Coffee Testing and Analysis
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Coffee Packaging and Shelf Life Issues

Fresh coffee is the best coffee. Some would take it further and say that coffee quality is directly linked to freshness, and freshness is a requirement for specialty coffee.  Manufacturers of roasted coffee have choices in the way they choose to offer their products. One way is to closely managing the inventory and roast each product on a schedule to ensure that fresh coffee is always available.

Another way is to utilize specific packaging that will maintain the coffee’s freshness for a longer shelf-life. Packaging is one of the most difficult aspects of coffee manufacturing to manage, and constitutes a large part of Coffee Analysts testing activities.  As can be seen any day in our laboratory, physical testing evaluates the success of the packaging equipment and materials, and sensory testing identifies the impact to the consumer.  Our goal is to identify problems and provide assistance to our clients to insure that packaging issues will be resolved.

Common questions are “What are the specific attributes of fresh coffee?” and “How long will my coffee stay fresh?”  The most common answer is that freshness depends on many variables.  While this response does not provide a satisfactory answer, we must fully understand the manufacturing process and benchmark the usual quality standards to better understand the root cause of the issue.  Generally, under ambient conditions, whole beans will lose significant amounts of flavor and develop stale fragrance in 1-2 weeks, while with ground coffee the process takes 1-2 days. Conditions of high temperature, light, or high humidity will increase the rate of staling.

Figure 1: Chart of loss of freshness of ground roast coffee under normal ambient conditions.