If you’re someone who can’t function without your morning cup of coffee, you’re not alone! Coffee is an incredibly important part of a lot of people’s day.
Not only does drinking coffee boost your energy levels, it can even boost your mood and provide important nutrients like magnesium.
But, if you’re anything like us, chances are you’ve accidentally let some coffee beans or coffee grounds sit in your pantry a little too long before using. Whether you just have a large collection and didn’t get to some of the beans in time, or forgot about a little packet in the back of the pantry, you might be wondering if you can drink expired coffee.
You’re not alone! This is a common question from coffee lovers everywhere, and there is good news!
Coffee beans and coffee grounds don’t really go bad unless they’re particularly old. Even coffee beans that have been expired for a few months, or even a few years, are still probably safe to use. However, they won’t taste the same as if they were fresh. Coffee beans and ground coffee can both go stale, which will change the flavor and even some of the effects of your coffee.
Here’s what you need to know about drinking expired coffee, how to tell when it is or isn’t safe, and what you can do to help keep your coffee from going bad.
How Long Does It Take For Coffee Beans To Go Bad?
Coffee beans are typically the longest-lasting form of coffee, and it takes a long time for coffee beans to expire. Whole coffee beans are usually shelf-stable, which means that they can last for years before going bad.
However, your coffee beans can go stale. It will take longer than coffee grounds, but you won’t get the same flavor or even caffeine levels from stale coffee beans.
On average, coffee beans take 4 to 6 months before they expire. Depending on how you store coffee beans, you might get a little longer. On the other hand, if your store your coffee somewhere that changes temperature often or gets too warm, your coffee might go stale faster, and you’re more likely to get rancid coffee beans.
We’ll talk more about how you can store your coffee beans to extend their life later, but for now, you need to know that coffee beans are usually freshest for up to 6 months, and completely stale by 1 year old.
Let’s take a closer look at the signs that your coffee beans have gone bad.
Signs Your Coffee Beans Have Gone Bad
One of the most common suggestions to figure out if your coffee beans have gone bad is to look for an oily sheen on the beans. The problem is that that oily sheen doesn’t always mean that your beans have any problems. Old coffee beans are usually oilier than fresh ones, but that doesn’t mean that they’ve gone bad.
That’s because whole beans contain all the natural oils in the bean, and it slowly works its way from the inside of the bean to the outside. Depending on the roast level you’re working with, that process will happen faster or slower because roasting changes the texture and how the oil interacts with the rest of the bean.
The best two ways to tell if your beans have gone bad are smell and color.
Color is a good indicator because whole beans often get paler or start developing mottled color when they’ve expired. That mottled color is a sign of coffee that isn’t just stale, it’s expired coffee. Those beans shouldn’t be used, and should probably be thrown out.
Smell is usually the most useful indicator though. The scent of coffee is very distinct, so it works well to tell when coffee is fresh vs when it’s stale. Coffee should have a powerful scent, slightly smokey and bitter, with hints of nuttiness and sweetness that may be more pronounced depending on what kind of coffee you buy.
Your beans shouldn’t ever smell musty, which is often one of the biggest signs of stale beans. Even reduced scent is a good indicator that your beans are getting a little too old and have gone stale.
The last smell you should look for is the smell of rancid oil. This is another sign that you have expired coffee, not useable beans. Oil is usually mostly shelf-stable but tends to go rancid if it’s kept anywhere that’s too warm or that changes temperature a lot. Coffee oils work the same way.
If you’re struggling with coffee that keeps going rancid, it’s a good sign that the place you’re keeping it is too warm.
Related: Ground Coffee vs Instant Coffee
Does Roast Level Impact How Long It Takes Coffee Beans To Expire?
A lot of coffee lovers wonder if the coffee roast you get changes how it ages and whether or not it will expire.
For the most part, the coffee roasting technique doesn’t make a big difference in coffee shelf-life, but if you aren’t storing your coffee properly it can make a difference. For instance, dark roast coffee expires a little faster when it’s kept in warm conditions because it starts to taste like old coffee faster and then turns rancid.
However, if you keep your coffee stored safely, different roast levels shouldn’t make a difference in how long your coffee lasts. Fresh beans will stay fresh the same amount of time, and give you the best flavor for the same amount of time.
How Long Does It Take For Ground Coffee To Go Bad?
Ground coffee often goes stale faster than coffee beans and has a slightly shorter shelf life. For some clarity, we’re talking about ground coffee that still needs to be brewed, not instant coffee. Those two products have different shelf-life and need to be treated differently to last.
Ground coffee is one of the most popular ways to buy coffee because it’s convenient, tastes good, and is easy to prepare. However, coffee grounds have a much larger surface area to volume ratio, which means they oxidize and go stale a lot faster than beans.
That means that it usually takes 1-3 months for ground coffee to go stale, and 9-12 months for them to be at risk of going bad.
Here’s what you need to know to tell when your ground coffee is now expired coffee.
Signs Ground Coffee Has Gone Bad
Expired coffee grounds are usually fairly easy to spot. They will smell bad, in the same way, beans will smell bad when they’ve gone stale or expired. But expired coffee grounds are often more obvious than beans because the change in the smell is more noticeable and happens faster.
Speed matters because subtle changes in scent are harder to notice when they happen slowly, which also means it’s easier to notice when ground coffee has gone bad compared with beans.
