Storing Coffee on a Boat

By Carolyn Shearlock © 2012 • all rights reserved

It's virtually impossible to "perfectly" store coffee on a boat . . . but with these tips, you'll come close!

Okay, we’ll start with an admission that there’s no ideal way to store coffee on a boat.  But I love a cup of coffee in the morning, particularly when I can drink it in the cockpit and watch the world around me.

So I do the best I can, and just deal with the fact that the storage is never going to be “perfect” on a boat . . . but my surroundings when drinking it are perfect!

According to the National Coffee Association, coffee should be stored “away from excessive air, moisture, heat, and light.”  They do not recommend refrigerating or freezing coffee, but instead storing it in a cool, dry, dark place in an airtight container.  It’s often hard to do this on a boat!

Let’s take the recommendations one at a time:

  • Airtight container.  Most coffee comes in some sort of an airtight container — or at least it’s airtight until you open it.  Once opened, however, the plastic tops on coffee cans just aren’t truly airtight.  Nor are bags where you fold down and clip the tops — although with these, you can use “banana seals” (read about them) which do provide an airtight seal.    Otherwise, investing in one or more Lock & Lock containers for your coffee stock is a good idea . . . and it’s an even better idea if the coffee you buy comes in plastic bags that just have a twist-tie on the top, as ours did in Mexico and Central America.
  • Moisture-proof.  Everyone, it seems, recommends not storing coffee in the refrigerator or freezer because of the moisture and condensate there.  Basically, the idea is that every time you take the coffee out, the air in the package will pick up some moisture, which will then be absorbed into the coffee when it goes back into the refrigerator.  However, most experts do say that if you have a large stock of coffee that you need to keep for a while, you can put it into the freezer until you’re ready to open it — but once you take it out of the freezer, don’t put it back in.
  • Cool place.  If you’re in a warm climate, don’t store your coffee against the hull and above the waterline.  As the water is almost always cooler than the air, storing it against the hull but below the waterline is usually good — but watch out for condensate forming on the hull and getting into your containers (not a problem with airtight containers such as the Lock & Lock ones).  Storing near the stove or in a locker near the ceiling is also a no-no as being too hot.  Under the floorboards is much better.
  • Dark place.  Pretty much any locker is going to be dark . . . clear canisters on the counter or in gear hammocks aren’t good.

The National Coffee Association also recommends not buying more coffee than you’ll use in the next 1 to 2 weeks.  Depending on where you’re cruising, that might just be impossible!  I usually carried at least one month’s supply — and often two months’ worth — with us, depending on how long it would be before we’d reprovision (many small villages where we cruised only had tiny “stores” that only carried instant coffee).

Ground coffee degrades much more quickly than whole beans, as all the cut surfaces are exposed to air and moisture.  Buying whole beans and grinding them yourself just when you’re ready to brew the coffee will produce a much better cup of coffee.  Don’t grind it even a day ahead, particularly considering the other “challenges” in storing coffee on a boat.

So, putting this all together for storing coffee on a boat:

  • If you’re not living full-time on your boat, you generally shouldn’t try to store coffee aboard from one trip to another.  A closed up boat tends to get hot, and keeping an open package in the refrigerator isn’t a good idea.  If you use the boat seasonally, definitely take any unused coffee home at the end of the season (most food should be taken off in the off-season).
  • Buying coffee in 12-ounce to 1-pound packages can work pretty well. I put them, unopened, into a large Lock & Lock container in a cool (and inconvenient) location.  One at a time I take them out and put the contents into a smaller Lock & Lock that I keep in a drawer just above the floorboards.  Yes, storing it under the floorboards would be a little cooler — but also a much bigger pain to get to every morning.

Living on a boat, everything is a compromise.  I’ll take slightly imperfect coffee storage in exchange for all the things I love about being aboard!

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Comments

  1. Here in the Philippines I have not seen any manual coffee grinders since I was in Baguio three years ago. I do see large pepper grinders on occasion – will these grind up coffee beans? Thanks.

    • Bruce —

      You inspired me to do a little experiment this morning. My normal-sized pepper grinder will absolutely NOT grind coffee — the beans are too large to engage in the cutting blades.

      A large-size grinder? I truly don’t know, but my guess is that if it’s designed for peppercorns, it’s not likely to work with the larger coffee beans.

  2. Dearbhla says:

    My husband will thank you for this article. I have already decided to bring a French press for him although we use a coffee maker here at home, I think a French press will make an even nicer cup for him each morning. Hadn’t considered the storage though, so thank you!

    • Dearbhla,
      We tried many french presses for our sailboat. We didn’t want glass so we tried several stainless steel ones. The one we found that we absolutely LOVE is our Bodum Arabica 8 cup french press. It is pricey ($109 on Amazon), but so worth it. What makes the difference is the stainless steel mesh filter. Many of the stainless steel presses use plastic filters and they just do not hold up as well. Spend the extra money, and enjoy your coffee! We also use the Lock and Lock containers for storage. Don’t waste your money on the clear plastic OXO containers… they don’t keep things fresh on a boat!
      Happy Sailing!
      LA and Susan Wyatt
      s/v Genesis

  3. Beth Chadwick Schwab on Facebook says:

    Lock n lock!

  4. Ken Arnold says:

    I Vacuum seal my Coffee into qt. size bags, then put a bunch of them into a “Space bag” w/ all the air vacuumed out. Oxygen Absorbers are also added to the Bags. (O2 absorbers must be kept in a Vacuum bag until needed). These are then put in the storage area under the Settees which is below the waterline.

    Seems to work very well

  5. I recommend AIRSCAPE Canisters – http://planetarydesign.com/products/airscape-kitchen-canisters/

    I have them and they work great!

  6. Totally read this wrong… thought it said “Strong coffee on a boat”… lol

  7. I have bigger things to worry about on the boat than my coffee being its freshest best. If you are that concerned, don’t buy a huge bag of coffee and worry about storage. The entire coast from Puget Sound to SE AK is dotted with little villages and they all have little grocery stores that carry, at least, the staples….and coffee is a staple. You won’t go without.

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