Ground coffee may not have quite the same aura of coffee wonder as fresh beans that you grind yourself and use immediately, but for most people, they are by far the most convenient and economical way to get your morning caffeine. It’s one of the first things people suggest for those looking to save money (brew your own coffee since a can of ground coffee means that each cup is effectively pennies rather than dollars each) and for many households, once the coffee runs out, no matter what, it’s time to go grocery shopping! Coffee grounds seem as though they should last a really long time, depending on how sensitive your palate is, but is this really true? How long are coffee grounds actually good for?
When we’re looking at the shelf life of a can of ground coffee beans, we are really asking a few things:
- Does ground coffee expire?
- How long does vacuum packed coffee last?
Let’s take a look, shall we?
Does Ground Coffee Expire?
If you crave your daily jolt (or a few of them), buying coffee in bulk is awfully tempting. It means that you won’t run the risk of running out too quickly, it’s easy enough to store, and it’s usually a lot cheaper to buy in bulk than to buy small amounts. Coffee doesn’t seem like something that should expire since it is a dry good and as long as no moisture is introduced to the storage unit, there shouldn’t be anything that would cause it to go bad.
This isn’t quite true though. Ground coffee can expire and when it does, it loses flavor profile. For people who adore their coffee and are sensitive to the flavor, this can be problematic. Fortunately for those who just want a jolt, coffee takes a very long time to go bad to the point where the flavor is too awful to drink, and it never goes bad enough to make you ill. (It is a fully dried out and ground substance after all). Even in the form of whole beans and instant coffee, it can still last a very long time. Furthermore, there is no different in shelf life between caffeinated or decaffeinated coffee.
How long exactly?
- Ground Coffee: three to five months beyond its past printed date
- Whole Beans: six to nine months beyond its past printed date
- Instant coffee: two to twenty years past its printed date.
This is coffee that has been unopened and is stored in a cool dry place such as your pantry. When storing coffee in your pantry, it’s important to store it away from light, moisture and heat sources, otherwise your coffee can go rancid and if it’s there for a very long time, can even get mold spores. This means that your coffee will go from being a little nasty but harmless, to downright toxic.
Coffee that has been opened and is stored in your pantry:
- Ground: three to five months past printed date
- Coffee beans: six months past printed date
- Instant coffee: two to twenty years past printed date
Again, even if you go beyond this range, your coffee still probably won’t make you sick, but it probably won’t taste very good. It also won’t smell as good and it will be a much lighter brown color.
Now, you can extend the shelf life of coffee a few different ways. The most common way is to store your coffee in the freezer. Since its dried, it doesn’t freeze so it doesn’t require defrosting, but keeping it in the freezer greatly extends its lifespan. The following notes are for sealed coffee:
- Ground coffee: one to two years
- Whole Beans: two to three years
- Instant: Forever
Once the coffee has been opened:
- Ground coffee: three to five months (identical to pantry, but might be easier to store in your freezer)
- Coffee Beans: two years
- Instant: Forever
In short, ground coffee technically expires and with proper care you can delay the results of that expiration, but expired coffee is still edible and won’t usually make anyone sick. It will not taste or smell as good as fresh coffee though!
Ground coffee should be stored in an airtight container to preserve it for as long as possible. Some people advocate the use of two cannisters: one for most of grounds and then a small one that hold grounds for a week or two. That way, you don’t disturb more coffee grounds than you need to and can extend its life.
There is a final note to point out when it comes to coffee beans in particular (this doesn’t matter as much for ground coffee, but it’s still something to keep in mind). While stale coffee is kind of nasty, but relatively harmless, rancid coffee can make you sick. Coffee that has been exposed to light, moisture, or temperature variations can go bad and then not only will it taste bad, but it can make you ill too. Rancid coffee beans are considered toxic and can even be carcinogenic, cause inflammation and indigestion and may have an impact on your heart. If the coffee smells awful, toss it. And of course, if you see mold in the container, your coffee has gone bad. Toss it and then wash the container in very hot water with a bleach treatment or toss the container altogether if you’re worried about it.
How Long Does Vacuum Packed Coffee Last?
If you’ve taken a close look at how manufacturers store coffee, you’ll notice that they universally use vacuum sealing for their cans and bags. This is done because both air and moisture are extremely damaging to ground coffee. Coffee will oxidize if it is exposed to air for too long, absorbing moisture out of the air and losing moisture to the air. If the coffee is stored somewhere too warm, this process is sped up. This means that the best way to store coffee is to do so in such a way that it does not oxidize; in other words, vacuum sealing.
Vacuum sealing coffee is easy enough to do because the equipment is cheap and readily available. You can either use proper bags (Such as FoodSaver bags) and/or special canisters which can be filled with coffee and then sealed. The bags are good for freezing and the cannisters are good for the pantry. Vacuum sealing is important because it forces out the air and moisture, allowing you to keep your coffee in a state of equilibrium, ensuring that there will be no oxidization.
Proper vacuum sealing and freezing your coffee can make ground coffee last for up to two years! That’s a massive jump in its lifespan. Furthermore, coffee that has been stored in this way has the freshest flavor. You may find that you never want to go back to your usual coffee since most people drink coffee that is slightly stale or not as fresh as it could be, due to improper storage techniques.
Depending on how sensitive to taste you are, coffee can be stored a very long time without worry about it going bad. There are even hearsay stories of people storing and consuming coffee five to ten years after buying it and being perfectly fine (even if the coffee did taste flat). For optimal storage, you want to use vacuum storage and freezing techniques, but if this won’t work for you, simply ensuring that you store your coffee somewhere dry, dark, and cool is enough to make sure that you have your caffeine fix for up to several months past the printed date. If you’re really sensitive to coffee flavor, you should only buy enough coffee to last you about two weeks and that way you don’t have to worry about too much loss of flavor. If slightly flat or stale coffee doesn’t bother you, then you can buy more of it and have it last a long time.
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