A month ago I set about investigating whether it is possible to sell ground coffee with a three month shelf-life, without the benefit of nitrogen flushing. This was in response to the growing number of local places selling bags of ground coffee, often with a long shelf life and with a high price point. The background to this can be read in a previous blog and what follows are the results of the first tasting.
This experiment, for want of a better word, involved the same coffee, from the same roast and packaged on the same day. However, the coffee was ground as follows:
The first coffee was stored in whole bean form and only ground as needed.
The second coffee was stored in whole bean form until three days before tasting. I then ground the whole bag, replicating a typical transaction which occurs in many coffee shops: a bag of whole bean coffee is sold and the customer asks for it all to be ground.
The third coffee was ground on the day of roasting and packaged straight away.
Part 1: Aroma
The first part of the test was to judge the aroma of the coffee when the bag was opened. The best aroma came from the coffee which had been ground three days previously. It had some delicious spicy tones and a nice intensity. The whole bean coffee had a more muted aroma with some bright notes and delicate hints of spice. The ground bag of coffee had a very flat aroma, offering nothing of interest. This coffee also exhibited a stale aroma.
However, once the beans had been ground they definitely took centre stage. The grounds had a wonderful bright, fresh and intense aroma and were the only ones with fruity notes.
Part 2: Taste
The second part of the test focused on taste. Initially I considered brewing these coffees as you might at home, using a filter or cafetiere. However, taste can be influenced by the brewing process so I opted to cup the coffees, removing as many variables as possible. I also avoided using industry scoring sheets for the tasting as I wanted to reflect the experience in a more user friendly format. It is also worth noting the coffees were tasted blind so we had no idea what was in each bowl until the end.
Each of the coffees are described below:
Coffee 1: The Beans
This coffee had a moderate acidity at the front end which seemed to develop over multiple exposures. It was the only coffee in which the fruity tones could be tasted, a characteristic which we would expect from this particular coffee. The coffee was also very sweet with a creamy mouthfeel. Overall a really balanced coffee with plenty of interest in the cup.
As the coffee cooled it became even more interesting, resulting in exciting flavours of fruit gums!
Coffee 2: Ground three days prior to tasting
This coffee had much less acidity and brightness than the beans but had a good amount of sweetness. As such the coffee felt much less balanced though this gave a more pronounced aftertaste. The coffee cooled reasonably well but without the excitement of the beans.
Coffee 3: Ground before packing
There was no brightness or acidity in the cup and overall the flavours were flat. The cup was still sweet and the creamy mouthfeel was retained. I wouldn’t suggest the coffee was unpleasant, just lacking.
The most noticeable difference came about as the coffee cooled – it did not cool anywhere near as well as the other two cups.
To be honest I really didn’t expect these results to be as clear cut as they were. I expected the beans to taste the best but thought the ground coffee would have held up much better. It’s worth reminding ourselves that all the coffees were one month old, which is at the end of the shelf life we place on our beans and yet only a third of the way through the shelf life of some ground products which are appearing on our shelves.
The most noticeable difference between the beans and the other two coffees was the fruit tones in the cup. This aspect in particular was missing from the ground coffees, which also resulted in them cooling less well. Ultimately the ground coffee did not reflect the origin flavours and characteristics of the coffee, which is at the very heart of the concept of ‘speciality’, and which allows coffee roasters to demand a higher price point.
I still want to taste the three coffees a week after opening as this is how long it might take to consume a typical bag. It’s all very well a coffee tasting good the opened for the first time (or not in the case of the grounds above), but we should also expect the coffee to last for a reasonable period. I’m most interested in the impact on the beans over this period but it will also be interesting to see whether either of the other two coffees retain any interesting characteristics.