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Does Coffee Go Bad? A Guide Keeping Coffee Fresh

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Are you wondering if that dusty old bag of coffee is bad? Does coffee go bad or expire after so long? And how long does coffee last? Those questions and others are answered in this article.

What I can say now is that the shelf life of coffee depends on a few factors, such as roast type, packaging, and where the coffee has been stored.

If you’re considering brewing up some old coffee beans that you’ve found at the back of your pantry, you should keep on reading because the answer to coffee expiration isn’t as simple as you may think.

Does Coffee Expire?

The truth is, all coffee, whole bean, ground, and even instant coffee will expire at some point.

Coffee going bad is unavoidable, but the good news is that there are ways to prolong the life of coffee that will ensure your premium single-origin coffee beans last long enough for you to enjoy them at their prime.

There are a handful of reasons why coffee goes bad, and there are also other factors that come into play that can cause your coffee to expire faster than it should.

Ground coffee and whole bean coffee will have a big difference in how long it stays fresh. How the coffee has been roasted and stored also plays a critical role.

Coffee is essentially the fruit of a plant. So it’s understandable that plant matter will decompose at some point as the various compounds, such as lipids, carbohydrates, and amino acids, begin to break down over time.

In doing so, these compounds will alter both the quality and flavor profile of your prized coffee beans.

There’s no getting around that, and it’s going to happen.

How long do coffee beans last? Coffee beans start expelling carbon dioxide as soon as they are roasted, the clock is then ticking, and your coffee is slowly decaying.

The chemicals locked inside the coffee beans start transforming, and with each passing day, the cell structure of the coffee bean starts to fall apart, causing bitter and dull flavors to become more apparent as they become staler as time passes.

Coffee roasters will always put an expiry label on their coffee bean bags.

This is often a requirement for supermarket chains, and it will give you a somewhat clear indication of the freshness of your coffee.

Typically the expiry date will be 12 months after the coffee has been roasted. To prolong the shelf life, the packaging process normally involves removing any oxygen from the bags.

They are then sealed with nitrogen to preserve the freshness for an extended period of time.

coffee roast date

Apart from the expiry date, many rosters will state a roast date rather than a date somewhere in the distant future.

This is the date the coffee was actually roasted and is a far better indicator of coffee freshness.

Try to look out for bags that mention this rather than an expiry.

This is all well and good, but as soon as you open a bag of coffee, the clock starts ticking.

If you’re not taking additional measures, your coffee will start to go bad due to exposure to moisture, oxygen, and even sunlight.

What Makes Coffee Go Bad Quicker

The best environment for storing coffee is somewhere dark and cool, but that in itself is not enough to save your coffee.

There are a few other variables that you need to shield from your flavorful coffee beans to ensure they continue to stay fresher for longer.

Oxygen

It’s all around us, there’s no escaping it, and without it, we wouldn’t survive – oxygen.

When it comes to coffee, oxygen plays a vital role in the life of coffee. Not in a good way.

When coffee is exposed to oxygen, it will decay quicker, and the compounds will start to break down a lot faster.

Whole coffee beans, ground coffee, instant coffee, and even cold brew coffee are all susceptible to the effects of oxygen.

That’s why here at Bean Ground, we always recommend buying your coffee in whole bean form rather than pre-ground. The outer shell of the whole bean coffee acts as a barrier to the elements, like oxygen.

Pre-ground coffee loses its freshness substantially faster because there’s so much surface area for the oxygen to interact with.

Light

Light is detrimental to coffee too.

Natural sunlight and even artificial light can initiate a photodegradation process that causes the molecules inside the coffee to degrade.

You can prevent this process by storing your whole coffee beans inside an opaque container.

The clear glass mason jar might look great, but they won’t do your fresh coffee bean any favors.

Heat

With any perishable food, heat causes the molecules to move faster when hot.

Simply put, when foods such as coffee are introduced to heat, they will decay far faster than if stored in a cooler environment.

That’s why food is frozen to prolong its shelf life by slowing down the deterioration.

Can you freeze coffee? More on that further down.

For coffee, we recommend that you store coffee inside of an opaque container in a cold or room temperature cupboard or pantry away from your stovetop.

Many of us are guilty of keeping our coffee beans next to the kettle.

