Does Coffee Go Bad?

If you ever wondered, “does coffee go bad?”, you definitely aren’t alone. If you type that question into a search engine, you will get thousands of hits on this very topic. That’s a pretty sure sign you’re not the only one wondering.

And the answer depends on your definition of “bad” for coffee. Because for some, it might mean the drink being spoiled and maybe even making you sick. For others, it means a bad tasting one. And when it comes to lousy tasting coffee, that’s a pretty subjective term too.

A cup of coffee on a table

For some coffee aficionados, as long as the taste resembles coffee and the drink has some caffeine, they consider it perfectly okay. Others accept only freshly roasted beans, ground right before brewing with a $300+ coffee grinder.

And there are those in the middle, like me, who like the coffee to taste good, but don’t need it coffee-brewing-championships-good. That means we have to cover a lot of options and possibilities to give you the answer you’re looking for.

In this article, we go through storage, shelf life, and going bad (in both senses of the term) of coffee. To give you the best answer I can, I’ll try to cover as many varieties and possibilities as I can.

Real Bialetti Moka Coffee
Image used under Creative Commons from Michele M. F.

How To Store Coffee

You can store coffee in a lot of different forms.

If you’re more of a purist, or don’t mind taking a bit longer to brew a cup of java, you probably buy roasted coffee beans. Beans often come in a plastic bag, but once you open that bag, it’s best to transfer them to an airtight and opaque container.

Coffee beans should sit in a cool, dark, and dry place away from sources of heat. As usual, the container should be closed at all times.

When it comes to where exactly should the beans sit, there are two options. A dark cabinet in the kitchen is the standard option, so the beans are on hand whenever you need them. If you really value how freshly roasted beans taste, you can transfer them to the freezer. This way they will retain their flavor for longer.

Coffee beans on brown burlap

Now let’s talk a bit about ground coffee. You can either grind it yourself with a coffee grinder or buy it ground. The same storage guidelines apply to instant coffee too.

Like with ground spices or tea, we do our best to protect the grounds from moisture and air. That means, again, an airtight container that’s always closed.

Sometimes ground coffee comes in a vacuum-sealed container, and that’s the perfect way of storing it. Until you open that container, of course. That’s when the coffee should go to the mentioned airtight container for best results.

Where should you store the ground coffee, you ask? Just like with beans, a cabinet in the kitchen is a-okay, and the freezer is better for long-term storage.

Two cups of coffee
Image used under Creative Commons from Maria Keays

You can also buy K-cups if you’re using one of Keurig’s coffee makers. The pods are shelf-stable and don’t require much in terms of storage. That means a cabinet in the kitchen is definitely good enough.

Just make sure it’s not the one above the stove, and that sunlight doesn’t reach the pods. Either can cause the temperature of the k-cups to fluctuate, and that might result in a worse-tasting coffee.

How Long Does Coffee Last

When it comes to the shelf life of coffee, the topic is super subjective.

Again, it all depends on your personal preferences, and not much more. For one, coffee beans that sit in the pantry for half a year are perfectly fine, while others consider them old and tasteless. So it’s a pretty complex issue to navigate.

Let’s start once again with coffee beans. For best quality, you should use the beans within a month of roasting if stored in the pantry, and about half a year if frozen. But if you’re more like me, you will find beans that sit at room temperature for a couple of months okay too.

When it comes to ground coffee, if it’s a vacuum-sealed package, the grounds retain excellent flavor up to the date on the label and then some. Once you open the bag, or you grind the beans yourself, it’s best to use the ground coffee within about 2 weeks to a month.

That’s, of course, for the best quality. If you’re a rather average coffee drinker, that period lengthens significantly. So even if you opened the package half a year earlier, the coffee should still taste okay-ish.

Two cups of coffee from a coffee machine

Instant coffee is next in line. As long as the package is unopened, it should retain flavor until the best-by date on the label, and then some. Once you open the package, the coffee you make with it should turn out okay for about a year.

Last but not least, the K-cups. They come with a best-by date, and it’s safe to assume that they should retain quality for a bit past that date. At least a few weeks, or maybe even more. And they will probably be safe to use for a whole lot longer if you store them properly.

Roasted coffee beans1 month3 – 6 months
Ground coffee (vacuum-sealed)Best-by + 3 – 6 months 
Ground coffee (opened)2 weeks1 month
Instant coffee (unopened)Best-by + 3 – 6 months 
Instant coffee (opened)1 year 
K-cupsBest-by + 3 months 

Please note that the periods above are estimates and for the best quality.

Coffee beans out of a mug

Brewed Coffee

When it comes to brewed coffee, the connoisseurs will surely tell you that you either drink it how after brewing or toss it out. But many regular coffee drinkers reheat cold coffee in the microwave or on the stove and are okay about how it turns out.

The taste probably won’t be as good, that’s for sure, but if you’re only looking for that caffeine kick, a reheated coffee should do.

Of course, you can take it to the extreme, and put the coffee (covered!) to the fridge and reheat it the next day. But I’m not really sure if that’s something worth doing.

Brewing coffee using a coffee filter

How To Tell If Coffee Is Bad

Let’s start with going bad of the beans. If the beans smell rancid, or there are any discolorations or signs of mold, discard the beans. The latter is most likely caused by water getting to the container. If the beans seem to be perfectly fine, grind them and brew yourself some coffee.

When it comes to ground or instant coffee, similar rules apply. If there is water in the container, the grounds are wet, or there are any signs of mold, throw out the powder. If the coffee looks and smells just fine, feel free to brew yourself a cup.

Once you’ve made yourself a steaming cup o joe, it’s rather easy to find out if it’s any good. Just drink a sip or two and consider the flavor. Given that it tastes as it should, the coffee you use is a-okay.

If you find it somewhat bland but still drinkable, you can add more coffee next time around to account for the flavor loss. If you brewed the cup your usual way and it’s no good, the coffee is probably stale, and the best thing you can do is to discard it.

3 thoughts on “Does Coffee Go Bad?”

  1. I am not a coffee snob, so I don’t really notice difference in taste too much. I can tell a really bad cup of coffee from a mediocre cup of coffee, but I don’t think I can discern freshness in mediocre coffee unless it is burnt.

    I often brew Pete’s coffee in a large french press and pour the remainder into a jug that sits in the fridge for when I want iced coffee. I have had this jug of coffee in my fridge for almost 2 weeks, and I cannot tell any difference from when I first put it in the fridge.

    I don’t see any mold. It isn’t making me sick. It tastes fine. Maybe I’ll keep it in the fridge until it makes me sick and then I’ll let you guys know what the iced coffee shelf life is.

  2. Poter’s House coffee, 11-22-14 i bought for my birthday as treat. Sumatra organic. Brewed my first cup on the 21st day after purchase I noticed immediately it was sour. I did not think much of it until I got sick to my stomach. It is the 24 and I still dont feel well. I don’t know if it is a stomach bug or the coffee. What a mess never agiain will I switch brands.

  3. Wow!

    Just read Bil’s post – thank you – I had the same experience but with a new 2lb tin of Ralphs French Roast coffee.

    The first time I brewed it – I got very sick to my stomach like I had eaten bad food – headache, sick to my stomache and slept 12 hours.

    Then this morning brewed a pot for friends who all complained about the taste – thought it might be the creamer – so through that away – then brewed another pot – and it was definately the coffee.

    On the bottom of the can it had a series of numbers: 02 13 then under that March 25

    So not sure if 02 13 means feb 2013 – or how they configure their code – but I bout the coffee end of May 2015 a

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