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Is 6 months a realistic stale date for valve bag technology?
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Discussions > Espresso > Q and A > Is 6 months a...  
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Grover_57
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Joined: 22 Jan 2004
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Location: New Brunswick Canada
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Posted Thu Jan 22, 2004, 6:15am
Subject: Is 6 months a realistic stale date for valve bag technology?
 

I am currently debating whether 6 months shelf life is a realistic figure. I have been told by a large commercial roaster that this is what they consider to be their stale date. However i have seen in many instances that coffee companies will code date their product well before this date. ex( 6 weeks to 8 weeks) Do they have some kind of secret patent that i'm not aware of?
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HB
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Joined: 3 Apr 2003
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Location: Cary, NC
Posted Thu Jan 22, 2004, 6:55am
Subject: Re: Is 6 months a realistic stale date for valve bag technology?
 

Illy goes to great lengths to try to extend shelf-life with their nitrogen-filled cans.  They claim two years on the bottom.  In a conversation with a local roaster, they conceded that the grocer's request was for a six-month "best by" date and reluctantly accepted three months.  The six to eight weeks is probably the closest meeting of the marketing and roaster mindset on the issue.  Personally, I count "best by" in days, not weeks.

-- Dan

 
www.home-barista.com
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cafedj
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Posted Thu Jan 22, 2004, 8:06am
Subject: Re: Is 6 months a realistic stale date for valve bag technology?
 

I have a question re: valve bags.

In order to take advantage of free shipping from internet roasters I frequently order more lbs of coffee than I can drink in a month.  Whether it's a good idea or not I tend to freeze the bags that I won't be using for more than two weeks.  What I've noticed is that some bags shrink around the beans making a tight brick when frozen and others stay loose, so to speak.  My belief about this is that the bags that don't shrink have valves that aren't working correctly.  Meaning they are allowing air to pass through in both directions.

Now, my observation is that at least 50% of valve bags do not shrink, and from some roasters none of their bags shrink in the freezer.  If my physics is correct, are valve bags really that unreliable, and are we being duped into thinking they are really doing what they are supposed to do?
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JimT
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Posted Thu Jan 22, 2004, 8:35am
Subject: Re: Is 6 months a realistic stale date for valve bag technology?
 

I have had some of these bags let coffee go stale a lot quicker than a stainless steel sealed canister I often use for coffee and was wondering about the bags also. It seems that some of these bags may be defective or not doing what they say they do.

Does anyone know why we are apparently not getting what we are supposedly paying in some cases 50 cents per bag for, only to get stale coffee from them.

I guess it's Buyer Beware of the marketing claims made by some companies.

Jim
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MOSFET
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MOSFET
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Posted Thu Jan 22, 2004, 9:22am
Subject: Re: Is 6 months a realistic stale date for valve bag technology?
 

I've been doing vacuum storage for my beans and I personally believe it's better than freezing or refrigeration (I could be wrong). First of all the beans are protected from temperature because they're stored at room temperature. Second, they are truly protected from oxidation. Third, they're protected from moisture. The only thing that it may have against it is if de-gassing occurs more in a room temp, evacuated container than in a frozen, air-filled container. Maybe the best of both worlds is to freeze the vacuum container! I've read that freezing only helps wrt degassing if frozen within an hour of roasting. I can't confirm or deny that.

Anyway, I'm happy with the vacuum storage. I just use a wine saver, and store all the beans in wine bottles. The wine saver is just a slotted rubber stopper and a separate handle pump that you place on the stopper and pump a few times. You know there's a decent vacuum because when you open it days or weeks later, it makes a giant sucking sound. (Remember Ross Perot?) Maybe I'll try the vac-freeze method next time someone sends me some free, home-roasted beans!

Keith
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robertm03
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Posted Thu Jan 22, 2004, 9:41am
Subject: Re: Is 6 months a realistic stale date for valve bag technology?
 

First off, I'd agree that freshness ought to be measured in days, not weeks.

I have some experience with valve bags, and I'd say that more than likely, the valve is working, but the seals of the bag may be the problem.  Any small gap in the top or bottom seal, caused by gaps in the glue, or coffee grounds/beans can cause a less than perfect seal. Don't try this in your local store, but you can test the seal by sucking the air out of the bag through the valve. If the seal is good, it will form a brick and stay that way unless it is opened or warms up. You can also tear open a bag (after you empty the beans) and look at the seams.

Another reason a bag might not form a brick, is if it has a larger headpsace to begin with. When you put the bags in the freezer, the coffee (if it is fresh enough) gassing off will slow down, and the air molecules will condense. With a valve, the condensing air molecules inside the bag pull a vacuum, so the bag collapses. If there is more space in the bag to begin with, the collapse won't be as noticeable.

