Tips & How-to

How long can you store coffee?

How to stop coffee from 'going off'.
Coffee grounds in a coffee machineGetty

How long does coffee last? Quite a while – according to the Specialty Coffee Association, coffee is a shelf-stable product which means that it does not spoil due to enzymatic or microbial processes. However, that only applies if you manage to store your coffee properly, and that can be a little trickier than you might think. Here’s a quick guide on how to keep ground coffee fresh.

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How long do coffee beans last?

Does coffee go off? It does, but unlike most food and drink, it can take quite a while. Oxidation is the main suspect here – like a lot of organic materials, coffee will start to decay when exposed to oxygen in the air. That goes for all kinds of coffee whether they be your green coffee beans, your instant coffee pods, or the sachets you use for instant coffee.

According to EatByDate, most forms of coffee are still drinkable from two to three weeks until 3 to 5 months. Note that we said edible, not delicious: once opened, coffee loses freshness regardless of how well you store it. Even coffee that stays in the fridge or unopened packs will start to lose flavour after a month, as evidenced by the National Coffee Association.

Coffee grounds in a coffee machine
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Coffee expiration dates by type

If you’re looking to maximise your coffee’s shelf life, it’s important to know what kind of coffee you’re dealing with. Coffee Enterprises found that the shelf-life of your coffee is actually somewhat variable from batch to batch, since it’s affected by how it was prepared, when it was roasted, and in what form it comes in.

The kind of coffee you have will determine how long it will remain fresh. According to the same study from the Specialty Coffee Association of America, this is how long you should expect your coffee to last:

Coffee beans tend to last for quite a long time, since they have a smaller surface area than ground coffee and are less affected by oxidation. An unopened pack of whole bean coffee will last for 8 months to a year depending on the bean. Opened and stored beans can last to a maximum of six months.

Coffee grounds oxidise quickly since they have a wide surface area. Unopened or sealed ground coffee can last for 3 to 5 months, but once it’s opened, it can only last for a month or two. It also becomes stale faster than coffee beans, because it attracts moisture quicker.

Instant coffee is made with preservatives, so it can last for a very long time – up to 2 years if stored correctly. Of course, the very preservatives that allow them to keep that long can have ill effects on your health, according to Healthline.

Coffee beans with coffee mugs
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How do coffee beans go off or expire?

The first thing that you’ll notice is the smell. Coffee is quite aromatic, and any loss or change in its normal smell is a sure sign that it’s going bad.

Second is the taste. Coffee has a distinct taste to it that changes once it starts to lose its freshness. It may take some time before the flavour fully disappears, but even inexperienced coffee drinkers can tell the difference right away. The older the coffee is, the more the taste will change.

Finally, if your coffee has been stored for a long time under bad conditions, it can start to develop whitish, fungal-like spores and growth on it. This is mould and/or mildew, which can make you very sick if ingested.

Don’t trust the sight of coffee to gauge its freshness – depending on the roast, coffee will keep its general colour and texture until something drastic like bacteria and fungi invade it.

An overhead shot of different kinds of coffee
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Storing your coffee for optimal freshness

You can ask your barista for tips on how to best store coffee, but here are the things that you can do yourself. 

  • Use airtight containers.
  • Only grind the amount of coffee you need.
  • Store any unused coffee grounds in a cool place away from sunlight.
  • Use coffee grounds close to their roasting date.
  • Freeze leftover coffee grounds immediately after use.
An airtight glass jar of coffee
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Brew, store, and enjoy

Knowing how to store coffee grinds is an essential part of enjoying a good cup of coffee. Whether you’re a newcomer to the world of caffeine or a long-time aficionado, properly storing your coffee is a step big towards drinking your ideal cup.

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