How Long Does Coffee Last?

The question how long does coffee last has plagued my mind as I stared at the accumulated bags in my cupboard. After all, coffee is a popular gift item, and I can’t seem to resist the smell that I almost always end up coming home with a new bag after every grocery trip, making my stash bigger each time.


I vaguely computed in my head and realized I might have enough to last me more than a year. I should get around to drinking all of it. I reached out for the oldest one in the bunch and brewed a cup, only to find that it doesn’t taste quite as good as I remember.

 
That can’t be good. Surely, coffee has some sort of expiration date, doesn’t it?

How Long Does Coffee Last?

How Long Does Coffee Last

Intrigued by this, and admittedly panicked too, I looked further into it.


Interestingly, coffee lasts a long time – if the only consideration is whether it’s safe to consume or not. If so, it can last for up to 9 months to several years in whole bean form. However, when referring to flavor, coffee does not last as long as most of us think.

 
Well, definitely not as long as I thought it did!


See, the moment coffee beans are roasted, they gradually lose their flavor. This continues until there is barely anything left but this bitter, flat taste. This happens to roasted coffee in any of its forms: solid or liquid.


Many factors affect the speed at which coffee goes bad. Generally, this can be summed up as exposure to light, temperature, moisture, and oxygen. Anytime coffee is subjected to these, it loses more of its character.


I never realized how sensitive coffee is. At this point, I am racking my mind about what to do with six bags of it. At the same time, I am amused at how precious coffee actually is.


From what I’ve gathered, coffee is best consumed within 4-6 weeks of roasting. If nitrogen-flushed, it can last for 6 months. After, taste degrades significantly.


It is best to know not just what beans you purchase, but how they are prepared and kept. It’s time to pay attention because everyone deserves to enjoy coffee in its finest form.

How Long Does Ground Coffee Last?

Think of the bean as a shell. Grinding removes this and exposes more of its surface area to the elements. This speeds up staling significantly, that even leaving ground coffee exposed for a few minutes results in a drop in taste that professional baristas frown at.


Ground coffee degrades faster than beans. However, this does not mean that beans are safe because stale beans result in stale coffee - even if it is freshly ground.


Grounds start deteriorating 15 minutes after. If you still opt to grind your coffee beforehand, it should be consumed within 1-2 weeks. After that, it tastes worse.


I never really considered the science behind why beans are better than grounds, but this makes so much sense. I haven’t purchased coffee grounds in a while, and probably never will again.


Experts agree it is best to keep coffee as beans and grind as needed.

How Long is Brewed Coffee Good for? Why Does Coffee Turn Bitter?

Chemistry of Coffee

Coffee in all of its forms gradually ages right after roasting. This also applies to brewed coffee, which still contains the same elements that give it flavor and aroma. So, exposure to temperature, moisture, and oxygen will also make it stale.


Brewed coffee is best consumed within 30 minutes unless stored in an airtight flask. The principle is to keep it unexposed as much as possible because coffee continues to oxidize after brewing. This happens no matter how you’ve chosen to brew.


Although stale coffee is not dangerous to consume, it isn’t as enjoyable. It tastes bitter, and you don’t get the interesting nutty, fruity, or sweet notes in its flavor profile.

Understand the Chemistry of Coffee Oxidization

Oxidation is when something reacts upon contact with oxygen. Coffee does not have a visible reaction to oxidation as apples do. However, it has a major impact on taste. This is why bigger manufacturers do a nitrogen flush, which replaces the oxygen inside the bag before sealing.


The more coffee is exposed to oxygen, the greater the aroma and flavor released.


I mean, just observe how intense aromas are from fresh grounds as opposed to older grounds. It’s the reason we get to even smell coffee, and the science behind brewing, too.


Brewing is also oxidization, just that the oxygen is in the water. When coffee grounds react with water, they release aromatics, oils, and acids. As coffee drinkers, the aim is to keep coffee primed for this moment.

 
I wouldn’t want to waste any of that coffee goodness evaporating into air, would you?


This is also why over-extraction results in a bitter taste. Leaving coffee grinds in contact with the water too long raises the pH level of coffee because of the oxidation reaction.

How to Store Coffee and Make it Last Longer?

Store Coffee

If Not Yet for Consumption

Leave it in the sealed bag and store in a cool, dry place away from the light. Coffee beans are usually packaged in bags with a one-way valve that keeps the oxygen out, but allows the carbon dioxide to continue degassing after roasting.

 
If you’re sure that the beans are done degassing (experts pin this down to around 5 days after roasting), you may place the entire bag into a vacuum-sealed, airtight opaque canister. Store this in a dark, cool and dry place as well.

If For Consumption

Open as needed and keep it in the bag it came with. This is because its aroma, which contributes to flavor, stays within the bag. Do not leave the bag open, exposing the beans. Always squeeze out the air before resealing to keep oxygen out. Then store in a cool, dry place away from light.


If you’d like, you can go so far as to put the bag inside a vacuum-sealed, airtight opaque container. I’d suggest this if it takes you longer than a month to consume your coffee, or if you want to retain it at its prime for consumption.

If Brewed

Make sure to transfer your coffee into an airtight, insulated bottle after. This will help it last several hours. If you won’t be able to consume within several hours, place the container of pure brew in the refrigerator. This will help it last up to a day.

Will Freezing Coffee Beans Make Them Last Longer?


It depends upon your flavor preference.


Freezing coffee beans in a vacuum-sealed plastic can make them last longer, but it does not taste as full-bodied. If you’re not keen on taste and prioritize the shelf-life of your coffee beans, then it is okay to freeze. However, if you are like me, and the way coffee tastes matters, freezing is not recommended.

 
Freezing, unless done properly, may also expose it to moisture, and unsavory flavors. Fish flavored coffee, anyone?

Summary

If you only keep several things in mind after reading through this:

  •  Remember that oxygen, high heat, light, and moisture is bad for coffee – whether beans, ground, or brewed.
  • Buy as close to the roast date as possible, because coffee degrades right after.
  • Choose to purchase coffee beans and only grind as needed.
  • Buy only what you will be consuming.

Coffee is so temperamental. The best way to go about it is to stick to these principles to make sure your coffee-drinking experience stays pleasurable.


In conclusion, I have decided to keep the most recent bag of coffee I purchased and give away the rest. I’d only want to enjoy my coffee at its best form anyway. An expensive, yet valuable lesson learned.

FAQ

How Long Before Coffee Goes Bad?


This is relative to taste and preference, as well as how coffee was kept and packaged.

 
As a general guide, for experts, the peak flavor of coffee beans are extracted at 6-14 days after roasting. It is acceptable, but not at its prime after that until about 4-6 weeks.

 
As for edibility, it can last up to several months to years.


How Long can Black Coffee Sit Out?


After 10-15 minutes of brewing, it loses its prime flavor. After 30 minutes of brewing, it loses any sort of flavor. After 4 hours, the oils deplete and it becomes acidic and bitter.

 
Re-heating won’t make it taste the same. You can drink it if you want, but it won’t be tasty at all.


Is It Okay to Drink Day Old Coffee?


Yes, but take note that there are important caveats.


You can, but only if it has no other additives in it like dairy or milk substitutes. Having that added in only allows it to be consumable within 2 hours if left unrefrigerated.

 
You can, but only if you’ve stored it in an airtight insulated flask, or kept it in the refrigerator. It is not advisable to risk consumption of day old coffee otherwise, because it is prone to molds. Even if you microwave it, there is no guarantee that bacteria is eradicated.

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