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Netphilosopher
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Posted Fri Mar 11, 2011, 8:45am
Subject: .
 

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svyerkgeniiy
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Posted Fri Mar 11, 2011, 9:27am
Subject: Re: Zoning in on Starbucks "Freshness" ("Use by" date minus 32 weeks)
 

I don't think anyone has ever done a study on the effects of aging on coffee.  Most people have assumed that the only problem with storing roasted coffee was its exposure to oxygen.  That is why modern storing and distribution technology focuses on one-way valves, flooding with inert nitrogen, freezing, and vacuum storage.

All of these assume that time itself is not an enemy.  However, it should be simple to test to prove or disprove: do a roast now, keep it in oxygen-free storage for six months, and then roast the same bean from the same lot to the same level and cup the two together after a three-day rest.  Maybe Tom Owen could do that for us :-) ?  He's probably not watching this channel though.

My impression about Starbucks is that they do the dark roast thing not really for flavor, but because it has a longer shelf life and produces a more consistent product.  Almost all of the varietal qualities are gone; I can never tell their Sumatra from their Costa Rica.  In effect, the point of origin becomes purely a marketing dimension.  And that is what Starbucks really is: a marketing engine that focuses on its brand, and excellence in coffee is secondary-- mainly because people can't really tell the difference.  Most people don't want an exploration of fine coffee nuance, they want a dessert drink that makes gives them excuse to feel elegant and sophisticated.  That experience is what Starbucks focuses on, not on the gourmet quality of the product.  Any gourmet move I've seen them make has been to quash the competition: the Coffee Connection in Boston, and the company that made the Clover brewer.  Have you seen any Clover brewers in your local *$s?  I thought not.

Obviously I have an opinion on this matter.  But until someone makes some best-practices claims about time itself being an enemy of good coffee, no one will do anything about it.  Even if those claims come about, the inertia of the industry and the market's desire to have a product with eternal shelf life will make any changes very very slow.

 
Donald Varona
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EricBNC
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EricBNC
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Posted Fri Mar 11, 2011, 9:37am
Subject: Re: Zoning in on Starbucks "Freshness" ("Use by" date minus 32 weeks)
 

Netphilosopher Said:

In the US, Starbucks roasted beans do not have a "manufacture" date on them.  They are stamped with a "use by" date.  

Based on past info, I was told this was somewhere between 6 and 10 months after the roasting and packing date (the "manufactured" date) - so to get a picture of when a bag of Starbucks beans were roasted, (i.e. how old the bag of beans is), you looked at that date and subtracted something between 24 and 40 weeks.


However, we now have a "stake in the ground" for their latest offering, with a known delivery date.  Based on the most up to date info, I can conclude that the "roast-blend-package" date for Starbucks whole bean coffee is the "use by" date minus 32 weeks.  

Use by date of 10/8 was roasted on 2/26/11.  Use by date of 09/17/11 was roasted/packaged on 2/5/11, and the use by 8/20/11 were roasted/packaged approximately 1/8/11.  In my local area, we are getting samples of coffee that were roasted between 1/8 and 2/26, anywhere from 3-7 weeks "aged". ;-)

Posted March 11, 2011 link

Thank you for this research - it does help to know how far past roasting for available bags on a shelf.

Netphilosopher Said:

I will say this is some of the freshest tasting Starbucks coffee I've had, and gives me a suggestion for blending I hadn't thought of before (mixing and Ethiopia with Asian coffees and a Central American base).

Posted March 11, 2011 link

I think Ethiopian and Sumatran are components in Mokka Java - one of my favorite blends.

 
I chew coffee beans with my teeth while gargling with 195 F water to enjoy coffee. What is this "coffee brewing" device you speak of?
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Netphilosopher
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Posted Fri Mar 11, 2011, 11:39am
Subject: .
 

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Netphilosopher
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Posted Fri Mar 11, 2011, 2:08pm
Subject: .
 

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jsaliga
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jsaliga
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Posted Fri Mar 11, 2011, 3:19pm
Subject: Re: Zoning in on Starbucks "Freshness" ("Use by" date minus 32 weeks)
 

svyerkgeniiy Said:

I don't think anyone has ever done a study on the effects of aging on coffee.

