roasted coffee, they imagine that they are getting the freshest, purest coffee, without realising that the life of their coffee bean didn’t begin in the roastery.

These hip baristas at the coffee roasteries, that are popping up all over any city, are usually not able and not interested in telling you the backstory: green coffee beans are transported by sea, stored in various warehouses, and then dispatched for roasting at any number of places. The truth is, that their tiny lot of coffee, exactly like every other type of coffee that you find in a super market, was placed and transported in a humid see container for at least 3 weeks, then probably put in storage in a warehouse in green form for at least another 3 months. How “special” would that coffee be?

Green coffee beans are absorbent and highly susceptible to outside influences, including humid sea air. This long-term exposure to humidity and the elements causes drastic changes in the original attributes of the coffee. And this isn’t even considering the bean’s exposure to fungi such as Aspergillus and Penicillium, which are the same fungi that coffee beans, for example, from Brazil and Vietnam get when they are sun-dried on the ground, in humid conditions.

Fresh coffee is the secret to the best tasting coffee

I explained to the poor hipster that, although the coffee that he served me was indeed freshly roasted, it was not fresh. He frowned, a little put-out by my knowledge and was still confused by the difference. 

So, I resorted to an analogy that would help him understand my point.

-  “Have you ever travelled to Latin America and eaten an avocado there?” I  asked.
- He said yes, he had.
- “Have you eaten an avocado that you bought from your local supermarket?” I asked.
- Again, he said he had.
- “Did you notice a difference in the taste?” 
- “Of course I did!” He exclaimed. “The one I ate in South America tasted so   much better.”

I then went on to explain that the avocado he bought at his local supermarket was harvested from the tree while it was still green, transported in a ship, stored in warehouses, and only then distributed to stores. During this voyage, the fruit ripened (instead of being allowed to ripen naturally), as opposed to the avocado he ate where it grew which ripened on the tree and was eaten soon after it was picked – resulting in the astounding difference in taste.

 Same with coffee.

His head nearly exploded when the revelation hit home. Isn’t it ironic that I had to use an avocado to explain to a barista the difference between fresh coffee and freshly ground coffee?

Like many specialty coffee growers, I know that a key part of the recipe for the perfect coffee is to roast the beans while they are actually fresh.

I finished drinking my not-so-fresh, freshly roasted coffee, thanked the barista and encouraged him to research where his coffee beans have been.

Walking away, I wondered…

Isn’t it just simple logic that a fine coffee should always be roasted and sealed immediately after harvesting to preserve its real attributes?