Coffee must go bad, right? It can't last forever, it's a food product after all. How long does coffee last and how can you tell when it goes bad? In this post, we'll explore what you need to know about the shelf life of coffee, and the possible health risks involved.
How Long Does Coffee Last?
How long coffee lasts and whether or not coffee goes bad are hot topics. We'll look at both so we can understand how to get the best flavor out of our coffee and how to avoid drinking bad or rancid coffee.
Let's start by looking at how long coffee lasts.
How Long is Coffee Good for?
Coffee, the dry good (coffee beans, coffee grounds) when stored properly can last a long time – weeks, months, even years. But, will the aroma be there, what about the flavor? Perhaps not.
If coffee is kept dry, cool and away from the light, it can be safe to consume for a long time. But that doesn't mean it will still taste fresh. As time goes on it will lose its aroma and its pleasant flavor notes. The fresher the coffee the better it will taste because as coffee ages it starts to degrade.
Like other food products, there will be a date (or two) on the bag of coffee indicating when it should be consumed by. If there's no date, I would skip that brand.
When it comes to the expiration date, as long as you store it properly it will be safe to consume within that amount of time, and perhaps months longer. We'll look more into that later on. But coffee is not like milk that will spoil or go rancid soon after the best-before-date even when stored properly.
Another date you may see on your bag of coffee is the roasting date. The closer to that date you consume the coffee the better, in terms of flavor and safety.
In asking how long does coffee last, you're probably wondering about safety because you're not using up the coffee very quickly, or you're concerned about how long it has been on the store shelf. So we'll break it down by beans, grounds, brewed and instant.
How Long are Coffee Beans Good for?
Roasted coffee beans last longer than other popular forms of coffee (ground or brewed). One reason is that there is less surface area exposed to the elements (oxygen, moisture, light, and heat).
The way you store the beans can make a difference. They will last longer in a cool place (like the fridge) than in the cupboard. Putting them in an airtight container is important because you want to keep as much oxygen and moisture out as possible. Freezing them will preserve them longer but will also negatively affect the flavor.
- So, can you drink expired coffee? Yes, you can.
- Will it taste fresh? Most likely not.
- Should you drink expired coffee? That depends, I'll talk more about that later.
I based the following estimates on what I found here and they are in regard to after the coffee expiration date printed on the bag.
The estimates about flavor are based on the majority of opinions (roasters and consumers) about fresh tasting coffee.
How long do coffee beans last in the cupboard?
- An unopened bag of coffee beans can last from 6 to 9 months in the cupboard.
- An open bag (stored properly) for around 6 months.
How long do coffee beans last in the fridge/freezer?
- If the bag of beans is unopened it can last 2 to 3 years in the fridge.
- If it's open and stored properly 1 to 2 years.
How long should you store coffee beans for best flavor?
For best flavor, you should use the beans as close to the roast date as possible, ideally within 2 to 3 weeks for a pound of coffee.
How Long are Coffee Grounds Good for?
Coffee grounds don't last as long as coffee beans because there is so much more surface area. The more oxygen, light, heat, and moisture have a chance to react with the compounds in coffee the faster it will lose aroma and taste. And the more vulnerable it is to going bad.
How long do coffee grounds last in the cupboard?
- When stored properly open or unopened coffee grounds are alright for around 3 months in the cupboard.
How long do coffee grounds last in the fridge/freezer?
- The common opinion is that when stored properly weather open or unopened up to 5 months.
How long should you store coffee grounds for best flavor?
For best flavor, you should use the grounds as close to the roast date as possible, ideally within 1 week for a pound of coffee. And it's helpful to keep in mind that storing coffee grounds in the freezer will take away from their aroma and flavor.
How Long is Brewed Coffee Good for?
Sometimes when people ask about how long coffee lasts they're talking about brewed coffee. Brewed coffee has the shortest “shelf life” of all. There are differing opinions about how long brewed coffee lasts, but these are the most common. These estimates are for black coffee, the situation changes once you add milk or cream.
How long does brewed coffee last on the counter?
- Brewed coffee should be consumed within 12 hours when left on the counter.
How long does brewed coffee last in the fridge/freezer:
- Brewed coffee can be stored for 3 to 4 days in the fridge. Brewed coffee could last much longer as ice in the freezer but I would transfer it to a freezer safe Ziploc bag as soon as frozen to protect it from picking up flavors/aromas. I would also try to use it within 2 weeks. (Coffee ice cubes are perfect for iced coffee).
How long should you store brewed coffee for best flavor?
For best flavor, no matter how you brew coffee you should drink it as soon as possible. The exception would be with cold brew (more on that below).
If you can't drink it right away try keeping it in an insulated carafe. And if you need to put it in the fridge it would be best served as iced coffee after that.
How long should you store cold brew coffee?
Things change a little when we're talking about cold brew coffee. When properly sealed cold brew coffee can be stored in the fridge for about two weeks. It is brewed using cold or room temperature water so it has a different flavor profile than hot brewed coffee, it's often sweeter – lacking the bitter flavor notes that can come along with hot brewed coffee that has been cooled. Cold brew coffee is also a concentrate so it holds its flavor better.
