How Long Does Coffee Last: A Primer on the Shelf Life of the Different Types of Coffee

When it comes to coffee, fresh is best. Whether you are buying whole beans or making instant coffee, make sure that you are using coffee that has not passed its prime. As such, you must know the answer to the question how long does coffee last?

In this post, I will share some of the things that you should know about the shelf life of different types of coffee. As a bonus, I will also talk about the right way to store your coffee and some things you can do when coffee is nearing expiration.

About the Shelf Life of Coffee

Before anything else, let’s discuss a few things about coffee and its shelf life. The most important thing to know is that coffee does not go bad. Although, it depends on a couple of things, with the most important being handling and storage.

Coffee is dry, at least before it is prepared. As such, coffee beans and powder will not rot or develop mold over time. Nonetheless, spoilage is possible once it gets wet or humid, among other external factors that can contribute to spoilage.

Meanwhile, once you use coffee beans and powder, you must consume them immediately as they can go bad. Its natural oils will turn rancid, which will contribute to undesirable flavor and aroma.

How Long Does Coffee Last?

How Long Does Coffee Last

Now let’s go straight to business and answer the question this article is meant to talk about. I cannot give you a definite answer since many factors will come into play. For instance, whether it is beans or powder, sealed or open, can impact the shelf life. I’ll talk more about this below.

When Unopened

If you want coffee to last longer, then make sure that you do not open the package unless it is ready for consumption. This way, you are protecting it from the external factors that can cause it to go bad.

1. Ground Coffee

For those who value convenience, it is hard to go wrong with ground coffee. It is quick and effortless to prepare. Nonetheless, take note that its shelf life is not as long as whole beans, so be wary about the duration you keep them.

The best way to know if you can still use ground coffee is to look at the expiration date indicated on the packaging. Whatever is written, you can add three to five months before you should discard it.

2. Whole Bean

No doubt, the best way to make your coffee is to use freshly roasted whole beans. Nonetheless, not everyone has the time to head to the supermarket or roaster often, so many people keep them at home. The good news is that it has a decent shelf life when unopened.

When whole beans are in a sealed and unopened package, the average shelf life is six to nine months in your cupboard or pantry. They maintain their molecular form over time, making it easy to retain the intrinsic qualities that contribute to coffee’s robust flavor and aroma.

3. Instant Coffee

While it may not taste as great as a caffeine fix made using fresh beans, instant coffee is a popular option for busy individuals. It is accessible and effortless to prepare. It has been processed, and hence, has a long shelf life. It is categorized as a shelf-stable food, which means that it can last a long time with proper storage.

When it is in sealed packaging, instant coffee can last up to 20 years. This is if it is properly enclosed in an airtight container. Otherwise, once moisture gets in, it can go bad and will lose its taste.

When Opened

Like with any other food, when you open coffee, it starts to spoil more quickly. From oxygen to heat, it will attract various external elements that can make it lose flavor and aroma, ruining the quality of the cup you are about to make.

1. Freshly Ground Coffee

Ground coffee is vulnerable to external elements like heat and oxygen. As such, it has a quicker spoilage rate compared to coffee beans. When it is in a sealed bag, the average lifespan is three to five months, depending on handling and storage.

2. Fresh Beans

Once you open fresh beans, they start to degrade, but not easily. An unsealed bag of beans can still last up to six months. Nonetheless, it depends on handling. More about that will be discussed later in this post.

3. Instant Coffee

While an unopened instant coffee container can be good for decades, it’s a different story once it has been opened. Exposure to external elements can speed up spoilage.

The best thing to do is to look at the Best By or Expiration dates printed on the label. In most cases, it is still good within one to two years. Use your eyes and nose to do a quick test before using it.

After Brewing

Once the coffee is brewed, the shelf life becomes significantly shorter. If you want to enjoy your coffee at its peak, then you should consume it in about 20 to 30 minutes after it is brewed if it is in a cup. Meanwhile, if you keep it in a sealed container, then drink it within an hour.

Adding other ingredients to your coffee also affects how quickly it can go bad. While you can leave brewed coffee in a pot for up to four hours, if it has milk or creamer, it can only say good for up to two hours.

If you want your brewed coffee to last longer, the best thing to do is to keep it in the fridge. However, make sure it is in an airtight container. This way, it can remain good for up to four days, but it will taste inferior.

What Factors Degrade Coffee Beans?

As I have noted in this guide, coffee beans can last several months. However, especially if it is opened, several external factors can contribute to quality degradation, including the following:

  • Oxygen: This is the biggest external factor that degrades coffee beans. Freshly roasted beans can spoil within days once it is in contact with oxygen. Oxidation speeds up the breakdown of chemicals naturally present in coffee, which can make it turn stale. This is the same mechanism by which air causes fruits to turn brown or black.
  • Sunlight: The UV in sunlight is another common culprit for a chemical reaction that results in coffee beans losing their natural flavors. It breaks down its structure, which degrades its quality quickly.
  • Moisture: Oils are responsible for the robust flavor you can expect from coffee. However, moisture, especially through condensation, can push the oils in the beans. As a result, your coffee may become rancid.
  • Heat: Exposure to heat is another factor to blame for the degradation of coffee beans. It has soluble flavor molecules that are heavily affected when the beans are in a location with a high temperature.

The Best Ways to Store Coffee

Knowing how to store coffee helps to preserve its best qualities for a delicious caffeine fix. Here are some things you must do:

  • Keep in a cool, dark, and dry place. As mentioned earlier, oxygen, sunlight moisture, and heat are its most common enemies, so make sure to avoid such.
  • If possible, keep it in its original packaging. Most will contain a one-way valve, which allows gas to come out without letting oxygen in.
  • You can extend the life of coffee beans by keeping them in a freezer in an airtight container. Keep it away from other items with a strong odor. Do not refrigerate.
  • Buy and pack in smaller batches. This way, you can prevent the spoilage of the entire bag once it is exposed to external elements.

Ways to Use Extra Coffee Nearing Its Expiration Date

Do you have coffee at home nearing its expiration date? You don’t need to throw it away. Below are some of the things you can do:

  • Before it reaches the expiration date, make coffee, transfer it to an ice tray, and freeze it. When ready, you can use the coffee ice cubes and drink with milk.
  • Go green and turn coffee into a fertilizer. Mix coffee grounds with grass clippings and spread them in the garden.
  • Turn it into a coffee scrub and soap. Coffee is known for having exfoliating properties, making it effective in getting rid of dead skin.
  • Use coffee in baking or cooking. Experiment with a wide array of recipes and use coffee for pastries or desserts before it expires.
  • Get rid of unwanted odor in your fridge. Put it in a jar and place it in your refrigerator to eliminate foul smell.
  • Use coffee scrubs as a natural cleaner. It is abrasive, making it effective when getting rid of dirt on pots and pans, among others.

Conclusion

Coffee lasts a long time. Instant coffee in unopened packaging can last up to 20 years. On the other hand, beans in an airtight bag can have a shelf life of six to nine months. Once they are opened, however, they are prone to exposure to external elements that can make them go bad.

Meanwhile, after brewing, it is best to consume coffee within 20 to 30 minutes when it is in a cup and up to an hour if you keep it in an airtight container. It can last longer, but the taste will not be the same.

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