How did I get here? I thought. I was bereft, dumbstruck, barefoot and paralysed in the kitchen. The kettle had boiled, for what? I had no coffee. I am a barista, I write about coffee, I work for a coffee roastery, I live round the corner from another, yet I have no coffee.

How did I get here? Well, it was Christmas Day, no where was open, and after a month of reminding people to stock up for the holidays, a month of gifting people with beanfuls of joy, I had neglected to set aside a bag or three, and with no desire to put on pants to go out for a coffee in the lead up to Christmas, my personal stores had completely depleted.

Except, did I accidentally leave a half empty bag of beans in that tote and forgot to get them out when I stashed the bag away four months ago?

Joy of joys! A Christmas miracle. I brewed a cup of five month old coffee¹ with gladness of heart and – delicious. Another Christmas miracle. 

I don’t doubt that I was predisposed to loving this coffee, with my relief and exuberance influencing my taste buds, but as I continued to drink it over the next week, I really was tasting brightness and clarity, juicy berries and honey sweetness. This coffee had aged very, very well.

I was itching to tell someone, it was the same feeling I had when I realised sewer (n. one who sews) and sewer (n. an artificial channel or conduit, now usually covered and underground, for carrying off and discharging waste water and the refuse from houses)² are the same word. Luckily I would be seeing my extended family for Christmas lunch and could tell them all about my discovery. 

I’d never knowingly had a coffee this old before, only because as I mentioned, I’m a barista and have a seemingly endless supply of coffee. Except for when I don’t. So while many people have asked me (or mansplained to me) how long is coffee good for, I’ve only ever felt this question was a little subjective to my liking, but had never proved it. So drinking a coffee 23 weeks old and still so good delighted me for another reason – now I had more proof to back up my equally subjective answer – coffee is good for as long as it tastes good.

It can be a frustrating answer for those who want to ‘get things right’, but I intend it to be freeing. While being on the inside of the specialty coffee scene, I can see it for the accepting, loving community that it is, people who love coffee and want to see it improve and connect the livelihoods of everyone involved and the planet. It’s full of experimentation and breaking norms. But for those who don’t yet drink specialty, there can seem a multitude of barriers to break through, and an attitude of the ‘right way’ to drink coffee. And to get into specialty coffee you must know the right way, and this includes knowing the answer to ‘how long is coffee good for?’. 

This is the fault of those of us in the industry, if we’re creating an environment of snobbery and elitism, and not in the spirit of specialty! If instead we encourage experimentation and discovery as an inroad to enjoying specialty coffee, rather than getting the right answers, I think the industry and the people in it will grow in leaps and bounds.

How did I get here? What was going to be an article on aromatic molecules, gas and the aging process of coffee has turned into a social commentary on snobbery in specialty. But here we are and I’m embracing the experimental nature of scrambling thematic subjects and seeing what happens. I’m having a run of luck with it.

But I am still interested in the aromatic molecules, gas and the aging process of coffee so I’ll have another crack at it next time.


¹ It was pre-aged at the time of stashing, for those doing the maths at home.