Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Grinding and Packaging of Coffee

It is a curious fact that green coffee improves upon aging, whereas after roasting it deteriorates with time. Even when packed in the best containers, age shows to a disadvantage on the roasted bean. This is due to a number of causes, among which are oxidation, volatilization of the aroma, absorption of moisture and consequent hydrolysis, and alteration in the character of the aromatic principles. Doolittle and Wright in the course of some extensive experiments found that roasted coffee showed a continual gain in weight throughout 60 weeks, this gain being mostly due to moisture absorption. An investigation by Gould also demonstrated that roasted coffee gives off carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide upon standing. The latter, apparently produced during roasting and retained by the cellular structure of the bean, diffuses therefrom; whereas the former comes from an ante-roasting decomposition of unstable compounds present.

The surface of the whole bean forms a natural protection against atmospheric influences, and as soon as this is broken, deterioration sets in. On this account, coffee should be ground immediately before extraction if maximum efficiency is to be obtained. The cells of the beans tend to retain the fugacious aromatic principles to a certain extent; so that the more of these which are broken in grinding, the greater will be the initial loss and the more rapid the vitiation of the coffee. It might, therefore, seem desirable to grind coarsely in order to avoid this as much as possible. However, the coarser the grind, the slower and more incomplete will be the extraction. A patent has been granted for a grind which contains about 90 percent fine coffee and 10 percent coarse, the patentee's claim being that in his "irregular grind" the coarse coffee retains enough of the volatile constituents to flavor the beverage, while the fine coffee gives a very high extraction, thus giving an efficient brew without sacrificing individuality.

In packaging roasted coffee the whole bean is naturally the best form to employ, but if the coffee is ground first, King found that deterioration is most rapid with the coarse ground coffee, the speed decreasing with the size of the ground particles. He explains this on the ground of "ventilation"—the finer the grind, the closer the particles pack together, the less the circulation of air through the mass, and the smaller the amount of aroma which is carried away. He also found that glass makes the best container for coffee, with the tin can, and the foil-lined bag with an inner lining of glassine, not greatly inferior.

Considerable publicity has been given recently to the method of packing coffee in a sealed tin under reduced pressure. While thus packing in a partial vacuum undoubtedly retards oxidation and precludes escape of aroma from the original package, it would seem likely to hasten the initial volatilizing of the aroma. Also, it would appear from Gould's work that roasted coffee evolves carbon dioxide until a certain positive pressure is attained, regardless of the initial pressure in the container. Accordingly, vacuum-packing apparently enhances decomposition of certain constituents of coffee. Whether this result is beneficial or otherwise is not quite clear.