Best before, use by, roast date, too fresh, stale, mouldy, is that something growing on it..?! There are so many terms to describe shelf life and freshness of our food & drink.
We recently made improvements to our own shelf life systems and quality control processes. With Food Waste Action Week fast approaching (6th-12th) March, we hope this blog will answer any questions you may have, and what these changes mean for the freshness of your coffee (hint: nothing at all!).
New Date Stamps
If you’ve received a bag of coffee from us in the last few weeks, you may have noticed a change to the style of date stamp on our bags. Look closely and you’ll see the roast date stamp has been replaced with two long numbers, for two good reasons:
- To provide a “best before” date for each bag of coffee
- To provide full traceability for us back to the individual batch of roasted coffee.
As part of our quality control process we taste every batch of coffee we roast, and this hasn’t changed. So why haven't we introduced this before? As the business has grown, so has the need to formalise our processes, as well as keeping up with current food safety legislation and best practices. We always look to produce the highest possible quality product, so we are embracing the challenge to make these improvements (although Row is currently sitting in a cold, dark room somewhere after working on this for the past couple of months).
Best Before Date (The Long Number)
All of our bags are now dated with a best before date that is three months from when the coffee is roasted. The best before date is about quality and not safety (unlike a “use-by date”) - even after the best before date, the coffee will be safe to drink but may not be at its best. We have introduced this as it’s a labelling requirement (thank you, H&S inspector).
Batch Traceability (The Other Long Number)
This is in order to help us identify any quality control issues with specific roasts, and to comply with FSA (Food Standards Agency) standards in the last-resort instance we have to issue a recall for one of our coffees. But this enhanced traceability has opened the door to something exciting…
Zero Roaster Waste
How Fresh Should Coffee Really Be?
While coffee beans do lose their flavour over time, the concept of ‘freshly roasted’ coffee tasting the best is actually something of a misnomer.
When coffee has just been roasted it contains high levels of carbon dioxide. This gives a rather ‘roasty’ taste (a savoury flavour which feels like it sticks to the back of your mouth), overpowering the inherent sweetness and nuance of the beans.
Over the course of around a week, coffee degases as carbon dioxide leaves the bean, revealing the true flavour of the coffee. Because of this, we recommend coffee be left for at least a week after roasting to degas. Most of our coffee is shipped around a week after roasting, so it will be ready to drink as soon as it lands on your doorstep.
Over time, oxygen exposure (the enemy of coffee!) causes loss of flavour through oxidation. If left out in the air - for example in a bowl on a kitchen counter - it might take only a day or two for the beans to lose much of their taste. To allow carbon dioxide to escape but avoid oxygen getting to the coffee, our compostable coffee bags have a one way valve on them.
For more information on how best to store coffee, check out the coffee storage containers section on our recent blog.
Why Do We Discard Coffee After Three Months?
We have chosen three months as an acceptable cut-off because we know that, when stored correctly, our coffee will still be delicious up to this point - even if it does lose a little of its shine towards the end.
As well as unsold coffee going into our Odds & Ends Blend, we occasionally donate it to good causes - in recent weeks we have sent 10kg to mental health charity SANE for their call centre volunteers, and 8kg to our charity partner Re-Cycle to keep their mechanics whizzing from bike to bike.
Hopefully this blog has provided clarity about our recent date changes, system improvements, and zero waste policies. Please get in touch if you have any questions, we are always happy to help.