Reheating coffee in the microwave affects the flavor negatively.
How Long is Instant Coffee Good for?
Instant coffee is basically brewed coffee that has had the moisture removed. It has the longest estimated expiration date of all forms of coffee.
How long does instant coffee last?
- Instant coffee – whether open or unopened (and stored properly) in the cupboard or the fridge can last up to 20 years after its best before date!
Umm, 20 years? That's a super long time, I wouldn't want someone to serve me 20-year-old coffee in any form. How about you?
So now that we know how long coffee lasts we don't have to worry about it, right? Well, not necessarily.
Just because it can last that long doesn't mean it will or that you'll feel comfortable drinking it. When a food product starts to lose its pleasant aroma and flavor, I think it indicates something negative. And I want my coffee to taste as good as possible.
Let's look at some things that can cause coffee to go bad.
Does Coffee Go Bad?
While coffee seems practically indestructible with those long “safe use” dates the story doesn't end there.
Coffee is a food product which is likened to spice, so while it can last a long time it is also vulnerable to damage during that time. So if you're asking “can coffee go bad?” the answer is yes. Coffee can spoil – it can go rancid.
What Can Cause Coffee to go Bad?
Other than the coffee being contaminated by bugs (or rodents) moisture and heat can cause problems. As with other food products if the coffee is exposed to moisture and stays moist mold can grow. If heat is introduced mold will grow faster.
How Can You Tell if Coffee Has Gone Bad?
You'll be able to tell if your coffee has gone bad based on how it looks and smells.
If you can see or smell any signs of mold, don't use any of it. Whether it's before or after the expiration date it's best to toss all the coffee in that bag/container.
Another sign your coffee is starting to degrade, would be if it has lost that full rich aroma. When the oils start to break down that delicious aroma will diminish which could indicate the oils have started to go rancid.
Can Coffee go Rancid?
Coffee contains oils so it can go rancid. You may be wondering if rancid coffee is dangerous. Well, it's not likely to hurt you if you drink a little rancid coffee. The concern here seems to be more about aroma and flavor.
But when oils go rancid they change (oxidize) and may develop toxic compounds. That sounds a little worrisome to me so coffee won't be hanging around in my house for very long after the expiration date, it doesn't really get the chance anyway – we drink it pretty quick.
This probably isn't something you need to worry too much about because it's doubtful that you would drink rancid coffee anyway, you would probably smell that it was off (doesn't smell coffee delicious anymore) and get rid of it. If it smells stale, it's a fail.
Can Expired Coffee Make You Sick?
This depends on the condition of the coffee, and what kind of “sick” you mean.
If the expired coffee has developed any mold or been contaminated in some other way it could make you sick.
Coffee (beans, grounds, decaf, instant…) can contain low levels of mycotoxins (toxins produced by certain types of mold) which can be harmful. Although it may seem that coffee wouldn't contain them because it is roasted, that's not necessarily the case. Mycotoxins are stable chemically and survive food processing. So it stands to reason that especially once the coffee has been opened and if there's a little mold it could start to grow, especially if it's not stored properly. And the higher the concentration of mold, the more unhealthy the coffee would be.
But – if you store coffee properly and drink it in a reasonable amount of time you shouldn't have to worry about mycotoxins in your coffee.
So while drinking expired coffee might not make you nauseous or send you running to the bathroom, if consumed in large amounts it could (if it has been contaminated by mold growth or oils that have become rancid) cause other health problems.
Helpful tip: Once you open your bag of coffee beans and find that you haven't consumed them within a couple of weeks it would be best to start storing them in the fridge – if you haven't already. And for ground coffee, if you don't finish off that bag in about a week transfer it to the fridge. An airtight container is best as it keeps out moisture which can lead to mold growth.
Instant coffee will last longer than beans and grounds but the safest bet is to store it properly and consume it in a reasonable amount of time as well.
As I researched about mold in coffee, it made me reflect on a post I wrote about Civet Coffee (Kopi Luwak coffee/cat poop coffee) because of the concerns about mold growing on animal feces.
The Shelf Life of Coffee and You
When I was researching the question “how long does coffee last?” and looked at some of the estimates for how long beans and grounds are good for after the expiration date they kind of surprised me.
I asked myself what other food items would I feel ok with consuming that long after the expiration date, open or not? Not many, maybe none. I mean how many food items have you had sitting in your fridge for 5 months to a year?
In my mind, an expiration date placed on a product is a good benchmark and I don't want to push the envelope too much. The concern that some manufacturers place expiration dates on their products because they want you to buy more product so they can make more money is valid. But coffee is a food product which is best consumed fresh, especially if you're drinking organic coffee. So while it may be safe to consume coffee long after the expiration date, I'm not big on the idea, I'm a fan of “when in doubt toss it out”. For me, it's just not worth the risk or the lack of flavor.
Instant coffee is not immune to spoilage either. Because it is a dry form of brewed coffee it can contain mycotoxins as well. I know I'll be keeping an eye on mine, storing it properly and not keeping it in the house for toooo long, certainly not 20 years!
So how do you feel about this topic? Are you comfortable with the “after expiration date” estimates mentioned earlier in this post? I would love to hear your thoughts, please join me in the comments.