It wouldn’t be wrong to say that caffeine is to us what engine oil is to a car (unless you own a Tesla, of course). If what you’re drinking isn’t waking you up, it ain’t coffee. If you really want to get through your day, study, work and socialize with friends, then caffeine is that booster rocket that will get you past the finish line.
So, it’s no surprise that coffee sales in the US have been increasing by 20% every year and that the caffeine market is now worth a massive $18 billion dollars in the US and over $100 billion worldwide.
To get some perspective, that’s 146 billion cups of coffee being consumed by Americans per year. Despite this heroic effort, the US is still 11th in the world when it comes to per-capita coffee consumption. So, that settles it. You love coffee - we love coffee - everybody loves coffee - but how much do you really know about coffee?
If you love coffee, then you probably know that the quality and freshness of the beans are of great importance, and much of that quality and freshness depends on the storage and expiry date of the coffee beans. That’s right. Coffee beans have an expiry date too. Now, that’s something to think about the next time you’re feeling a bit overzealous because your favorite coffee beans are on sale.
While you sip on that espresso and let that thought sink in, the truth is, all good beans must come to an end, and if you prefer to brew a delicious cup from scratch, then asking the all-important question – “how long do coffee beans last?” – is quite sensible.
So, how long does coffee stay good?
How long your coffee will last depends on its form, as well as where and how it is stored. Here, we are going to break down the types of coffee and storage options that are used and their impact on the freshness and taste of the coffee beans.
How Long Will Coffee Last?
It is important to note that coffee beans are a shelf-stable dry good if they are stored in the right conditions. But here's the bad news; coffee that’s past its expiration date deteriorates whether it's solid or ground.
For those folks who have their pantry filled with bags of their favorite coffee beans, this can be heartbreaking news. However, certain factors can accelerate the process, such as the form of the coffee, the roasting method, and its storage.
So, why does coffee expire, anyway? The answer is simple. Coffee is made up of multiple degradable compounds that tend to break apart over time.
For instance, some of the compounds that coffee is composed of include, lipids, amino acids, and carbohydrates, all of which break down both physically and chemically, degrading the coffee’s flavor in the process.
This is the reason why roasters normally come with an expiration date slapped at the side of the bag. And if you pay attention to these sorts of things, you’ll notice that the expiration date is normally around a year after the beans have been roasted. In other words, once the coffee beans are roasted, they are packaged and sealed in bags filled with nitrogen to preserve their freshness.
But you only have around a year to enjoy the flavor and quality that those coffee grounds have to offer. The compounds and molecules in the coffee tend to break down once you have opened up the bag. The amount of exposure to oxygen and moisture in the air determines the longevity of the coffee’s freshness. Heavy stuff!
Amongst the few preservation methods that have been talked about when it comes to coffee, there is also talk of freezing the coffee beans that you will find in some corners of the internet. When it comes to coffee beans, colder does not necessarily mean fresher (right, Walt!).
Besides, moisture can seep into the bag of coffee even in the freezer, which will leave you with a bland, boring cup of Joe in the morning that’s void of any vibrancy or any of the signature notes of the particular brand you’re using.
Breaking It Down
So, how long are coffee beans good for really? The time it takes for coffee to lose its intensity mainly depends on its form. As in, whether the coffee beans are in one piece or have been ground to powder.
However, how long are coffee grounds good for is a legit question for coffee enthusiasts to ask, whether you like to brew ready-made ground coffee or go the DIY route and grind the beans in a burr grinder. Coffee beans can last longer provided it has been stored properly.
Whole coffee beans that have been vacuum-sealed in a bag can last for up to 8 months in a pantry. That’s because the beans are still in solid form, which makes it easier for it to maintain the integrity of the molecular compounds within, which are responsible for the signature taste and flavor of coffee beans.
However, once the bag of whole coffee beans is opened, it should stay fresh for another 6 months. This too depends on the type of coffee beans that are stored.
As compared to whole coffee beans, coffee grounds tend to not stay fresh for as long. That’s mainly because the beans have been broken down and are more exposed to the oxygen and moisture in the air. Coffee grounds are also at a higher risk of soiling, which is why special care needs to be taken during the storage of coffee grounds.
