Can Coffee Go Bad? How Long Does Coffee Last?

No one likes to waste money if it’s at all avoidable. The thing is, if you’ve started to get serious about the world of coffee then you’re no doubt starting to build up quite a collection.

You might have a little of this left over in the cupboard, or a little more of your current favorite sat in a container on the countertop.

Can coffee go bad though? And if it doesn’t go bad, how long does coffee last before it starts to lose its potential?

In this article I’m going to answer some of the most common questions on this topic.

I’ve also included plenty of storage tips that will help you keep your favorite beans in top condition.

(If you want to explore more of my coffee content, take a look at the home brewing guide I have on the site!)

How And Why Does Coffee Go Bad?

Let’s start with the most important question: why does coffee go bad in the first place?

Even more important is that we define what we mean when we talk about coffee going bad. There’s no real expiration date on this stuff, and it won’t make you sick.

What we’re mainly concerned with here is enjoying the coffee you buy to its fullest potential.

In that sense, there is a definite point where you’ll notice your coffee turns, especially if you’ve stored it incorrectly. It will no longer pack the same aroma and flavor potential that it once did.

There are four main culprits at play here: oxygen, light, heat and moisture.

Oxygen: As soon as you expose coffee beans to the open air, they will begin to deteriorate. Once exposed to oxygen for any reasonable period of time, their quality will quickly drop off.

Light: However much you may like the sight of a crisp clear jar of coffee beans on your countertop, it’s a bad idea. Exposure to light will quickly cause the beans inside to become stale.

Heat: Coffee brewing is about nothing if not exposing your beans to heat to extract their flavor and aroma. It goes without saying, then, that if they’re exposed to even a mild heat for a long time they’re not going to stay at their best.

Moisture: Another big no-no that will quickly deteriorate your beans. Out of these four issues, moisture is the number one issue to avoid when it comes to proper coffee storage!

How Fast Does Coffee Go Bad Though?

The answer to that question depends on the type of coffee you’re talking about.

Much will also depend on the precise circumstances of your own kitchen and the storage containers you use. Still, you can use the following as a rough guideline to work with:

Whole Beans: One month. Whole beans are always preferable for home coffee brewing. Once you crack open the shell, they’ll lose much of their potential. The shorter the time between grinding and brewing, the better the drink (all other things being equal!) My advice? Only buy what you need, and only grind what you need, when you need it.

Ground Coffee: Two weeks. Again, you need to store it correctly to prevent exposure, but once ground it should still be good to use for around a fortnight. Expect diminishing returns here, however. Better instead to think about buying a grinder and use whole beans if you can.

Instant Coffee: Two weeks. You might think this stuff is good to survive a nuclear winter. In reality, once you pop the seal on the top of a jar of instant coffee you’ve still only got a couple of weeks to get the best out of it. Coffee granules can go bad in the sense that they’ll lose what little flavor they had at the packing stage!

Brewed Coffee: Immediately. I probably don’t need to tell you that leaving your coffee out overnight isn’t going to be a pleasant experience, even if you heat it up the next day. If you must make a batch, do yourself a favor and invest in a high quality thermal carafe that will keep the heat for a few hours. Brewed coffee goes bad after that point, and I wouldn’t keep it in a pot on a hot plate either. That just causes it to stew and become bitter.

As a general rule of thumb, whatever type of coffee you like to buy, I recommend buying it in smaller quantities but more often.

This is actually quite a helpful way of experimenting with different coffee brands. It’ll force you to get out of your comfort zone a little bit!

(If you like to go out and about with a thermos of coffee – however it’s been prepared – it won’t go bad exactly. I would recommend getting through it within a few hours for best results though!)

Various items on a shelf in a kitchen pantry

How To Store Coffee

That’s the causes of coffee deterioration explained, and how each type of coffee is affected.

Next I want to cover some tips that will help you store your coffee properly

There are some golden rules when it comes to storing coffee the right way. They all relate to those four core enemies of coffee freshness that I’ve already talked about in this article.

The absolute best way to store any kind of coffee is in a container that is:

  • Airtight – To prevent the coffee from coming into contact with oxygen and deteriorating.
  • Opaque – To prevent light from reaching the beans and likewise reducing their quality.

That covers the container, but how should you store the container to avoid the other issues of heat and moisture.

First things first, the kitchen countertop is not a great place to store your coffee, however convenient it may be when you’re boiling the kettle.

There are heat sources everywhere in your kitchen, from the lights above your countertop, to the microwave oven, to the kettle itself.

All these heat sources can cause your coffee to go bad, whether you’ve left it out on the side or secured it in a state of the art vacuum-sealed container!

The best place to store your coffee container is in a cool, dry, dark cupboard. Look for somewhere suitable in your pantry, and give your coffee the loving home it deserves.

Can coffee go bad in the fridge or freezer though?

This is a tempting solution for many people, but there are some really good reasons to avoid going down this route.

Let’s look at each one separately:

Storing coffee in the refrigerator

Coffee can most definitely go bad in the refrigerator!

On the one hand you’re eliminating the light and heat issue. That’s not a bad thing.

