So you’ve just poured yourself a fresh cup of hot coffee, but then you’re distracted, you leave it on the side and return later to ask: how long does coffee last? Is it still drinkable? Does coffee go bad?
The answer is yes, it’s still drinkable, and no, coffee never really goes bad, but once ground then brewed, coffee immediately begins to lose its freshness. The same holds true for coffee in its many other forms too. Whole coffee beans never go off, but they do lose their freshness!
In this article, we provide thorough answers to the question: how long does coffee last? So keep reading, and find out everything you need to know about the shelf life of coffee in all its forms!
The interesting thing about coffee (or at least, whole coffee beans) is that they actually take a very long time to go bad. In fact, if you were to leave a packet of whole coffee beans stored correctly, they’ll keep for years. Even ground coffee that’s been sealed and packaged before sitting on the supermarket shelf for months will stay safe in its airtight container far beyond its stated expiration date.
As we said already, though, coffee beans do lose their freshness once they have been exposed to air and once that oxidation process begins. Once they start to break down slowly, a bean’s distinctive taste, flavor, and aroma is lost.
How to Tell If Coffee is Bad
There are a few straightforward ways to tell if your coffee grounds have gone rancid or stale. The easiest way is the most unpleasant - use your nose. When you take a whiff, try to find the pleasant notes in your coffee grounds. If they smell weak, they’ll likely taste weak. If they smell bad, they’re likely rancid.
Take a look at the beans or grounds, too. The color of your coffee tends to lighten over time from a deep, rich brown to a light brown hue instead.
All types of coffee will have an expiration date (by law) which varies significantly from one type of coffee to the next. For example, coffee beans are considered to be a long-life cupboard item and will often keep well beyond these dates (almost indefinitely) if stored correctly. A cup of black coffee from the Pour over coffee maker can last a week in the fridge before totally losing its freshness, but a milky latte isn’t going to have quite such an extensive shelf life.
With so many different forms of coffee for us to consider, though, let’s take a look at each of the most popular types in turn.
Buying coffee in its whole bean form is the best way to maximize the shelf life of your coffee purchase, but do coffee beans go bad?
As with all organic matter, coffee beans eventually go bad. When they are in contact with the air, they are slowly oxidized and slowly broken down.
However, you’ll notice that the expiration date on a bag of whole bean coffee is generally at least a year, perhaps even longer.
This doesn’t mean, however, that coffee beans don’t lose their freshness. While coffee beans are perfectly safe to grind up and brew a year or two down the line, they aren’t nearly as fresh or as flavorful.
So how long do coffee beans last in terms of freshness? To maximize the taste and freshness of your whole bean coffee, it’s good to use them within a month of purchase.
As soon as you grind your whole coffee beans down for brewing, you accelerate the oxidation process, and the beans begin to lose their freshness almost immediately.
Again, ground coffee doesn’t go bad as such, but it does lose its freshness. So how long are coffee beans good for once ground?
Try to use them on the same day you grind the beans for the best results. If that’s not possible, then don’t keep them for longer than two weeks if you want to savor their distinctive flavor.
As the name might suggest, freshly brewed coffee should always be drunk right away. Or at least on the same day!
Once brewed, the coffee grounds have been totally broken down, and all that freshness is just seeping away the longer it sits on the side. Keep coffee hot to stop it from losing all the freshness, or keep it in the fridge, then reheat it if this isn’t possible (you can store brewed coffee in the refrigerator for a few days, but it’s not ideal).
You have even less time once you turn your freshly brewed coffee into a latte or cappuccino. Adding milk products (dairy or plant-based milk) shortens the lifespan drastically to just a few hours. If you add milk to your coffee, definitely keep it in the fridge rather than at room temperature.
Want to keep your whole beans or ground coffee fresh the longest? Keep these freshness factors in mind and avoid improper storage like the plague.
No surprises here. Keeping your fresh or ground coffee beans stored in a sealed bag with a one-way air valve to let CO2 out of the bag helps keep your beans away from oxygen to slow the oxidization process.
Coffee beans go stale more quickly when exposed to direct light, so keep them stored in a dark area, like a cupboard or food pantry. Use an opaque container that light can’t penetrate to store your beans for longer.
Humidity can enter roasted coffee beans quickly and cause mold growth. Keep your whole or ground coffee beans stored in a dry spot.
Coffee beans degrade faster when exposed to heat - keep them in a cool, dry room to best maintain their flavor.
We know that those CostCo bulk prices can be tempting, but don’t buy more coffee than you can use up within a few weeks. Otherwise, you’ll end up with old, bland beans and a poorly brewed cup.
If you love convenience, consider signing up for a coffee subscription service, which will deliver you exactly the right amount of coffee to your doorstep right when you need it.
If you’re a coffee-lover, then this isn’t the best news; so how to keep coffee beans fresh then? Here are a few tips and tricks!
It can be seriously tempting to put your fresh coffee beans in the freezer, particularly if you’re not sure how often you’ll be grinding them down and brewing fresh coffee.
We’re often asked, ‘Can you freeze coffee beans?’, and while the answer is technically ‘yes,’ it’s a big no from us!
The freezing process itself isn’t necessarily a problem, but when you defrost the beans, they’ll start to break down quickly as they are overexposed to damp, moist conditions.
The fridge is cool and dark, but the beans may age faster due to the moisture that develops on the beans, which push the delicious oils to the bean’s surface and mess with your brew. We would advise against this!
The best way to store your coffee beans isn’t in the freezer or even in the fridge; it’s actually at room temperature. Storing in the freezer or fridge exposes the beans to excess moisture that just isn’t great for the brew.
Importantly, though, the temperature needs to be as stable as possible, so find a cool, dark place at the back of the cupboard or pantry that’s also out of the way of any direct sunlight that could cause the beans to heat up.
Remember to keep your beans in a sealed container to keep them fresh for longer. This stops the coffee beans from being exposed to their biggest enemies, moisture and oxygen!
In fact, fresh beans that are vacuum packed and airtight will keep indefinitely until they are first opened.
Of course, there’s not much point in keeping beans forever if you bought them for brewing, but it does go a long way to showing how effective a storage method a simple airtight container is for your coffee!
If you really want to keep your beans fresh for longer, then you need to be sparing when you grind them up.
As soon as the beans are ground, they start to lose their freshness, so we recommend only grinding as much coffee as you’re actually going to drink that same day. While the grounds won’t go bad, they won’t taste as fresh the next day.
Likewise, it’s a good idea to just buy a few weeks’ supplies of coffee beans at a time because once you open the airtight packet, they also start to lose freshness. Moderation is essential, and it’s one of the best tips we have if you want to enjoy the freshest brew every single day of the week!
So can coffee go bad? The answer to that question is: not really. While freshly brewed coffee quickly loses its freshness and should be drunk rather immediately, a cup of old coffee isn’t going to hurt you (although it won’t taste great).
Coffee beans have an incredibly long shelf life, too, and they can last (almost) indefinitely if stored correctly. Again, coffee beans lose their freshness over time, though, and this process is accelerated when they are ground and then brewed.
If you’re a coffee connoisseur, then why not bookmark our guide to coffee expiration dates?
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