This isn’t a good idea as your kettle produces a lot of heat, moisture, and steam when boiling – remember, all three of these are bad for coffee freshness.

So how do you keep your prized coffee beans safe from all of these unwanted elements?

The answer is proper storage – let’s take a closer look.

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How To Store Coffee

The easiest and most effective way to stop coffee from going bad and to preserve the shelf life is to invest in a suitable storage container.

When whole roasted coffee bean is stored correctly, it can stay at peak freshness for up to 3 weeks.

In most cases, a good coffee storage canister will keep your coffee flavorful quite a while after the expiration date printed on the bag.

As we’ve highlighted above, Oxygen, Heat, Light, Moisture (with the “moisture” part being the most crucial) all cause coffee to lose its freshness, so it only makes sense that you need to shield your coffee from these elements as best as possible.

Most of these can be eliminated by using a suitable storage container, one that’s designed for the sole purpose of keeping coffee fresh.

How Long Does Coffee Last: Whole Beans vs. Ground Coffee

How about whole beans, ground, and instant coffee? Do they each have a different shelf life?

Whole Bean Coffee

whole bean coffee

Wherever possible, always buy whole bean coffee, weigh and grind before each brew.

This is the ultimate way to enjoy your coffee at its best. Due to the coffee still being in its solid form, the “goodness” is still locked inside.

The oxygen hasn’t had a chance to reach the molecules inside that hold the coffee’s flavor.

Using a dedicated coffee storage container and buying whole beans 7 days from the date roasted, you can keep your beans at peak freshness for up to 2 months.

Anything past that, and you will notice the flavor start to decline. The coffee is still ok to drink, but that stellar flavor profile will slowly begin to disperse.

Coffee Grounds

ground coffee

Ground coffee will lose its peak freshness after only 20-30 minutes!

Sure, you can still drink it many weeks after the coffee has been ground, if it’s been stored correctly, but don’t expect anything mind-blowing in the flavor and taste department.

Because the coffee has been broken down with the grinding process, the flavorsome oils and compounds will begin to evaporate.

Plus, there’s more surface area for the elements we’ve highlighted above to interact with the coffee.

Ground coffee is still drinkable for up to 6 months and beyond if correctly stored. Will it be enjoyable? Well, that’s a different matter.

Want the best tasting coffee? Always buy whole bean coffee and grind before each brew!

Instant Coffee

instant coffee

Drinking instant coffee should be your very last resort – just don’t do it; it’s not as flavorful or caffeinated as regular coffee.

Even if you’re out camping or on a hike, you can still use something like an AeroPress and a good portable manual hand grinder to brew a great-tasting cup of coffee even out in the wilderness.

But if you do find that you have a bag of instant coffee sitting in your pantry and you want to brew a cup, it can last up to 20 years, depending on how well it’s been stored.

You have to think, what chemicals and processing are involved when producing instant coffee that allows it to still be drinkable for up to two decades from the date of manufacture?

Do yourself a favor and buy a bag of good-quality whole coffee beans that have been roasted within the past week.

UnopenedPantry (Past Printed Date)
Ground Coffee lasts for –3-5 Months
Whole Bean Coffee lasts for –6-9 Months
Instant Coffee lasts for –2-20 Years
OpenedPantry (Once Opened)
Ground Coffee lasts for –2-3 Months
Whole Bean Coffee lasts for –6 Months
Instant Coffee lasts for –2-10 Years

Does The Coffee Roast Affect The Expiry

Does the type of coffee roast determine how quickly it goes bad? For store-bought coffee, the expiration date will be the same for all roast types.

Those “best before” dates are deceiving, and it’s so that coffee companies can keep stale coffee beans on the grocery stores shelves for months, which in most cases is far past the freshness peak of the coffee.

However, when you’re buying coffee fresh, ideally directly from the roaster themselves, there have been connections made in certain studies that suggest specific roast profiles affect the shelf life of the coffee.

Lighter roasts tend to last longer than darker roasted coffee.

The logic behind this is that dark roasts typically have many oils and amino acids on the surface of the roasted whole beans.

For this reason, darker roasted coffee tends to spoil faster than lighter roasted coffee that still has much of its oils still locked inside.

Can You Freeze Coffee?

It seems that everyone has an opinion on whether you can freeze coffee or not. Some experts say yes, while others say you can’t. Who’s right?

