If you have ever wondered, “does coffee go bad?“, then you definitely aren’t alone. If you type the question into a search engine, you will get literally thousands of hits on that very topic. It will depend on your definition of “bad” for coffee. If you simply mean bad tasting, or if you mean will it spoil and make you sick like bad meat. It is a tricky question to answer, and the long and the short of it is yes and no. A lot of it will depend on the type of coffee, whether it is ground, brewed, or how it has been roasted and processed.
How To Store Coffee
If you are a person who truly values the flavor of a great cup of coffee, then you probably brew a fresh batch of coffee every single day, you grind your own beans, and you only brew what you will drink at one time. That is actually part of the key to keeping coffee fresh. Coffee beans contain oils, which can go rancid, just like any other oil. The best way to keep the oil from going rancid is to use your coffee beans within three months or so. Freezing coffee beans will certainly keep them fresher for longer, but you will also lose some of the flavor of the coffee beans by freezing them. Once coffee beans are ground, they will lose flavor and aroma even quicker, lending ground coffee a more “stale” flavor, much like older bread or chips. The best way to keep ground coffee fresh is to keep it sealed in an airtight container or can. The can most coffee comes in will keep it airtight, and it will last for about two weeks in this container once the vacuum seal has been removed before it begins to lose a lot of the flavors and aromas.
Image used under Creative Commons from Michele M. F.
Shelf Life of Coffee
The shelf life of coffee will depend upon whether it is whole bean or ground as well as if the vacuum seal has been removed. Whole bean coffee can be stored in an airtight container (after removing the vacuum seal) in the pantry for about three weeks, and in the freezer for about three months. Coffee which has been ground only has a shelf life in the pantry of about 7-10 days, but can survive in the refrigerator for about three weeks. Freezing ground coffee is not recommended. Unopened coffee, whether ground or whole bean, will last in the pantry for about two years. While there is a lot of disagreement about how long coffee will last for, there is one consensus when it comes to storing coffee and it’s shelf life – light, air, and moisture will all have an impact on the quality and freshness of coffee. It is best to store in a ceramic (not glass), vacuum-sealed container.
As far as brewed coffee, it will go bad much faster than grounds or beans. Brewed coffee can be stored in the refrigerator for 3-4 days before it should be dumped out. On the counter, it should be dumped out after 12-24 hours. There is also some debate about these time frames among regular coffee drinkers. If you are going to reheat a cup of coffee in the microwave which was stored in the refrigerator, you will lose a lot of the flavor and aroma of the coffee and it will undoubtedly taste burned or stale. The same goes for reheating coffee which has been on the counter. Anybody who is a connoisseur of coffee will tell you to dump coffee out after about an hour of it sitting on the burner, as the water will evaporate out, but the oils in the coffee will remain. The result is a strong, bitter cup of coffee with bad flavor.
How To Tell If Coffee Is Bad
Most people are able to tell rather easily if coffee has gone bad by the aroma. It should have a distinct coffee aroma, perhaps a hint of chocolate in the aroma. If it smells sour in any way, or in any way off, it has most likely gone bad and should be thrown away. An ideal brewed coffee should taste fresh. If it tastes stale, or like it has taken on the flavors of other foods it may have been stored near, it is time to get fresh coffee (unless the stale flavor doesn’t bother you that much, then drink up!).
Like any other type of organic foods, coffee will go bad if allowed to sit long enough. While in most cases, coffee will not necessarily get you sick, it can have off flavors and aromas. There are obvious, tell-tale signs of coffee going bad–an aroma like sour milk or rancid meat which is unmistakable in coffee grounds, or mold growing on the surface of the brewed coffee are good indicators that the coffee is not fit for consumption. Your best bet for getting a good tasting cup of coffee is to brew only as much as you will drink, and grind your beans fresh immediately before brewing to get the best-tasting cup of coffee you can get.