There's a lot of confusion around oily beans. Some believe it's a sign of beans gone bad; others think the opposite. We're going to clear that up in this post but either way, oily beans can definitely cause some problems for us. For those of you with super-automatic or semi-automatic coffee machines, they often cause clogging and output issues. Which is why we want our best to try and avoid them sitting in our bean hoppers.
The oil found on beans is a result of a natural oxidation process and is most commonly found on darker roasts or beans that have become stale. So, to find coffee beans that aren't oily, stick with light or medium roasts and fresh, high-quality beans.
Let's do a deeper dive into how to find beans that aren't going to be too oily. I'll also offer up some personal recommendations and let you know what to do if you have oily beans on hand.
What Coffee Beans ARE Oily? How do they get that way?
I think everybody who has used whole beans at one time or another has opened their package and asked themselves "Why are my beans so oily?".
Well, let's talk about that.
You're most likely to find the oiliest of beans in dark roasts (Italian, French, or espresso roasts) or if they have gone stale. Have some stale, dark roasted bean on hand? Then you got yourself a combination for some super oily beans.
During the roasting process (near or slightly past the "second crack"), lipids within the bean seep from to the surface in the form of oil. This oil reacts to the oxygen and changes the flavor complexity of these oils. These shiny beans give that and/or bitter notes depending on the roast and oil profile.
Dark roasted coffee provides a full, bold, smoky, chocolatey, caramel (and sometimes bitter) taste. The specifics and combination depend on the origin and quality of the beans. The reason for these flavors is because of the presence of oil on the surface.
How do you know if a coffee bean is oily?
It's simple - look at them in a well-lit room. You can take some in your hand and move them around to see how much oil is left behind. If you notice some oiler than usual residue left behind - you got yourself some oily coffee beans.
If you want to avoid your coffee going oily sooner than they should, look into my post about how long coffee lasts to find the best storage solutions.
Should coffee beans be dry or oily?
The short answer is: it depends. If it's a dark roast, oily beans are perfectly normal. However, if it's a lighter roast and they're oily, it can be a good indication that they're going bad.
Finding Beans That Aren't Oily (Super-automatic machine friendly coffee)
As I alluded to before, if you want to be absolutely sure to avoid oily beans, look at light or medium roast coffee beans. The only factor you need to consider here is the freshness level of the bean. For this, you have two options:
- Source your beans from a local roastery;
- Buy high-quality beans online.
If you don't live near a local roastery of you want the convenience of a home delivery, here are my recommendations for some high-quality, non-oily lighter roasts coffee.
For light roasted coffee specifically, I did a recent post highlighting all the best light roasted coffee. If you're in the rush though, below was my number one pick. You won't be disappointed and of course, it's available in whole bean too.
Top Light Roast Coffee: Kicking Horse Hola Whole Bean
With this light blend that's roasted in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, you'll find notes of rich dark chocolate, brown sugar, and roasted hazelnuts. And no, it's not just because our team is Canadian that we're recommending this blend. It really is that great!
However, if you want something a little darker, here is my top pick for a whole bean medium roast.
Top Medium Roast Coffee: Lavazza Super Crema Whole Bean Blend
This very high-quality medium roast features notes of hazelnuts and brown sugar with a flowery and fruity aroma. It's also blended and roasted in Italy which is nice because, well, they know a thing or two about good coffee.
Dark Roasted Beans That Aren't Oily
These are all great but you might be asking yourself "I prefer dark roasts; does this mean I'm out of luck?" Not necessarily, it just means you have to be more particular with what beans you choose and how you store them. Remember when I spoke about how dark coffee beans get oily? Well, that doesn't mean that all dark roasted coffee will be equally oily. Here are some factors that come into play:
- How dark of a roast is it? (Extra Dark, French, Italian)
- When was it roasted? (freshness level)
- How are they stored?
- What's the quality of the bean?
With this being said, here are two fantastic dark roast picks that you can buy online and have the least likelihood to be overly oily: number them in post
If you like strong taste and caffeine level, you'll absolutely love this! Labelled as the "World's Strongest Coffee" this organic blend of both Arabica and Robusta beans features subtle notes of cherry and chocolate. Most importantly, because of the high quality, the beans are less oily than other dark roast coffee.
Peet's serves great coffee at their retail locations but unfortunately, there aren't many around. Thankfully, they make their beans available online. Unfortunately, this company isn't an option for anyone outside of the USA.
This French roast has flavor notes of smoked wood and burnt caramel. All great flavors you would expect from a darker roast. It's also available in Organic.
If this sounds too dark, but you're still wanting to try Peet's coffee, a nice middle ground is a medium-dark alternative is their extremely popular Major Dickason's Blend.
I recently did a full breakdown of Peet's coffee here.
Which Starbucks coffee beans are not oily?
Starbucks' lighter blends are most likely to not be oily. If you want a starting point, try their popular medium roasts which include: House Blend, Pike Place, and Breakfast blend. If you're having trouble deciding which one, thankfully, they have whole bean variety pack here.
How to dry oily coffee beans: Can you do it?
Unfortunately, once you have oily beans, it's too late, the effects have already taken place. If it's dark roast, that's where a lot of the flavor and taste come from. Wiping them down or cleaning them with water will result in a very bland cup of joe. Also, if the oil is from staleness, wiping the oil isn't going to make them fresh again.
What to do with your oily beans
As we spoke about previously, there are two main reasons why your beans are oily. 1) because they're dark roasted and 2) they're stale. There are different ways you can handle them once this has happened.
If your beans are oily because they're dark roasted
Despite having some oily beans, we still have options. If you have a set of oily whole beans on hand and you're worried about them clogging up your machine, you have two options to not let them go to waste:
- Mix them in your bean hopper with a lighter roast to reduce the overall oiliness.
- Grind them using a separate coffee grinder. One that is easy to take apart and clean like this inexpensive one.
If your beans are oily because they're stale
Just because the beans have oil seeping out doesn't necessarily mean you have to throw them out. If your beans are oily because they're getting stale then first, do a visual and smell check to make sure they haven't gone rancid. There is a window between the beans becoming oily and rancid.
If you feel comfortable that they're not rancid then you're welcome to use them. The only downside being is that the flavor and taste won't be as quality.
We cover what to do with coffee once it has been used or has gone "off" for consumption purposes in our article on How Long does Coffee Last: here (link).
I hope you enjoyed this post on what coffee beans are not oily. We gave you a little more than expected but I wanted to clarify what to expect and when oily beans are okay and when they're not. What has your experience been with oily beans? Let me know by commenting below.