Coffee is extremely subjective. Therefore the idea of “freshness” is subjective. There are Sicilians who love the bitter taste of an over extracted cup. My dad appreciates the coffee that I make, but he loves a shot that is twice or thrice as long as I normally make it. He associates that bitterness with the enjoyment of coffee. The same thing happens with freshness, there are those who think it should be roasted each morning, just enough for your two coffees, ground immediately before drinking. Then there are those who prefer to degas for a week and then grind and hour before making a shot (like the guys at G&B Coffee).
After roasting, coffee undergoes a process called degassing, where CO2 is released from the beans, which occurs rapidly in the first week then slows down over time. This is a naturally occurring process which develops the taste of the coffee. I personally find the CO2 gasses from a fresh roast too sour for my liking, but some people making it in a Chemex actually want those gasses as they are referred to as “blooming.”
The more oxygen that comes into contact with the beans over their lifetime, the faster the oxidation process occurs, and the faster the beans will become stale. There is a sweet spot between the degassing and oxidation of beans, where technically the flavours should be fully developed and before the taste starts to stale. To get to this sweet spot, there are ways of storing your beans that will preserve the freshness and flavour of the beans. Read more about this here.
So in the end, freshness can mean freshly roasted, perfectly degassed or just not oxidised, depending on your taste buds. There is no one definition of freshness, we’re not even really sure why the word keeps being use! At the end of the day, it’s really about exploring coffee. It’s a journey, not a one-stop destination. Go against tradition, rebel against the rules that we set and make your own mind up. You may find a new definition of freshness that suits you perfectly!