In terms of how fresh the bag keeps the coffee, you first need to ask how fresh it was when it went into the bag. Many roasters let their coffee gas off before packaging. (Fewer manufacturing problems). This, of course may lead to oxygen exposure and some loss of freshness. Many folks swear by a Nitrogen flush system, which displaces o2 in the bag, and doesn't interact with coffee. But my opinion on this is summed up in the first line of this response. Hope this helps.
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cafedj
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Posted Thu Jan 22, 2004, 11:34am
Subject: Re: Is 6 months a realistic stale date for valve bag technology?
 

This is a problem I'd love to have a good solution for.

I'm going to begin squeezing or sucking the air out of some bags to see what happens.  I'm also going to contact the current vendor I'm buying from and see if they can explain why their bags don't shrink in the freezer.

As far as the rubber stopper in a wine bottle approach, I have that gear and use it for wine.  I find it is better than not using it, but I'm not at all convinced that it creates anything close to a good vacuum.  I pump the thing like a demon, and it does maintain a good seal, but my wine definitely does not taste as good on the 2nd or 3rd day as it does the day I open a bottle.  I just don't think it really removes enough of the oxygen in the bottle to prevent degradation.  Never tried it with coffee beans but it's a good thought.

Anyone have a reasonable way to seal the ends of a coffee bag to try to eliminate that as an avenue of leaks?  I guess holding it under water and squeezing would reveal where the gas comes out.  If it's only coming out of the valve, and the bags still don't shrink in the freezer then it would certainly seem to point to the valve.  As far as extra air in the bags, that could be eliminated by squeezing them down before freezing.

There just has to be an affordable, good solution to preserving beans longer than a week.
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jax
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jax
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Posted Thu Jan 22, 2004, 11:50am
Subject: Re: Is 6 months a realistic stale date for valve bag technology?
 

A big ole AMEN to Robertm03

Finally someone who understands there is only one way to have fresh coffee. Get it close as you can to the roast date. No roast date? Don't buy it. Simple as that. Problem solved.
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Michael_Teahan
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Michael_Teahan
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Posted Thu Jan 22, 2004, 12:54pm
Subject: Re: Is 6 months a realistic stale date for valve bag technology?
 

Another angle on espresso. . . . .

Italian bags are much thicker than most domestic packaging; less exposure to UV and oxidation.  THe better companies also Nitro flush and THEN vacuum.  I have had Italian coffees pushing two years that were perfect.  Absolutely perfect.

THere is the other side of the equation as it relates to espresso.  The beans must rest in an oxy free envirnoment for a time before it can be used.  The Illy theory is that the balance of oils, etc. changes under nitro pressure and improves the quality of the bean.  THey don't even ship until 30 days after the roast.

Passal Acqua ages roasted beans in nitro filled silos before packaging.

These guys are giants and old school.  They spend a boatload of money on packaging technology.  Putting together a quality product doesn't stop when the coffee leaves the roaster.

As good as roasters in the U.S. are--and many are great--anyone that says these coffees are crap is full of same.

There, my first pronouncement.

Michael
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robertm03
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Joined: 19 Jan 2004
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Posted Thu Jan 22, 2004, 2:34pm
Subject: Re: Is 6 months a realistic stale date for valve bag technology?
 

Most domestic packaging is foil and polyethylene which is rated at 0% UV exposure, and 0% o2 transference.  
    I'm not necessarily disagreeing with you, but I do wonder how Illy (or anyone) keeps their beans under Nitrogen pressure. Usually N2 is used to blanket and/or flush o2 away. A pressurized N2 system would be interesting, but I haven't seen one.
    Also, many American companies let their beans "rest" out of the roaster simply to let the coffee finish gassing off, because the gas release is a packaging machine hassle (having shipped bags overseas that exploded because they couldn't gas off through the valve fast enough, I can understand this).  My team recently purchased cans of Illy espresso (beans) and set up the grinder and espresso machine for proper Illy extraction (as opposed to the darker roast that it had been set up for). Tasting Illy coffee side by side with coffee 3 days out of the roaster revealed a BIG difference in what I can only call "wow" factor (I know, that sounds cheesy).  The Illy coffee performed quite capably, but there was a definite difference in freshness.  That's not to say that Illy was stale, it wasn't.  I don't know what the practice of the Italian Giants is, and I have all the respect in the world for their research, but I believe that many companies justify their manufacturing practice with quality theories.  Just my opinion.
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