Can Coffee Go Bad?

Coffee beans and a cup of coffee

If you’ve found coffee that has been stored in the cupboard for quite a few months now, you probably wonder “can coffee go bad”. Similarly to tea, coffee doesn’t go bad unless stored in a humid environment. But the fact that coffee isn’t spoiled doesn’t guarantee that the cup of coffee you will brew with it will actually be tasty. That’s a whole different story. Let’s talk about storing coffee, its shelf life (how long it can be stored and still brew well) and other coffee-related things.

How to store coffee

As a rule of thumb, store coffee in a cool, dry place. The pantry seems to be the best place to store it for a longer period of time. When in use, you’ll probably choose to keep it in a cupboard in the kitchen and that’s fine too. Unless you’re a coffee nerd, who always wants the best possible taste and aroma, but if you were one, you surely wouldn’t read this article.

If you would like to keep coffee beans fresh for longer, consider freezing them, but be aware of the fact that they will lose some of their taste because of the freezing process. Let’s face it, most people won’t keep coffee beans in the freezer because our freezers are already overloaded, and that’s fine.

Coffee beans and a cup of coffee
(credit: Logan Brumm Photography and Design)

When it comes to opened ground and instant coffee, storing it in an airtight container is a good idea. This way you will be sure that any water won’t be able to reach it. If it comes in a can or glass jar, leave it in there, those containers in most cases are good enough, especially if you don’t plan to store the opened coffee for a really long period of time.

Shelf life of coffee

As mentioned in the beginning of the article, in most cases coffee doesn’t go bad in a way that it’s spoiled and you can get sick after drinking a cup brewed with it. It will, however, lose its taste over time and after a certain period of time the coffee will start to taste stale or tasteless. If that happens, you’re still free to use that coffee, but most people will discard it (we drink coffee because we love its taste, right?).

For starters, most packages of coffee have a best before date, which is an estimate of how long the coffee should taste great. As you probably guessed, coffee can be stored and used for much longer than that. When it comes to ground coffee, it’s usually fine for additional few months, maybe half a year. Whole beans stay at their best for a few months more, think half a year to 9 months. When it comes to instant coffee, it stays fine for years, so if it was stored properly even for a couple of years, it will probably still be tasty. If you grind coffee beans yourself, you should know that freshly ground coffee is at its best for only a couple of days, so it’s best to grind only as much coffee as you need for a single serving.

How to tell if coffee is spoiled

As mentioned earlier, if coffee is stored in humid environment, it will absorb some of the water and will go bad within a few days. It that will happen, you will surely see mold in the container and the only thing to do with that coffee is to discard it.

As you should know by now, coffee doesn’t go bad in a similar way to e.g. sour cream, unless kept in a humid environment. Coffee loses its taste and aroma over time, but ff stored properly, you will use it all before it will start tasting stale.