4 simple ways to tell if your coffee beans are freshly roasted

everything coffee lovers associate with a freshly brewed cup, such as its flavor and aroma, comes from the roasting process

when a raw, green coffee bean is picked, it contains the precursors to, but doesn't yet exude, those complex flavor profiles that give coffee its quintessential smell and taste

it's the roasting process that imparts a flavour explosion of chocolates, caramels, flowers, and fruits

once a green coffee bean is exposed to the extreme heat of a roaster, a green bean's complex makeup of minerals, carbohydrates, amino acids, proteins, lipids, water, and caffeine meld together in chemical reactions that give way to that nutty and irresistible smell and taste of coffee

unfortunately, like most products of living organisms, coffee beans are highly susceptible to aging. the moment a roasted coffee bean is exposed to air, it immediately begins to degrade and lose its tasty flavor. this is why many roasters — but not necessarily all — suggest that you brew your coffee beans as soon as possible after roasting so that you can get the freshest, most delicious drink

but how do you know if your store-bought beans were recently roasted? Here are four ways to find out

look for a glossy appearance

coffee grounds are chock full of oils, acids, and other compounds. All of these chemicals, referred to collectively as "solubles," give coffee its flavor — they are what is extracted from the grounds during the brewing process

when coffee beans are roasted, the intense heat evaporates moisture out of the heart of the bean and simultaneously draws out the volatile, oil-like substances, which then coat the outside of the bean

this substance is not technically an oil, though. It readily evaporates after being exposed to the air, which is why the longer it sits out, the less oily it becomes

not all beans produce the same mount of oil, however, so be careful when using oiliness as a proxy for freshness. a light roast won't be as glossy-looking as a dark roast because it wasn't roasted as long (light-roasted beans should still have a dull shininess, though)

beans decaffeinated with the swiss water process, a procedure that draws caffeine out of coffee beans using water instead of chemicals, will also produce much duller-looking beans

check for residue

if you pick up a handful of coffee beans and they leave a residue on your hands — or if you can see residue on the inside of a bag of beans — that means they are oily, and hence, freshly roasted

lighter roasts aren't as oily, so don't expect as much residue as you'd find with a darker roast

check for a valve in the sealed bag

when beans are roasted under high heat and then cooled, they release a ton of carbon dioxide (co2). this release of gas can last anywhere from a few days to several weeks after roasting, during what's called the degassing period

in the first few days after roasting, the beans rapidly release co2, then taper off to a more gradual release over the rest of the period

When actively degassing coffee beans are vacuum-sealed in a bag, that co2 needs somewhere to go, or else the bag will blow up like a balloon and potentially pop. so manufacturers insert one-way air valves into tightly sealed bags to allow the co2 to escape.

if your sealed bag does not have one of these valves, that likely means that your coffee beans aren't actively giving off co2 — and aren't likely to be fresh

If buying in bulk, pop them in a resealable bag and see what happens

when your beans aren't pre-packaged — maybe you bought them in bulk — pop a half-cup of beans into a resealable plastic bag, press out the air, and let them sit on the kitchen counter over night

If they've been freshly roasted within the past seven to 10 days, the bag will puff up from an outgassing of carbon dioxide. if they're not so fresh, the bag will remain flat. And you will be sad

now go forth and drink freshly-roasted coffee!

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