So you have a package of coffee beans that has been sitting around for a while in your kitchen. You might ask yourself: Does coffee go bad?
To answer the question: Technically, no, coffee does not actually go bad. Well, at least not in the sense that a “bad” cup of coffee makes you sick and that you would need to worry about your health.
Coffee is a durable good; therefore, it doesn’t expire like other foods and beverages. If stored properly, it’s safe to consume for a long time, and you’re not likely to find an expiration date on a package of coffee either.
But here comes the bad news: Just because it’s safe to drink doesn’t mean you should drink it. As time goes by, the compounds of coffee undergo physical and chemical changes, deteriorating the taste of your coffee. It loses its freshness, and its aroma and flavor notes will fade.
How Long Does Coffee Last?
The shelf-life of coffee depends on many factors. Some of them include the preparation method, the best before date, and how the coffee was stored. In any case, keep in mind that it’s always best to consume it as freshly as possible.
Also, how long you choose to keep it depends on personal tolerance of sub-par quality. Below, I break down some general guidelines on how long coffee lasts.
Some sources claim that instant coffee lasts for several years, even up to 20 (!) years, provided it’s stored properly. I certainly won’t vouch for that, and probably you don’t want to make decade-old instant coffee either.
The reason why it hardly goes bad lies in the coffee packets. Made with an aluminum layer, it keeps moisture and heat out.
Whole Roasted Beans
You might have noticed that there’s usually a date printed on the label of your coffee bag. This is the roast date. But even knowing that, there is no easy way of telling how long the beans are good after roasting, as each roaster has its own recommendation.
Usually, it’s best to wait for a few days after roasting before you brew them. This ensures that the carbon dioxide that builds up during the roasting process escapes. After that, the quality starts to degrade slowly.
As a general rule of thumb, if stored in a sealed airtight container, you’ll want to use up your coffee beans within a month of roasting. After opening the original packaging, you should use them up earlier.
Unfortunately, the shelf-life of ground coffee is even shorter than that of whole beans. As soon as beans are ground, they are subject to degrading factors like oxidation.
Generally, you’ll want to use pre-ground coffee within 2-3 weeks and certainly well before the expiration date.
Unsurprisingly, brewed coffee lasts the shortest. Let’s say you leave your cup of coffee on the kitchen counter after you get distracted. It happens to me more than I’d like to admit.
But how long can you still enjoy it? Truth is, freshness starts to dissipate pretty much from the moment you start brewing your coffee, and oxidation starts to kick in.
Generally, it’s safe to drink it at room temperature within 4 hours of brewing, though. After that, the oils start to go bad, and the taste will alter even more. If you add milk, you should consume it quicker.
Keep in mind that brewed coffee generally loses freshness and flavor as the hours go by. One way to extend the freshness is using an airtight thermos.
How to Tell if Coffee Has Gone Bad?
Coffee is a shelf-stable product which means that it doesn’t spoil after roasting. Therefore, you normally won’t find any visual cues that indicate that it’s past its prime, provided it has been stored adequately. Should you still find any signs of mold, obviously toss it.
Normally, however, it’s not so much “mold-like” bad that you should worry about, but more the changes in aroma and flavor. There are chemical reactions and physical changes that take place after roasting.
These are responsible for the degradation in quality with time. The oils in coffee can go bad, making it rancid. But, it’s unlikely that you would drink that coffee anyway since the smell would clearly give it away.
So, in general, it’s best to trust your nose and taste buds. Does it smell stale? Probably you’re better off tossing it. Sometimes it’s no easy task, though, as staling is a gradual process.
Due to their various flavors, no two coffee beans react exactly the same way to time-related processes. This makes it difficult to recognize the progress of staling.
Should You Store Coffee in the Freezer or Fridge?
So you were a little overzealous and bought more of your favorite coffee beans than you could possibly drink within a reasonable time? Don’t worry, you might say to yourself, I’ll just put it in the freezer.
Wait… not so fast. Whether or not you should freeze coffee beans is a debated topic. Depending on who you ask, you will likely hear different answers.
Even though some swear by freezing their beans to preserve the taste, it’s unlikely that the taste and smell will ever stay the same. Coffee is porous and soft, meaning that the coffee can easily absorb smells in the freezer. This means the beans can take on the smell of your leftovers in the freezer.
As freshness dictates the quality of coffee, we would never recommend freezing it. Rather, if you bought too much coffee to drink yourself, invite over your friends and family to enjoy the beans while they last.
It’s an equally bad idea to store your beans in the fridge. Because there is a lot of moisture, the beans will suck up that moisture, making them stale faster.
Tips on How to Store Coffee
When it comes to storing coffee, there are a few things you can do to make it stay fresh longer.
Store It in a Cool, Dry Place
4 factors negatively impact the freshness of your coffee: Oxigen, light, moisture, and heat.
By storing coffee in a cool cabinet rather than on the countertop, you can avoid all of them as much as possible and keep your coffee fresh longer. Also, make sure it’s stored in an airtight, opaque container.
Only Buy as Much as You Use
The best way to ensure the freshness of your coffee is by buying just enough so that you can use it up within a reasonable time. Freshness only lasts for a few weeks, so you’ll want to avoid wasting it.
Establish a coffee-buying routine and buy your coffee beans in small batches.
Buy Whole Beans
As we’ve seen, whole beans stay fresh longer than pre-ground beans. So, in the long run, you’re better off investing in a good grinder and buying your beans fresh and whole.
To get the highest quality possible, make sure you buy beans that were roasted within one week.
To sum up, fresh coffee is always best. However, we don’t live in a perfect world, and sometimes we keep coffee longer than we would like to.
While it’s unlikely that you get sick, the quality deteriorates significantly with time. As a rule of thumb, trust your smell and taste buds. If it smells off, toss it away.