When Does Coffee Expire and Can it Go Bad?

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If you are a coffee drinker, it’s likely you’re familiar with this scenario. You are cleaning out the kitchen cabinets, and all of a sudden, you come across a bag of your favorite coffee in the back.

It doesn’t have an expiration date, and you really don’t want that delicious coffee to go to waste. If you’ve ever had a food borne illness though, you don’t want to risk getting sick.

You are probably wondering If it is still okay to drink it? Does your coffee ever really go bad? Let’s get to the bottom of that mystery below.

Does Coffee Go Bad?

The short answer is yes, coffee goes bad, just like any other food product. By bad, we don’t mean it will make you sick. It will lose its flavor over time. Coffee in ground or whole bean form is considered a shelf-stable dry good. 

It does have a surprisingly long shelf life if you are careful about the way you store it. If coffee grounds get wet at all, they can not be reused. There are many different factors that go into storing coffee, but most importantly, it has to be kept dry and away from light.

How Long Does Coffee Last?

The length of time you have before your coffee loses its flavor changes with the form it is in and how it is stored. You are going to get different times depending on if it’s brewed already, ground, or still in whole bean form. These times are all based on the coffee losing its taste, not going rancid or stale. Coffee in all forms lasts much longer if it’s unopened, so don’t start the flavor clock till you do.

Whole beans will last the longest and still keep their flavor. If you buy a bag of whole bean coffee, make sure you only grind what you need to make your daily cup of java. As whole beans, coffee can stay fresh for up to three or four weeks after they are opened as long as it’s stored in an airtight and dark environment.

Ground coffee beans should be used the same day you grind them to maintain the taste. If you buy your coffee beans already ground and they are in a sealed container, they will last about two weeks. Most of these containers are either vacuum-sealed or have a carbon dioxide valve. The ones with the valve will last a bit longer than vacuum-sealed.

Once you brew your daily cup of coffee, it’s best to drink it straight away. If you have to, you can keep it at room temperature, and it will last about 12 hours. After that, it’s best to just throw it out. You can refrigerate brewed coffee for a couple of days, but I don’t recommend this unless you like your coffee cold.

Shelf Life of Coffee Beans Compared

The shelf life of coffee is a bit different depending on the type of coffee you are using. As long as it remains sealed and stored in proper conditions, it will last a long time. 

Whole beans have a shelf life of around six months if unopened. If it has a one-way vent made into the bag, it can last as long as nine months. Whole beans, if opened, can still last about six months, but it will not taste the same. 

Ground beans are much more convenient than whole beans since there is less preparation for making a cup of coffee, but it comes at a price. 

The shelf life of ground coffee is much shorter. The surface area of the actual coffee is greater in ground form, causing it to become stale quicker than whole beans. If unopened and stored properly, it can be stored for around five months. Opened bags need to be finished within one or two months, or they will lose their taste. 

What Factors Degrade Coffee Beans?

I share a bond with coffee. We even like the same type of environment; dark and cold. These are just two factors of keeping your coffee beans fresh. There are many other factors that can help keep your coffee beans fresh and flavorful. 

The first factor is oxygen. This is a coffee bean’s number one enemy. Once your coffee beans have been opened and left exposed to oxygen, they will start to degrade and will become stale in just a few days. Keep them sealed in an airtight container and only open it to get the coffee beans you need daily. A good investment is a container with a CO2 valve.    

The next big bad for coffee beans is light. No matter how pretty you think your special favorite blend of whole coffee beans are, do not put them in a glass jar on the counter. The light will make the beans start to stale, and they won’t taste as good. 

Another factor is moisture. Coffee doesn’t like to be wet until it’s time to brew. If moisture gets into your coffee beans, it can be detrimental no matter whether it’s ground or whole. It can stale your beans and even cause mold if too much has gotten in. 

The last factor is heat. Even though coffee is usually in the kitchen, it can’t stand the heat. Exposure to high temperatures will cause your coffee to lose its flavor. If you keep it in a cabinet, make sure it is not in direct sunlight or near the kitchen stove. For most kitchens this won’t be a problem, if your air conditioner has gone out recently though, you may want to double check your beans.

How to Store Whole Coffee Beans and Ground Coffee

There are lots of good ways to store your coffee, whether they are in bean form or ground. The main thing to think about is the conditions and the container it’s kept in. The containers that coffee beans are usually sold in will work, but they aren’t the greatest at keeping your coffee beans fresh. 

