Does Coffee Go Bad? The Skinny on Coffee’s Shelf Life
I’ve loved coffee since college. Back then, I’d mostly get it from affordable places like Dunkin Donuts or McDonald's (because I was a poor, but over-caffeinated college student).
Occasionally I’d attempt to make coffee at home. I tried different water, different methods, different add-ins, different roasts. But my homemade coffee was never up to par.
And that’s because there was one big problem with it: all this experimenting spanned weeks of time. And I was using the same bag of coffee for weeks and even months.
Did I ever get sick? No. But was it ever good? Also no.
That’s because coffee does have a shelf life. And today we’ll be talking all about it - how long coffee lasts, what you can do to prolong the flavor, and more.
All to answer the question: does coffee go bad.
The Short Answer
The short answer is yes, coffee does go bad. But not in the way you might think. It probably won’t grow mold or start to smell.
And that’s the problem. Much of coffee’s flavor relates to its aroma. So coffee that doesn’t smell at all, or smells bad, probably tastes much the same.
Similar to other dry goods like cereal, rice, and even candy, coffee goes bad by going stale. You may still be able to use it, but you probably won’t want to.
It’ll pretty much be flavorless. So if all you’re after is the caffeine, then great. For you, it may not matter.
But if you want to be able to stomach your coffee, fresh is best. And here’s why:
Why Does Coffee Go Bad?
Coffee, though loved by many, claims a few enemies too. And they are oxygen, light, heat, and moisture.
Exposing your coffee to any of these enemies results in stale, bad coffee. More time with the same bag equals more time with stale-making enemies. So it’s best to use the bag quickly.
How do these enemies work on coffee? When exposed to oxygen, light, and heat, coffee begins the oxidation and degradation process. Both of these quickly lead to stale coffee.
Moisture presents another problem. Since coffee is a naturally low-moisture food, we don’t normally have to worry about moldy or rancid coffee.
But when introduced to moisture, like in freezing or when stored in a damp environment, mold may actually begin to form on the coffee as well.
Stale coffee might not taste good but will still be safe to drink. But coffee that’s developed mold should be thrown away ASAP!
So How Long Does Coffee Last Before It Goes Bad?
The first to go stale will be your pre-ground beans. Since they’ve been ground up already, they’re more susceptible to oxygen, and in turn, staleness. They usually have about one day.
Whole beans in an unopened bag can last a little longer. Six months or so according to some coffee experts. Once opened though, peak freshness lasts about a week.
But most of us will be happy with whole bean coffee, freshly ground, for about a month. After that, it’s only for the caffeine-driven drinkers.
How Can I Prevent Coffee From Getting Stale?
Since time has a lot to do with stale coffee, there’s no foolproof way to prevent coffee from going bad.
But purchasing newly roasted coffee and storing it correctly can help.
Roasting Date, Not Expiration Date
A lot of grocery store coffee bags list an expiration date instead of a roasting date. Stay away from these!
As mentioned earlier, coffee doesn’t technically go bad. So an expiration date will only tell you the date when your coffee no longer has any flavor.
Instead, look for a “roasted on” date to know how long your coffee has been sitting on the shelf. Many coffee experts believe coffee tastes its best 7 days after roasting.
But you can probably enjoy it a little longer too. Just know it may have lost a little flavor.
Remember those coffee enemies we talked about earlier? Eliminating them while storing your coffee will help keep it fresh as long as possible.
Coffee needs to be kept cool, dry, and away from sunlight and oxygen.
So we need airtight, opaque containers for our coffee. This will keep out light, moisture, and oxygen. (You can use clear containers, but make sure to store them in a pantry or cabinet, away from light).
And we need to make sure they aren’t stored by the stove or near a window so that we prevent heat from getting to them.
These storage tips are Fresh Coffee 101. If you can’t make it through a bag of coffee quickly, at least store it well to prolong its flavor.
What Can I Do With Stale Coffee?
So maybe you still have that bag of holiday coffee you bought but never finished. It’s probably way past fresh, but you don’t need to throw it out either.
Try some of these ways to use coffee that’s lost a lot, but not all, of its flavor:
- Bake with it. While it may not be good enough to drink alone, older coffee can still make for great desserts.
- Brew it and use in your garden. Coffee grounds act as a fertilizer.
- Make chocolate covered coffee beans. The chocolate will bring out whatever coffee flavor remains.
- Practice with a brewing method you haven’t nailed down yet. You won’t get an accurate flavor out of it, but you may still be able to work out some kinks as you learn a new method.
And What About Brewed Coffee?
On a related note, you might be wondering how long your brewed coffee stays good. If you’ve ever let it get to room temperature and then tried to drink it, you might already know.
As the coffee cools, it becomes more and more acidic and begins to taste sour. It’s not necessarily bad for you to drink it, but it doesn’t taste good anymore. The same goes for reheating coffee.
Some people quickly refrigerate brewed coffee to use as iced coffee throughout the week, and it’ll stay good for about 7 days. Just keep in mind that adding ice might dilute the flavor.
The Coffee Mantra
Let’s say it together: fresh is best. Whether brewed or beans, your best bet for good flavor is fresh coffee.
If you’re into eating stale cereal and old candy, then months old coffee might be just the thing for you. But most of us don’t enjoy those things.
Instead, try purchasing your coffee in small bags from a local roaster. It may be more expensive in the short term, but over time it’ll save you money.
You’ll no longer be wasting money on stale coffee or purchasing drive-through coffee. And you might even find that homemade coffee has a lot of flavor.