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Freshness: a quality essential.

Freshness: A Quality Essential

This is the first of a four-part series of the freshness of coffee, its staling factors and favor and aroma alterations. Parts 2, 3 and 4 will continue in the succeeding months.

Eli Uncyk, a philosopher of my acquaintance, has posed the question, "Which tastes better; chicken without ketchup or chicken without oregano?" It is equally moot to discuss which tastes less attractive; stale specialty coffee or fresh commercial coffee? The question is clearly oxymoronic. Still, I come down on the side of freshness rather than pedigree. Coffee that is not fresh is not enjoyable to quaff or to sip. Freshness makes up an awful lot of what quality is. As good Arabica coffee stales, it loses its aroma, its varietal taste distinctions, its fruitiness, acidity and sweetness. Eventually there is no character left to distinguish the specialty from any other coffee. As freshness decreases, the quality of taste diminishes. There is a point reached where the taste falls below that of fresh coffee which started out being beans of lesser quality.

Coffee begins to suffer a loss of quality, in taste and aroma, as it moves in time away from the moment of optimum freshness. That moment is at the peak of roast development as the beans are discharged from the roaster. A determining factor in measuring the falling quality is whether the coffee is kept in the whole grain or ground. Grinding opens more surface area to the oxidizing action of the air and therefore promotes staling. Temperature also plays a role; stalage is retarded at lower temperatures and encouraged at higher ones. The presence of moisture also encourages staling. The vessel within which the coffee rests is also of importance. Ideally it is clean, dry, air-tight, grease proof and firmly closable. With all these conditions met we can provide coffee with quite an extended life, still the coffee must be consumed within a relatively short time after opening.

The aromas and flavors of coffee are changing continually from the moment they are first developed in the roaster. When coffee is subjected to the free movement of air it stales faster than when in any package no matter how faulty or flimsy the packaging material. We can only hope to retard the rate of volatization, reaction and oxidation.

The pathology of staling begins with the loss of aroma noticeable within a week after roasting. The taste of staling is apparent in ground coffee, left open at room temperature, after just a few days more. Most people detect the tell-tale signs of staleness in the taste of whole bean coffee between weeks five and eight. As the coffee continues to degrade a pyridine-like foulness begins to appear, further degrading the already deteriorating cup quality. With time the undesirable qualities outweigh the desirable ones. Eventually the coffee become unpalatable. Stale coffee never becomes so evil as to become a health hazard, it simply loses its desireability as a comestible. It is a sure bet that rancidity will claim coffee, open to the air, within 60 days.

Specialty people have been recommending consumer freezing of roasted coffees for years now. In a frigid environment water is immobilized, and the volatility of aromatics and rates of oxidation are substantially reduced. Ground coffee stays fresh for weeks, and whole coffee for three months and longer. The same principles that protect one pound of beans in the home freezer may be applied to protect large quantities of coffee in a commercial environment. To attain the best longevity for coffee the beans should be stored in a tight moisture proof, grease proof, airtight container, laminated package, or a ceramic glass or stainless steel vessel with a tightly closed cover.

Staleness and freshness are terms that may vary depending on the experience, training, standards, sensitivity, and conscious or unconscious bias of the taster. An educated coffee tasters' palate and intellectual mind-set are substantially different from those of the average consumer. Years of palatal abuse have caused the consumer to unwittingly accept staleness as part of the taste of "Good" coffee. The educated palate with an orientation toward high standards makes no such concession. The educated unprejudiced taster recognizes staleness and does not accept it.

Product moisture and the absorption of moisture in storage affects coffee quality grievously. Flavor and aroma alteration and eventual loss are accelerated as temperatures and/or oxygen levels rise too.

Roasting is a drying process conducted by applying heat to the beans. After roasting even dry roasted (no water added during the cooling process) beans have some moisture, but equaling not more than 2% of their body weight. Some coffees are sprayed with a small quantity of water as an aid in the cooling process, and to plump-up the beans attractively for retail presentation. This addition of water is called "Quenching." Drowned (over-quenched) coffees may have a residual moisture content of as much as 6%. All coffee, even overly wetted coffee will still absorb moisture rapidly from the air surrounding it. It is important to remember that a high moisture content coffee degrades more rapidly than a low moisture content.

The practice of over dousing coffee beans with a water quench or the addition of water to roasted coffee in the cooling or grinding processes, as much practiced in the commercial and institutional American trade, is deleterious to the quality of the coffee's freshness because moisture quickens the liberation and subsequent oxidation of the coffee's volatiles. This act of vandalism to coffee is clearly unethical and akin to the actions of a butcher injecting water into the roast beef prior to weighing.

As the coffee's excess moisture evaporates, there is a loss of volatile aromatic substances along with the moisture. A high moisture content also reduces the speed with which water will drip trough the coffee bed during the brewing cycle. Coffee loses weight (shrinks) during roasting. The reduction or elimination of the application of excess water results in a corresponding increase in weight loss during processing. This change increases the value of each pound of coffee as it raises the cost of production by lowering yield. In several European countries, including France and the Federal Republic of Germany, government standards limit the residual moisture content of roasted beans to 5%. There are no government standards pertaining to this form of adulteration in the U.S.

Donald N. Schoenholt Specialties Editor
COPYRIGHT 1990 Lockwood Trade Journal Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:part 1
Author:Schoenholt, Donald N.
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Sep 1, 1990
Words:1063
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