One of the reasons why coffee grounds tend to lose their freshness faster as compared to whole coffee beans is mainly because since the coffee beans have been ground into tiny pieces, the oils in the coffee beans start to evaporate much quicker.
That being said, kept in the right conditions (more on that later), a bag of coffee grounds should last in your pantry for a little over five months past the official expiry date.
What About K-Cups?
If you’re wondering about K-cups, it is important to note that they are not considered the same as regular coffee grounds, mainly because they have been packaged individually using Keurig machines.
Additionally, K-cups are normally packaged in small amounts which makes them last longer as compared to regular coffee grounds. That being said, if you’re wondering about what to do with that opened K-cup, then it’s best to brew it now and enjoy it since even slightly opened K-cups tend to lose their flavor far quicker.
While generally frowned upon by hardcore coffee enthusiasts, instant coffee, while being a type of ground coffee, is the most robust when it comes to its shelf-life. Although, not as flavorful and heady as brewing coffee grounds, instant coffee can last on your shelf for up to 20 years, provided it has been stored in a cool, dry place.
You can also store that bottle of instant coffee in the refrigerator and its bland, uninteresting taste will still remain the same. While instant coffee is not even in the same league when it comes to comparing it with premium coffee beans and coffee grounds, it still remains the favorite of campers, hikers, and those going through the soul-crushing 9-to-5 grind.
Now that we’ve gone through every form of coffee imaginable (that hasn’t been brewed yet), it’s time to turn to the one that got away – of course, we’re talking about brewed coffee. When it comes to answering the question, “how long does coffee stay good?” there isn’t enough information available on the brewed variety. We shall right that wrong today.
It doesn’t really matter what type of coffee you’ve brewed; whether it's coffee grounds or instant coffee, once it is brewed, it’s only good for a few hours (around 5 hours, to be exact). After that time, the flavor of the brewed coffee begins to deteriorate, and while it is not considered dangerous to drink 5-hour old brewed coffee, it will be less satisfying as compared to a freshly brewed pot of your favorite java.
That’s because the added water results in the faster release of solubles in the coffee; the coffee is able to oxidize faster as compared to when the beans are in solid form, which is why it is advised to not keep brewed coffee for longer than 8 hours as by then it has lost most of its signature flavor.
While we’re on the topic, it is also recommended to never try to reheat a pot of coffee that’s been sitting for more than 6 hours. This is mainly because once the coffee has been brewed, it has already lost most of its flavor and oils that were first present in the beans. Re-heating the brewed coffee will only further extract any flavor that’s left in the coffee. If you don’t want to keep reheating coffee that’s been brewed, then it's best to invest in a good thermos that will ensure your coffee remains warm and fresh for a few hours more.
Don’t Forget Green Coffee Beans
Green coffee beans are coffee seeds (as in, beans) of Coffea fruits that have not been roasted yet. For those of you who want to shed a few pounds, green coffee is the latest weight management supplement (just ask Dr. Oz). This is because green coffee beans contain a compound called high levels of chlorogenic acid, which the beans lose during the roasting process.
The chlorogenic acid is considered by scientists and health specialists to have certain benefits, one of which is weight management. But enough of the science lesson, let’s get back to “how long is coffee good for?”
If you’re one of those folks who prefer to purchase their coffee beans while they’re still green (unroasted), good for you. There is a growing trend of roasting coffee beans at home, which is what the top specialty coffee blends are pushing these days, and from the looks of things - it’s catching on. In fact, according to stats, up to 80% of all coffee beans in the world are exported while they are still green and are roasted elsewhere. So, why not in the comfort of your own home?
Since there’s a growing trend of purchasing green coffee beans and then roasting them yourself, the question arises, how long is ground coffee good for? Buying green coffee beans is also the smart choice if you have already found coffee beans that you love and want to buy a whole sack full and roast them yourself.
But the main selling point of buying coffee beans while they are still green is because pound for pound, it is far cheaper to roast the coffee beans at home, as compared to purchasing the already roasted variety.
But, that still doesn’t solve the problem of “how long does ground coffee stay fresh?” And more importantly, if the answer is, “not long” then is it really a good idea to invest in those 132. lbs packs of unroasted green coffee beans?