Posted March 11, 2011 link

What possible incentive would there be for the industry to fund such a study?  A bona-fide study requires scientific controls and qualified researchers.  Real scientific research is expensive.  An informal test is easy enough to do and not expensive, but the results will probably lack repeatability and validity.

Most people have assumed that the only problem with storing roasted coffee was its exposure to oxygen.  That is why modern storing and distribution technology focuses on one-way valves, flooding with inert nitrogen, freezing, and vacuum storage.

I think what is of greater interest to home roasters (at least to this home roaster) is in storage and preservation of green coffee, not roasted coffee.  Extending the length of time that I might be able to enjoy a particular crop of coffee is of considerable interest to me.

All of these assume that time itself is not an enemy.  However, it should be simple to test to prove or disprove: do a roast now, keep it in oxygen-free storage for six months, and then roast the same bean from the same lot to the same level and cup the two together after a three-day rest.  Maybe Tom Owen could do that for us :-) ?  He's probably not watching this channel though.

Why look to Tom Owen for that when you could do it for yourself?  Personally I think Tom's limited time resources are better spent locating, cupping, and securing excellent coffees for us to buy.

Obviously I have an opinion on this matter.  But until someone makes some best-practices claims about time itself being an enemy of good coffee, no one will do anything about it.  Even if those claims come about, the inertia of the industry and the market's desire to have a product with eternal shelf life will make any changes very very slow.

You point out that people may be assuming that time is not an enemy, and yet your comment above rests on the assumption that it is.  I'm not trying to rain on your parade, but this is why I am a big fan of people deciding for themselves what is appropriate.  There are no hard and fast rules with coffee, only guidelines.  The only thing that really matters is an individual's assessment of the quality of what is in the cup.  If my own tests suggests that coffee will keep for up to 60 days in the freezer in vacuum sealed mason jars, and someone else's test says 30 days (or zero days)...well the only opinion that matters is my own.  That's not to say that people shouldn't share their experiences.  That is how we help each other, so long as we don't have an expectation that our experience will become dogma for everyone.

--Jerome
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dana_leighton
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dana_leighton
Joined: 11 Jan 2002
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Posted Fri Mar 11, 2011, 3:24pm
Subject: Re: Zoning in on Starbucks "Freshness" ("Use by" date minus 32 weeks)
 

Hmmm... Why not just call Starbucks to ask? I called Target to ask about their dates, and was told precisely how far in advance of the best by date the beans were roasted. 1 year! A similar call might be in order to the Big Green Monster.

 
Dana Leighton - Espresso hack and CoffeeGeek moderator
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dana_leighton
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dana_leighton
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Posted Fri Mar 11, 2011, 5:16pm
Subject: Re: Zoning in on Starbucks "Freshness" ("Use by" date minus 32 weeks)
 

jsaliga Said:

What possible incentive would there be for the industry to fund such a study?  A bona-fide study requires scientific controls and qualified researchers.  Real scientific research is expensive.  An informal test is easy enough to do and not expensive, but the results will probably lack repeatability and validity.

Posted March 11, 2011 link

I have the good fortune to have access to food science journals. There have been a number of such studies, and the incentive is, I imagine, better plan for meeting demand which might be cyclical or to take advantage of production efficiencies that come from roasting larger quantities that can be stored in warehouses until they're needed for shipping. Not to mention the concerns of retailers who have product sitting on shelves. But, as you'll see below, the studies that have been done are not always valid or reliable.

A quite good review has been recently published specifically about coffee storage. I found it while trying to find out if there's any literature on the effects of vacuum packaging and oxygen absorbers on CO2 release from beans and subsequent staling (hint: No there isn't.). Here's the executive summary (only dealing with roasted coffee here, not instant, or liquids, which the article also addresses):

Coffee is a perishable product and maintaining "acceptable" quality over time is a concern. Research is usually done on aging and shelf life using accelerated aging techniques which expose the coffee to an environmental aging agent (often heat) and a mathematical formula is applied to infer the equivalent aging period in normal environments.

Most data on shelf life of roasted coffee indicates a shelf life of 1-3 months in air, 4-6 months under vacuum, 6-8 months under inert gas (e.g. nitrogen), and over 18 months in pressurized packaging. These data are for both whole bean and ground coffee.

