How long does coffee last?

Coffee is the drink millions of people worldwide start their day with. Some of us drink only a single cup of java every day, while others can’t go through their work day without at least a few cups. With that frequency there’s no worries about coffee going bad or losing most of its taste. However, there are also those, who drink coffee rarely, or buy it only to serve it to their guests. If that’s the case, questions like “how long does coffee last” and “how to tell if coffee has gone bad?” pop to mind immediately. Let’s go through those questions one by one.

A word of caution first. In this article we will go through rules for dealing with coffee for the typical coffee user. I know there are coffee nerds out there who use only freshly roasted beans, grind those beans themselves and discard beans that are older than a month. If you’re one of those people, please stop reading right now.

Coffee mug from above

Photo by Ronaldo Arthur Vidal on Unsplash.

How to store coffee?

No matter if it’s coffee beans, ground coffee or even instant coffee, storing coffee, both unopened and opened, in the cupboard in the kitchen is good enough. Make sure moisture doesn’t get to it and the coffee will be just fine. If you’d like to keep it fresh for longer, you can transfer it to a cooler place like the pantry, the refrigerator or even to the freezer. In nearly all cases such measures are not needed and the cupboard is a-okay.

How long does coffee last?

Let’s start with instant coffee. To get the best quality, it should be used within about two years of buying. Once you open the package, it’s best to use its contents in about 18 months. Again, that’s for best quality. Instant coffee can last years and as long as nothing bad gets into the container, it will be safe to brew. With time, though, the quality slowly drops, so don’t expect a 2-year instant coffee to taste as good as new one.

Now it’s time for coffee beans. Unopened package of beans remains at best quality for at least a year. After opening the package, try to use the beans within 6 months. Of course those time spans are for getting the best possible quality. After that year, or two, the beans almost certainly will be safe to use and coffee brewed from them will be quite good. Not top notch, but good enough.

When it comes to ground coffee, its shelf life is the shortest, at least in theory. An unopened package of ground coffee should be used within a year. Once it’s opened, ground coffee’s quality remains best for 3 months, up to half a year in some cases. As already mentioned a dozen times, this time span is for best quality only, so it’s not like ground coffee will magically spoil after 6 months. It will simply lose its quality, and therefore taste, over time. The longer the time period, the lower the quality. And at some point (depending on your personal taste) you might brew yourself a cup, take a sip and decide to throw it out because of the bland taste.

Blue cup with coffee

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash.

How to tell if coffee is bad?

For all kinds of coffee the rules are pretty much the same. First off, check the contents of the container. If everything it alright (no discolorations, mold, and so on), sniff it. If it has an off odor, throw it out. If the smell is okay, it’s time to brew a cup. Once brewed, taste it. If the coffee is stale and doesn’t taste much like it should, throw it out. Nothing bad will happen from drinking it, but there’s no point in keeping coffee that tastes bad. It’s more probable that you will throw out coffee because the quality dropped too much, not because it has gone bad.

Is coffee safe to use after “expiration” date?

Coffee usually comes with a “Best by” date and in almost all cases it’s safe to use after that date. As long as it’s not 10 years after that “Best by” date, give it a try. Follow the rules outlined earlier to make sure everything is okay with the coffee. If it is, brew a cup. If it tastes okay, congratulations, you’ve found yourself a container of fine coffee! If it tastes bland, throw it out, nobody would like to drink that anyway.

Published April 10, 2018

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