How long does coffee last?
It’s easy to recognise when your milk has gone off or when the veg in your refrigerator is on the turn. With coffee, it’s not so clear-cut. You can’t necessarily tell that your espresso beans or ground coffee are no longer at their best just by looking at them. However, the freshness of your coffee is crucial to brewing a cup that’s aromatic and delicious. So how long does coffee last? Read on for everything you need to know to keep your daily cup(s) tasting great.
The shelf life of different types of coffee
Here’s a handy guide to understanding how long coffee lasts in all its glorious forms.
- How long do roasted coffee beans last?
First things first: when you look at a bag of roasted coffee beans, you’ll notice a date printed somewhere on the label. For quality coffee producers, this is a roast date. Unfortunately, there’s no magic formula for determining exactly how long coffee beans remain fresh after they’re roasted, but many roasters recommend using the beans within a month of roasting if they’re stored properly (more on that later).
It’s also worth noting that roasters often recommend waiting four to twelve days after the beans are roasted to brew them. During the roasting process, gases like carbon dioxide build up in the coffee beans. Allowing the beans to rest, or degas (let those gasses out), lets the carbon dioxide escape and ensures the coffee’s flavours are at their best.
For some brands, the date printed on the bag is an expiration date. You should, of course, use the coffee before this date – though fresher is better!
And how long does coffee last in the fridge? You might think that since refrigeration keeps fruit and veg fresher for longer, the same would be true for coffee beans. Alas, this is not the case. The refrigerator isn’t actually cold enough to maintain coffee’s freshness, plus coffee easily absorbs all the aromas hanging out in the fridge.
If you’re really keen on maximising the shelf life of your beans, you can store them in the freezer vacuum sealed or in an airtight container, where they’ll maintain their flavour for a few months.
- How long does ground coffee last?
Unfortunately, ground coffee has an even shorter shelf life than whole beans, as grinding exposes a greater surface area of each bean to the factors that degrade it. Stored properly at room temperature, pre-ground coffee should be used within two to three weeks of opening, well before the expiration date.
But for the most flavourful drinking experience, we always encourage you to freshly grind whole beans every time you make coffee. There’s really no better way to guarantee a beautifully aromatic brew.
- How long does instant coffee last?
Instant coffee is produced through freeze-drying, which makes it incredibly shelf stable. Some sources say it can last up to 20 years unopened and 12 months opened and properly stored in an airtight container. We certainly wouldn’t want to drink coffee that’s two decades old, though…
- How long does a cup of coffee last?
Say you brewed your coffee, got distracted, and forgot about it for a few hours (though really, what could distract you from a lovely cup of coffee?). Is it still safe to drink? Yep, black coffee is safe to drink at room temperature within a day of brewing – but honestly, we can’t recommend it. We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: fresh is always best!
- How long does espresso last?
Like brewed coffee, a shot of espresso technically won’t spoil after a few hours at room temperature, so it is safe to drink within a day of brewing. However, the crema – that lovely, oily layer of froth on top of the espresso – will disappear into the liquid, and the flavour will change. You’re likely to lose the complexity that makes espresso so special if you let it sit, so drink up.
- How long does cold brew last?
Cold brew coffee is the natural exception to our no-refrigeration rule: to make it, ground coffee is steeped in water, refrigerated overnight, and strained. It’s served chilled and can be stored in the fridge for up to two weeks, though it’s tastiest within the first week.
- How long does coffee with milk last?
When you add milk to your coffee weather it’s flat white or a creamy cappuccino – don’t forget that milk does not handle well at room temperature. Any beverage with milk should be consumed within a few hours, and if it’s really hot – even quicker, because milk could start turning sour and your delicious coffee won’t be so enjoyable after it’s been sitting on a cupboard for a while.
How do I know my coffee is no longer fresh?
There aren’t usually major visual cues that will indicate your coffee is past its prime. As the Specialty Coffee Association puts it,
“Capturing the exact nature, quantity and rate of staling is inherently challenging due to both the diversity of flavours possible in the bean itself, and of the ephemeral nature of roasted coffee”.
Why does coffee lose its freshness?
There are four main factors that degrade your coffee: moisture, sunlight, heat, and oxygen. Guard your beans against these enemies to keep them fresh and flavourful:
- Moisture creates an ideal environment for mould to develop on your precious coffee beans.
- Oxygen triggers a chemical reaction within coffee called oxidation (yep, the same process that causes metal to rust). Oxidation changes the flavour profile of the coffee, zapping it of its complexity and leaving it stale and bitter.
- Sunlight and heat speed up the oxidation process and cause coffee to lose its flavour more rapidly.
Pro tips for the freshest coffee
“You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces – just good food from fresh ingredients.”
American cooking legend Julia Child has a point. The same is true for coffee. If you have fresh, high-quality beans, a simple shot of espresso has far better flavour than a complicated, milky coffee drink. This is why proper storage is so important!
Follow these tips for keeping your coffee fresh:
- Always buy whole coffee beans rather than grounds, and grind the beans as you need them.
- Store your coffee beans in an opaque, airtight container in a cool, dry environment away from direct sunlight.
- Rather than buying coffee beans in bulk, buy smaller batches more frequently.
- When choosing which coffee to buy, opt for one labelled with the roasting date and use it within a month of the date listed.
- Choose locally roasted beans from nearby suppliers, you can check our locally roasted assortment here.
Want even more in-depth advice on how to store coffee beans? Read our detailed guide here.
Q. Does coffee go off?
A. Yes. When exposed to moisture coffee can develop mould, which can make you ill if consumed. However, it’s more common for coffee to go stale, losing its complex flavours and aromas. Stale coffee won’t make you sick, but it also won’t taste very good.
Q. How long do different types of coffee last?
- Whole roasted coffee beans: Up to one month after roasting.
- Ground coffee: Up to two to three weeks after opening, before the expiration date.
- Brewed coffee: One day at room temperature (though we won’t vouch for the taste…).
- Espresso: One day at room temperature (again, it’s always better to drink it fresh!).
- Instant coffee: Up to 20 years unopened and 12 months opened, stored properly.
- Cold brew: Up to two weeks, stored in the fridge.
- Coffee with milk: Within a few hours.
Q. Should I store coffee in the fridge?
A. Aside from cold brew coffee, the answer is no. Storing dried coffee in the fridge, whether whole beans or grounds, increases the likelihood of exposure to moisture, which can cause mould development. Dried coffee can also absorb other aromas and flavours from the fridge, creating off-flavours.
Q. Should I store coffee in the freezer?
A. You can store coffee beans in the freezer for a few months, preferably inside vacuum-sealed bag.
Q. How can I keep my coffee fresh?
A. Buy whole coffee beans, store them in an opaque, airtight container away from sunlight, and use them as quickly as possible.