While coffee does not often go bad, it does lose its flavor over time, especially if stored improperly. It’s a good idea to check the aroma and flavor of coffee if you think might be over six months old and to replace it with fresh roasted coffee if necessary. After all, life’s too short to drink bad coffee!
In this article, I will take a close look at how long coffee can last, what happens when you leave coffee out for a long time, and how you can tell if the coffee has gone bad, so keep reading to learn more.
How Can You Tell If Coffee Has Gone Bad?
Drinking coffee can be as relaxing as it is invigorating, especially if it’s a quality brew. And one of the key ways of making sure your brew is good is by making sure your beans are good.
When someone says coffee has gone “bad”, they usually mean one of two things. The situation is one where the coffee goes, for lack of a better term, tastes and smells horrible. This usually means that water got into the container where the coffee is stored.
This causes mold to build up and you should then throw the coffee out immediately. even if you don’t see a build-up of mold, as long as you notice that your beans are wet or damp, you have to throw it out to be safe.
However, sometimes, when people say the coffee has gone bad, that just means the beans have gone stale. This will usually result in a bad cup of coffee if you choose to brew it even after its gone stale.
The flavors won’t be as prominent, and you might notice a huge dip in the taste of your coffee. The best way to check this is a smell test. Simply smell your coffee beans, and if it isn’t the same strong aroma you’re used to, then your coffee might be past its prime.
If you’re still unsure though, you can also brew a cup of coffee, taste it, and if you notice that the flavors aren’t as distinct and the coffee doesn’t taste as good, it might be time to get a new batch. Older and stale beans tend to have a lighter brown shade to them as compared to the deep black shade that most people are used to.
How Coffee is Stored
There are generally 2 scenarios that usually lead to the question: Can coffee beans go bad?
The first scenario is, you are at the store and you see bags of coffee on sale and you’re wondering why it’s such as good deal.
You look at the packaging and you see the best buy date and you think to yourself, is this coffee still good? How long will I have to use it before it goes bad?
The second scenario is you are at your home and your going through your pantry and you notice a bag of coffee on the shelf that has been used maybe once or twice and you wonder since the bag has been opened is that coffee is still good.
Let’s go ahead and clear this up first because there is a big difference between a flavorful cup of coffee and a drinkable cup of coffee.
A flavorful cup of coffee is coffee that has been fresh roasted, which is to say 3 days up to a month maximum after the roast date. It is bought whole bean and is ground right before brewing.
After that the coffee will begin to lose its peak flavor and the longer you wait the less tasteful the coffee will be.
Drinkable coffee, on the other hand, is coffee that is bought either ground or whole bean and is brewed after the roast date and any time before the best buy date, which can be up to a year (or longer), that is put on the packaging of the coffee.
Why Does Coffee Have a Best by Date?
Companies that sell coffee tend to put a best by date on the packaging instead of a roast date. This is so you have a general idea as to how long you have to use the coffee.
The best buy date is usually a year from day the coffee was roasted, although I have seen longer. The closer whole bean coffee is to the roast date, the fresher it is.
That being said, there are a lot of things that can factor into how long coffee beans stay fresh. This can mean that your coffee can stay good for longer or it can even go “bad’ before the best by date.
Since coffee doesn’t technically expire, drinking coffee past the best by date won’t hurt you, but if you didn’t store the coffee right, it can mean a lousy brew. If you make sure to keep your coffee in an airtight container in a cool, dark place, your coffee can stay fresh a couple of months past the best by date.
What Happens to Coffee Over Time?
Coffee beans are loaded with a bunch of different oils, chemical compounds, and acids. This is nothing to worry about, as it is what gives coffee its signature flavor and scent. However, the second any of these beans come into contact with air, they lose their flavor.
This is because oxygen zaps the flavor by oxidizing and degrading coffee soluble compounds. This is similar to how iron begins to rust when it comes into contact with air.
Since oxygen tends to do this to coffee beans, most manufacturers make sure to vacuum seal the bags or put coffee in bags that have a two-way valve. This reduces the contact the beans have with oxygen which preserves their freshness.
What Is the Shelf Life of Coffee?
There isn’t one answer to this question. Different storage conditions, the type of bean, and the type of coffee you get are all factors when it comes to shelf life.
But let’s assume that you store your coffee in an airtight container and keep it in a cool, dark place. This is how long the different types of beans will last under these conditions.
Whole Bean Coffee
If given the choice, whole bean coffee is the best way to go as you have more options on type of grind you will use depending on how you are going to brew your coffee.
Whole bean coffee is a great choice for frequent coffee drinkers. The taste profile will generally will last a bit longer than ground coffee and give you the option to only grind the coffee you need.
Freshly ground coffee beans are highly recommended for coffee connoisseurs as this keeps the flavor as fresh as possible. Remember to only grind enough beans for the batch of coffee you’re brewing.
If you do this and store the beans right, they can last you up to three or four weeks (up to a month and a half sometimes) before they beans go stale. Just remember to do the smell test and eye test if you’re unsure.
As mentioned earlier, it’s best to only grind enough beans for the batch of coffee you’re brewing. But if you don’t have a grinder or don’t have the time, pre-ground coffee beans might be the better choice for you. These beans lose their flavor quickly, however.
Once you open a vacuum sealed pack of pre-ground coffee, it’s best to use it within two to three weeks. If you don’t the coffee will probably start losing their flavor and its freshness. Its still drinkable but may not have alot of flavor.
Instant coffee is completely different. Instant coffee is freeze dried so the shelf life will be much longer. Again, their may not be much flavor, unless you use some of the new specialty instant coffee out there and it won’t go bad for potentially years but I wouldn’t go any longer then 2 years.
How to Keep Coffee Fresh
I wrote a whole article about this in a separate post, but to summarize, you want to keep your coffee in a airtight container out of the sun and heat. This will keep the coffee fresh the longest but only too a point.
Coffee will not go bad if stored in a dry place out away from the sun and heat but the fact that coffee hasn’t gone bad doesn’t guarantee that the cup of coffee you will brew with it will actually be tasty.
Another words if you keep coffee in a container for example, 6 months, the coffee is going to old and tasteless regardless of what you do. However you will be still be able to safely drink it and it will stay this way for a long time but I would not go past a year.. max!
You can extend the life of coffee longer if you put coffee in the freezer but if the coffee is not going to be used for such a long time that you feel the need to put it in the freezer, I would recommend that you just buy another bag of coffee.
And there you have. All you need to know about the shelf life of coffee. It’s a bean that doesn’t spoil, but it can get moldy if water gets into the container, and it can also get stale and lose a lot of its flavor if left out for too long.
But as long you store your beans right and make sure to give them a proper smell test before brewing, you’ll be able to start all your mornings with a cup of joe.