What is the Shelf Life for Different Types of Coffee?

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It’s no secret that the people of the world waste a lot of food. However, coffee is such a precious commodity that I try my best not to dump it down the drain.

Day-old coffee in the pot may not seem tempting to you but I detest the thought of throwing it away if I can still drink it. However, after writing this article, I throw it away.

It turns out that coffee stays fresh for a far shorter period of time than many people think. Even before it’s brewed coffee has a limited shelf life.

Once that time is past the taste and nutritional value of your brewed cup will start to deteriorate (and quickly).

So how long will your coffee last? Well, it depends on the form that it’s in. But the longer you can keep out mold spores, air, and heat the longer you can enjoy a fresh mug.

What is the Shelf Life for Various Types of Coffee?

Coffee TypeShelf Life
Brewed Coffee (Home)4 Hours
Whole Bean Coffee6-9 Months
Ground Coffee3-5 Months
Instant CoffeeUp to 20 Years

The best advice is that coffee is good until goes bad. You may find bags with expiration dates and best buy dates, but the most useful tool in determining a coffee’s freshness is your own sense of taste and smell.

Coffee that is stale will not have the sweet and robust scent you are used to, and it will not taste as strong, or as flavorful. You can certainly drink coffee that is past its prime, but the taste will be noticeably different. If it is weak or watery, odds are your salt has lost its savor.

Brewed Coffee

If you’ve ever told someone that they were a snob for only drinking the freshest of freshly brewed coffee, it’s probably time to go back and apologize.

Brewed coffee maintains its freshness for around 20 minutes, about the length of time it takes for it to cool. Refrigerating brewed coffee in an airtight container can increase its longevity to 2-3 days before the taste declined significantly and the oils start to go rancid.

Long story short, only brew what you’ll drink! While the taste starts to decline after 20 minutes or so, 4 hours is a general rule of thumb for how long you should feel okay about drinking brewed coffee.

But if you’re on a time crunch (like I always am) that cold cup of coffee that you left on your desk yesterday probably won’t hurt. Unless you added a bunch of cream…

Whole Bean Coffee

The more whole the coffee is when it’s stored, the longest it lasts. The easiest way to think of this is surface area. The more area that is potentially exposed to the area, the faster it will go bad.

However, the type of packaging and the method of storage can have a huge effect on the shelf life of your whole bean coffee.

Whole bean coffee can have a shelf life of anywhere from 3 months to 5 years. An open bag on the shelf in a warm climate will last as little as three months. An unopened sealed can that is kept in the freezer can last for 5 years or more before starting to decline in taste and nutritional value.

If you have a home grinder you have the advantage of only grinding what you are going to use right away, so you allow the remainder of unground coffee to stay fresh longer.

Ground Coffee

Once coffee beans are ground, their shelf life is significantly shortened.

The shelf life of ground coffee is typically 3-5 months in a cabinet no matter if it is opened or not. Unopened bags can be stored in the fridge or freezer to extend their shelf life to 1-2 years. Opened bags have the same 3-5 month shelf life regardless of storage temperature or location.

Instant Coffee

Instant coffee can virtually stay fresh forever regardless of whether it is open or unopened and where it is kept. Many brands of instant coffee claim that it will remain “fresh” for up to 20 years but, let’s face it, if it went bad how would you know?

Drink More, Waste Less…

Of course, the best way to avoid coffee that is stale is to drink a healthy amount of it daily. In fact, you may find yourself wondering how coffee could ever stick around long enough to go bad, but it’s always handy to know.

Think about that bag of decaffeinated coffee that you bought for your out-of-town guests for example. Won’t it be nice to know how to properly store it so that it stays fresh for the next time they visit? Well, there are some best practices that will help.

How To Make Coffee Last Longer On The Shelf – 5 Tips

If you’re interested in extending your coffee’s shelf life as long as possible (maybe you’re prepping for zombies?) then there are things you can do that will increase freshness across the board.

Most of these should come as no surprise as they are the rules for keeping all food fresh:

  • Keep it whole. Ground beans will go rancid much quicker.
  • Keep it sealed. The better the protection from air, the longer your coffee will stay fresh.
  • Refridgerate or freeze. Heat is a major player in causing the oils found in coffee beans to go rancid.
  • Keep it out of sunlight. If you have a plastic package with a see through window, keep it in the dark to keep it for longer.

Other than those things, there isn’t much you can do to extend the shelf life of your coffee.

You might just have to consider drinking gross coffee or start tapering off before you run out!

Conclusion

In all of these various examples of the shelf life of coffee one thing is pretty clear, it all depends.

Coffee in any form and in any kind of storage air, as long as it is sealed well, will stay fresh for varying lengths of time. In the freezer, your coffee could last 2 years, or it could last 3. That’s a pretty wide range.

So do yourself a favor and just drink your coffee faster. That way you will never have to worry about it!

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