Do Coffee Beans Go Bad?

How do you prepare your morning brew? Do you use k-cups or coffee mixes to get your caffeine fix?

For purists, nothing beats the taste of a freshly brewed coffee. The process of grinding the coffee beans and steeping it in hot water every morning may be tedious to some, but not for coffee aficionados.

Of course, enjoying freshly brewed coffee means buying coffee beans in bulk. So the question becomes: do coffee beans go bad?

And if you have bags of coffee beans sitting in storage, how long will the beans last before they go bad? Or what’s the best way to store coffee beans?

We will go through these and other coffee beans-related questions in the article. If that sounds interesting, read on.

Coffee beans in a cup
Image used under Creative Commons from Global Panorama

How to Store Coffee Beans?

Coffee beans go through a roasting process to bring out their distinct flavor and aroma. The beans start out greenish and when roasted, they turn deep brown, almost black. You can buy the beans unroasted and do the roasting yourself or get the roasted ones.

According to the National Coffee Association, coffee beans must be stored in an airtight, opaque container. Clear canisters allow light to penetrate the containers, causing the beans to oxidize. Keep the beans in a cool, dark, and dry place away from sources of heat, moisture, and direct sunlight. The darker the storage spot, the better. I recommend storing a container of coffee beans in your kitchen cabinet so the light will not reach it.

Always keep the container tightly sealed after every use to extend the shelf life of the coffee beans. Also, there’s no need to transfer the coffee beans into a different container before opening the original package.

Coffee beans lot
(credit: Patryk Gauza)

Can You Freeze Coffee Beans?

If you’ve bought coffee beans in bulk but have no plans of using up your supply any time soon, freezing may be a great option. This method is best for extending the shelf life of coffee beans with minimal flavor or aroma changes.

Still, there is no guarantee that the roasted beans will taste the same after being frozen. The results depend on the beans, so if you’re considering freezing your beans, start with a small amount as a test and watch the results.

If you have opened the original bag, transfer the beans into an airtight container or freezer bags before freezing. If the bag is still intact, leave it as is and chuck it into a freezer bag for additional protection.

Also, splitting the bag of coffee beans into portions that you use within about two weeks is a good idea. This way you only defrost as much as you need and always have fresh beans available.

For best results, thaw the beans at room temperature before using.

Coffee beans closeup
(credit: Estela Shaddix)

How Long Do Coffee Beans Last

Roasted coffee beans have a long shelf life. That’s because the beans are dry, so the risk of bacterial, yeast, or mold growth is minuscule. Unless, of course, you store the beans in a humid environment.

However, coffee beans tend to lose their flavor and aroma when kept in storage for far too long, even if you use an airtight container. That means that the sooner you use the roasted beans, the better the coffee.

The coffee beans’ peak of freshness will vary from beans to beans. For optimal freshness, most sources recommend storing the beans for up to a month in the pantry and 3 to 6 months in the freezer.

Of course, as I already mentioned, the mentioned dates are for peak quality only. If you’re (like me) not a coffee snob, you probably don’t notice a difference in taste between beans roasted a month ago, and ones roasted half a year ago. Or even a year ago for that matter.

Coffee beans in a white bag
(credit: Nadia Valko)

Every package of roasted beans should have a best-by date that indicates for how long the beans should remain at peak quality. The beans should be safe to use for months or even years after that date, provided you store them properly.

Similarly to ground coffee, you can store beans for pretty much how long you like. After a certain time, you might notice that the taste of brewed coffee is altered, but that’s about all that changes when storing beans for a long time.

 PantryFreezer
Coffee Beans1 month3 – 6 months

Please note that the dates above are for the best quality only. Coffee beans will last months and even years longer if you store them properly.

Coffee beans
Image used under Creative Commons from dano272

How to Tell If Coffee Beans Are Bad?

Coffee beans almost never spoil in a way they get rotten or grow mold.

If some water got into the package and you can see mold or any other visual changes, discard the contents of the container immediately. Same thing if there’s something wrong with the smell. Otherwise, the beans are most likely perfectly safe for preparing coffee.

With time, coffee beans’ aroma and flavor weaken. The longer you store the roasted beans, the worse those qualities become. At some point, you might brew yourself a cup of coffee with those old beans and find the coffee doesn’t taste quite right.

Maybe the smell isn’t as strong as it used to be, or it feels a little stale or tasteless. If you get to that point, you have a decision to make. You can either discard those beans for quality purposes or stick with them and brew subpar coffee. Honestly, both are valid choices.

The good news is that many people are like me and don’t notice the subtle changes in taste and aroma for quite a few months. If coffee brewed with old coffee beans tastes okay, keep using them.