How long does coffee last?
If you love coffee, no doubt you prefer it fresh and packed with as many nutrients, flavor notes and pleasant aroma as humanly possible. But how long does coffee last, exactly?
In this article we aim to answer all of your questions about the longevity of coffee, whether we are talking coffee beans, the pre-ground variety, or a coffee drink that has already been brewed.
Without further ado, let us dive in.
Why coffee expires
The process that makes coffee expire – whether we are talking beans, grounds, or a freshly brewed cup of the caffeinated stuff – is called oxidation. Oxidation happens when the coffee is exposed to the air, as air speeds up the inevitable breakdown of the various nutrients, caffeine content and taste that the coffee beans, grounds, granules or drink contains. It is protect the coffee from oxidation that it always comes packaged in airtight bags or containers.
Coffee beans and grounds are unlike many other wares in that they don’t tend to go mouldy (unless exposed to a hot and humid environment, of course). In other words, coffee that has passed its expiration date does not suddenly become dangerous to consume, unlike fresh produce like milk, bread or eggs. What happens instead is that the coffee progressively loses its flavour profile and nutrients, including the caffeine content. So while brewing coffee on expired beans won’t make you sick, the resultant cup of coffee is bound to be rather lacklustre.
How long freshly brewed coffee lasts
You might be surprised to learn how quickly a freshly brewed cup of coffee expires. The fact that an espresso should be consumed within ten seconds of it being brewed for maximum freshness and the best taste should give you a hint.
While you don’t have to rush to down your fresh coffee within ten seconds, you should nevertheless be mindful of consuming it within half an hour or so of it being brewed if you want to enjoy it at its best. The reason for this is that, as soon as as cup of coffee has been brewed, it starts to oxidise and lose freshness rapidly.
If you are a black coffee lover, it will be easier for you to tell when your coffee starts to taste stale, as there will be no added milk, sugar or other sweeteners to mask the bitter taste, But even if you add milk, your taste buds will pick up on the coffee beginning to taste noticeably different within thirty minutes or so.
After about four hours the oils in the coffee will start to go bad, which alters the taste quite dramatically, making the coffee taste bitter and without the interesting flavor note that the very same cup of coffee would have had when it was freshly brewed.
How to store freshly brewed coffee
The best way to store freshly brewed coffee is in your stomach! While coffee grounds, granules and certainly whole beans can last months or even years if stored properly, there is not much you can do for a freshly brewed cup of coffee other than drinking it.
It is always a good idea to only prepare fresh coffee in the quantities you need it, so even if you are planning on drinking coffee again later in the day, it is best to prepare only the one cup you need right now. But if you want to prepare and serve more than one cup of coffee, keeping it in an insulated carafe is better than keeping it in a coffee pot or French press.
You might wonder if you can or should store coffee in the fridge, but this is a bad idea and will inevitably result in a stale cup as as colder temperature does not prevent the coffee from oxidising and releasing carbon dioxide. Trust us, a cup of cold leftover coffee from yesterday is not as delicious as it sounds.
The one exception is cold brew coffee, which is brewed over a period of 12 hours or more and relies on a deliberately slow extraction process.
How long roasted coffee beans and grounds last
There are many different factors that play into how long whole beans or pre-ground coffee can last. Let us look at all of them in a little more detail.
Fresh tasting coffee always starts with selecting the freshest beans or grounds to bring home. You should only purchase coffee that has been stored in an airtight container at room temperature or lower, as hot temperatures are detrimental to coffee, causing it to release carbon dioxide and lose its nutrients and taste much quicker. You should also always check the expiration date printed on the packaging, and if possible, choose whole beans rather than grounds.
Typically, a bag of coffee lasts between three and five months when kept unopened in a cool dark room. As soon as the bag has been opened, the shelf life of the coffee drops by a few months as the coffee, when exposed to the air, begins to release carbon dioxide and lose some of its freshness.
Whole bean coffee lasts longer than pre-ground coffee because the nutrients are kept stable by the whole coffee beans before the grinding process releases them and leaves them more vulnerable to the oxidation process.
How to store coffee beans and ground coffee
While the only way to enjoy a freshly brewed cup of coffee is as soon as possible, coffee beans and to a slightly lesser extend, pre-ground coffee, can keep for months or even years depending on how you store it.
First, let us cover the basics. The best place to store your coffee grounds or whole beans is in an environment that is as cool, dark and airtight as possible. You should always store coffee out of direct sunlight, as heat and light destablize the nutrients in your coffee beans or grounds. Second of all, you should at the very least close up your coffee bag after each use. Leaving it open is a careless attitude that quickly results in stale, tasteless coffee beans.
