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Stale Coffee & the Art of Drinking an 8AM Brew at 4PM

Stale Coffee & the Art of Drinking an 8AM Brew at 4PM

Clark Clark
8 minute read

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The beans have been ground, the brewing method selected, and now we patiently wait because nothing compares to the aroma and flavor of a fresh cup of coffee. But what about that same cup of joe several hours later? Is it okay to drink?

Does coffee go bad? Coffeedoesn’t really go bad, per se. You can drink your morning cup in the afternoon (as long as it’s black coffee — dairy complicates things). Coffee can be used beyond the expiration date; however, you run the risk of a not-so-great cup of coffee. For many coffee lovers, that’s just not an option. 

To ensure the freshest, most flavorful coffee, remember to:

  1. Purchase quality coffee
  2. Go for whole beans — they’ll retain freshness longer than pre-ground coffee
  3. Brew coffee as close to the roasting date as possible
  4. Look for packaging with a degassing valve, which allows carbon dioxide to release
  5. Grind according to your brew method
  6. Grind just enough coffee for one brew
  7. Brew coffee just after it’s been ground
  8. Enjoy coffee right after brewing

What makes coffee go bad?

Old coffee tastes and smells either weak or rancid. To be clear, food or beverages are considered rancid if the smell or taste ranges from a little off to awful. 

Oxidation is the primary culprit. When exposed to air, food and beverages begin to degrade. Antioxidants combat oxidation and are often added to food to preserve it. One of the primary benefits of coffee is its high antioxidant content. Perhaps these aid in prolonging coffee’s lifespan.

As we all know, coffee is rather acidic. Once the acid in coffee begins to break down, it loses its freshness. 

Can you reheat coffee? Reheating is generally safe for black coffee without additives. Microwaving the morning’s coffee for an afternoon pick-me-up probably won’t revive lost aromas and flavors. Reheating might not kill any bacteria that may have formed in your cup, so use your best judgment to avoid an upset stomach.

How can you tell if coffee has gone bad? Coffee has gone bad if it’s discolored, smells foul, or has developed mold. 

Beware of coffee mold. Typically, it’s unlikely to see white or green fuzz growing on coffee beans or in ground coffee. You’re more likely to see a film develop on the surface of brewed coffee or soggy grounds left in the coffee maker for a day or two.

The Shelf Life of Coffee

Coffee is unlike many foods and beverages in the grocery store because it has a relatively long shelf life. This is due mainly to coffee being a dry good. Though technically, coffee expires, you can consume it months or even years after the expiration date. Likely, only your taste buds will notice a difference.

According to the USDA, “most shelf-stable foods are safe indefinitely.” They also note that the “best by” date refers more to quality than safety.

Is it OK to drink expired coffee? Yes, drinking coffee once the expiration date has passed is fine. You can even consume coffee months after it’s expired; however, expect lower quality than a fresh bag.

Coffee Beans

Coffee beans have a long lifespan. An unopened bag can last until the best by date, perhaps longer, and retain some freshness. Once you open the package and expose the beans to air, they’ll last about 1-3 weeks. 

You can use coffee beans after the 3-week mark, but the scent and taste will deteriorate over time resulting in stale coffee beans. Because coffee beans are a dry good, they likely won’t become unsafe to use.

Ground Coffee

Grinding coffee creates more surface area which equals more robust flavor. This also equates to more opportunity for oxidation. Ground coffee will likely lose its freshness before whole beans.

Can coffee grounds be reused? Used coffee grounds cannot be reused. Moisture causes clumping and reduced flavor, so it wouldn’t taste very good if you tried. It also doesn’t take very long for mold and bacteria to move in on wet coffee grounds if you’re not careful.

Coffee Pods

One of the selling points of coffee pods is the purported freshness of every cup. If your mornings are packed, and you don’t want to deal with a grinder every time, pods are a decent alternative. And they can last up to 8 months beyond their expiration date.

Instant Coffee

Because instant coffee is a bit more processed than other types, it lasts the longest. Some believe it can last up to 20 years when stored properly. 

How long is coffee good for after opening the can? Believe it or not, instant coffee can last for years, even after the container is opened.

Cold Brew

Cold brew coffee can last up to 10 days. If you add water to the cold brew concentrate, that time shortens to 3-4 days.

You can freeze cold brew to extend its shelf life. The most efficient way to do so is in ice cube trays. Pour cold brew into ice cube trays and allow to freeze through. When you’re ready to use them, free enough cubes for a glass of cold brew and allow time to thaw. 

For an extra robust drink, toss a couple of cubes into the thawed cold brew. Now you have an icy beverage, and you don’t have to worry about it becoming diluted!

How to Store Coffee

Proper storage is key to extending any products shelf life. Storing coffee in an airtight container, in a dry place, at room temperature is optimal for retaining freshness. If possible, keep it in a dark environment like a pantry or cupboard. Light can accelerate oxidation, so don’t be tempted by the esthetics of a cute glass jar on your countertop.

If you want to get the most out of a morning cup of coffee, a thermos is your best bet. A thermos will keep your coffee at a desirable temperature so that it retains a good flavor for a bit longer, even with added milk or creamer.

Cold Storage

How do the refrigerator and freezer figure into coffee storage? Though both will safely store coffee, they are not necessarily superior to pantry storage. Freezers will store coffee longer than refrigerators, but not by a great deal. Store in a freezer for 3 weeks maximum.

How long can you keep coffee in the fridge? It depends on what type of coffee you plan to store. Coffee beans can last a long while in the fridge; however, coffee beans are porous. They might potentially absorb any smells in the refrigerator at the time. Likewise, ground coffee can last for months and is susceptible to absorbing odors.

Brewed coffee is a different story. It can only last about a week, maybe 2. So, go ahead and drink that iced coffee or cold brew before it’s too late.

You might need to keep a close eye (and nose) on coffee in the refrigerator and freezer. It’s important that moisture doesn’t get into the coffee as this can cause mold. And don’t forget how absorbent coffee can be when it comes to smells. This can drastically affect the taste.

Vacuum Sealed Coffee

If you want to get the absolute max shelf life of anything, vacuum sealing is the way to go. Coffee is no exception. Vacuum-packed whole coffee beans can be stored at room temperature for up to 9 months. Storing them in a freezer can make them last up the 3 years.

We should point out that the flavor will start to alter after only 2 weeks. We can’t confidently vouch for the flavor of 3 year old freezer beans.

When to Finish Brewed Coffee

Serious coffee drinkers argue that brewed coffee is best consumed within 30 minutes after brewing. After that, freshness wanes rapidly. You can still drink brewed coffee for about 4 hours. If you’re up for cold or reheated coffer, you can store it in the refrigerator for about 3-4 days.

If you include milk or creamer, it’s best to consume within about 2 hours’ time. Dairy should not be kept outside of the refrigerator for longer than that amount of time because bacteria can begin to grow creating the possibility for foodborne illness.

Espresso follows the same rules as brewed coffee. It will taste best just after it’s brewed and it can last for a few hours at room temperature. After that, maybe toss it.

Coffee Pouches: a Freshness Contender

Coffee pouches, much like coffee pods, keep their contents sealed individually and are meant for single servings. Coffee pouches can rival coffee beans in long-lasting freshness.If you’re searching for the best flavors, try Golden Ratio. Not only does our coffee taste smooth and light, but it comes in sealed coffee pouches that are perfect for a fresh, single serving of coffee!

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