To find out the answers to all of these questions, we must first find out how long green coffee beans are able to last. If the green coffee beans are still in the vacuum-packed bag, then there’s no need to worry because it will last for years. Just make sure it has been stored at room temperature. If the bag of green coffee beans has been frozen, its shelf life graduates to near infinite.
However, once the bag has been opened and the beans come in contact with the elements, the quality of the beans will start to degrade. That being said, the shelf life of an opened bag of green coffee beans is still two years which is pretty decent, all you have to make sure is that it’s stored properly in a cool, dry place and not exposed to sunlight. It should also be noted that an opened bag of coffee beans, whether roasted or green will still be vulnerable to mold, which would mean the coffee beans would have to be tossed.
What Contributes to Coffee Bean Degradation?
So, we’ve gone through quite a few different scenarios of “what if” to answer the question, “How long does coffee last?” While there are no hard and fast rules on how you can make your favorite coffee beans last longer, there are certain factors that contribute to the potency and flavor of the coffee beans quickly deteriorating.
Exposure to Light
Coffee beans, in any form, are friends with darkness and cold temperatures. So it makes sense to keep your bag of coffee beans or coffee grounds away from direct sunlight and stored away in a cool, dry corner of your kitchen cabinet.
This also means no storing in a glass jar, which may be great to look at but can do a number on your coffee beans if they are exposed to light. For those of you who do not know, coffee grounds tend to go stale when stored in glass jars and kept indirect light.
Oxygen and Moisture
When it comes to coffee beans, oxygen and moisture damage go hand in hand. Both exposure to moisture in humid conditions and oxygen, if the bag of coffee beans has been left open, can make the coffee beans go bad quicker. In fact, it will only take a few days for your new bag of coffee beans to go bad if left exposed to oxygen or moisture.
It is advised to store your coffee beans at room temperature to help them maintain their delicious flavor and freshness. The only time excessive heat is good for your coffee beans or coffee grounds is if it’s being brewed, or else the beans are going to lose their flavor quickly.
How Long Does Ground Coffee Last When Stored Properly?
Now that we have gone through the different forms of coffee and what can go wrong when it comes to storage options, it’s time to touch upon the different storage options to make sure you get to enjoy a potent cup of joe every time. The following are some of the best ways to store your coffee:
Purchase an Appropriate Amount
It’s easier to purchase anything online these days, and with the dangers of a global pandemic looming, that’s incentive enough to stay safe and head to an online retailer to purchase stuff – and that includes coffee.
While it can be tempting to purchase more coffee than you need while purchasing online (it’s not like you have to carry the bags yourself!), is it really a good idea to purchase more coffee beans than you will need? Well, for coffee enthusiasts, and especially those who prefer the specialty variety, the answer would probably be an astounding yes. But wait a minute. Let’s think about this.
We’ve already mentioned that coffee generally comes with an expiry date. This means, purchasing more than a few weeks’ worths of coffee at a time is only going to mean having to put down bland, boring coffee every morning since the freshness of an opened bag of coffee beans doesn’t last more than a few weeks.
To make sure your coffee beans are always fresh, don’t buy more than a month’s ration of coffee beans or coffee grounds, or better still, sign up for a subscription service such as a bag of Nicaraguan Arabian coffee by Lifeboost Coffee.
Make Sure to Seal the Bag (Keep the Bag or Jar Cover Closed)
It doesn’t really matter how long coffee lasts while still in the bag, but once it has been opened, the biological timer of the beans' deterioration starts. While there’s no solution to stop the degrading of the quality of the coffee beans once the bag has been opened, you can certainly make sure the beans stay fresher for longer by simply making sure the contents of the open bag have been put in a jar and the lid closed properly.
If you are going to keep the coffee beans or coffee grounds in the bag, then it's best to tie it up securely to make sure the beans do not come in contact with oxygen or moisture in the air.
Store in a Cool Dry Place
Regardless of whether you are storing your coffee beans or coffee grounds in a bag or a jar, it is advised to keep it in a cool, dry place away from any light source. For instance, it is best to store your coffee beans in the kitchen cabinet instead of keeping the bag or jar of coffee beans on the countertop.
So, there you have it. If you want to find out more about coffee, grinding, roasting, brewing, or storage, just explore our Lifeboost Coffee blog.
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This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Dr. Charles Livingston nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content.
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