Even if you’re an avid coffee drinker, you’ve probably found yourself wondering “how long does coffee last?” more than once in your life.
Maybe you found an old bag of beans you forgot about in the cupboard.
Or, maybe you were traveling for work and returned home after not brewing your own joe for a week.
Answering this question is more complicated than a simple expiration date – even a coffee lover might not know the answer.
The answer also depends on whether you are talking about the taste of stale coffee or the safety of drinking something that might be “expired.”
Thankfully, we’ve got you covered when it comes to keeping coffee fresh and storing it properly.
How Long Does Coffee Last in All Its Forms?
When it comes to knowing how long coffee will last, it is crucial to differentiate between what form of coffee you have.
For example, coffee beans and coffee grounds age at different rates – as does brewed coffee.
Let’s go over coffee freshness in its most common forms.
Unless you roast coffee at home – which would mean you have green coffee beans – roasted coffee beans usually come in a bag and have a roast date or an expiration date.
If having the freshest flavor is your main concern, the roasting date is more important than the expiration date.
Whole coffee beans, when stored correctly, will taste best within one month of their roast date.
Expired coffee is still safe – it won’t make you sick or turn “rancid” like many other foods.
In terms of safety, whole coffee beans last months after their expiration date – possibly even years.
If you’re worried about how long you’ve had your coffee sitting around, look over a bean or two and make sure it doesn’t show signs of mold or mildew.
Having your coffee ground ahead of time is convenient, but comes at a cost.
Compared to a whole coffee bean, coffee grounds age much faster.
Ground coffee, especially if it is a small grind size like espresso, has more surface area that comes in contact with oxygen.
This oxygen speeds up the aging process and steals away the flavors of freshness that you probably love in fresh coffee beans.
It is hard to keep coffee fresh after its ground, so for optimal flavor, consume ground coffee within a week.
In terms of safety, you can assume that a ground bean lasts around three months.
If you want to make your ground coffee last as long as possible, make sure to store it in an airtight container.
Roasted coffee beans live in a leaky coffee bag that cannot block oxygen.
When stored in those bags, the flavor diminishes quickly.
For maximum coffee freshness, you should grind the coffee just before brewing.
Of all the coffee forms, brewed coffee goes bad the fastest.
Even when it is still safe to drink, old coffee tends to have stale and muted flavors.
Hot coffee usually already tastes less than ideal when it reaches room temperature, and leftover coffee will last a maximum of a few days in the fridge when it’s black (milk goes bad faster).
Another form of brewed coffee that will last a bit longer is cold brew.
Cold brew uses a steeping process with ground coffee that takes longer to brew.
It’s a convenient way to speed up your morning routine, allowing you to easily make an iced coffee in one simple pour.
Cold-brew lasts approximately two weeks in the fridge.
Instant coffee may look like typical ground coffee, but it’s not!
It is a dehydrated and concentrated form of liquid coffee, usually made that way through spray-drying or freeze-drying.
The process itself means instant coffee lasts for years – especially when unopened.
When sealed, instant coffee will last up to twenty years.
Almost as impressive, an opened package of instant coffee will stay good – potentially with a declining taste – for up to eighteen months.
Other Questions to Understand
Now that you have a basic idea of what makes coffee stay fresh in its various forms, let’s explore some other common questions related to coffee beans, brewed coffee, and other questions about coffee freshness.
Can You Drink A Day Old Coffee?
You can drink a day-old coffee if it’s been stored in a refrigerator, but if it was sitting at room temperature in your coffee maker, you should just throw it away.
Leftover coffee, when not chilled, will not only taste rancid but can also quickly grow mold.
Can Bacteria Grow in Coffee?
Because of the high roast temperature, properly stored beans and ground coffee usually won’t grow bacteria, and caffeine has been shown to have antibacterial effects.
But, brewed coffee can grow mold and bacteria.
How Long Does Caffeine Stay in Your System?
Knowing the details about caffeine intake is important for those who are sensitive to the drug, especially when it comes to sleep.
The specifics depend on each person, but generally, caffeine will affect you within 15 minutes of consumption and stay in your system for up to six hours.
Signs of Bad Coffee
Since it is not always obvious when ground coffee or coffee beans become stale, let’s explore some of the signs of bad coffee that will tip you off.
Old coffee – either old roasted coffee beans, ground coffee, or brewed coffee – tends to have a rancid taste and smell.
Fresh coffee is complex in taste and often has subtle notes of sweetness, but a rancid or sour taste is a sign it’s gone bad.
As with all foods, trust your judgment on whether coffee looks bad visually.
If you see any signs of mold or mildew on your black coffee, especially if you think moisture was a factor, you should not brew with those coffee beans or ground coffee.
Leftover coffee often has a thin film of oily residue that sticks to the sides or floats on the surface.
This coffee will not taste great, and if it has been in the fridge longer than a few days you should not drink it.
One of the more obvious ways to spot bad coffee is to look at the expiration date.
Expired coffee beans are not always going to be stale, especially if you stored them in an airtight container.
But, if you bought a bag of ground coffee and it interacted with the air, it may go bad faster and develop an offputting taste.
How to Properly Store Coffee Beans
When it comes to maintaining coffee integrity, there are a few basic principles that will help your coffee stay fresh as long as possible.
Let’s check them out!
Ensure a Lack of Oxygen
Oxygen is the enemy of coffee, so if you want to keep things fresh, store your beans or grounds in an airtight container to slow down the aging process.
Opened coffee bags never seal completely and air will find its way to the beans.
Avoid Places with Light
Similar to the reason beer bottles are opaque, coffee should be stored away from light sources – especially sunlight.
Light will speed up aging and decrease the good flavors of coffee beans.
Keep Moisture Out
Coffee beans absorb moisture (that is how brewing works), and that can negatively impact the taste and freshness.
You should keep beans at room temperature in a dry environment unless you plan to vacuum seal them.
Ensure Storage Heat is Minimum
Similar to other perishable food products, coffee ages faster in higher temperatures.
This is why the fridge and freezer delay food aging.
Try to store coffee somewhere with minimal heat, but not so cold that moisture will develop.
Will Freezing Coffee Beans Make Them Last Longer?
Whether or not you should freeze coffee is a contested issue in the world of coffee aficionados, but freezing coffee beans does make them last longer.
The trick, however, is to do it correctly.
You’ll need an airtight container so that absolutely no moisture can affect the beans, and you should ideally vacuum seal the beans so that no air can come in contact with them.
When done correctly, frozen beans can last for years.
Ways to Use Extra Coffee Nearing Its Expiration Date
Because coffee grounds have high acidity, you can use them in your garden to improve the quality of your soil.
It’s worth noting that when adding coffee grounds to your compost pile, they should make up no more than 20 percent of the compost volume.
Another way to use stale coffee is to turn it into a coffee candle as part of a fun do-it-yourself project at home.
Don’t be afraid to get creative.
The recycling possibilities are endless!
How Long Does Coffee Last: Final Thoughts
As you can see, there are many considerations in determining the freshness of coffee beans and brewed coffee.
Use the above information as a guideline and make sure to look for any signs that your coffee isn’t safe to drink.
Remember, though, coffee freshness is often mostly about the taste.
As long as the date on the coffee bag is only recently expired, you should still be able to get a delicious flavor out of those coffee beans!