This is a common question people ask because while optimal flavor is within the first hour of brewing, like most workers, busy people and parents can attest, it’s not always possible to drink your coffee as soon as it’s ready in the pot.
And if you brewed several cups worth of coffee, pouring half of it down the drain partway through the day often feels quite wasteful and for some, nearly sacrilege!
In this article, we’re going to look at just how long brewed coffee stays fresh and whether it’s safe to find ways to extend the life of your precious coffee.
The short answer? It really depends on your definition of ‘fresh’. Coffee packs the best and smoothest flavor within an hour of brewing. In terms of safety, experts agree that after about twelve hours, coffee becomes too much of a breeding ground for bacteria to consume safely, though there are ways to extend the life of your coffee so that you can use it much later.
As always though, the short answer is not really what we’re looking at. When looking at brewed coffee, we want to know:
- Is it safe to drink day-old coffee?
- Can you refrigerate (or freeze) coffee and then reheat it later?
- How long does coffee stay fresh in a carafe or a thermos?
All right my fellow caffeine addicts: let’s take a look at just how long your pot of brewed coffee can stay fresh.
Note: for the purposes of this piece, we’re looking at straight-up black coffee, no milk or sugar. Dairy additions in particular greatly shorten the lifespan of your coffee because milk goes off quickly, especially at room temperatures.
Is it Safe to Drink Day-Old Coffee?
There are a number of reasons why you may end up with day-old (or even several days old) coffee. You may be trying to stretch your coffee budget, have brewed too much and don’t want to waste it, or may even be planning to use the coffee for something like baking or cooking. (Or maybe you just plain forgot about it).
When this happens, you may be wondering whether the stuff is even safe to ingest after a period of time and what the cut-off point is. Coffee is a foodstuff after all and there is almost always a sharp line between the safe to eat window and the dangerous to eat window.
In the case of coffee, brewed coffee should be drunk within twelve hours if it has been left on the counter at room temperature. It won’t taste as fresh as coffee that’s only minutes old, but it’s edible.
Any time after that and you run the risk of bacteria growing in the coffee that can be harmful to your health. Coffee that is too old can even get ‘moldy’ because the coffee grounds grow mold.
Again, if you’re adding cream or milk to your coffee, then you have a much smaller window of safe consumption because milk goes off quickly at room temperature: about four hours. Not only does this make your coffee taste nasty, but it will probably make you feel queasy, or worse.
If you’re adding dairy, you should always add it to coffee you intend to drink right away and if you don’t get to it, dump it. It may give you a pang, but that’s better than getting ill.
Can You Refrigerate Coffee and then Reheat it Later?
We do it with almost everything else that’s edible: leftovers from dinner or lunch go into the fridge to be eaten later!
And we often want our coffee cooled off, usually for baking purposes. But can you refrigerate coffee and then reheat it to drink later on?
It’s a great way to extend the life of your coffee, so the short answer is, yes, you can. Coffee in the fridge lasts up to about three days if it is sealed in an airtight container and is freshly brewed before it goes in.
Like coffee on the counter though, you don’t want to store it with dairy already in it as it doesn’t take long for dairy to go bad and you may shorten your three-day window (you can always add milk or cream just before drinking it after all).
Coffee that is stored in this way is particularly great for baking or cooking since you don’t have to worry about the slight loss of flavor profile that is inevitable.
So, this works great for cooling coffee that you’re going to use in a recipe. But can you reheat it later? Yes, you can, and you won’t come to any harm from doing it. However, you will lose flavor with each hour that passes where the coffee isn’t being consumed.
And people who store it for too long often report a ‘tinny’ or otherwise faintly revolting flavor to their coffee. It’s best to just brew some fresh coffee when your old coffee goes off.
Keep in mind that cold coffee tastes very different than hot coffee because of the nature of the interactions between hot water and the coffee bean. Most people say that it tastes flat.
Instead of cooling your coffee in the fridge, it’s a better idea to freeze the coffee in ice trays and then use them in iced coffees or iced lattes.
Or, better still, learn how to make cold-brewed coffee which has a much better flavor and lasts longer than hot brewed coffee (though cold-brewed coffee cannot be reheated at all).
Either way, while you can reheat cooled coffee, you’re going to lose a lot of the flavor. I suppose if you’re going to load it up with sugar and milk anyway or you just want your caffeine fix, it doesn’t matter too much.
But if you’re a coffee aficionado, the idea of doing anything that erodes the flavor might be despicable to you.
How Long does Coffee Stay Fresh in a Carafe?
A carafe or a well-insulated thermos (or even travel cup) is another good way to extend the life of your coffee without sacrificing its temperature.
A carafe or pitcher can keep coffee good and in some cases even warm for as long as twenty-four hours! However, it will still lose the edge of that freshly brewed flavor simply because it’s no longer freshly brewed.
I myself have clocked my coffee as staying good and at least warm for about five hours in an insulated travel cup which is pretty decent, considering that at least one of those hours sees me doing a walking commute in often cool or even cold weather. Keep in mind though that I load my coffee with sugar which definitely changes the flavor profile!
But most people, particularly those who work long hours or don’t want to be constantly buying coffee or going to the office coffee pot, vastly prefer using a thermos because it stays hot for a longer period of time and still tastes good.
Long story, short: coffee stays fresh the longest in a good carafe or thermos, but the length of time you’ll get really depends on the thermos or carafe.
What you’re looking for is one that is well insulated and made with stainless steel or glass (I have found that stainless steel is better because it’s sturdier and easier to clean). You also want to make sure it has a tight-fitting lid.
Tips for Keeping Brewed Coffee as Fresh as Possible
- If you’re going to store brewed coffee, store it as soon as possible in an airtight container in the fridge
- Remove coffee from the heat source as soon as possible and store it in an insulated pot or carafe to keep it hot. Keeping it on the heat source for too long degrades flavor and can even cause it to ‘burn’
- Always use coffee beans or grounds that are themselves properly stored. Coffee should be stored in a cool, dry place in a sealed container for optimal freshness. Coffee also picks up the flavor of things around it, which is another reason to use an airtight container
- Pay attention to the best before and roasted dates on your coffee packages. While coffee is still good for a while after the best before date, it will not taste quite as good. And the closer to the roasting date the coffee is, the better it will taste. Better still, grind your own coffee and use it right away!
- If you’re regularly taking your coffee on the go, invest in a well-insulated travel cup or thermos. Yes, the upfront cost may be a bit high, but you’ll be saving a lot of money in not buying coffee out and you will get to enjoy it for a lot longer in the day
- If in doubt, throw it out. Better to brew a new pot.
- And finally, keep your coffee pot and your containers clean! Running a vinegar and water mixture through a coffee pot on a regular basis is a great way to keep build-up from occurring and affecting the flavor of your coffee. And don’t worry: As long as you rinse your pot afterward, you won’t get vinegar flavor in your coffee.
Is there anything better for the coffee lover than a freshly brewed mug? Probably not and getting your freshness fix really isn’t that hard, so long as you are mindful.
You can keep coffee around for quite a while, but it will lose flavor over time and after a few days, may take on a tinny flavor.
For optimal freshness, drink your cup as soon as possible or store it in the freezer to use in cold coffee drinks.
Now, I’m off to drink more coffee!
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