Coffee goes bad at room temperature
Does coffee go bad?
If you've ever wondered, "Is this coffee going bad?", You are definitely not alone. If you put this question into a search engine, you will get thousands of hits on the exact same subject. That's a pretty sure sign that you're not the only one wondering this.
And the answer depends on your definition of "bad" for coffee. Because, for some, it could mean the drink is spoiled and maybe even making you sick. For others, it means the coffee tastes bad. And when it comes to bad-tasting coffee, that's a pretty subjective term too.
For some coffee lovers, it's perfectly fine as long as the taste is similar to coffee and the drink has some caffeine in it. Others only accept freshly roasted beans that are ground with an over $ 300 coffee grinder just before brewing.
And there are those in the middle who, like me, like to make the coffee taste good, but don't need it - coffee brewing championships - good. That means we have to cover a ton of options and possibilities in order to give you the answer you are looking for.
In this article, we'll walk through the storage, shelf life, and spoilage (in the double sense of the word) of coffee. In order to give you the best answer possible, I'll try to cover as many varieties and options as possible.
The image was made under Creative Commons by Michele M. F. used.
How to store coffee
You can store coffee in many different shapes.
If you're more of a purist or you don't mind taking a little extra time to enjoy a cup of coffee, chances are you're buying roasted coffee beans. Beans often come in a plastic bag, but once you've opened the bag, it's best to put it in an airtight, opaque container.
Coffee beans should be stored in a cool, dark and dry place away from sources of heat. As usual, the container should always be closed.
When it comes to where exactly you want the beans to sit, there are two options. A dark cabinet in the kitchen is the standard option so the beans are always on hand when you need them. If you really appreciate how freshly roasted beans taste, you can put them in the freezer. That way, they'll keep their flavor longer.
Now let's talk a little about ground coffee. You can either grind it yourself with a coffee grinder or buy it ground. The same storage guidelines also apply to instant coffee.
As with ground spices or tea, we do our best to to protect the floors from moisture and air. That in turn means an airtight container that is always closed.
Sometimes ground coffee comes in a vacuum-sealed container, and that's the perfect way to store it. Until you open this container, of course. Then the coffee should go into the mentioned airtight container for best results.
You are wondering where to keep the ground coffee. Just like beans, a cabinet in the kitchen is fine, and the freezer is better for long-term storage.
Image under Creative Commons by Maria Keays used
You can also purchase K-cups using one of Keurig's coffee machines. The pads are stable in storage and do not require a lot of storage space. That means that a cupboard in the kitchen is definitely good enough.
Just make sure that it's not the one above the stove and that the sunlight doesn't reach the pods. Both of these can cause the temperature of the K-cups to fluctuate, which can lead to a poorer coffee taste.
How long does the coffee last?
When it comes to the shelf life of coffee, the subject is super subjective.
Again, it all depends on your personal preferences, and not much more. For one, coffee beans left in the pantry for half a year are perfectly fine, while others consider them old and tasteless. So it's a pretty complex topic to get along with.
Let's start all over with the coffee beans. For best quality, use the beans within a month of roasting if they are in the pantry and about half a year if they are frozen. But if you're more like me, you'll also find beans that last a few months at room temperature are fine.
If it is ground coffee in vacuum-sealed packaging, the ground coffee will retain excellent flavor until the date on the label, and then a little more. Once you open the bag or grind the beans yourself, it is best to use the ground coffee within about 2 weeks to a month.
That is of course for the best quality. If you are a fairly average coffee drinker, this period will be significantly longer. So even if you opened the pack six months early, the coffee should still taste pretty good.
Instant coffee is next in line. As long as the pack is unopened, it should keep its taste until the best before date on the label, and then something else. Once you open the package, the coffee you make with it should be fine for about a year.
Last but not least, the K trophies. They are supplied with a best-before date, and it can be assumed that they should retain their quality for a little while after this date. At least a couple of weeks, or maybe even longer. And they'll likely be safe for much longer if you store them properly.
Roasted coffee beans
3 - 6 months
Ground coffee (vacuum sealed)
Best time + 3 - 6 months
Ground coffee (open)
Instant coffee (unopened)
Best time + 3 - 6 months
Instant coffee (open)
Best time + 3 months
Please note that the periods above are estimates and are for the best quality.
When it comes to brewed coffee, those in the know will surely tell you to either drink it like after brewing or to throw it away. But many normal coffee drinkers warm up cold coffee in the microwave or on the stove and are okay with how it turns out.
The taste probably won't be as good, that's for sure, but if you're just looking for that caffeine kick, a warmed-up coffee should be enough.
Of course, you can also take it to the extreme and put the coffee (covered!) In the fridge and warm it up again the next day. But I'm not really sure if that's something that's worth it.
How to tell if the coffee is bad
Let's start with spoiling the beans. If the beans smell rancid, or there is any discoloration or signs of mold, discard the beans. The latter is most likely caused by water getting into the container. If the beans seem perfectly fine, grind them and brew some coffee.
When it comes to ground or instant coffee, similar rules apply. If there is water in the container, the grist is wet, or there is evidence of mold, discard the powder. If the coffee looks and smells good, you are welcome to make yourself a cup of coffee.
Once you've made yourself a steaming cup or coffee, figuring out if it's good is pretty easy. Just have a sip or two and think about the taste. Since it tastes the way it is supposed to, the coffee you are using is fine.
If you find it a little bland but still drinkable, you can add more coffee next time to make up for the loss of flavor. If you've brewed the mug as usual and it's no good, the coffee is probably stale and the best thing you can do is to throw it away.
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