If you want to use the bag, the coffee beans already come in, make sure you are getting them with a valve on them instead of vacuum-sealed. This valve is designed to let the carbon dioxide that the coffee beans naturally release out while not allowing oxygen and moisture in. 

You will want to keep your coffee in a container that is opaque. If you use a clear plastic or glass container, it will expose your coffee beans to light, and they will stale. You also want to make sure the container is airtight. Oxygen is another enemy of tasty coffee that will cause it to slowly degrade over time.

How to Store Hot Brewed Coffee

Sometimes life is busy and hectic, that doesn’t leave a lot of time for coffee. The best option if you still want to drink your favorite coffee is to brew enough for the whole week. This, in my opinion, is a last-ditch effort, but desperate times call for desperate measures. The only thing you will need an airtight container big enough to fit all of the coffee that can be refrigerated.

Make sure after you brew the coffee, you don’t add any sugar or creamer to it because it affects how long you can store it. Once you reheat it, then you can add things to it as normal. While it doesn’t replace a fresh cup of coffee every morning, it does help if you are busy.

How to Store Instant Coffee

Sometimes even instant coffee is better than no coffee. You still want to store it properly to ensure it’s as fresh as it can be. Most instant coffee comes in convenient packaging for storage. It’s usually plastic and already opaque.

If it comes like this, you can just keep it in the kitchen cabinet, and it will be just fine till the best by date. If it is in a clear packaging, then move it to an airtight, opaque container. If the packaging gets wet though you may want to throw it out.

Freezing Coffee Beans: Is it a Good Idea?

Freezing your beans to extend the amount of time you can store them is heavily debated. Coffee beans are very porous and can absorb the smells around it, so keeping it in a freezer around meats probably isn’t a great idea. If you freeze your coffee, it will also ruin the smell it has once you unfreeze it and brew it.

For me, the smell of my favorite coffee is all part of what makes it great, so I would never want to ruin that. The freezer is a terrible environment for your coffee beans since it can be wet. If you absolutely have to freeze your coffee, make sure that it is in a completely airtight container so it can’t absorb as much, and it stays dry.

You may also want to store the coffee beans away from other food items. If you have a separate shelf in your freeze then stick your beans there. The more you can reduce the risk of your beans getting wet, the more of a chance you will have at using them later.

What happens if you drink expired coffee?

While we still don’t recommend it, you can drink coffee in whole bean or ground form past its expiration date. As long as it hasn’t molded, there are no ill health effects. Never drink coffee that has been brewed with sugar or creamer added past 12 hours. 

The downside is going to be the taste. It’s going to be flat smelling and flat tasting. That’s just not good coffee anymore. It’s always better to drink it fresh, so if you don’t drink coffee often, I suggest buying in smaller amounts that way none goes to waste.

Coffee Buying Tip: Fresh Is Always Best

The best coffee will always be the freshest. There are tons of roasting companies that allow you to sign up for subscription services; that way, you are getting your favorite fresh beans every month that you can grind as you need them. These roasters usually can ship coffee beans to you within a few days after roasting.

You can always try your hand at roasting your own coffee beans if you dare. Coffee beans can be purchased in green bean form at most high-end coffee retailers. The downside to this is it takes time, equipment, and a lot of knowledge about the coffee roasting process. This is as fresh as it gets if you are capable, though. 

If you are lucky enough to live near a local roaster, I recommend going there to get your coffee beans directly from the source. These beans will be as fresh as possible if you get them on the same day they roast them. As an added bonus, if you buy local, you can support a small local business in the process. If local isn’t an option then you can always look into online companies.

There are companies that will send out fresh batches of beans each day. While this may be a bit pricey, it is a great way to get high-quality coffee if you don’t live near a city.

Conclusion

So make sure to keep your coffee in an environment that is away from oxygen, light, heat, and moisture to ensure it stays fresh for as long as possible. If you are serious about your coffee tasting the absolute best, make sure to use an airtight, opaque container, store them in whole bean form, and grind only what you need on a daily basis. 

As for that bag of coffee beans, you found in the back of the kitchen cabinet, it’s probably best not to drink it since it definitely won’t taste the way you expect. I suggest looking up some ways to repurpose old coffee that doesn’t require you to drink it, such as using it in a fertilizer. There are many ways to repurpose coffee grounds so nothing goes to waste.

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