Say you’ve got a bag of coffee beans that are about a week old, maybe a little longer.
You’re wondering if it’s still good to drink.
Or, really, how long do coffee beans last before they go stale and start tasting like coffee from a gas station?
Does it matter if the coffee is already ground?
In this article, I’ll answer all those questions and offer some advice on how to keep those precious beans fresh.
Let’s dive in!
How to tell if coffee beans went bad
The truth is, unground coffee beans don’t go bad in the way that, say, fresh fruit goes bad. Coffee beans won’t get moldy, taste sour, or generally spoil.
However, beans do change as they age -they taste the best right after roasting.
After beans go through the roasting process, they get exposed to oxygen, light, and moisture, and the taste of their brew starts to change.
The best way to test if your beans are aging is to simply brew a cup.
The older the coffee bean gets, the less rounded the flavor. If your cup of brewed coffee tastes a little flat, bitter, or generally not as good as it did when you first opened them, the beans are probably old.
That’s not to say, however, that the coffee is bad to drink, just that it might taste a little less glorious.
Eventually, like most things in your kitchen, coffee beans will go moldy. That usually only happens after a year or often longer.
How long do green coffee beans last?
There’s some debate about how long green coffee beans last. Some people say green coffee beans can store for two years or more if stored in burlap sacks in cool, dry storage.
Others claim that one year is the standard for green coffee beans. Six months for the roaster to get them to the customer, and another six months for the customer to use them.
The truth is, green beans last long enough to get roasted and to your cup. Any roaster worth their title won’t sell you old beans.
If you’re a hobbyist or home coffee roaster, chances are you know about this all already.
If you’re not, know that the beans you buy from your local shop are as fresh as possible. You have plenty of time to go through them.
Most bags of coffee from a local shop will have roast dates on them. While getting fresh coffee is important, any roast date within a couple of weeks will taste fine.
How long do roasted coffee beans last?
Most newer coffee shops seal their coffee bags with nitrogen, which helps prevent oxidation (when coffee beans get exposed to oxygen and start to lose their flavor).
An unopened, nitrogen-sealed bag can stay fresh for up to a year after its roast date.
Nitrogen flushing is when roasters fill their coffee bags with beans, then fill the space with nitrogen (food safe and a common way to preserve freshness) to get rid of any oxygen.
Because there isn’t any oxygen in the bag, oxidation doesn’t start until you open the bag, giving you some time before your beans start to lose their flavor.
Once you open the bag, though, the flavor of those beans will start to fade.
A good rule of thumb is about three weeks from opening a bag of coffee to when noticeable changes start to happen. You can extend this a few weeks by storing your beans properly (more on that later).
(Personally, I go through one bag a month, but towards the end, I start craving that fresh taste again.)
It’s always better to get a fresh bag every couple of weeks than to buy in bulk for a long time.
Related Reading: Different Coffee Slang Terms You Should Know
How long does ground coffee last?
First of all, if you want the best tasting coffee for your beans, invest in a burr grinder. Burr grinders use two cones that crush your beans instead of blade grinders that chop them.
Burr grinders give you the most consistent grind, resulting in the best-tasting brew.
Check out this YouTube video for getting started with coffee grinders.
Fresh ground coffee always tastes better than pre-ground.
Once you grind coffee, it starts to oxidize faster than whole beans.
There is a lot more surface area in ground coffee, exposing more of your coffee to light, heat, and moisture. This means that ground coffee loses its flavor much faster than whole bean coffee.
Ground coffee typically tastes fine for about one week. If you can, avoid buying pre-ground coffee and opt for whole bean.
Grocery stores sometimes have grinders in the coffee aisles. If you don’t have a grinder or don’t want to buy one (yet), that’s a good option for getting ground coffee that will stay fresh for about one week.
Will freezing coffee beans make them last longer?
As with any food stuck in the freezer, coffee will keep its flavor for much longer. Freezing coffee preserves the flavors and drastically slows down the aging process.
Many people have warned against freezing coffee in the past for fear of ruining the coffee. This just isn’t the case.
Freezers are nearly air-tight, dry, and (obviously) not warm. The factors that decrease a coffee’s flavor at room temperature don’t happen as fast in a freezer.
Frozen coffee, if stored well, can last for a year or longer.
Having said that, it is important to freeze your coffee in the right way.
Finding an air-tight container works best. If you have vacuum-sealed bags, your coffee will last even longer.
Air-tight containers work well as long as you make sure to pack in the beans and make sure there isn’t much air left over.
If you want to freeze coffee from your local shop, check to see if they seal their bags with nitrogen. If they do, you can pop those unopened bags in the freezer and open them when needed!
Freezing coffee is one way to get around the rule of never buying in bulk.
If you find a great coffee from your local shop, grab a few bags, stick them in a good container, and enjoy for the rest of the year!
Keep in mind: Freezing coffee only works if you have an airtight container or nitrogen-sealed bag. Without a good container, your coffee will start to take on flavors from other food in your freezer!
How do you store coffee to maximize shelf life?
Like in freezing coffee, finding an airtight container to store your coffee in will best preserve the flavors.
In an airtight container, coffee will last for a couple of months, sometimes up to nine months. Know that the flavor will still degrade over that time, but not as fast.
Try to keep your container in a dry place at or even below room temperature. It’s best not to put your container on a counter or table that gets direct sunlight.
According to the National Coffee Association, don’t use clear containers for storage.
Light and heat take away from your coffee’s flavor, so find a container that isn’t clear, and store it in a cool, dry place.
Related Reading: The Best Coffee Container: Top 6 Reviewed
Quick disclaimer: different beans, blends, and roasts age differently. It’s always best to ask your barista how long their coffee beans will stay fresh!
Let’s recap the best practices for keeping beans fresh:
- Whole bean coffee keeps for longer than ground coffee
- Green coffee can last for years if stored properly
- Ground coffee only lasts about a week
- Only freeze coffee in an airtight, vacuum-sealed, or nitrogen flushed container
- Properly freezing coffee can add a year to your coffee’s freshness
- Investing in an airtight container will extend your coffee’s freshness by a couple of weeks
- Avoid heat, moisture, and air when storing your coffee
Say you just got a bag of beans from your local roaster.
You can transfer the beans to an airtight, non-clear container, put them in a cool, dry place. Then enjoy for the next month!
Or, if you accidentally bought too much coffee (we’ve all been there!) you can keep it in its nitrogen-flushed bag and stick it straight in the freezer and enjoy it up to a year later!
But you probably want to enjoy a cup or two every morning. In that case, don’t forget to buy just enough coffee for three weeks instead of buying in bulk.
Finally, if you don’t have a high-quality grinder, that’s the easiest way to maintain freshness.
We’ve gone over a lot in this article.
Buy enough whole beans for about one month at a time.
Store them in a cool, dry place in a non-clear container.
If you can help it, never buy pre-ground coffee.
If you need to, freeze your beans! (Just remember to freeze them properly!)
Go forth and drink coffee armed with this knowledge of how long beans last and how to store them!