Skip to Content

Coffee drinkers beware: Those beans may be older than you think

Wholesale Coffee Bean Prices On The RiseWholesale Coffee Bean Prices On The Rise
Freshly brewed coffee.Photograph by Justin Sullivan — Getty Images

Coffee drinkers beware: Your blend may be older than you think.

Coffee-bean stockpiles are getting older, on average, which may not be good for you in terms of taste, but it is good for wholesale coffee buyers who pay less for more elderly beans.

Beans sitting in warehouses for a year or more accounted for more than 90% of all stockpiles as of June. That’s a significantly greater proportion than in the past two years when older beans accounted for about 58% and 52% in June 2013 and Sept. 2012, respectively.

The June age report is for coffee bean contracts that are set for delivery at the beginning of September.

The stockpiles, which are of Arabica beans, are managed by the Intercontinental Exchange, or ICE (ICE), a company that handles commodity futures. Those stockpiles are traded by speculators through contracts, and they eventually end up in the hands of coffee roasters.

High-end coffee roasters and Starbuck’s aficionados may balk at beans that old. Bulk coffee buyers, on the other hand, could be convinced to snap up the beans at the right price.

Older beans can taste stale, or even burlap-like. The fats in coffee beans break down over time and absorb surrounding odors, which can affect the flavor of the brewed coffee.

The actual age of the beans bought and sold in the futures market is based on when they were certified. When they were actually picked is anyone’s guess.

The exchange has put in automatic discounts that increase as the coffee ages. Price savings range from half a cent for a pound of coffee certified four months prior to as much as $1.88 a pound discount for coffee stockpiled nearly 10 years ago.

A $1.88 discount on the current coffee futures price of $1.63 means buyers would essentially get paid to take home the decade-old beans.