One of the problems in interpreting these data are that shelf life os not always done with consumer sensory evaluation. Often freshness is measured by the volatiles released into the storage container's headspace - basically the oxidative by-products of staling. In addition, when consumer tasting panels are used, different acceptability limits are selected. Often it's set at the point where 50% of consumers reject the coffee as unpalatable, which the company might consider a medium risk for consumers rejecting the product.

So basically, there's not much research, and what is done is not particularly useful for people who are interested in quality coffee. For people who really care about culinary-quality coffee, the criterion for rejecting coffee as stale is likely much higher than the 50% criterion, maybe on the order of 5-10% but that's a guess. Also, sensory evaluation is mandatory, but there's not a lot of research using consumers, much less the kind of discriminating consumers we are.

Reference:
Nicoli, M. C., Calligaris, S., & Manzocco, L. (2009). Shelf-Life testing of coffee and related products: Uncertainties, pitfalls, and perspectives. Food Engineering Review, 1(2), 159-168.

 
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jsaliga
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jsaliga
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Posted Fri Mar 11, 2011, 5:44pm
Subject: Re: Zoning in on Starbucks "Freshness" ("Use by" date minus 32 weeks)
 

Thanks Dana.  I did a Google search on the authors and title of the paper and actually found it in PDF format.  I only gave it a quick look and already see a few issues with it as a work of scientific research.  I don't want to debate its merits, but I will give it a closer read over the weekend.

--Jerome
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svyerkgeniiy
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Posted Fri Mar 11, 2011, 9:05pm
Subject: Re: Zoning in on Starbucks "Freshness" ("Use by" date minus 32 weeks)
 

jsaliga Said:

What possible incentive would there be for the industry to fund such a study?  A bona-fide study requires scientific controls and qualified researchers.  Real scientific research is expensive.  An informal test is easy enough to do and not expensive, but the results will probably lack repeatability and validity.

Posted March 11, 2011 link

"Probably lack repeatability and validity"?  Why?  Considering it's really a subjective question, I am not looking for more than informed opinion.  I personally would be satisfied with the controlled investigation by one who is interested in the excellence of coffee.  I understand that most companies would avoid investing in research on this topic like the plague because a) any counter-current results would mean only more cost, and b) the general population is more concerned with convenience and price rather than excellence in coffee.

I think what is of greater interest to home roasters (at least to this home roaster) is in storage and preservation of green coffee, not roasted coffee.  Extending the length of time that I might be able to enjoy a particular crop of coffee is of considerable interest to me.

I was not speaking so much of home-roasted coffee, but a means of supporting the idea that 34-week old coffee is really a focus on economy, not excellence.  It would be desirable to be able to conveniently purchase fresh flavorful beans from Starbucks.

Why look to Tom Owen for that when you could do it for yourself?  Personally I think Tom's limited time resources are better spent locating, cupping, and securing excellent coffees for us to buy.

That is really for him to decide.  I did recently view a video of him deliberately cupping green and underroasted coffee, so why would an extra set of cuppings of normally roasted coffee be more unusual?  I personally do not have nitrogen flushing equipment at home or a means of fully deoxygenating my coffee.  I also would trust his opinion over my own more limited palette.

You point out that people may be assuming that time is not an enemy, and yet your comment above rests on the assumption that it is.

Yes, I am leaning toward that assumption, but I don't have more convincing support.  Isn't that the whole point of my post?

I'm not trying to rain on your parade, but this is why I am a big fan of people deciding for themselves what is appropriate.

Then why not state that without refuting me point by point?  I do feel quite rained on.

There are no hard and fast rules with coffee, only guidelines.  The only thing that really matters is an individual's assessment of the quality of what is in the cup.  If my own tests suggests that coffee will keep for up to 60 days in the freezer in vacuum sealed mason jars, and someone else's test says 30 days (or zero days)...well the only opinion that matters is my own.  That's not to say that people shouldn't share their experiences.  That is how we help each other, so long as we don't have an expectation that our experience will become dogma for everyone.

I am a full advocate of purchasing and doing what you like over what other people say-- I've made that very point in many previous posts.  I am not promoting dogma here, just an investigation into the topic.  I might get around to doing this myself at some point, but perhaps someone with a more immediate motivation might "share their experiences" before I get there.

 
Donald Varona
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