On the other hand, you’re very much exposing it to an awful lot of moisture.

All told, your coffee has the potential to go very bad, very quickly if you store it in the fridge!

Storing coffee in the freezer

Everything lasts longer in the freezer, right?

Well, that works for a lot of packaged goods. The problem with coffee is that it has a natural tendency to accumulate the aromas of anything you store around it.

That means anything kept alongside the coffee will almost certainly impart a little of its own aroma to it.

If you happen to have a large batch of coffee that needs to be stored in the freezer, make sure it goes into an airtight container so it doesn’t attract those other flavors. You also need to keep the moisture out as much as possible.

From there, you can thaw it out in batches, but keep the air exposure time down as much as possible before getting the rest of the coffee back on ice.

With all this said, it really is much better to buy less coffee, but more frequently. You can then store it in a dedicated airtight container in whatever spare bit of cupboard space you can make available.

A close up shot of kahlua coffee liqueur splashing into a glass

Other Questions

Of course, it’s not just the quality of the ground or whole bean coffee that you need to think about when it comes to storage.

Depending on your tastes, you might like an iced coffee, or you might just be a fan of the kind of convenience that coffee pods offer.

In this final section, I’m going to answer some of the most common questions related to these products.

When Does Coffee Creamer Go Bad?

This depends a little on the type of creamer we’re talking about. To make things a little easier, I’ll address them one by one:

Powdered Creamer: I tend to follow expiration dates quite closely in general. As a powdered product though you can probably use this stuff for a little longer than stated. That’s as long as you haven’t damaged the containers in any way, and you’ve stored them in a cool, dark location.

Mini Cups: These handy travel cups don’t require refrigeration, but I would be more inclined to stick to the expiration date on these. If in doubt, go for the smell test. If you notice anything odd about the aroma, empty then, recycle the packaging, and buy a new batch. Again, you should store these in a cool, dry, dark place at all times.

Dairy Coffee Creamers: Treat these as you would any other dairy product. Keep them in the refrigerator, and use them before the expiry date.

Can Coffee Pods Go Bad?

If you’re more focused on coffee convenience over quality, you might have built up quite a stash of K-Cups, or other branded coffee pods.

The good news is that the nature of these pods means the coffee inside is protected from light, oxygen and moisture.

That’s as long as you take care not to damage the seal that’s punctured during the brewing process!

What Keurig can’t do, however, is stop you from storing the pods in a warm place. If you do this, you will definitely notice a drop-off in quality.

It’s not so much a case that K-Cups can go bad, it’s more that they will – very slowly – degrade in quality if they’re stored beyond their expiration date.

That date on the box really is the best guide you can follow.

Can Coffee Liqueur Go Bad?

Alright, now we’re onto the good stuff. Or the bad stuff, depending on your taste for those sticky, sickly drinks!

I’m as guilty as anyone of keeping those bottles of Christmas liqueurs in the cupboard for longer than can possibly be sensible.

This is another one of those situations where you need to follow the manufacturer’s advice.

Kahlua’s one of the most popular coffee liqueurs in the world. According to their official website it has a shelf life of four years.

The alcohol and sugars go a long way to preserving it that long, but you should check each brand on a case by case basis.

Can Coffee Makers Go Bad?

This is an interesting one. If you never descale your coffee machine, then it is definitely true to say that you will eventually notice an impact on your coffee.

The best advice here is to pay attention to any descaling alerts that your machine might have built-in. Don’t ignore these, as the mineral deposits can both damage the machine and ruin your coffee.

If your coffee maker doesn’t have a built-in descaling function, I recommend running a descaling solution through it every three months or so. Do this more frequently if you live in a hard water area, as the minerals will build-up more quickly in this kind of environment.

Can Bottled Coffee Go Bad?

As with the coffee creamer question, this depends very much on the brand of the bottled coffee you’re drinking.

Major coffee manufacturers have the benefit of owning highly sterilized production environments and pasteurization techniques.

This is why the bottles of coffee you buy from a store have a much longer shelf life than anything you could possibly brew up at home.

The golden rule is the same here though. Be guided by the expiration date that’s listed on the bottle, and don’t drink it after that date has passed – especially if it hasn’t been stored in the fridge properly.

Can Cold Brew Coffee Go Bad?

Absolutely. I wrote a guide recently about the shelf life of cold brew coffee concentrate if you’d like to find out more.

Put briefly, the moment you add water to your coffee in the preparation of cold brew coffee, you’re on a ticking clock.

Cold brew coffee – stored properly in the refrigerator – will be at its best in the first week, and will deteriorate gradually throughout the second week.

At this point you should absolutely throw any remaining concentrate out and prepare a fresh batch. It has the potential to acquire bacteria after this point, and it’s just not worth the risk of making yourself sick.

As with bean buying and storage, the trick here is to make no more than you need so you avoid any wastage.

Wrapping Up

That should hopefully answer just about any question you might have about storing coffee to prevent it going bad.

Remember, keep it away from air, heat, light and moisture and your coffee will not only last longer but taste better as well.

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