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Storing Kona Coffee
21 September 2009

A question I am often asked by Kona coffee customers is "How should I store my coffee?"  The simple answer is "Just keep it sealed and don't grind it until you're ready to use it."  You can keep it in the refrigerator or freezer but that's usually not necessary.  Treat fresh coffee just like fresh bread:  keep it out of the open air and use it before it goes stale.  Buying directly from the Kona coffee farm is like buying directly from the bakery, it gives you a good head start on freshness.

We sell our coffee in half pound bags so it's easy to use the entire bag before it goes bad.  The bags are air tight to protect the coffee from oxidation.  We also prefer to sell whole bean coffee because it stays fresh much longer than ground coffee.  With freshly roasted whole bean coffee straight from the farm, sealed in an air tight bag, it's easy to get a couple months of shelf life.

Raking Storing a couple pounds of roasted coffee in your kitchen is no big deal, storing several thousand pounds of Kona coffee on the farm is a little more complex.  Humidity is the enemy of coffee beans and Hawaii has plenty of humidity.  Humidity is great for growing coffee, it just makes storage a bit of a challenge.  Besides dangers like mold, mildew and bugs, too much or too little humidity will also affect the taste, color and weight of the beans.

Hawaii certification standards require unroasted green coffee to have a moisture level between 9 and 12.2 percent.  Too dry and the coffee will taste flat, too moist and the beans will get a musty odor.  I target a moisture content of 11.6%.  That's my target but getting the coffee there and keeping it there is not as easy as it sounds.

After picking, we pulp the coffee right away to remove the outer skin.  This outer fruit layer is thrown away, leaving just the inner seed.  The seeds, or beans, are laid out to dry in the sun.  With constant raking the beans can be dry to the touch within a day.  That's important to keep the bugs and mold away.  It takes another week or so before the beans are below 12% moisture.

I have a little portable moisture meter that checks the coffee's moisture level and I use it constantly.  The coffee beans seem to drop to 14% fairly quickly then stall there for several days.  That's about the point where the outside of the bean is dry but the inside is still wet.  The moisture drops a little during the heat of the day but comes right back up at night or when it's cloudy.  Then, when the inside of the bean finally dries out which is about the same time I forget to check the moisture level, it plummets down below 12%.  I'm getting better at predicting how long the drying will take but it's different every time.

Meter My moisture meter, which costs about $600, is calibrated to match the state's fancy moisture meter, which costs a couple thousand dollars.  Their moisture meter measures is so accurate that a single bean can make a difference.  It's often necessary to remove a large bean from the scoop and replace it with a smaller bean to get the weight just right before measuring the moisture.

The state recently purchased a new moisture meter.  That's good because their old meter was getting a little too old.  The problem is, their new moisture meter is a whole point different than their old meter.  Coffee that read 11.6% on their old meter will read 12.6% on their new meter.  Of course that caused quite a commotion among Kona coffee farmers.

Thanks to Virginia at the university extension office, a bunch of us Kona coffee farmers got together and recalibrated our moisture meters.  My moisture meter was indeed off a tad but after calibrating it I was pleased to see that it gave me accurate results again.  I came home and measured all the coffee we have in storage and it is all right where I want it.

All our coffee is currently stored in a 40' refrigerator container, the kind you'd see on a truck, ship or train.  The container is insulated, sealed and secure.  It's not pretty but having a secure, stable environment makes it a better storage solution than the plastic bags used by some farmers.  For an even better solution, I'm making a storage room under the barn.  Come back next week to learn all about it.

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