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Can Coffee Go Bad? The Surprising Truth About Coffee Shelf Life

Can Coffee Go Bad? The Surprising Truth About Coffee Shelf Life

Nothing is better than waking up and smelling coffee fresh in your mug. More than 1 billion people agree, with an average of 2 billion cups of coffee consumed daily, from espresso, instant coffee, and cold brew, to simple black coffee. Americans alone drink 3 cups a day on average!

While so many of us worldwide love to drink brewed coffee, there needs to be more clarity around optimal coffee storage. Unfortunately, the confusion has many people still asking:

Can coffee go bad?
How long does coffee last?
Uh oh, is it safe to drink expired coffee?

Never look at your coffee mug in suspicion again. Instead, learn the truth about coffee shelf life and discover how to properly store your coffee, either ground or whole beans, to keep them fresh and flavorful.

Let's Get Right to it: Does Coffee Go Bad?

The short answer is yes, coffee can go bad.

Now, some may argue that coffee doesn't really go bad because "expired" coffee beans or ground coffee won't make you sick like if you were to eat other expired foods.

Plus, most coffee comes with a "best by" date, not an "expiration date." That's because the USDA considers coffee a shelf-stable food, so technically, it can last until the next meteorite hits the Earth.

But if you had the unfortunate experience of rancid coffee hitting your taste buds, then yes, you'll agree that coffee has an expiration date and can go bad.

Coffee can go bad due to various reasons. It not only depends on the roast date and type of coffee, but it also depends if it has been exposed to air, moisture, light, heat, or improper storage. These factors drastically cause the flavor and aroma to degrade and potentially start harboring bacteria.

Understanding the Shelf Life of Coffee

So how long does coffee last? Without optimal storage, an opened bag of ground coffee can keep peak freshness for around two weeks and still brew a tasteful morning cup of joe. An opened bag of whole coffee beans can stay fresh for about the same time.

A few weeks doesn't seem very long, right? But, unfortunately, as soon as you open a bag of coffee, the clock starts ticking. How long your coffee will last depends on various factors:

  1. Roasting date of coffee: Coffee begins to rapidly lose its flavor soon after roasting, making it essential to consume within a few weeks before it tastes stale.
  2. Type of coffee: Ground coffee doesn't stay fresh as long as roasted coffee beans. It's exposed to more air, so it loses flavor faster. On the other hand, coffee pods and instant coffee can last well past a year as long as they remain sealed.
  3. Moisture exposure: Once water has touched your coffee or coffee beans say goodbye. Moisture is harmful to coffee because once absorbed, the coffee loses its flavor and aroma. Additionally, moisture can lead to the growth of mold and bacteria.
  4. Light exposure: UV rays can cause the oils in coffee and coffee beans to break down, causing them to taste stale. Also, light can cause the coffee to dry out.
  5. Heat Exposure: High temperatures can quickly ruin quality coffee because it speeds up the oxidation process, causing the oils in the coffee beans to break down and evaporate. This can lead to a loss of the subtle aromas and flavors that are responsible for the unique taste you love. Additionally, heat can also cause the coffee to expand and lose its freshness.

For a beverage so strong, who knew coffee was so sensitive? But the good news for coffee lovers is when you store coffee the right way, you can drastically increase its shelf life, avoid stale coffee beans, and enjoy flavorful coffee for several months.

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Before we dive into the proper storage methods, let's go over some clues to look for if you're worried that your coffee went bad.

How to Tell if Your Coffee Has Gone Bad

whole coffee beans

Let's get the most obvious clue out of the way. If you're drinking coffee that tastes funny or bitter, yep, that's probably old coffee in your mug that needs to be thrown out.

There are several other signs that coffee has gone bad that don't involve a dreaded taste test.

  • The coffee grounds changed in color from a rich brown to a dull gray.
  • A loss of aroma or a change in the smell, such as a musty or sour odor.
  • The presence of mold or other foreign particles in the coffee.
  • Dampness or clumping, indicating that the coffee may have absorbed moisture.
  • You find pantry insects in your coffee. Yeah, don't drink that.

If you notice any of the above signs, it is best to discard coffee beans or any ground coffee and purchase fresh beans.

A general rule to live by is if you've had the coffee in your pantry for quite a while, like you don't remember when you bought it, it's probably a good idea to give it a toss.

Technically, coffee can still be safe to drink even if it has lost some flavor and aroma, but who wants to drink coffee that isn't fresh, flavorful, and touches your soul with every sip?

Proper Storage Methods of Ground Coffee and Coffee Beans

To ensure every cup of coffee is fresh and delicious while guaranteeing a long shelf life, it's essential to follow the best tried and tested methods for storing coffee.

Store in an airtight container

An airtight seal prevents oxygen from entering the container and causing oxidation. Oxidation is the process by which oxygen reacts with coffee, resulting in a stale flavor and aroma. Additionally, an airtight container keeps out any outside odors that could be absorbed by the coffee and alter its taste.

coffee and a tightvac container

Coffeevacs are a great way to store your coffee airtight and maintain freshness

Maintain a proper temperature

High temperatures encourage the growth of bacteria, while low temperatures can cause the essential oils in the beans to evaporate, robbing them of their flavor and aroma. To ensure that coffee grounds and coffee beans stay at peak freshness for as long as possible, maintain a temperature between 57-60°F (14-15°C).

Protect against humidity

Humidity control is also essential for long shelf life, whether you store coffee beans or ground coffee. High humidity creates mold and bacteria, causing brewed coffee to be stale and flavorless.

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Benefits of Using Airtight Container for Coffee Storage

The good news is that investing in a quality airtight container is the absolute best method for ensuring coffee is stored properly and stays fresh.

The benefits of using a tightly sealed container include the following:

  • It keeps humidity and moisture out, preventing mold and bacteria
  • It stops pantry bugs from worming their way in (again, gross)
  • Oxygen can't get in, preventing oxidation or oils from drying out

But not all containers are the same. Choosing a container that doesn't allow light exposure is also essential. For example, Coffeevac is an airtight container for coffee created by Tightvac that is solid black plastic and specially designed to keep coffee beans or coffee grounds fresh for up to three times longer than other storage containers.

Tips and Tricks for Preserving Coffee Freshness

In addition to investing in a quality container, there are other coffee storage tips and tricks you can use to keep your brew good and fresh longer.

  1. Freeze coffee...carefully: Freezing coffee beans and grounds can help extend freshness, but only freeze them for short periods. If not stored properly in the freezer, moisture will seep in and ruin your batch.
  2. Use cool, dark storage: Again, light and heat can suck the life out of your coffee. So keep your beans and grounds someplace cool and dark, but also in the right container to keep out moisture.
  3. Consider a dehumidifier: If your home is prone to humidity, purchasing a dehumidifier may be a worthwhile investment for your coffee and your family! Again, moisture is coffee's enemy.
  4. Buy in small batches: This can be hard, especially when your favorite brand is on sale. But coffee is ultimately at its best within the first two weeks, so if you want guaranteed freshness, only buy coffee beans and grounds in small bags.

Invest in Fresh Brewed Coffee Every Single Morning

Now that you know the truth about ensuring the optimal shelf life of your coffee, you can now confidently enjoy a fresh cup of coffee any time of the year! And that means using a proper, airtight container like Coffeevac.

fresh coffee in a mug with storage container in background

With more than 8,000 positive reviews on Amazon, thousands of people trust they'll have fresh coffee every morning thanks to this robust storage container.

View the wide selection of containers and read more about picking the one perfect for your needs.

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  • Brie Allen