Does Coffee Go Bad? The Answer Is Complicated

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Let’s say you stockpiled more coffee beans than you could possible consume in a month. No big deal, you’ll just set them aside for later. Except…does coffee go bad? Can you save those beans for a later date? Here’s the tea—er, coffee.

First things first: Does coffee go bad? Is it safe to drink expired coffee?

We have good news and bad news. The good news: No, coffee doesn’t really “go bad” in the way that bread grows mold or a banana slowly rots on your countertop. And drinking coffee made from old beans won’t make you sick, even if the expiration date has passed. (We can’t vouch for the taste, though.)

One small caveat: Dry coffee grounds and whole coffee beans won’t go bad or rot, but once you get those grounds wet, you can’t reuse them, and a pot of brewed coffee can go bad (read: grow mold) if you let it sit around long enough. The natural oils in coffee will go rancid over time, and no one wants rancid coffee…or week-old coffee, for that matter.

So, what’s the bad news? Coffee will lose quality over time. That’s because oxygen is the enemy of freshly roasted coffee beans (and grounds). Over time, exposure to air will cause your coffee to break down, losing flavor and intensity. Even though those beans won’t technically go bad, they’re still best consumed within three to four weeks of purchasing. And for ground coffee, aim to drink up within two weeks.

OK, so how can you prevent coffee from “going bad”?

Maintaining the freshness of coffee beans all comes down to storage. For starters, whole beans will last longer than pre-ground coffee, so grind the beans each time you brew if possible. And since oxygen is public enemy number one, you’ll want to store the coffee in an airtight container. If you want to keep it in its original bag, that’s fine, as long as you remember to compress all the air out of the bag and seal it tight. An airtight contain with a vacuum pump (like the OXO Pop containers) is our vessel of choice. Keep it away from heat and sunlight, too.

You might’ve heard that you should store coffee beans and grounds in the refrigerator or freezer to keep them tasty for longer. That’s actually *not* true, at least when it comes to the fridge. You see, coffee beans are absorbent. Store them in the fridge and any pungent odors (onions, garlic, last night’s leftovers) will get soaked right up. Not to mention the refrigerator will suck the moisture out of those beans, causing them to go stale even faster.

The freezer is preferable to the fridge for extended storage, but only if you do it correctly. Put the coffee in its original bag inside of a Ziploc bag, then compress the air out of it and put it in the freezer, where it can be stowed for a few months without fear of losing quality. When you’re ready to use the coffee, take it out of the freezer and allow it to thaw completely before brewing. Sounds easy, right? Just know that you can’t stick the coffee back in the freezer once its thawed, since the drastic changes in temperature can degrade the beans.

How should you store brewed coffee to keep it fresh?

If your morning plans include slowly working your way through and entire pot of java, the best way to keep it tasting delish is to brew it directly into a thermal carafe, which preserves the flavor and temperature. Don’t leave a fresh pot on the burner, unless you like the taste of burnt coffee. Brewed coffee can be stored in the fridge for three or four days—hello, iced coffee.

As for cold brew, it’ll keep for about a week in the fridge if stored in a lidded container. Happy drinking, y’all.

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