What is this date on my coffee?
This is Part Three in a series about the information on your coffee bag and what the heck it all means.
Roast date OR "Best before" date
Roast date is exactly what you think it is: the actual date the coffee was roasted.
Best before date is less clear. Some companies set their “best before” date one month after roast; others six months or more.
In my experience, high quality roasted coffee has lost most of what makes it special one month after roast date. Not to say it isn’t drinkable after that, but it will taste less interesting and more like a big national brand coffee. Once the coffee is ground, the flavors may diminish quicker when compared to whole bean. This is similar to how whole spices keep their flavor longer than ground spices. And an open bag will degrade quicker than a bag that stays sealed, or coffee placed in a airtight container.
Since best before can be so subjective, roast date seems to be the most useful piece of information as it allows you to make your own determination of an acceptable time frame for consuming the coffee.
Another interesting twist is the question of how long after the roast date should you wait before drinking the coffee. Although highly debatable, a popular assertion is that coffee is best four to six days after the roast date. The idea behind this is that freshly roasted coffee is still releasing CO2 and Nitrogen gases, which mask and mute the taste and perception of flavors. My personal experience is that although the taste of the coffee can change, it is not muted versus strong, or worse versus better.
Roast date OR "Best before" date at a glance
What it is: Roast date is the actual date the coffee was roasted. Best before date is roast date + some unknown period of time, chosen by the coffee roaster
Why you might care: Both roast date and best before date tell you something about the age and freshness of the roasted coffee, roast date being the most straightforward. As coffee ages, the distinctive flavors tend to diminish and fade. Coffee usually has the most flavor between 1 week and 1 month after it is roasted.
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