The new issue of Imbibe gets inside an interesting debate among coffee connoisseurs: Is aged coffee any good?
“Here’s the first thing to understand,” writes Rivers Janssen for the Portland, Oregon–based magazine of all things drinkable (article not available online). “Aged coffee does not refer to roasted coffee that sits around for weeks, months, or years, either in or out of a vacuum-sealed bag. That’s nothing more than stale coffee, and it will inevitably taste flatter with each passing day.”
In other words, aged coffee does not happen by accident (or, perhaps more accurately, neglect); those who partake often compare it to fine wine. The term, Janssen writes, “generally refers to green, unroasted coffee that professionals intentionally store in a warehouse for a longer-than-usual period in order to tease out certain flavor characteristics while muting others. . . . A coffee that’s high in acidity but with a good body for espresso, for example, might lose some of that acidity after a year of aging, giving it a more balanced flavor.”
Doug Welsh, the vice president of coffee at Peet’s Coffee & Tea, explains to Janssen why he’s a devotee (Peet’s has an aged Sumatra on its menu, which you can sample if you live in California, where the coffee-shop chain is based, or in a handful of other states):
“I like the grape-to-raisin analogy,” he says. “A lot of coffees start out grape-like, especially in their freshness on the palate, their brightness, their sparkle and even their acidity. . . . During the aging process, however, all of those flavors concentrate, just like the sugars concentrate in a raisin or prune. And there’s a fullness of flavor and body that goes along with that.”
Other roasters disagree, of course, pointing out that by the time our coffee makes its way to our cups, it’s already at least a few months old. Ryan Brown, the coffee buyer for San Francisco’s Ritual Coffee Roasters, “opposes storing beans any longer than necessary,” Janssen writes.
“My perspective is that there’s a disconnect between the way coffee can taste and the way it does taste to consumers,” explains Brown. “[Coffee tastes different] when you’re tasting it at origin, when it’s fresh and it hasn’t deteriorated yet, as compared to the way the same coffee usually tastes when it arrives here.”