Different types of coffee will have different lifespans. Dried instant, can last a long time, often after the sell-by date. Beans and ground coffee, on the other hand, will gradually start to lose their flavour, which will accelerate as soon as you open the bag.
How you store your coffee can make a big difference as to how long it will stay fresh and drinkable. Leaving the coffee in containers that aren’t sealed well, will rapidly reduce its shelf life as coffee likes to share its goodness with the air around it. More about this is further down below.
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Does Coffee Expire or Go Bad?
Yes and no. It won’t go bad in the true sense of the term as isn’t likely to give you something like food poisoning unless it’s been contaminated with a toxin. Coffee that gets wet on the other hand can go bad. The bacteria in the water will start to grow and create a big spoilt, mouldy mess. So always make sure that it’s stored in a dry and sealed container.
In general, coffee will just lose its flavour and aroma so it is more likely to go stale and become tasteless. You may have noticed if you leave un-ground beans in the top bit of a coffee grinder for a week or so while on holiday. The espressos that you make as result won’t produce crema and will taste bitter and nasty. If this happens you’ll need to chuck the beans that have been left out as it’s no longer fresh or put your can up with a terrible brew if you so choose. You’re on your own there!
Freezing Coffee – How Long Does it Last?
To extend its life you can, in essence, freeze the beans or even ground coffee. But be warned that this will affect the flavour. Freezing changes the chemistry and flavour, and you’re likely to lose the more interesting undertones of the flavour profile. This can be a big issue for connoisseurs, but the occasional drinker might not notice it so much.
How Long Can you Store Coffee?
The type of coffee you’d like to store and its current form will generally determine how long you can store it. Overall when it comes to coffee, fresh is best so use it once bought. As a minimum, use it before its expiry or use-by date.
Coffee bought from artisan or speciality shops in an unsealed bag will deteriorate quicker. So use this up as soon as possible. There is a chance that it may have stood out for a while in the shop so time is of the essence. Also, ask the shopkeeper how long they recommend storing it for when you buy it.
If for some reason you left a pack in the back of the cupboard only to discover that it’s gone out of date when you find it again. Or if you’re prepping for a doomsday scenario, the guidelines below should help you figure out if it’s still usable:
How Long Does Ground Coffee Last?
Unopened and sealed ground coffee can last between 3 and 5 months past its best before date as long as you store it in a cool and dark area. Once opened it will last for around 3-5 months. Store in an air-tight container within a cool and dark place.
Unopened whole bean coffee in its original packaging can last 6-9 months past its best before date. However, once opened use it within 6 months. And make sure that it’s stored in an airtight container such as a coffee canister within a cool and dark area. It’s best to only grind your whole beans right before brewing. Don’t let it sit in the grinder for long periods as that will affect the flavour.
Sealed and unopened instant can last ages, if not decades after its best before date. Once opened this can be equally long if sealed in an airtight container. You’ll quickly notice when instant coffee has gone bad as it will be sticky, could lose its colour and won’t taste very good either.
Once you’ve brewed your cuppa and left it at room temperate, make sure you drink it straight away. Don’t leave it out for more than 12 hours – less if you’ve added milk as it will start to sour. Brewed coffee will survive longer in the fridge, 2 or 3 days should be ok, but leaving it longer than that isn’t recommended.
If it’s a cold brew this might have been steeping for 24 hours already so it’s best to drink it when ready or shortly after. Technically you can keep cold brew as an undiluted concentrate in the fridge for up to two weeks, but it will lose its chutzpa the longer it sits around. Once diluted, use within 2-3 days.
What About the Roast Level?
To complicate things a little more the roast level of your coffee can affect its shelf life. The darker the roast, the quicker it will become flavourless once you’ve opened the bag. This is because the longer a coffee is roasted (dark roast) the more exposed the beans will become to air as the walls of the bean can sometimes rapture during the roasting process. So use dark roasts first if you can.
How Can you Tell that Your Coffee Has Gone Off?
Stale beans are relatively easy to spot. The look, the taste and the aroma (or lack thereof) will make this noticeable.
For instant, you’ll notice that the granules have gone sticky or sometimes mouldy as they’ll draw moisture from the air. That’s relatively straightforward. When it comes to whole beans and ground coffee it’s a bit trickier.
Ground beans that have gone off are harder to identify, you’ll most likely notice this by the taste. The aroma will also be less obvious, crema will be hard to achieve on espresso and the colour of the coffee might have gone a little pale or ashy.
Whole bean will lose its taste, of course, there will be a lack of flavour and it’s likely to be bitter. When making an espresso it’s unlikely that you’ll get good crema with coffee that’s lost its lustre. The beans will look dull and matte it won’t smell as wonderful as it used to and it can leave a residue on your hands when you handle the beans.
How to Store Coffee to Extend its Life?
Coffee is rather friendly with the air molecules around it. It likes to share its goodness with the particles around it, but these particles don’t reciprocate.
This relentless process leaves the coffee bean with less to offer, the longer it’s been partying with the air in your kitchen the blander it will become. It will basically lose its charge – a bit like an old school battery. Therefore we recommend that you always store coffee in an airtight container like the one picture that can be found here or a tightly sealed bag.
Moisture and light can also affect the taste of your favourite brew, so store in a dry, dark and cool place. But preferably not in the freezer as that will destroy the delicate undertones in your favourite brew.
Read our post about coffee canisters here.
Peak Flavour Times
For the best coffee always use the pack as close to the roasting date – not the expiry date – as possible. Good coffee is packed with nitrogen and ground coffee is often vacuum-sealed to slow the degrading process. Once opened you’re swapping the nitrogen or vacuumed pack for air and moisture, which will make it lose flavour and aroma more quickly.
The fresher the coffee, the better the brew!
Last update on 2022-07-24 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API