A hot cup of coffee is the first thing most people across the world reach for every morning. While there are a multitude of reasons why people love coffee, caffeine is the reason why people drink it because it can re-energize and keep you moving. In order for you to enjoy a cup of freshly brewed coffee every morning, you need to buy coffee in bulk, but you may be asking yourself: does coffee go bad?
Coffee cannot go bad. Although the roasting process helps prevent contaminants like ochratoxin, as coffee ages, the aroma and flavor disappear. Therefore, ‘bad’ coffee isn’t characterized by an expiration date but more by a lack of aroma and flavor.
Whether or not coffee can go bad is a hot topic. The rest of this article will discuss other topics related to this question, including how long coffee lasts, how to store coffee to extend its shelf life, and how to tell if your coffee is rancid.
How Long Can Coffee Last?
After grinding coffee beans, they can last anywhere between 3 to 5 months when stored in a pantry at room temperature. However, it can last up to 2 years if you store it in the freezer. When opened, your ground coffee will only last between 3 to 5 months, whether in the pantry or freezer.
Whole-bean coffee can last between 6 to 9 months if stored in the pantry at room temperature, but it can last up to three years in the freezer. However, when unsealed, your fresh coffee beans will last up to 6 months in the pantry and two years in the freezer.
This is a form of ground coffee that is not often as caffeinated or flavorful as regular coffee. Depending on the packaging, instant coffee can last between 2 to 20 years when stored in the pantry at room temperature. Most instant manufacturers use packets with an aluminum layer.
The aluminum layer acts as an opaque cover to keep out heat and moisture. Therefore, mold spores can’t get in, and this prolongs the coffee’s shelf life. Additionally, when properly sealed and stored in the freezer, your instant coffee will last for a long time and still maintain its freshness.
Regardless of the type of coffee beans and whether you used whole-beans or already ground coffee, it’s best that you take your brewed coffee within the first twelve hours. Any longer and the coffee will begin to lose its flavor and freshness.
Factors that Degrade Coffee
Coffee is a dry product, and it won’t spoil or develop mold. However, it’s best that you store it in a cool and dark place. Improperly stored coffee will lose its freshness and flavor quickly. Below are a few factors that can quickly degrade your coffee:
- Oxygen: Coffee and oxygen don’t mix well. When exposed to the open air, your coffee will degrade in a matter of days.
- Heat: Unless you’re brewing your coffee, you shouldn’t expose it to heat. If exposed to heat, the coffee will lose its high-quality taste.
- Moisture: Coffee is hygroscopic, which means that it will absorb moisture from the air. Additionally, it can absorb flavors and odors in the water. Therefore, your coffee will go bad when exposed to humid conditions, and you should, therefore, store it in a cool and dry place.
- Light: Coffee looks pretty when in a glass jar, right? Unfortunately, glass jars allow light to filter through, and coffee can go stale when exposed to direct light.
How to Tell if Your Coffee Is Rancid
Just like tea and other dried goods, coffee also has an expiration date. However, the expiration date is just a guideline of freshness. Therefore, if you have stored your coffee in your pantry, you may be wondering whether it will go bad. The truth is that coffee can go rancid once it loses its aroma and flavor.
As noted earlier, there are numerous reasons why your coffee can go rancid, and there are other factors that can cause it to go bad faster than its expiration date. Some of these factors include the form it is in, how it is stored, and how it is roasted.
Coffee will go rancid because of its natural compounds, including lipids, carbohydrates, and amino acids. Eventually, these compounds will break down physically and chemically and alter the coffee’s flavor and overall quality.
Normally, you can tell whether your coffee has gone rancid by:
- Looking: Although you won’t always tell whether your coffee has gone rancid by looking at it, if you see mold in the coffee container, then you should throw it away. Also, if you feel like your coffee is wet in any way, then you should also throw it out. Wetness or the presence of mold in your coffee is an indication that water got into your coffee container.
