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If there’s one thing all of us coffee drinkers can agree on it’s that you don’t want to have your coffee go bad. Have you ever been in the midst of a pantry clear-out, only to discover a long-forgotten bag of beans or tin of instant coffee just sitting there gathering dust?
Coffee doesn’t always carry a use-by-date on the label and it can be tricky to identify when you even bought the beans. If you’ve ever found yourself wondering ‘how long does coffee last?’ then you’re not alone.
When stored correctly, coffee beans should last up to six months but the flavor and aroma will diminish pretty rapidly over this time. Freshly roasted coffee is best enjoyed 2-5 weeks after leaving the roasters for the optimal balance of rich flavors.
To really understand the journey of your coffee from a rich aromatic bundle of joy all the way to a tasteless cup of disappointment read on. Here’s everything you need to know about coffee beans, how long they last, and how to extend their lifespan with ease.
Why Do Coffee Beans Go Stale?
Just as all food items have a specific shelf life, fresh coffee also has an expiration date. Coffee beans come from the Coffea plant and are actually the seeds found in the coffee fruit. They undergo a degree of processing and are finally roasted before they can be ground up and brewed into a cup of coffee.
The roasting procedure starts off the process of a chemical reaction where the majority of the flavors we know and love are created. The heat of the oven causes caramelization so develops sweet and complex flavor notes. This process happens as the beans are being roasted but also continues for a while after this.
As the beans sit in storage they react with oxygen in the environment (also known as oxidation) and let off carbon dioxide gas. This degassing process steadily releases acidic and complex flavor notes and leaves a fairly bland, unexciting flavor after a period of time. This stale taste indicates the beans are no longer suitable for consumption.
How Long Do Coffee Beans Last?
How long coffee beans stay fresh depends on a few factors. The type of coffee, how long since the roasting process happened, and the coffee storage method all dictate how long it can take for the coffee to succumb to the oxidation process.
When stored correctly, roasted beans last for up to six months after the roast date when the bag is open. If the bag is kept sealed, whole coffee beans can last up to nine months, especially if the bag of coffee has a one-way valve.
You can still use coffee beans after this time has expired as they don’t end up rotting as fruit or other fresh produce does. The shelf life of coffee is more to do with the taste element rather than the food hygiene as stale coffee is unlikely to make you unwell. Old coffee is not very satisfying for any kind of coffee lover and is best used for composting rather than adding to a french press.
Whole Beans vs Ground Coffee
Once coffee beans enter the grinder this has a large effect on their shelf life. Grinding beans increases their surface area so increases their exposure to oxygen. This essentially speeds up the oxidation stage so the coffee grounds end up going stale very quickly compared to whole beans.
An open bag of pre-ground coffee will last around three to four months but some people notice the flavor starts to fade in as little as one to two months. A sealed bag of coffee grounds can last for up to 5 months but after this time it will taste pretty bland.
Fresh Roasted Coffee Beans
Coffee beans fresh from the roaster take one to two weeks to mature before it’s advisable to start brewing coffee with them. This allows them to release excess carbon dioxide which can cause a sourness/acidity in your cup of joe.
After this stage, you can grind them up and use them for your preferred brewing method or store them in an airtight container ready for when you need them. Freshly roasted beans are delicious for four to five weeks and, if stored correctly, for up to 3 months but after this time it’s best to buy a fresh bag.
How Long Does Unroasted Coffee Last?
Unroasted or green coffee beans are often sold in bulk to coffee shops or roasters, ready to be roasted and packaged for selling or stored in a sealed container ready to brew espresso or similar.
You can buy unroasted coffee from wholesalers, often pretty cheap, and roast them at home to your taste preferences. If stored correctly, green coffee beans can last up to 12 months which really extends the lifespan of the coffee overall.
Hot brewed coffee can be left to cool to room temperature before being stored in the fridge for three to four days. You should store it in a sealed jar or canister and never add milk or creamer before chilling it. The coffee can also be added to ice cube trays and frozen to make coffee ice cubes.
Cold-brew coffee also stores well in the fridge and can be kept for up to two weeks. It’s best to store it in its concentrated form as this saves space and allows it to develop a pleasant, sweet flavor. This allows you to simply dilute the coffee with fresh water and enjoy it cold over ice or heat it up if you prefer.
Instant coffee powder or granules are created from brewing coffee that’s subsequently freeze-dried to dehydrate it. This process means that instant coffee will last a lot longer compared to fresh ground coffee, especially if it remains sealed in its original packaging. Un-opened instant coffee can last anywhere between two and twenty years and maybe even longer than this!
If the jar or packaging has been opened then it can still last several years as long as it has been stored in an airtight container.
How To Store Coffee
It’s important to store coffee beans correctly to maximize their shelf life. The most important consideration is to use an airtight container or canister. This slows down the oxidation process and keeps the beans fresh for as long as possible.
Always store the beans in a dry place as moisture can lead to mold or fungal growth. Sunlight is also bad for your fresh coffee beans so make sure they’re in a dark place as well. Keep the beans away from extreme temperatures and strong odors.
Ideally store the beans in their original packaging, especially if it has a one-way valve system as these are designed to keep them as fresh as possible.
Common Storage Errors
Freezing coffee beans isn’t necessary and doesn’t help preserve their flavor over time. The beans can succumb to freezer burn and dry out so it’s not recommended.
Do not put coffee beans in the fridge either as this is a damp environment that is prone to mold.
The best advice is to only buy as many beans as you plan to use to brew coffee, keep them in an airtight container and only grind up the amount you need to brew each batch of coffee.
Coffee beans last up to six months when stored correctly. Keep them cool and dark and away from humidity and they should stay good to go for a number of weeks. The best advice is always to just buy enough beans that you plan to use and only grind the correct amount for each batch of coffee. When it comes to great-tasting coffee, fresh is always best, so choose the best, locally roasted beans and don’t let them sit too long. Enjoy!
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