Coffee Packaging and Shelf Life

importance-coffee-packaging

Coffee package testing

Freshness is a major determinant of roasted coffee quality and consumer satisfaction. The rate of coffee staling will depend upon the amount of contact with oxygen. Conditions of heat and added moisture will accelerate staling. Moisture-resistant sealed packaging with a minimum of oxygen content is the key to coffee shelf life.

Staling

Staling of coffee occurs gradually as the result of numerous chemical processes affecting the coffee at different rates. The actual amount of time in which these processes take place will depend upon the state of the coffee (whole bean or ground) and conditions of storage (amount of oxygen contact, heat, moisture, and light).

Two basic processes take place during staling:

  • The coffee loses desirable flavors
  • The coffee gains undesirable flavors

In the graph below, downward lines represent the flavors that are being lost, while upward lines represent undesirable stale flavors. The time indicated is under normal ambient conditions:

  • Oxygen at 20%
  • Temperature at 20-25° C
  • Moisture content not more than 2.5% and water activity at about 0.3
  • Sample not exposed to excessive light

Types of Packaging and Shelf Life

One-way Valve Bag

Any amount of oxygen absorbed by coffee eventually leads to staleness. However, as the result of sugar browning reactions during roasting, freshly roasted coffee exudes carbon dioxide for up to a week in its whole bean form. For this reason, the highest quality coffees are typically packaged as soon as possible after roasting in a moisture-proof laminated bag containing a one-way valve. This valve allows the carbon dioxide to escape without “ballooning” or rupturing the bag, but does not allow oxygen to enter.

Other Valve Type Bags

Other types of valves allow carbon dioxide to be expelled through a plastic covered pinhole. This prevents carbon dioxide buildup within the package, but once the carbon dioxide is no longer creating a positive pressure on the coffee side, oxygen can leak into the bag. This is a good solution if the product will move through a system quickly.

No Valves

If the coffee is to be packaged using no valves (including fractionally packaged ground coffee), the coffee must rest (“degas”) before it is packaged. It will pick up some oxygen during the degassing process which will limit shelf life, but otherwise the bag will balloon and possibly rupture, exposing the coffee to ambient levels of oxygen.

Packaging material: Coffee is packaged in materials ranging from paper bags to heavy foil laminates and cans. The packaging type also plays a marketing role. In terms of coffee shelf life, the type should be sealed easily (usually by heat) and moisture-proof.

Oxygen content of no more than 3% in the package is suggested. To ensure freshness at the brew stage, a “use by” date printed on the bags as well as the Julian calendar number printed on the case for the benefit of the retailer might be desirable. If ground coffee is packaged for an individual serving, the weight of coffee per package can be measured (see “Water to Coffee Ratio” in the “Brewing” section following). The actual “use-by” date depends upon the standards of the manufacturer.

9 comments to Coffee Packaging and Shelf Life

  • There is some very interesting information here. I especially like the bag storage suggestions. Check out our site and let us know what you think.

  • avatar Steve Layton

    Question,
    Is an oil barrier required in the heat seal layer for a 1 kilo coffee lamination, BOPP/ink/adh/foil/heat seal layer. packaging whole bean with a 1 year shelf life in a valve bag?

    Will LDPE or CPP or poly nylon poly be recommended for the heat seal layer?

    Pleae answer by e-mail, slayton331@aol.com
    Plesae answer by

  • [...] notice a valve on your bag of coffee beans?  That feature is there for a reason…but it’s not a sensory [...]

  • avatar Beulah

    Looking for information on SHELF LIFE of ground coffee I did not see an easy to comprehend answer. Pineapple may be good for a year or two in a can, canned olives occasionally do not die until four years past their expiration date, coffee ___ 6 months, ___ 1 year, ___ 2 years (if frozen) … this is the simple to grasp data I longed for here. Disappointed? I am.

  • Nice response in return of this query with solid arguments and describing the whole thing about that.

  • avatar Cito

    After hearing all the opinions I have a question: What happens if you roast coffee beans, pack them in a trlaminate foil bag with a one way valve (standard packaging). Leave the bags like this for a a week so they balloon expelling CO2 etc, and then I tape seal the valve. I think at this stage, I can stop the aromatics leaving with the CO2 right? But I also stop the CO2 leaving. Can the CO2 trapped in there get somehow into the beans and spoil the flavour? Thanks for your reply.

  • avatar Spencer Turer

    Hello Cito – Your idea has merits and warrants some testing to determine the viability and changes in quality. Please note that rate of degassing of CO2 is dependent on the bean surface area and the ambient temperature. So, in one to two weeks you will still have degassing and covering the valve may cause the package to balloon, but maybe at a slower rate. Please let is know the results of your testing.

  • avatar Arthur

    the amount of CO2 can vary from 3liter per week for a blond roast up to 17liters for a dark roast. we believe a max O2 of 2% is acceptable directly after packing. this will be less once the degassing starts inside the pouch.

    the degassing proces does indeed not end after 1 or 2 weeks. curious thing is that when beans are inside a CO2 atmosphere, it will slow down the degassing proces.

    Beulah: ask 10 coffee experts and you get 10 different answers on shelf life. I see quality roasters who guarantee 8-12 months shelf life, but they also point out on their packaging that the taste is best when you stay within 6 months.

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