- Smelling: One of the best ways to evaluate whether your coffee has gone rancid is to by simply smelling it. Fresh and high-quality coffee will give off fruity, nutty, chocolaty, spicy, and floral aromas. If your coffee smells stale, then it has most likely gone rancid.
- Tasting: Tasting your coffee is another great strategy to distinguish between good and bad coffee. If you taste your coffee and you enjoy the flavors, then your coffee is still good. However, if it tastes weird and leaves an aftertaste, then most probably it has gone bad, and you need to dump it.
How to Store Coffee
Although coffee can last for a long time, how you store it will determine its shelf life. Now that you know what makes coffee deteriorate, here are a few ways that you can use to store your coffee.
To ensure that you get the best cup of coffee, start by getting quality beans and storing them properly for maximum flavor and freshness.
Purchase the Right Amount
Coffee starts losing its freshness soon after roasting. Therefore, try to purchase small quantities of freshly roasted coffee beans frequently – one batch is enough for a week or two.
If you buy your coffee in bulk, then you may want to divide your supply into small portions and store the large portion in an airtight container. Only grind the coffee beans you need before brewing.
Store Them in an Airtight and Cool Place
As mentioned earlier, oxygen, heat, moisture, and light are the greatest enemies of your coffee beans. To preserve and keep them fresh, ensure that you store them in an airtight and opaque container at room temperature.
It’s also important that you store your beans in a cool and dark place. While a cabinet near your oven may be convenient, it may be too warm. A kitchen counter that gets hot during the afternoon sun is also not ideal.
Keep in mind that retail coffee packaging isn’t meant for long term storage. Therefore, it may be best if you got storage containers with an airtight seal.
You need fresh beans for a quality cup of steaming coffee. This is why the National Coffee Association recommends that you should consume coffee as quickly as possible after it is roasted, or if the original packaging is broken.
Because of coffee’s hygroscopic nature, it is important that you put your coffee in an airtight bag before you freeze or refrigerate. For a large amount of coffee beans, divide it into portions and freeze them in airtight bags. When refrigerating, always remove the amount of coffee you will need for a week and return the rest quickly before condensation occurs.
To learn more on how to freeze your coffee, watch this video:
Ground coffee has a higher surface area, and it can go stale more quickly than whole-bean coffee. To store your ground coffee correctly and keep it fresh, use these tips:
- Store in a cool, dry place. Ground coffee will only stay fresh when stored in a cool, dry place. Therefore, skip any spots that are exposed to moisture like near the fridge or shelves above your stove. Ideally, you should store your grounds in the back of the pantry.
- Freeze. You don’t have to ground your coffee beans every morning. Just pre-grind your beans and then stash them in the freezer. However, make sure that you use an airtight canister to lock out odors and moisture.
- Get the right container. Tufts University recommends that you store your grounded coffee in airtight containers. You may also want to make sure that the container’s material is sturdy, and it won’t tarnish the odor or flavor of your grounds. Metal and ceramic materials are good choices, but glass can also work well, as long as you store it away from direct sunlight.
- Buy less. Coffee is one of those things that you shouldn’t buy in bulk. For maximum freshness, consume your grounded coffee in 1 to 2 weeks. Therefore, instead of stocking ground coffee for months, just buy a small bag of your favorite coffee beans frequently.
If you’re a coffee aficionado, you enjoy brewing your coffee every morning, which means that you have to buy coffee in bulk. However, although coffee can eventually go bad (as in lacking aroma and becoming stale), you can prolong its shelf life by using the right storage method and purchasing just enough to stock up on.
- NCA: How to Store Coffee
- Tufts University: Herbs and Spices
- How Stuff Works: Coffee Facts
- Wikipedia: Hygroscopy
- Food Republic: Stale Coffee
- Robust Kitchen: Signs of bad coffee
- Street Smart Kitchen: Keeping coffee fresh
- Pure Bean: Evaluating Coffee
- Roasty: Does Coffee Expire
- The Spruce Eats: Storing Coffee
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