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How long does coffee last? The definitive guide.

How long does coffee last? The definitive guide.

We’re often asked, “how long does coffee last,” by readers and coffee enthusiasts. However, this question can take on several meanings. For instance, it could refer to how long coffee lasts in one’s system, and it could also refer to the physical shelf life or ground or unground coffee beans.

No matter the nature of your question, we’re here to answer it. In this guide, we’ll go over all aspects of coffee longevity to discover how long coffee is good for in the fridge, in the cupboard, in a mason jar, or just about anywhere else. After that, we’ll touch on how long coffee remains active in one’s system before it is flushed out.

Read on to find out everything there is to know about coffee and how long it lasts. This way, you’ll never be on the fence about whether to ditch your old coffee—you will know precisely when it expires, and when it’s time to grab a new bag.

Coffee 101: A Crash Course

Not all coffee is made equal. There are, in fact, two varieties of coffee that are popular throughout the world. The type of coffee one owns will impact the shelf life of the beans and will determine its suitability for storage.

The two most commonly cultivated types of coffee are C. arabica (“arabica” beans) and C. robusta (“robusta” beans). Both bean varieties originate in the Kaffa Province of Ethiopia dating back to the 15th century.

Once roasted, both coffee varieties look the same. Where they differ is in their taste and aroma. While robusta is stronger, harsher, and features a peanut-like aftertaste, arabica-based coffee is sweeter and softer with less caffeine content.

For both coffee types, the expiration date largely depends on the “acceptability level” of the consumer. In other words, it depends on the extent to which the coffee drinker is willing to put up with a bitter, burnt-tasting cup of coffee. Therefore, there is no definitive “best before” or “expiration” date for coffee—however, there are general guidelines to follow.

Coffee Expiration Guidelines

The essential factor in determining how long coffee beans last is whether the beans are ground or fully intact (“whole” bean). Below, we’ve listed all of the expiration guidelines for ground and whole coffee beans which should serve as general guidelines for casual coffee drinkers.

Unopened/Sealed Coffee Beans Expiration

For unopened coffee beans (i.e., still in a sealed bag or container), one can expect ground coffee to last 3-5 months beyond its printed date. By contrast, whole bean coffee should last between 6-9 months in the pantry. Last, instant coffee can last between two and 20 years on the shelf if kept sealed.

When in the freezer, the longevity of the coffee enhances. Frozen instant coffee can last indefinitely, while whole bean coffee in the freezer lasts between two and three years. Finally, ground coffee beans last between 12-24 months when kept sealed in the freezer.

Opened Coffee Beans Expiration

Once a bag of coffee beans opens, its lifespan diminishes. For ground coffee, an opened bag can last between three and five months in the pantry. Whole bean coffee lasts up to six months in the pantry after it opens. Freeze-dried instant coffee products can last between two and 20 years in the pantry after it is opened.

In the freezer, a jar of opened instant coffee can potentially last forever—however, ground coffee beans only last three to five months after opening in the freezer. Last, whole coffee beans can remain usable for up to two years in the freezer after the bag has been opened.

Expiration Ranges at a Glance

For your convenience, we’ve compiled the various expiration dates for opened and unopened coffee beans below. This way, you can get the information you want without having to dig through the more detailed text above:

Unopened Coffee Bags

  • Ground coffee: 3-5 months in the pantry; 1-2 years in the freezer
  • Whole bean coffee: 6-9 months in the pantry; 2-3 years in the freezer
  • Instant coffee: 2-20 years in the pantry; indefinitely in the freezer

Opened Coffee Bags

  • Ground coffee: 3-5 months in the pantry; 3-5 months in the freezer
  • Whole bean coffee: 6 months in the pantry; 2 years in the freezer
  • Instant coffee (freeze-dried): 2-20 years in the pantry; indefinitely in the freezer

Cold Brew and You

We’re often asked, “how long does cold brew last?” Understandably, this question is unique to cold brew coffee because hot drip coffee tends to be undrinkable after more than a day of sitting in the pot. Unlike hot brew, cold brew coffee can keep in the fridge for up to two weeks without flavor degrading.

Some brewers enjoy their cold brew coffee slightly diluted. When water is added to cold brew coffee, the longevity of the beverage diminishes by a slight margin. Typically, diluted cold brew coffee will spoil roughly two or three days before an undiluted pot of cold brew.

Caffeine Metabolism: How Long Does it Last?

We’re frequently asked, “how long does coffee last in your system?” Usually, this question derives from people’s curiosity about caffeine and how long it stays active in your body.

Caffeine, the psychoactive chemical in coffee, first enters the bloodstream through epithelial tissue. Since the mouth and throat contain epithelial tissue lining, coffee enters the body through the lining of the mouth after you take the first sip.

The half-life of caffeine in humans ranges between 4 and 6 hours. As soon as caffeine enters the blood, it is processed by the liver to metabolize the chemical and break it down into biologically useful alkaloids.

Over 99 percent of coffee’s caffeine content is absorbed in the body within 45 minutes of consumption. Given the half-life of caffeine, it would take between 25 and 30 hours for caffeine to be entirely flushed out of the body and undetectable on a blood test. However, most coffee drinkers will no longer feel the stimulant effects of coffee after only four or five hours.

Frequently Asked Questions

Coffee lovers take their cup of joe seriously—and who can blame them? We all want to wake up to a warm, beautiful-smelling cup of coffee without having to worry about whether it’ll make us sick. That’s why we put together this brief frequently asked questions (FAQs) section below.

How Do I Tell If My Coffee Is Bad?

Ultimately, there is no universal test to determine whether your coffee is spoiled. Virtually all varieties of coffee will look the same with age, which means the coffee drinker’s sensory judgment of the beans will have to be tested.

The first step in determining whether your coffee is expired is to smell test the beans. Do the beans emit a pleasant, sweet aroma? Ideally, a fresh and healthy batch of coffee will smell like your local coffeehouse. By contrast, an expired batch of coffee will have a weak scent and will not produce a distinctive smell or taste.

We don’t recommend drinking coffee that has begun to lose its flavor and potency. Some coffee drinkers will try to compensate for the beans lack of flavor by adding additional beans to the brew. However, there are health risks associated with spoiled beverage consumption, so it is always best to brew another pot with fresh beans instead.

How Do I Store My Coffee to Expand Its Shelf Life?

Like any fruit or vegetable, coffee will spoil faster with a greater surface area. In other words, ground coffee beans (which has a high surface area) will spoil before a bag of whole beans. Therefore, the best way to maximize freshness is to purchase whole bean coffee and grind it as needed.

Exposure to moisture and oxygen will degrade your coffee. To keep spoiling at bay, always store your coffee beans—whether ground or whole—in a sealed mason jar with a tightly closed lid. Store your mason jar in the freezer to ensure maximum freshness and longevity.

Putting ground coffee beans in the freezer will not freeze the beans themselves. Coffee freezes at a temperature below water’s freezing point, which means you won’t have to take time to defrost your coffee when you take it out of the freezer.

Is It Safe To Drink Expired Coffee?

It is unlikely that coffee past its “best before” date will harm you or make you sick. However, it likely won’t have the sweet, powerful flavor that coffee lovers crave. Instead, your cup of expired coffee will taste watery and will appear a light brown color in the mug.

Once you’ve let brewed coffee sit on the counter for several hours, it goes cold and develops an unpleasant taste. Drinking coffee that’s sat on the counter for hours is not recommended, and neither is reheating coffee. When coffee is reheated, it is broken down at a faster rate. Instead, try storing your brewed coffee in an insulated travel mug so it stays warm.

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