There’s little nicer than the smell of freshly ground coffee. And if you’re a serious coffee aficionado – or even if you’re not – grinding your own beans is part of the fun.
So you’ve got your coffee nicely ground. You’ve made your cup, or travel mug, or carafe of coffee for the day. What do you do now with the grounds? I’m sure most of us have wondered, do coffee grounds go bad? For that matter, do coffee beans go bad? Let’s take a look.
Coffee Anatomy 101
As with pretty much everything coffee, it all starts with the beans. Technically we should really call them seeds; coffee beans are the seeds of the coffee cherry, fruit of the coffee plant. And in their original state, those little green beans aren’t fit to be made into grounds or brewed into a drink. (Whatever Kaldi’s goats might have thought.)
Once those little green beans have been harvested, they need to be prepared for roasting. This process brings out the natural coffee oils giving coffee its scent and flavor.
Coffee Crops And Freshness
The first thing to bear in mind when storing coffee is that it’s a crop. Those beans are actually seeds from a plant. And like other crops, coffee beans lose their taste and freshness over time. If you’re wondering, does coffee expire, check the roasting date on the pack.
Your coffee beans are freshest just after they’ve been roasted. After this point, as with everything else in the physical world, they have to cope with being exposed to the air, heat, light, and moisture.
So How Long Does Coffee Last, Anyway?
You’re probably thinking to yourself, just how long does ground coffee last? Most coffee experts think freshly roasted beans should always be consumed within a week, or at most a month, to enjoy them at their freshest and best.
Unless you take steps to protect and preserve your coffee beans, they rapidly react with the four elements above. The oxidation that results is due to the natural oils in the coffee diminishing. It also gives a bitter aftertaste.
Do Coffee Grounds Go Bad?
You can see that coffee needs to be packed and delivered as soon as possible following roasting. The same applies to coffee grounds, only more so.
When coffee is ground, the overall surface area increases. They don’t go bad, exactly, but they do go stale.
How To Store Ground Coffee – Some Suggestions
So how do you preserve those freshly-roasted beans as long as possible? What is the best way to store ground coffee? Just what do you need to know about how to keep coffee fresh and how to store coffee grounds?
The first enemy of the harvested coffee bean is air (or oxygen, anyway). The packaging is crucial. When you’re buying coffee, look for packs with valves. The specially designed opening means carbon dioxide can escape easily, but no extra air gets in to make the beans go stale.
The only problem is, those bags are really not meant for long-term storage. You need to check the roasting date stamped on the packaging.
How To Keep Coffee Fresh – Containers, Jars And Canisters
Okay, confession time – we love jars. We especially love airtight, opaque jars. We know mason jars look lovely – but for other household goods, not coffee. They let in too much light, for starters.
Then there’s super-sturdy stainless steel, which is often used to make coffee vaults or canisters. Again, it’s all about keeping the air out. Once your coffee is safely stowed in an airtight container, make sure you keep it somewhere cool and dry.
Heat is one of the other enemies of coffee. It can result in more rapid degradation of the aroma, and an increase in the speed at which they go stale. Store your coffee well away from heat sources like your stove, toaster, mini-grill, or windowsill.
What About Freezing Coffee?
You might have heard freezing coffee helps to keep it fresh. Well, we’ve got a couple of comments..
Firstly, freezers aren’t just cold, they’re damp. Remember we mentioned moisture was one of the other enemies of coffee?
Even if you’ve sealed your coffee up in the most airtight vault you can find, just the act of taking it out and returning it means your beans are subject to changes in temperature. And changes in temperature cause condensation.
If freezing is your only option, divide your beans into small portions. Only take out what you need for the pot or carafe of coffee you’re brewing.
Signed, Sealed And Delivered – Unopened Coffee
If the coffee is unopened, then the freezer is actually a pretty good option. In that case, it can last between 1 to 2 years in those sub-zero temperatures. How long do coffee beans last in the freezer? If it’s whole beans you’re storing, then you’re looking at around 2 to 3 years.
Oh, and if you’re wondering why instant coffee can last for decades in some situations, it’s to do with the packaging. Instant coffee packets often have a layer of aluminum. There’s much less option for mold spores to intrude and spoil the coffee.
And in the freezer, unopened packs of instant coffee will last pretty much indefinitely. The key is that little word “unopened”. If you have an open pack of instant coffee that you need to store, then ziplock or rolled-up and tightly clipped foil packs are your friends.
How Long Does Coffee Last In The Fridge?
You might also be wondering, how long do beans last in the fridge? Well, as with most natural foods (rather than processed foods, that is), your fridge will keep them fresher for much longer than if you just leave them open to the air.
They won’t last quite as long as they do in the freezer, however. On average, brewed coffee will keep in the fridge for around 3 to 4 days and slightly less in a pantry. If you have a cool pantry, it’s likely that temperature-wise, it’ll be a few degrees warmer than your fridge.
And while you can keep coffee beans in the fridge, we wouldn’t really recommend it. It’s a little like keeping bread in the fridge. It’s still edible, but it doesn’t taste as fresh as it does if it’s been kept in a bread bin. So stick to the jars and canisters for coffee that’s open, and, if you must, the freezer for coffee that’s still sealed.
How Does Coffee Go Bad?
If you need to work out whether your coffee has gone bad or not, use your senses. The most important one is your sense of smell.
If there’s a very little aroma, and you’re not sure if the coffee has gone off, then try brewing only a very small amount. If the flavor is stale, you know for sure the coffee’s gone bad.
Oxidation is the process that happens when oxygen comes into contact with organic matter. Ever had apples gone brown? With coffee, it changes the molecular structure. In the case of coffee, oxidation turns it stale.
Does Brewed Coffee Go Bad?
You’re probably wondering whether brewed coffee goes bad. If you’ve ever left water out overnight, uncovered, you’ll have noticed those little bubbles that appear? They’re an indication that dissolved gasses in the water have come out.
Whether it’s safe to drink water that’s been left out overnight is the subject of much debate. What is noticeable is that it doesn’t taste as fresh as water straight from the faucet or dispenser.
With brewed coffee, we’d certainly not recommend drinking coffee that had been hanging around for more than 24 hours, especially at room temperature. We might risk slightly older coffee if it had been in the fridge; some folk even reckon you’ll be okay to drink it for up to a week although 3 days seems to be about the real limit.
Do Coffee Beans Go Bad, Then?
Coffee doesn’t go bad in the same way some other foodstuffs do. It doesn’t spoil or develop mold, like some other substances, and it’s not prone to mites either. The main things that tell you coffee grounds have gone bad are the smell and the taste.
So, if you’d really rather have good coffee than bad coffee, keep your coffee grounds as fresh as possible for as long as possible, keep them away from the air. Keep them dry. Keep them cool. And keep them away from the light. All the better to enjoy your daily cup of Joe!
Hi my name is Larry, a coffee aficionado from the US. I have already visited Colombia, Sumatra, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Ethiopia and Jamaica in my pursuit of finding the best-tasting coffee beans. I currently write from Bali and enjoy the relaxed life that you can find only in Indonesia. Welcome to my coffee world!