Does Coffee Go Bad? Here’s What You Need To Know

man looking down at his coffee mug making a grimace

In a nutshell, yes – coffee definitely can go bad.

But, just how long does it take for this to happen?

What can you do to keep your coffee fresh for longer?

And, how exactly does coffee go bad anyway? 

In this article, you’ll find out everything there is to know about the shelf life of coffee. 

From how long it’ll keep for, to what makes it go bad, how to store it properly, and how to tell whether or not it’s still good.

Let’s dive straight in!

How Long Does Coffee Last?

ground coffee and whole coffee beans

Well, it depends a lot on which form it’s in. 

You’ve got:

  • Whole coffee beans
  • Ground coffee
  • Brewed coffee

See, whole coffee beans can stay fresh for a lot longer than ground coffee. Whole beans will be good for up to a month, while ground beans won’t keep for much longer than 2 weeks. 

And, I mean, in any case – it doesn’t get any fresher than freshly ground coffee beans. 

That’s why investing in a coffee bean grinder and grinding your beans up on the spot daily is definitely the best way to go. That is, if you want the freshest coffee you can get your hands on. 

Once your beans pass their use by date, you could still use them to brew coffee, if you really wanted to. And hey – it won’t do you any harm to drink it, either. But don’t expect it to taste anywhere near as good as it did when it was fresh.

When it comes to brewed coffee, it’s best to drink it within an hour and a half. 

That being said, it can keep for around 12 hours at room temperature. If it’s still sitting around after 12 hours, it’s definitely time to give up and ditch it. 

That’s if it’s black coffee – milk will make it go bad much faster. Like all dairy, coffee with milk in it should never be consumed if it’s been sitting out for more than 2 hours.

If you pop it in the fridge, however, it can stay fresh for around 3-4 days. Leftover coffee iced coffee, anyone?

The one exception is cold brew coffee. Cold brew coffee concentrate stays perfectly fresh for a whole week in the fridge. And it stays good for another week after that, but it’s better if you drink it within the first week.

Keep in mind that once you dilute your cold brew concentrate, it can only keep in the fridge for a couple more days – no more than 3. That’s why it’s best to only dilute enough for a day or two at a time, so you don’t end up having to pour any precious cold brew goodness down the drain.

What Makes Coffee Go Bad?

coffee beans in the air

Coffee goes bad when it’s exposed to the following things:

  • Oxygen
  • Light
  • Heat
  • Moisture

Let’s take it from the top, starting with oxygen.

When coffee comes into contact with oxygen it, well, oxidizes. (Unbelievable, I know.) 

What does that mean, though?

It means the coffee becomes stale a whole lot quicker. I’m talking about whole stale coffee beans within no more than a couple of days. And as I’m sure you’ll agree, there’s nothing worse than a stale cup of joe. 

Another thing that’ll make your coffee go stale in no time is direct sunlight. Or any light, for that matter. Keeping your coffee in a dark place, away from any light is essential.

You also want to steer clear of excessive heat, and try to keep your coffee somewhere nice and cool. If you store coffee beans somewhere hot, they’ll begin to lose their flavor pretty quickly. 

And, finally – this should go without saying, but you definitely want to make sure your coffee stays dry. If any moisture gets to it, it’ll actually begin to rot. 

That’s obviously the last thing you want, so remember to always keep this in mind.  

How To Store Coffee (The Right Way)

Like I said, exposure to oxygen, moisture, heat, and light makes coffee go bad faster. So, it only makes sense to store your coffee in a way that minimizes that exposure as much as possible.

But what’s the best way to do this?

Opaque airtight containers! 

Any container that’s airtight and doesn’t let light through will do. That being said, vacuum sealed coffee containers are definitely my favorite. They’re specially designed to keep your coffee fresher for longer, so they do an awesome job at preserving all those lovely flavors and aromas.

Once you’ve sealed your coffee away in your coffee container of choice, store it in a cool, dark, and dry cupboard. 

Why a cupboard, you might be wondering?

Simple – it’s generally one of the coolest spots in your kitchen. Definitely quite a bit cooler than your countertop or kitchen table, for instance.

And that’s all there is to keeping your coffee fresh for as long as possible. 

Easy peasy!  

FAQ

If you’ve still got some unanswered questions, you might find your answers in this section.

Here are a few coffee freshness questions that popped up quite a lot, explained.

How can you tell if coffee has gone bad?

woman holding coffee jar and spoon with ground coffee

Freshly roasted coffee beans appear glossy. They also have a strong and intense aroma, and often leave an oily residue on your fingers when you touch them.

That being said, if you want to really be sure, there’s a neat little test you can do to get a definite verdict. 

All you need is a Ziploc bag and a little bit of patience.

Here’s how you do it:

  1. Throw a fistfull of whole coffee beans into a Ziploc bag
  2. Squeeze all the air out and seal it
  3. Leave it out overnight
  4. If the bag inflates during the night, that means your beans are still fresh

As for brewed coffee, it’ll start to grow mold when it goes bad. But like I said earlier, I wouldn’t recommend drinking coffee if it’s been sitting out for more than 12 hours, even if it looks OK.

Is it safe to drink expired coffee?

When coffee beans expire, they become stale, and they don’t taste very good, to put it mildly. But they don’t actually rot, so they won’t make you sick if you happen to consume them.

Unless they’ve come into contact with moisture and gone moldy, you can still brew coffee using stale, old beans. Drinking it is perfectly safe, but not much fun. 

Unsurprisingly, it tastes exactly how it sounds – like coffee brewed from stale, old coffee beans.

Is freezing coffee beans a good way to make them last longer?

frozen coffee beans

Technically yes, but I strongly urge you to give it a hard miss.

Why, though? 

I mean, the freezer is literally a cold, dark, airtight box. 

Sounds perfect, right?

Almost, if it weren’t for the fact that it’s also full of all kinds of odors.

See, coffee beans are porous and they easily absorb smells from things around them. So if you keep your coffee in the freezer, your beans will absorb all kinds of odors. That means you’ll end up with a bunch of weird, unwanted flavors in your brew.

If you keep your coffee in the freezer in an airtight container, you can avoid this issue. But even a tiny bit of air (which a lot of “airtight” containers let through) can leave you with coffee beans that taste and smell like your frozen leftover dinner.

But even if you keep them in a perfectly airtight container, you’ll still need to be extra careful when you take it out and open it up. Condensation can form pretty quickly, and if that happens it’s all over for your beans.

All in all, it’s far more trouble than it’s worth. You’re way better off buying smaller amounts of coffee at a time, and using it up while it’s still fresh.

The Bottom Line

Does coffee go bad?

Well, yes – but it won’t make you sick. It just won’t taste great, which makes sense.

Unless it’s come into contact with moisture, causing it to rot. In that case, you definitely wouldn’t want to be consuming it. 

But you didn’t need me to tell you that.