Got some extra coffee in your pantry you’re worried will go old? We’ve got a few tips for checking the shelf life of coffee and preserving its freshness as long as possible.
Whether you’re a die-hard devotee to that daily cup of coffee or only drink it rarely, you’ve probably come across an old bag in the back of the pantry at one point and wondered “how long does coffee last?” Since it’s a packaged dry good, there’s no hard expiration date to follow.
And since coffee doesn’t show signs of being old as readily in appearance as, for example, rotten vegetables, it can be tricky to know when you’re dealing with expired coffee. Mold growth in coffee is rare and will only occur well after the “Enjoy By” date on the packaging, meaning that if properly stored your coffee will be safe to drink for a pretty long time.
But since coffee is enjoyed as much for its poignant taste as it is for giving you a kick of energy, there are a few things you can do to preserve its freshness and ensure each cup brewed will be enjoyable to drink. (And to avoid serving less-than-stellar expired coffee.)
Below, we’ve put together a brief guide on the shelf life of coffee, how to tell when it’s gone old, and tips for prolonging its lifespan.
The Shelf Life of Coffee
Does coffee go bad? Yes. However, it may be a while before it really shows signs of being unsafe to consume.
As with old or expired tea bags, coffee beans and ground coffee are okay to use after their “Enjoy By” date. Your relaxing morning cup won’t necessarily taste as good, but as mentioned there’s considerable leeway in your coffee’s shelf life especially if you store it in airtight containers (at room temperature and away from direct light) or in the freezer.
Here’s a cheat sheet for unopened coffee’s shelf life, if properly stored:
- Whole Bean Coffee – Lasts 6-9 months at room temperature in the pantry; up to 2 years in the freezer.
- Ground Coffee – Lasts 3-5 months at room temperature in the pantry; up to 1-2 years in the freezer.
- Instant Coffee – Lasts up to 20 years in storage, though in most cases should be consumed within two. Since instant coffee already contains less moisture than coffee beans or grounds, freezing it won’t have much of an impact on prolonging the shelf life.
Here’s a cheat sheet for how long opened coffee lasts, if properly stored:
- Whole Bean Coffee – Lasts up to 6 months at room temperature in the pantry; up to 2 years in the freezer.
- Ground Coffee – Lasts up to 5 months at room temperature, or in the freezer.
- Instant Coffee – Same as above.
With time, your coffee will begin to lose its potency and the nuances of its flavor and aroma — use it closer to when it’s been purchased and opened to maximize freshness. Below are some tips on how to do just that.
Tips for Prolonging Coffee’s Shelf Life
Got a little extra coffee in your pantry? Properly preserved coffee will help maintain the intended body and flavor of the beans for an aromatic and fresh-tasting cup of hot or iced coffee.
Keep your coffee tightly sealed in a resealable bag or container at room temperature away from direct light and too much humidity. Glass jars with a screw-on or clasp lid work best. In a pinch, you can also roll up the manufacturer’s bag and keep it closed using a clip or rubber band.
You can also freeze coffee to extend how long it’s good for, as indicated in the section above. Note that if you do freeze it, make sure it’s in a well-sealed container to prevent moisture from entering.
Don’t store coffee in the refrigerator, as the temperature isn’t cold enough to keep it fresh and the moisture or condensation can actually corrupt the integrity of the beans. Plus, the coffee will absorb odors present in the refrigerator, making for a less-than-ideal flavor when you brew it.
How to tell When Coffee Is Old
Coffee can be a little mysterious when it comes to being able to tell if it’s old or unusable, so look for a few telltale signs of expiration. In general, the easiest way to tell is by how it smells, as the aroma of coffee is a key part of its flavor profile.
A rancid, mildewy, musty, dull, or lifeless aroma from your coffee is a good indication that it would be better suited for the compost pile. Old coffee past its prime will also lose some of its potency and flavor, making for a weaker and flatter cup of coffee.
If your coffee smells stale or flat, then it will taste stale or flat. There’s no need to worry about getting food poisoning from drinking expired coffee unless there are signs of mold, though this is pretty rare and usually occurs when extra moisture gets into the packaging. Really old coffee will also look slightly lighter in color.
Sustainability at Home
If your coffee has lost its robust and characteristic flavor, (but it’s not expired in the sense of being literally undrinkable), give your beans a second life by using them in recipes or DIY projects.
You can incorporate brewed or ground coffee into desserts like chocolate chip cookies, tiramisu, and fudge sauce, or use the grounds in a DIY body scrub or bar of homemade soap. (And if the coffee seems too old for use, toss it into the compost.)
Naturally incorporating sustainability into your everyday life like this can be a good way to cut back on food waste and help the environment out seamlessly. And at scale, this really adds up and contributes to a larger movement of eco-consciousness.
Download Our Free Guide to Sustainable Living.
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