Is Fresh Always "Best?"

Last Friday I hung out with my friends at Bozell — an advertising agency here in Omaha with a plethora of opinionated mouths. I knew I could trust them to give me good feedback, and not just what I wanted to hear.

The occasion? A blind taste test of fresh roasted coffee versus one month old coffee. 

There are a ton of widely held beliefs in the coffee industry. One that I strongly agree with is that coffee is best fresh. As coffee ages, the notes that make a coffee special (in this case the bright fruit notes) start to fade away, and the coffee begins to taste, well.....like plain old coffee. It's why I roast to order and it affects a lot of my overall business strategies.

I think it's important to actually test the information that we as roasters hand out to our customers and blind taste tests with real consumers is a fun way to do that.

The Setup:

I had an extra bag of a Colombian bean that I sat aside to save for the test. One week before the tasting, I ground the bag of coffee and let it sit in an open container. I wanted to encourage as much oxidization as possible to really get a good comparison.

Three days before the taste test, I roasted a fresh batch of the same Colombian bean.

 

The Test:

On the morning of the event, I ground the fresh bag with the same grinder setting as the aged bag, and brewed them with the same parameters via my Bunn air-pot brewer.

Once the tasting began, I assured everyone that was participating that both air-pots had the exact same bean, the exact same roast and were brewed in the exact same manner...and I left it at that. 

The taste testers sampled from both airpot A and airpot B. You could see the doubt on their faces as I confirmed both airpots contained the same beans.

The most common theme was that airpot A (the fresh pot) seemed fruitier, while airpot B (the aged pot) seemed smoother and, in some opinions, more bold than the light and fruity pot A.

This was very encouraging as the tasting notes for this particular coffee are grapefruit, lemon and milk chocolate. It's a fairly bright coffee. 

 

The Results:

Most tasters noted that they liked both coffees that they tested, but I asked them to vote on their favorite.

Out of the 25 tasters:

16 chose the fresh coffee.
9 chose the aged coffee.

While the fresh coffee was a strong winner I was still surprised to see so many people vote for the aged coffee. That is, until I began to ask why they voted for a particular coffee.

 It also appears that people who voted for "A" are more likely to doodle, while those that voted for "B" just really wanted to emphasize their vote. There were of course a couple outliers.

It also appears that people who voted for "A" are more likely to doodle, while those that voted for "B" just really wanted to emphasize their vote. There were of course a couple outliers.

The people that chose pot A (fresh) did so because they enjoyed the bright fruity flavor of the fresh roasted and fresh ground Colombian bean. They liked the fact that it was attention grabbing and different than the office coffee they normally drink.

The people that chose pot B (aged) did so because they enjoyed the subtle and more mellow flavor that the beans presented as the fruity notes began to fade. 

 

Conclusion

I've always (and still do) prioritized roasting fresh and grinding fresh — but this little experiment proved that high quality beans make a big difference in shelf longevity, too. While taste testers enjoyed one over the other for various reasons, they all agreed that both coffees were very enjoyable.

I find myself wondering what would have happened had I chosen a coffee with richer flavors, such as a Brazil with chocolate and caramel notes. Would the aged coffee have received as many votes? It's hard to say, and maybe I'll have to set up another taste test to find out!

Thanks again to Bozell for being such a fantastic host, and thanks to everyone that participated. It was a great time and very informative!