Here’s where we stand on the subject.

Yes, you can freeze coffee, but it comes with some dangers that can affect the quality of your coffee.

But the bigger question you should be asking yourself is, do you really need to freeze coffee in the first place.

If you can find a local coffee roaster, just set up a coffee subscription with them for weekly or fortnightly deliveries to your door or purchase just enough coffee that will last for the following week.

In both instances, you will have fresh coffee that will last you for a week or two. You will have no “excess” coffee that needs to be frozen.

If you really have to freeze coffee, here’s what you need to know.

While there are different opinions on whether or not coffee should be frozen, the main issue with doing so is that coffee is hygroscopic.

Simply put, coffee absorbs moisture, odors, and tastes from the air around it.

So if you decide to go down the freezing route, you have to ensure that you keep your coffee inside an airtight container to reduce the risks of freezer burn.

freezing coffee

Once the coffee is completely frozen, don’t thaw out the coffee unless you intend on using it.

Only remove as much as you need for no more than a week at a time and be quick doing so as condensation forms on the frozen coffee very quickly – and remember what we have been saying regarding moisture!

But I ask again.

Do you really need to be freezing your coffee?

Sure it’s possible, but why not just buy enough for a week and eliminate the risks of freezing coffee altogether.

Does Brewed Coffee Expire?

So we’ve talked about coffee freshness, but what about coffee that’s already been brewed? Does that go bad too?

It sure does.

Again the main culprit with lousy coffee, once it’s brewed, is our friend oxygen.

Just like “pre-brewed” coffee, the organic compounds will break down when oxygen is present.

This is why you shouldn’t let a pot of coffee sit around for hours and hours unless you enjoy a bitter, citrusy, acidic tasting cup.

It doesn’t take long for brewed coffee to lose its pleasant taste. In most cases, within an hour or two, those acids will start tasting tart, and there will be an intense bitterness.

Any longer than that, and there’s a good chance that mold will start to form on the surface of the coffee.

Better to be safe rather than sorry, just make a fresh cup of coffee if it’s been sat for more than a few hours.

A Summary: Does Coffee Go Bad

If you’ve gotten this far, you will surely better understand the expiration of coffee and the best way to prolong the freshness for as long as possible by using correct storage methods.

But here’s a quick recap:

  • Try to find a local coffee roaster for guaranteed freshness.
  • Look for “roasted on dates” rather than “best before” dates.
  • Whole bean coffee will typically have 2-3 weeks of peak freshness and flavor
  • Ground coffee tends to have a small window of only 20-30 minutes of peak freshness.
  • You can extend your coffee’s freshness by using a vacuum coffee canister.
  • Brewed coffee starts to deteriorate after 1-2 hours, but it is still safe to drink. Mold will likely grow after 12 hours.

FAQs

📌 What Happens If I Drink Expired Coffee?

Drinking coffee that has been brewed from old beans won’t make you sick, even if the expiration date has passed. (We can’t vouch for the taste, though.)

📌 What Does Bad Coffee Smell Like?

A bad coffee smell is quite hard to pinpoint. Some people might like the sour apple and vinegar aroma that stale coffee can give off.

We can say that any coffee with mold and smells of sour apple, vinegar, grass, burnt wood, mildewy, or rancid oil is most likely past its shelf life. If your nose tells you not to drink it, it’s a safe bet that the coffee has gone bad.

📌 Can Old Coffee Make You Sick?

Unless there is visible mold on the coffee, you shouldn’t get sick from drinking expired coffee. However, if you do drink old coffee grounds, don’t expect much in the flavor department.

📌 Is Mold In Coffee Dangerous?

Finding mold on your coffee isn’t necessarily a big problem. However, the real danger can be caused by the Mycotoxins that the mold spores produce.

Certain types of Mycotoxins have been known to grow in coffee beans. If inhaled or consumed, these Mycotoxins can have a variety of nasty effects on the human body.

If you do find mold on your coffee, just throw it in the trash. There’s no need to take any chances with your health.

Mark Morphew

Mark is the Editor-in-Chief of the popular coffee blog - Bean Ground. He's been active in the catering and hospitality industry for over 20 years. When he's not fiddling around with a new coffee gadget, you'll find him busy working on his other passion, web development. You can discover more about Mark here.