If you’ve ever picked up a bag of coffee from your local grocery store and searched for an expiration date — only to find none — you’re not alone.
Roasters generally label their coffee bags with a ‘roasted on’ label that indicates when the beans were roasted. If your coffee beans were roasted a week ago, you’re in luck — that’s some fresh coffee! But, many times, grocery stores will shelve coffee for a much longer time span, which could leave you stuck with a stale cup of joe.
For so many of us, our day doesn’t begin until we brew a fresh pot of coffee. Nothing sets the morning off on the wrong foot quite like a cup of coffee that lacks that flavor and aroma that gets our mental engine going. It’s important to know how long coffee beans and coffee grounds last, as well as how to store them to maximize their freshness.
How Long Do Coffee Beans Last?
So, do coffee beans ever really expire?
The simple answer is: no. Coffee beans won’t ever “go bad,” which is why you don’t typically see an expiration date on the package. Coffee beans are considered a shelf-stable dry good. So, although it would actually take years for them to go stale, they do lose their freshness about 7-10 days after being roasted.
That’s because, during the coffee roasting process, beans go through a natural process called ‘degassing’ where they release carbon dioxide.
And if you’ve ever wondered why there’s a hole in coffee bags, there’s a good reason. It’s a one-way valve that lets carbon dioxide escape from the beans, but doesn’t allow oxygen and moisture in.
Once the beans finish releasing C02, they start absorbing oxygen and begin to oxidize. This process causes the beans to slowly deteriorate and lose their fresh flavor. So although the one-way valve preserves coffee beans temporarily, it won’t keep the beans fresh forever.
Nonetheless, coffee beans do have a longer shelf life than ground coffee.
How Long Does Ground Coffee Last?
Ground coffee is the least fresh option and generally doesn’t stay fresh for more than a week after being ground.
According to Homegrounds, a community coffee resource, pre-ground coffee will degas quickly and can’t withstand exposure to oxygen as well as whole coffee beans.
If you don’t have a grinder at home, some grocery stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joes have grinders there so you can grind whole beans for free. When you bring your ground coffee home, store it in a sealed container with a one-way degassing valve — which will keep them even fresher.
How to Store Coffee and Make it Last Longer
- Buy fresh, whole beans. Check the ‘roasted on’ date to see how freshly roasted the beans are. To maximize the shelf life, try to purchase a bag roasted within one week when possible.
- Invest in an airtight container. As soon as you open your coffee bag, transfer the beans into the sealed container. Then, store the container in a dark, cool cabinet. According to the National Coffee Association, coffee beans (and grounds) can stay fresh longer if they’re stored properly at room temperature. The storage environment is of the utmost importance because exposure to light and heat will cause the coffee to lose its freshness.
- Invest in a high-quality coffee grinder. You won’t need to grind beans at the store. Instead you can grind your beans at home on a per-use basis. Fresh grounds = fresh coffee.
- Measure out your beans before putting them in the grinder. Never use your grinder to store coffee. Keep those beans stored separately. That way they’ll be fresh when you grind them!
- To guarantee maximum freshness, consume your beans within two weeks after opening the original packaging. If you store ground coffee in a sealed airtight container, it should stay fresh for up to a month.
How Long Does Freshly Brewed Coffee Last?
We’ve learned how to extend the shelf life of whole beans and coffee grounds, but what if you’ve already made a pot of coffee? How long will your cup of joe stay fresh?
When you start to brew coffee, you’re actually setting the oxidation process into full speed. Like exposure to air, water also causes coffee to oxidize. As coffee comes into contact with hot water during the brewing process, the aromatics, oils and acids from the coffee are transferred into the coffee pot, leaving you with that beloved flavor we all know and love.
From the moment you start to brew your coffee, you have about 15 minutes to one hour (depending on who you ask) to drink it before the “freshness” dissipates. Even after the brewing process is complete, the oxidation process continues to transpire.
To extend the fresh flavor by a few hours, you should pour your coffee into an airtight thermos. If the coffee is left out in a room temperature environment, you should drink it within 4 hours or else the oils will start to go bad as well.
However, remember that adding milk will significantly reduce the time frame in the thermos. In this case you should finish drinking your coffee in a couple of hours.
Of course, the freshness of your coffee is also highly dependent on whether you used fresh coffee grounds or beans to brew it. This factor is why properly storing your coffee is so important. Once the beans or coffee grounds are stale, the lackluster taste will be evident even in the freshest brew.
Technically speaking, you can store your freshly brewed coffee in the fridge for up to a week, but keep in mind that the taste and aroma will still degrade over time. You should also make sure the coffee is completely covered, or else the smells and flavors from other food can be absorbed and alter the taste.
On the other hand, cold brew coffee will keep a bit longer in the refrigerator than regularly brewed hot or iced coffee. This ultra-potent coffee concentrate is made by steeping coarse coffee grounds in water from 12-to-18 hours.
Properly-made cold brew should keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks, but the flavor will start to change over the first week. If cut with water, the concentrate will only last up to three days in the fridge, so be sure to keep it unadulterated to maximize the shelf life.
Will Freezing Coffee Beans Make Them Last Longer?
There are many opinions out there about this issue. Because coffee is soft and porous, it can absorb other aromas easily. So if your freezer is full of other frozen foods and items, it’s not a good idea to keep coffee beans in the same space. Beans can also suffer from freezer burn. Unfortunately, contrary to popular belief, freezing your coffee beans or grounds won’t make them any fresher.
When It Comes to Buying Coffee, Fresh Is Always Best
The best rule of thumb is to buy freshly roasted coffee beans. Find a local roaster you love and buy beans directly from them (most roasters roast at least on a weekly basis). Then you’re guaranteed to get the freshest beans directly from the source.
If your favorite roaster isn’t close by, most roasters now offer online subscriptions and ship within days after roasting. Or try a subscription service like Bay Roasters or Atlas Coffee Club, which ship a variety of coffee to you directly from the source. Think of coffee like produce — the fresher it is, the better it tastes!
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