Does coffee go bad?
You’re home for the holidays or visiting a friend, and you’re the only one who drinks coffee. Your loved ones don’t remember when they bought that can of coffee in the back of the pantry, which sparks the question, “How long does coffee last?”
Well, it depends on what you mean by “go bad.” Raw chicken left on your counter at room temperature for several days will go bad, but what does that mean?
The most significant problem with raw chicken on the counter is that it drastically spoils. Enzymes, microorganisms (like bacteria and mold), and oxidation work rapidly at room temperature to spoil your food.
Spoiled food won’t automatically make you sick. Pathogenic microorganisms that cause foodborne illness can exist in fresh food, so food spoilage isn’t a suitable sign of food safety.
Unless you’re keeping your coffee in contaminated containers, the factors that cause your coffee to go bad are oxidation, light, temperature, moisture, and time.
Most foods today have a date label on the packaging that reflects how long the food is fresh. The dates on the packaging of your favorite coffee beans or grounds are not an indication of safety but an indication of freshness.
You’re more likely to reach this date by keeping your coffee in ideal conditions.
What is “bad” coffee?
Food that is spoiled but technically safe to eat has decreased flavor, aromatic, and aesthetic qualities. Spoiled coffee may lose unique flavor notes, have a bitter taste, or lose its warm aromas.
For passionate coffee drinkers, fresh coffee is vital to the perfect morning. Some people may find “bad” coffee acceptable once they add plenty of sugar and flavored creamer.
How long does unopened coffee last?
A study showed that the qualities of freshly roasted coffee beans stored in ideal conditions deteriorated after nine months. After 18 months, the flavors and aromas were significantly worse.
Coffee grounds are a different story. Coffee loses its flavors and aromas once the beans are ground.
Brew coffee right away after you grind the beans for the freshest coffee. You may find that coffee grounds lose their flavor sooner than unopened coffee beans.
Oxidation is a chemical reaction caused by coffee (or any food) interacting with oxygen. The air alters the coffee’s color, flavors, and aromas.
Even if your coffee is already in a tin or bag, put it in an airtight container or baggy. The coffee’s packaging may not be as airtight as it should be, which can cause it to go bad faster.
Block the light
Like oxygen, light can cause changes in color and flavors by causing chemical reactions in the coffee. Storing coffee in direct sunlight or under kitchen lights may sap the chemicals that make coffee distinct.
To keep your coffee fresh, make sure the airtight container for storage is opaque to block out light. Store the coffee in a dark area like a cabinet or pantry.
Maintain the temperature
Spoiling processes tend to happen faster at room temperature or warmer. Microorganisms, enzymes, and oxygen have a lessened effect on coffee that’s kept cooler.
The dark cabinet you keep your coffee in should be 70°F or cooler. You can also keep your coffee in the fridge or freezer for long-term storage.
Freezing your coffee can preserve flavor and aromas for at least nine weeks without noticeable changes. Freezing your coffee increases the likelihood that it’ll be fresh for the entirety of its shelf life.
Freezing your coffee keeps it fresh but can expose it to moisture. Moisture in the container can cause spoilage much faster.
Once you take the coffee out of the freezer, you shouldn’t freeze it again. The moisture and air collected in the container can cause freezer burn.
Make sure the place you store your coffee is away from sources of humidity and heat, like appliances.
How long does open coffee last?
Open coffee has a much shorter shelf life because of the spoilage elements. An open package of coffee beans or grounds may lose flavors and aromas after two weeks.
Separate into individual containers
Freezing or refrigerating your opened coffee can extend its shelf life beyond those two weeks. But if you’re drinking coffee every day, you could ruin your coffee with freezer burn or moisture by taking it out of the cold temperature.
Separate the coffee into individual containers so you can use the containers one at a time without exposing the coffee to the elements. This way, you’ll only need to take one container out of the freezer at a time.
Ditch the packaging
Most commercial packaging for your coffee isn’t airtight. Once you open a new package of coffee, put it in a dry, opaque container for storage.
How long does brewed coffee last?
As you may expect, brewed coffee doesn’t last long. Brewing coffee adds all the qualities that inevitably spoil it: heat, moisture, air, and light.
Hot-brewed coffee lasts about as long as it stays warm. Any longer, and the coffee oxidizes and tastes stale.
If you want to save your coffee for later, you can keep it in the fridge for three to five days in a closed, insulated container. It’ll lose its flavor after that time.
Cold-brewed coffeeLuckily, since cold brew is cold, it stays fresh a little longer. A batch of cold brew can last up to two weeks in the fridge.
Drink your coffee
If you're serious about your coffee, there’s no room for using stale beans or grounds. The flavors and aromas are why you drink coffee over a straight dose of caffeine.
If you’re not worried about stale or bitter-tasting coffee, you can trust the “best by” date as long as you’re storing your coffee well. Drop some creamer and sugar in there, and get started with your morning!
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Consumer Reports: "Cold-Brew Coffee for Hot Days," "How to Brew the Perfect Cup of Coffee," "What's the Best Way to Store Coffee Beans?"
FoodPrint: "How to Use Leftover Coffee."
Food Safety and Inspection Service: "Food Product Dating."
Food Science & Nutrition: "Changes in sensory quality characteristics of coffee during storage."
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: "Coffee."
The Pennsylvania State University: "Wake up and smell the coffee: Research shows freezing beans can preserve aroma."
Purdue Extension: "Food Storage Guide."
University of Nebraska-Lincoln: "How Food Spoils."
U.S. Department of Agriculture: "Before You Toss Food, Wait. Check It Out!" "Protecting Your Family from Food Spoilage."
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