The aroma of good coffee is unforgettable. This aroma is generated by the oils that bloom in the roasting process. While these oils are generally stable under an airtight seal, they can spoil once exposed to heat or oxidize when exposed to air.
Spoiled coffee is uncommon, but it can make you sick.
Can coffee go bad? Coffee is considered a “dry good,“ and as long as you keep it dry and cool, it will not go “bad”. Unfortunately, lengthy storage does compromise the flavor of coffee.
For that reason, stocking up on large amounts of coffee to hold onto for months or years is not a good idea. See our complete guide on the best way to store coffee at home.
Coffee Shelf Life
- Whole Beans – Use within 2-3 weeks. Once ground, use within a day.
- Ground and Instant Coffee – After opening it is best used up to 2 weeks.
- Brewed Coffee – Black coffee should be used same day or within a couple of days refrigerated.
How Long Do Coffee Beans Last?
Left in their original packaging and protected from light and heat, coffee beans can remain stable for quite a long time. Coffee beans can be sealed in an airtight container and frozen for years.
Coffee beans have a few enemies. They are:
It’s said that oil and water don’t mix, and this is especially true about coffee beans. Avoid storing your beans in the refrigerator as it’s a high humidity environment.
If you have enough beans to freeze, don’t use the freezer for daily storage. Instead, seal the beans in an airtight packet, preferably vacuum sealed, and leave it there until you’re ready to pull the whole packet out.
Thaw it in the refrigerator, then grind and use within the next two weeks. Once the beans are thawed, store them in a cool cupboard.
- Pre-packed beans will likely come to you in a foil package. As long as it’s unopened, you can freeze this directly. To thaw and use, follow the directions above.
- Freshly roasted beans will likely be sold to you in a paper packet. This shouldn’t go in the freezer.
Air from the freezer will pass through the paper, and your beans will end up deodorizing your refrigerator. What a waste!
How Long Does Ground Coffee Last?
Ground coffee is less likely to go rancid than beans because the oil is dispersed across the surface of the grind, rather than being encapsulated inside the bean.
That being said, ground coffee oxidizes quickly and can develop a paper or stale taste.
Timing is key when working with ground coffee. If you prefer to purchase your coffee already ground, don’t buy more than you can use in two weeks.
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You’ll notice that the best grocery store coffee comes in an airtight container. It’s a good idea to emulate that the best that you can.
If you buy freshly ground coffee and it comes in a paper package, transfer it to a sealed canister or jar when you get home. Then put it in a dark, cool cupboard.
Investing in a vacuum sealed container is a good plan if you like ground coffee. Each time you open the canister, you can re-seal it to prevent air getting to your coffee.
How Long Does Instant Coffee Last?
Theoretically, freeze-dried instant coffee shelf life is between 2 to 20 years when kept in your pantry and forever when kept in your freezer. The veracity of this claim hinges upon whether or not you believe instant coffee is usable in the first place.
Does instant coffee go bad? Yes. For example, opened instant coffee has been known to solidify to the shape and consistency of a hockey puck in the bottom of the jar after a significant passage of time
Exposed coffee can also grow mold under the right conditions.
Coffee connoisseurs will tell you that instant coffee is a travesty and should be avoided at all costs.
Be that as it may, if your main concern is whether or not it is safe to drink instant coffee, the answer is that great periods of time can pass and instant coffee will remain as safe as it ever was.
Although the experts do testify that instant freeze-dried coffee will remain usable for many, many years if properly stored in the pantry or freezer, anecdotal evidence often indicates otherwise.
One of the best ways to keep your ground coffee from going stale is to use it up fairly quickly. If you don’t drink a lot of coffee, this may be a challenge.
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Does Brewed Coffee Go Bad?
Depending what’s in your coffee will determine how long coffee can sit out. Generally speaking, black coffee can sit out at room temperature all day without spoiling.
Just be sure to turn off the heat as soon as the coffee is brewed. Heat makes coffee taste harsh and strong.
How long is brewed coffee good for? You can brew a full pot of strong coffee and enjoy it heated by the cup for several days.
You can keep your coffee warm in a thermos to enjoy a cup at a time throughout the day. Alternately, you can heat a cup at a time in your microwave.
This amount of heat does cause a bit of a harsh case, but it is nothing compared to leaving your coffee sitting on the burner for hours.
If you purchase coffee by the cup, you needn’t feel any qualms about finishing a cup of black coffee several hours after you purchase it. If you buy it with milk added, you should put it in the refrigerator if you want to save some for later.
Stale Vs. Rancid Coffee
Coffee is freshest when ground and brewed within two weeks of the roasting date. After that, the flavor will continue to dull. If you find old beans in the cupboard, trust your nose.
The aroma of coffee is created in the roasting process. An old bag of beans that still smells like coffee will probably taste like coffee. However, if you find beans that smell musty or mildewed, they have gone rancid and must not be consumed.
Rancidity occurs when the oils in the bean begin to decompose. Rancid oil is toxic and in some cases is considered a carcinogen or cancer-causing agent. Rancid food promotes indigestion, inflammation and may contribute to heart disease.
When in doubt, old coffee (beans or grounds) should be discarded.
Can Expired Coffee Make You Sick?
Fresh air and sunshine are crucial for humans but very bad for coffee. That being said, most old coffee is simply oxidized and stale. That is the oils that give coffee that wonderful aroma have given up the ghost and no longer offer much flavor.
However, there’s a huge difference between stale and rancid. If you find old beans at the back of the cupboard and want to give them a go, be sure to sniff them and give them a long look.
Check for any notes of dust or mildew, and study them for mold. If you’re not absolutely certain, toss them.
When possible, get into a coffee buying routine so that you don’t buy more than you can use in the next two weeks. If you grind your own, keep the beans in a dark cupboard, sealed against outside air.
If you purchase ground coffee, consider investing in a vacuum-sealed canister that you can re-seal each time you open it.
Freeze coffee only for long-term storage, and never refrigerate your coffee. Remember that freezing does extend the life of your coffee, but it also takes a bit of a toll on the flavor. This is why it is preferable to keep coffee at cool room temperature whenever possible.
Trust your nose. If it still smells like coffee, it’s probably drinkable. If it smells like anything else, toss it!