If you consider yourself something of a coffee lover or connoisseur and just cannot resist stocking up on new flavors and brands to try, then by now you have probably created a good-sized coffee selection at your house. You may be wondering, though, how long all of these delicious beans and grounds will last until they begin to lose the freshness and flavor you are looking for in your coffee cup – surely it cannot last forever (though it would certainly be nice!)
So, how long is coffee good for? Keep reading to learn more about the shelf life, storage methods, and expiration dates of your coffee.
Does Coffee Expire?
For the most part, yes. Regular coffee does not last forever due to the degradable compounds and molecules that make up its substance, such as amino acids, lipids, and carbs. Once these begin to break down, there will be a noticeable change in the flavor and quality of your cup of coffee.
Fortunately, the shelf life of your coffee can be increased or decreased depending on how it is stored in your home. You can increase the shelf life of your coffee by quite a bit if you store it properly. How long it will last ultimately depends on what form the coffee is in – ground, whole bean, or instant. Let us look at these in more detail.
Unopened and Sealed:
- Pantry: 3-5 months past expiration date
- Freezer: 1-2 years past expiration date
- Pantry: 3-5 months
- Freezer: 3-5 months
Since pre-ground coffee has already been broken down, the oils in it begin to evaporate faster than they would if they were in their whole bean form. Ground coffee is generally more vulnerable to the elements, so unless it is stored unopened in the freezer, it will only be at its freshest and most flavorful for about 3-5 months.
Unopened and Sealed:
- Pantry: 6-9 months past expiration date
- Freezer: 2-3 years past expiration date
- Pantry: 6 months
- Freezer: 2 years
If your coffee is still in the whole roasted coffee bean form, it will generally last longer than ground coffee. Since fresh coffee beans have not yet been broken down at all, they have an easier time maintaining those degradable compounds and are therefore not as vulnerable to the elements as ground coffee. You can generally expect your whole bean coffee to last about 6 months in the pantry and 2 years in the freezer, regardless of whether it has been opened.
Unopened and Sealed OR Opened:
- Pantry: 2-20 years
- Freezer: 2-20 years
Instant coffee has a huge shelf life compared to the regular stuff – if stored properly it can last up to 20 years! How does it manage to last so long? There is an aluminum layer that a lot of instant coffee packets have that keeps heat, moisture, and mold from getting to the coffee. This helps it maintain its freshness and quality.
Some people may tell you that instant coffee does not contain as much caffeine or flavor as regular coffee, but if you like something quick and convenient and want the most bang for your buck in terms of shelf life, then consider tossing some instant coffee into your freezer or pantry.
A Note About Freezing Coffee
As you can see, coffee generally lasts a bit longer if you store it in the freezer. This storage option, however, may sap all the flavor from your ground coffee or beans. Moisture can still get into your coffee if it is in the freezer, so while it may still technically be drinkable after being in the freezer for a while, it may lack the aroma and taste you would expect from your favorite cup of joe. You have been warned!
How Long Does Brewed Coffee Last?
Compared to beans and ground coffee, not very long at all! After the coffee has been brewed, it will usually only maintain its quality and flavor for about 4-6 hours. This is at least partly because coffee oxidizes more quickly when it is in a liquid state compared to its solid form.
If you really want to try and hold onto an especially good batch of brewed coffee, you can pour it into some ice cube trays and store it in your freezer. You can then use this for a cold brew, iced coffee, smoothies, or maybe even some cold alcoholic beverages.
You do not want to reheat these frozen cubes for a hot cup of coffee, though, as reheating coffee can break down the oils and flavors in the coffee even further. A reheated cup of coffee can taste quite different from a fresh coffee, and not in a good way!
What Can I Do to Maximize the Shelf Life of Coffee?
The best thing that you can do is to buy whole bean coffee and grind it up as needed. Then, transfer the remainder of your opened bag into an opaque, airtight container and store it in a dry place. You want to minimize your coffee’s exposure to light, air, and moisture, as these elements can alter the compounds in the coffee, making it less fresh and flavorful.
If you are looking to extend the life of your brewed coffee, or feel wasteful pouring the extra down the drain, your best bet would be to transfer any leftover coffee to a thermos as soon as possible. This will only keep it fresh for a few extra hours, but that means it will be there when you are ready for your next cup of the day!
What Can I Do with Coffee That is About to Go Bad?
If you have coffee that is nearing the end of its life and you do not want to drink it, here are some ideas that you can try:
- Add coffee to dessert recipes. Try a mocha milkshake or cake!
- Make a body scrub. Stale coffee grounds can act as a natural exfoliant.
- Use coffee in your compost or as fertilizer. Coffee ground can add important and useful nutrients like nitrogen to your soil and compost.