Pre-ground coffee also tends to expire when if you get the coffee grounds wet. Wet grounds grow mold relatively quickly, and can make you sick if you use moldy grounds to make coffee.
The best coffee is brewed with fresh grounds, but you can still brew coffee with stale grounds safely.
In the next section, we’ll get into the differences between stale coffee and coffee that’s past its expiration date.
How To Tell When Your Ground Coffee Has Gone Bad
Ground coffee usually doesn’t change color when it’s stored properly, even when it’s months past its expiration date. It might get a little paler, but stale grounds usually look the same as good ones.
Stale grounds can start to clump together and don’t smell as strongly like roasted beans. They’ll start to smell a little musty, or more bitter than coffee should smell.
Fresh ground coffee should smell like a fresh cup of black coffee. If that smell has changed, they’re probably stale.
Short of mold and mildew, the biggest way to tell that ground coffee is past its expiration date is when it starts to get than the rancid smell from the natural oils in the coffee going bad.
What’s The Difference Between Stale Grounds And Fresh?
The biggest difference between stale grounds and fresh grounds in brewed coffee is the taste and how much caffeine and other volatile compounds making up the flavor make it into the cup. Coffee grounds start losing flavor faster than beans because they have more surface area to oxidize.
That doesn’t mean that something bad happens if you drink stale coffee, just that your cup of coffee will taste a little different.
The other big difference will be your caffeine levels. Caffeine is a relatively volatile compound, which means that the amount of caffeine in your coffee starts to go down when the coffee starts to go stale. The staler your coffee, the less caffeine it’s likely to contain.
Caffeine is also heat-sensitive. So, if you don’t store your coffee in a cool and dry place you might start losing caffeine long before your ground coffee has gone stale.
Can Instant Coffee Go Bad?
Instant coffee often isn’t as flavorful as ground coffee, and its smell isn’t as strong, which means that it’s a little harder to tell if instant coffee has gone bad. Thankfully, there are one big difference between instant coffee and grounds or beans – it really doesn’t go bad unless it gets wet and starts to mold. That means you don’t have to worry about coffee expire dates with instant, but you won’t ever get as flavorful a cup either.
What Is The Shelf-Life Of Brewed Coffee?
When it comes to shelf life, brewed coffee is an entirely different ball game. The expiration on brewed coffee is usually a lot more important than beans, grounds, or powdered instant. Old coffee that’s already been brewed can easily make you sick.
Once you’ve made a cup of coffee you should probably drink it within 24 hours, or put the leftovers in the fridge if you need to keep them longer. Otherwise it’s better to dump the coffee and make fresh.
Can You Drink Expired Coffee?
Depending on what kind of coffee you’re talking about yes, but it’s not a great idea. Ground coffee, beans, and instant are all usually safe well past their expiration date, as long as they haven’t gotten wet and have been stored in a cool dark place.
However, it’s hard to predict what happens if you drink expired coffee, especially if there are signs that the coffee is starting to go rancid. Sometimes it might be fine, but other times you might get a stomach ache or even full-blown food poisoning.
Storage Tips To Help Keep Coffee Fresh
Here are a few quick tips to help you keep your coffee as fresh as possible for as long as possible. Id you’re a coffee lover, these tips will help preserve your flavor without leaving you to wonder if your coffee is about to go bad. That way you can drink coffee in peace, knowing that the way you store coffee will give you the best possible taste.
Keep Your Coffee Beans In A Cool Dry Place
This applies to coffee of all kinds, but it’s most important with beans that are in long-term storage. Keep your coffee in a cool, dry, place. Preferably your coffee should also be somewhere that’s naturally dark, or in a place that’s also dark. All of those things will preserve the taste and stop the processes that make coffee go bad.
Use Airtight Storage Whenever Possible
The best place to store coffee is in a sealed container that’s as airtight as possible. You can get a truly airtight container, or you can use a sealing bag. Just make sure you press out all the air before sealing a bag to make sure there’s as little as possible left in with your coffee.
Look For Roasting Date When You Buy Coffee
The roasting date is the best test of freshness when you’re talking about coffee. This is when the beans were roasted, which can happen anywhere from a few days to a few weeks before the coffee is actually sold. Older roasting dates will reduce the freshness of your coffee and mean a sooner best-by date.
Keep Different Kinds Of Coffee In Different Containers
Coffee grounds and coffee beans don’t always benefit from being kept in the same containers. For beans, it’s okay to use a hard-sided container because the extra air inside won’t have as much impact on the beans. But ground coffee will last longer kept in an airtight or vacuum-sealed bag because it’s much more vulnerable to oxidation.
Consider Vacuum Sealing And Freezing For Long Term Storage
If you buy coffee in bulk, and who could blame you, it’s important to think about long-term storage. One of the best options is to store any coffee you won’t use within a month or so, in your freezer. A vacuum-sealed bag is ideal, but any sealed storage option will work.
Final Thoughts on Expired Coffee
Expired coffee can be somewhat difficult to spot, but the good news is that drinking expired coffee won’t have any significant negative repercussions other than a poor flavor (assuming there is no mold on your beans).
To keep your beans from expiring, be sure to store them in an appropriate container and be aware of the roasting date when you purchase them.