Does Coffee Go Bad? A Complete Guide to Coffee Freshness

If you occasionally enjoy a steaming cup of coffee, then now and then you may find yourself scrambling around the back of the cupboard trying to get your hands on a bag of beans.

You then realize you bought this coffee ages ago- does this scenario sound familiar?

Consequently, you’re left wondering; ‘Does coffee go off?’. To which we answer; yes, it does indeed go bad.

Here’s the Science Behind It All

Coffee, whether you’ve bought it as beans or pre-ground, is made of hundreds of composites, including (but not limited to):

  • Carbohydrates,
  • Amino acids,
  • Lipids,

Over time, all of the above suffer from both chemical and physical modifications. Unfortunately, this impacts both the scent and taste of your brew and not for the better.

Once you’ve ground the best coffee beans, they gradually lose their flavor because the oils start to evaporate.

Unsurprisingly, the time it takes for coffee to degrade depends mainly on the surface area. This means whole beans stay fresher for longer in comparison to ground coffee.

In light of this, we recommend purchasing whole beans and grind them as and when you intend to drink them (that’s if you want to muster the best of the flavor)

brown coffee bean lot

Is Stale Coffee Dangerous to Drink?

In short, no.

How long you risk drinking your coffee after the best before date, depends on whether you’re a coffee snob (not that there’s anything wrong with that- we’re all very particular about our coffee here!)

Some of you will look at out of date coffee, and immediately throw it in the trash. Whereas, others will be happy to consume it, just like any other cup of regular coffee.

Top Tip: as we’ve said, the longer you leave your coffee passed its expiry date, the less of a taste it has. So, you may want to help yourself to a more significant portion of coffee than usual.

How Long Does Coffee Last?

There are a few factors that impact how long coffee stays fresh for:

  • It’s form,
  • Where you store the coffee,
  • How you store the coffee,
  • The best before date,
  • How the coffee was prepared,

To make your java stand the test of time, place it in an airtight container and leave it in a cupboard or pantry (or anywhere else that’s dark, dry, and cool). A tightly sealed glass or plastic jar is ideal. If you don’t have one of these to hand, wrap a plastic baggie tightly around the coffee and secure it in place.

By keeping the coffee out of the air, you help keep all its compounds intact. This is crucial for maintaining its delicious flavor.

When stored correctly, you can make both whole beans and ground coffee last months past their specified expiration day. Or, in the case of instant coffee- years!

ceramic mug on table

Check Out These More Specific Guidelines:

  • Ground Coffee (when unopened and kept in a cupboard): can last three to five months after the printed expiration date. Or if frozen, one to two years.
  • Whole Bean Coffee (when unopened and kept in a cupboard): can last anywhere between six and nine months after its expiry date. Or, two to three years when held in the freezer.
  • Instant Coffee (when kept sealed and left in the pantry) can last anywhere between two and twenty years after its expiry day. Or, if frozen, can last for an infinite amount of time- even after being opened!
  • Whereas, once a ground coffee packet’s pierced, it doesn’t matter whether it’s kept in a cupboard or a freezer it’ll only last between three and five months.
  • Likewise, coffee beans when opened and stored in the pantry last roughly six months past their expiration date. Whereas, they can survive a further two years in the freezer.

Fun Fact: The above approximations are the same for both caffeinated and decaffeinated blends.

person holding cup with coffee

Can You Freeze Coffee?

As we’ve just mentioned, you can, in fact, freeze coffee.

This significantly extends its shelf life. You can keep whole beans and ground coffee fresh for anywhere between one and three years! Whereas, you virtually irradicate any shelf life when you freeze instant coffee granules. However, with that being said, when you freeze coffee, it’ll take away a lot of its flavors, which leaves it incredibly dull. So, unless it’s essential to keep your coffee in the freezer, we don’t recommend doing so.