You can prolong the shelf life of both coffee beans and grounds if you store them in airtight containers. Sure, you cannot recreate the airtight conditions of an unopened and airtight coffee bag, but a sealed container is the next best thing. What you really want to do is limit the expose to fresh air so that your beans or grounds can keep their taste and nutrients for longer. By keeping your coffee in an opaque, sealed container, you can prolong their shelf life up to nine months – a significant leap from the three to five months you should expect if you merely store them in their bag.
Freezing coffee beans is ultimately the best way to make both beans and grounds last. Frozen, coffee beans can last up to two, perhaps even three years. If you have the freezer space, there is a clear advantage to storing frozen coffee beans that you can bring up in the exact quantities you need them.
How long instant coffee lasts
Instant coffee is freeze-dried coffee which has been created for the express purpose of lasting a very, very long time. While instant coffee brands can vary, on average instant coffee can last up to twenty years. Yes, you read that right.
Instant coffee typically comes in an airtight, opaque container, but even if you take no particular measures in terms of storing it correctly, instant coffee is much more stable than either whole beans or ground coffee.
Coffee longevity FAQ
How long before coffee goes bad?
How quickly coffee goes bad very much depends on the type of coffee we are talking about – beans, grounds, brewed coffee – as well as how it is stored.
Coffee is always best enjoyed fresh. In fact, coffee begins to go rancid within just half an hour of making it, and the longer you leave it the more of its taste, nutrients and caffeine content are lost as the coffee oxidises. All of this is just a roundabout way of saying that you should only take your coffee freshly brewed, and always finish your cup of coffee within thirty minutes if you want to enjoy it at its best.
Can you drink a day old coffee?
You absolutely should not drink a day old coffee, even if you have been storing it in the fridge in an attempt to keep it fresh.
While coffee beans and ground coffee can last for months after the bag being opened, coffee that has already been brewed is prone to turning rancid and developing moulds within 24 hours, particularly if it has added milk or cream.
Health concerns aside, a freshly brewed cup of coffee always tastes and feels better than one that has been sitting out for hours.
Can you get sick from drinking old coffee?
Coffee doesn’t go bad in the same way that say, bread or milk goes bad. Coffee doesn’t get mouldy or dangerous to consume once it has passed its expiration date.
Still, you should avoid drinking old coffee if you can. If we are talking coffee beans, whether whole or ground, there is no harm in brewing coffee using recently expired coffee grounds – in fact, you are unlinked to noticed any difference, and consuming expired coffee also won’t make you ill.
Having said that, over time, coffee beans and coffee grounds loose their taste, not to mention their nutrients and minerals. In other words, there is no point in drinking old coffee – you are going to get a substandard experience, both taste-wise and in terms of the nutrients, including the caffeine content, that a cup of fresh coffee contains.
It is important to note that a brewed cup of coffee is a different matter to coffee beans and coffee grounds. While beans and grounds don’t develop mould, a cup of coffee that has been sitting out for a day or more very well might. It is always better to brew a fresh cup of coffee than to drink one that has been sitting out for too long.
How long does unopened coffee keep?
An unopened bag of coffee beans or coffee grounds can last a surprisingly long time.
How long coffee can last is highly dependent on how it is packaged and stored. Unopened coffee grounds last approximately five months, but once the bag has been opened the grounds become exposed to oxidation, which makes them lose their taste and nutrient content faster. Once a bag of ground coffee has been opened, you cannot expect it to last more than three months, or four at a stretch if you store the opened bag in an airtight container.
Generally speaking, whole bean coffee lasts longer than pre-ground coffee. This is because the nutrients within the coffee beans are better protected before the grinding process releases them and leaves them vulnerable to oxidation. For this reason, it is better to stock your pantry with bags of whole bean coffee rather than bags of pre-ground coffee. This is also why coffee brewed on freshly ground coffee beans tastes better – the nutrients have been better protected against oxidation and will have a fresher taste and higher nutrient content.
If you want to store coffee beans for as long as possible, freezing them is the best way to go. An unopened bag of coffee beans can last up to three years in a freezer, and even an open bag of coffee beans may last up to two years. Vacuum-sealing is another effective way to store coffee beans – an unopened, vacuum-sealed bag of whole beans may last up to nine months.
You have made it to the end of this article, which no doubt means that you now know a whole lot more about coffee, how quickly it express, how long it lasts and how best to store it, than when you started.
The biggest takeaway we hope to have imparted along the way is that, when it comes to coffee, fresher is always better, particularly when it comes to coffee drinks, which go rancid quickly and mouldy if left for a day or more.