Have you ever wondered how fresh coffee can go stale? It is actually a complex process that involves a fair amount of science. It all begins when heat is introduced to the green beans. Inside the roaster the sugars and amino acids in the beans combine to begin what is known as the Maillard Reaction. This is what gives browned or toasted food its distinctive flavor and it was first described in 1912 by French chemist Louis-Camille Maillard. Many types of foods, such as cookies, breads, caramel and chocolate undergo this reaction. And, of course, it is what leads to the wonderful smell, taste, and color of coffee.
During roasting, carbon dioxide also forms inside the beans. As soon as the beans are dumped into the cooling of tray of the roaster, however, the release of this gas begins. In this process, which is called degassing and can last over a week, the carbon dioxide is slowly replaced by oxygen. Though oxygen is a very good thing in many situations, it can also be one of nature’s most destructive forces. When it comes into contact with some materials, such as organic matter and some metals, oxygen alters their molecular makeup. Known as oxidation, it is a process in which oxygen actually pulls electrons away from another molecule, making it unstable. The results are things like rusting, browning or staling. So, the processes that make a bright copper penny turn dark, a cut apple become brown or–yes–coffee become stale, are all related. In coffee, oxygen reacts with the oils and solubles that give the coffee its unique taste. As time passes, flavors become less pronounced, resulting coffee that tastes flat and stale. There is no getting around this natural process but it can be slowed; if at all possible, store your fresh coffee in an airtight container to prolong its taste. It will remain fresh until your next order arrives and allow you to serve customers the best beverage possible.
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