This is especially true if you’re planning on using your coffee supply every day. By repeatedly removing ground coffee from the freezer and putting it back you’ll (unknowingly) promote moisture within grounds. This encourages it to mold- Eww!

Unfortunately, unwanted moisture leaves behind it a taste of cardboard- which hardly makes for a delicious coffee tasting experience.

Fun Fact: Coffee doesn’t actually freeze, so it is always ready for you to make a pot without waiting for it to defrost.

white mug beside moka pot

When Should You Use Coffee By?

If you want to enjoy the optimum flavor of your coffee, drink it as close to the roasting date as possible. However, this will vary depending on your choice of coffee beans, the roast, and the method you choose to brew a cuppa.

What If You’ve Brewed a Pot?

If you’ve prepared a pot of coffee and can’t get through it all, you can leave it covered on the kitchen worktop. However, try to consume it within four to six hours. Otherwise, it’ll begin to develop a sharp tang- gross! This is because coffee continues to oxidize even after you’ve finished brewing a pot. A bit like what happens to a banana if you peel and leave it on the side for an hour or so.

Although we can’t see the oxidization of coffee beans with the naked eye, the process significantly impacts the taste. The compounds that give coffee its delicious flavor gradually evaporate into the air which causes the flavor profile to alter drastically.

We also suggest refraining from reheating brewed coffee (either in a pan or in the microwave) because this process further breaks down the product. Instead, try pouring away any excess coffee into a high-quality thermos. This is a better way of keeping your coffee warm, for you to come back to.

man bending his knees pouring thermal carafe in cup

Made Too Much Coffee? Try These Ideas

We’ve all been there. It’s so easy to get carried away and accidentally make too much coffee first thing in the morning. Now if you’re a coffee-lover like us, it’ll pain you to throw it away. Never fear, if you’re ever caught in this conundrum again, here are a few ideas:

Smoothie Time

Pour the coffee into a blender, alongside yogurt or a scoop of vanilla ice cream (depending on whether you’re watching your calories), milk, ice, and a teaspoon of vanilla extract.

Blitz it all together, and voila you’ve got a delicious milkshake that doubles as breakfast!

Bake a Cake

You can use your leftover coffee instead of water when making a cake; this is amazing for giving your bakes a rich mocha flavor. If you’ve never tried kaiser buns with this little added tip, then you’re missing out. Worth mentioning, they do go great with coffee just as they are as well.

plate of sliced cake with silver fork beside cup of coffe on brown wooden serving board

Create a Browning Agent

Take the leftover coffee and pour it into an ice cube tray, and place them in the freezer. You can use these cubes as a browning agent when cooking mince-based dishes and gravy.

Key Things to Remember

As you know, coffee is a roasted bean, and like any other bean, it can go bad. Part of the roasting process helps to eliminate any contaminants that could cause the coffee to mold. It does a great job of keeping the moisture levels low.

On the whole, you can be confident there aren’t any nasty bacterias growing in your coffee grounds. The only time you risk this is by accidentally adding moisture to the grounds during its storage.

The fresher the coffee, the better the taste. It really is as simple as that.

person holding gray stainless steel teapot and white ceramic teacup

This means you should grind your coffee if you have whole beans and a grinder as and when you want to make a pot. Or, consume your pre-ground coffee as close as to the date of purchase as possible.

If it looks ‘off’ and smells weird, then don’t take the risk, throw it in the trash. You may find there’s hardly any smell left at all. If that’s the case, your cup of coffee will taste incredibly dull. The smell of your cup of Joe is essential to the overall flavor of the brew.

Yes, coffee can go moldy, so be aware of that. Like we’ve already said, you should be able to tell either by the smell or its appearance whether the coffee’s gone rotten.

On the whole, unless the coffee looks and/or smells bad, you can’t get sick from drinking it. However, just because you can consume coffee that’s past its expiration date, doesn’t mean you should (that’s if you want to enjoy a delicious mug of java).

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