Does coffee go bad? It’s a question that crops up often, but most often after you got carried away buying beans on sale, or if you have a jar of decaf in the cupboard that you reserve for those special visitors that don’t drink “proper coffee”.
Coffee, like most things, will go bad. Eventually. Exactly how long it takes depends on a lot of factors.
- How fresh was the coffee in the first place?
- Is it ground or beans?
- Do you store it in the cupboard?
- Keep it in the resealable pack?
- Is it cold brew that you’ve already prepared?
There are a lot of practices that can prolong or shorten the shelf life of your coffee, but there are some general guidelines you can stick to. These not only prevent your coffee from going stale but provide you with a fresh-tasting drink.
What Is “Off Coffee”?
First off, unless the coffee has gone moldy, you shouldn’t get sick from drinking it. This is unlikely to be the cause of any stomach pain after coffee.
However, coffee is made up of an assortment of compounds. It comprises carbohydrates, lipids, amino acids, and more. Some of these compounds go stale or rancid over time. Some react when exposed to oxygen. Others change when they come into contact with water.
A seemingly small change can have a potentially disastrous effect on the flavor of your favorite bean.
When exposed to oxygen or water, the flavor will start to degrade. Fresh coffee tastes fresh. Stale coffee tastes stale. Stale coffee might not make you ill, but it will not make a particularly enjoyable drink either.
Grind Beans When Needed
For the home grinders out there, your best bet is to grind the beans only when you need them. As soon as they’re ground, they start to degrade. Storing ground beans in an airtight container will slow the degradation process, but it won’t halt it completely. By waiting until you intend to use the coffee, you can prolong its life.
If you grind enough coffee for a few days, you should still get the vast majority of the flavor. Store in an airtight container in the pantry or the cupboard. The grounds will actually last for several months, as long as your container is airtight, and no moisture is allowed to get in. It also shouldn’t lose too much flavor this way.
If you buy packs of ground beans, avoid opening them until you want to use them. Most packs are infused with nitrogen to help protect the beans. Once the pack is open, the nitrogen dissipates and is replaced with oxygen, and the beans will start to lose flavor.
If the ground coffee comes in a resealable bag or jar, you can store them in the cupboard inside this container. Alternatively, get a decent coffee canister of your own.
Instant coffee is a lot less delicate. In fact, the coffee aficionado will tell you that it is difficult for instant coffee to go off or stale because it already tastes it as soon as you open the jar. Realistically, though, if kept in the right conditions, instant can last for years without spoiling.
Store Fresh Coffee in A Cool, Dry Place
Storing coffee in a cool, dry place, protects it from oxygen and moisture: both of which can destroy the compounds and diminish the flavor profile of the drink.
The pantry is widely considered the best place to store coffee because it meets the criteria of being dry. Use a resealable container that has an airtight lid and avoid opening and closing it too frequently.
Does Coffee Go Bad When Stored In the Freezer
Some people will tell you that you can store coffee in the freezer, and it will last much longer without going stale. Strictly speaking, they are right. Freezing the coffee prevents it from going off.
However, the freezing and unfreezing process also eliminates a lot of flavors. You won’t get the marshmallow, chocolatey, or cherry notes suggested on the packet, and it will lose a lot of its kick. For this reason, and because most of us have freezers that are overflowing with fish fingers and other essential items, we strongly advise against storing coffee in the freezer.
Best By Dates
All forms of coffee, even including instant, have a best before or a best brewed by date. Beans and grounds tend to have a date approximately one year after their roasting date.
For the best tasting coffee, you should try to drink it as close to the roasting date as possible. But you can still consume the coffee long after the best by date has passed. You can use beans and grounds several months after, and when stored properly, instant coffee will probably outlast the human population.
So, Does Coffee Go Bad?
Coffee, like anything, can and will eventually go bad, but this depends on your opinion of what “bad coffee” is. Avoid storing any coffee for too long if you want to enjoy its richest flavor. Avoid storing it in the freezer at all costs if you want to enjoy any flavor. Grind beans when you need them, and always store fresh coffee in an airtight container in a cold and dry environment.
If it smells stale, it will taste it, and if it has gone moldy, why would you want to drink it at all?