Almost everyone loves a cup of Joe to start their day. That first sip of brewed coffee as part of a daily routine feels, at once, familiar and appealing.
Our days and weeks are so busy now that we often don’t have time for freshly brewed coffee. Maybe that would upset some stalwart coffee-loving Italians who love their fresh expresso, but for most people gearing up for the business day, taste must be balanced with available time. So, compromises are sometimes made, like instant coffee instead of grinding the beans yourself.
Sometimes, we even don’t brew a fresh cup and rely on coffee made before. Maybe we figure if they sell chilled coffee in a cup at the supermarket, we can do something similar for ourselves? Which begs the question, how long will coffee taste acceptable before it should be discarded in favor of making a fresh batch?
Coffee Shelf Live – How Long is Brewed Coffee Good For?
There is a huge difference between coffee that is brewed and waiting to be consumed and coffee beans that are sealed and not yet ground up. The first is time-limited, whereas the latter has a few weeks that it can last.
How Long Should Coffee Sit After Brewing?
The straight answer is approximately two hours, and the coffee should be fine if it’s still in the coffee brewer (and not in the cup).
When adding milk to it, then the answer is closer to 30-40 minutes. With that said, coffee with milk added is still consumable for a bit longer, but just like with leaving milk out on the counter, there’s a practical limit on that before it’ll start going off while at room temperature.
How Long Until the Coffee Does Taste the Same?
Brewed coffee can sit percolating for several hours. However, the longer this goes on, the worse the taste is going to be.
There is also the added risk of the bottom becoming burnt, which then permeates throughout the coffee until it all tastes that way.
There are natural oils in coffee that begin to affect the way it tastes after 3-4 hours. So, when brewing coffee for overly long, the taste will start to change with time.
How Long to Brew Coffee?
Larger coffee makers are designed for offices or homes where there are multiple coffee consumers. This ensures that a pot of coffee is served up while it’s still fresh.
For these avid coffee drinkers, little coffee will remain after a half-hour anyway. However, when brewed coffee is only consumed by one or two people, it becomes more of a concern.
We’d suggest that an hour or two is probably the maximum before the change in taste will be unacceptable to you. Beyond that, you won’t want to keep brewing the coffee because while it might look appealing and ready to serve, the taste will be offensive.
What About Retail Bought Prepared Coffee with Milk or Cream?
Coffee that’s been bought in a retail store and brought back home will only be good to consume for about an hour.
Some people will stretch this for two hours, but once the coffee has cooled, the milk at room temperature won’t play nicely with the coffee.
As such, when buying fresh coffee, aim to drink it up inside of a half-hour to get the best taste.
Can You Reheat Coffee and Make Overextended Coffee Safe Again?
The idea pops into a few people’s heads to take their mug of coffee and put it in the microwave to reheat it.
While this strategy works fine for coffee that’s cooled down but hasn’t been left out for that long, it’s less optimal when it’s been sitting for several hours.
Bacteria can form in the coffee when it’s sitting indoors. While microwaves do zap liquids and solids pretty well, they do not remove all bacteria.
Why is this? Because they heat from the inside and there are pockets of space that don’t get heated sufficiently. This is one of the reasons why for ready meals from a supermarket, the instructions often advise to remove the item after a few minutes of cooking, give it a good stir, and then return it to the microwave to continue cooking.
If milk has already been added prior, then reheating old coffee from a few hours ago isn’t going to be the best idea.
Also, it’s worth remembering the oils in coffee too. If it’s been sitting for 4+ hours, zapping the coffee in the microwave will not turn back the clock. Those oils have been turning bad and microwaving them won’t reverse that effect.
Understanding Flavor Profiles
Oxidation is the main culprit when it comes to prepared coffee and how long it’s good to drink for. This especially applies to taste but also affects overall longevity too.
The chemical reaction that’s referred to as oxidation relates to molecules and electrons that hop from a specific molecule to another one close to it. This effect causes coffee to taste bitter or more bitter if it’s already got that taste because of the coffee beans selected.
Coffee has a strong flavor, which includes an aroma that’s easy to detect. When water is added to coffee, it infuses the water with the coffee taste without any difficulty at all. However, this also applies when prepared coffee comes into contact with oxygen in the room too.
When the ambient temperature in the room is high, then coffee is affected sooner. At which point, the aroma and taste begin to worsen. The cooling process results in coffee that is devoid of a considerable amount of its taste profile within as little as half an hour.
The longer prepared coffee is left for, the further this oxidation process causes taste and aroma to dissipate into the air and disappear. This is why trying to consume last night’s coffee the next morning is such a bad idea.
Can Coffee Be Chilled and Stored in the Refrigerator?
It is possible to chill coffee and store it in the refrigerator to keep it good for longer.
It’s essential to put it in a covered, sealed container, otherwise, the air will destroy the aroma and the taste won’t survive either.
A good brew can be stored in the chilled environment of your fridge for 3-4 days, at best. However, the sooner it is consumed, the better. The oxidation process is considerably slowed down, but it isn’t removed entirely in a chilled environment.
What About Added Sweeteners, Milk or Cream?
The trick here is to not add them until the last minute when you’re about to consume the coffee. That way, you still have the option to put the coffee in the refrigerator and it’ll keep acceptably for a handful of days.
With that said, if you’ve already added sweeteners, some cream, or milk to your coffee, then storing it in the fridge won’t extend its life by much. A day might be okay, but beyond that, and it’s hard to expect it to retain the same taste profile as before.
Where Should Coffee Beans Be Stored?
Coffee beans need to be kept in a cold, sealed environment away from room temperature.
Beans will last for at least three weeks and possibly up to one month on the outside. Beyond that, they will lose their flavor and become bitter.
When storing them, they need to be away from light sources, so the container should prevent any light sources inside the refrigerator (or when opening the door) to get in. Otherwise, the beans will go stale.
An airtight container is required because moisture and air will damage the coffee beans encouraging oxidation.
Also, any heat sources are bad for coffee other than when brewed. This is why anyone leaving their beans on the counter where a window lets in sunlight hitting their coffee bean container will get a nasty surprise later.
Why Is Coffee So Delicate and Affected Easily?
Coffee beans are soft. They’re also porous. This means that they absorb other aromas into the bean, which affects the coffee once it’s been brewed.
Fresh beans need to stay away from anything that will affect how they’ll be once ground up and used for a fresh cup. A cool, enclosed environment – it doesn’t need to be a refrigerator per se – is ideal to avoid them going stale or losing their exotic aroma and delicious taste.
Is It Okay to Freeze Coffee Beans?
If you’re lacking space in the refrigerator, then another option is to freeze them instead.
Likely, freezing and then defrosting the coffee beans will not be kind to them. Just like with food items that get frozen, then defrosted, cooked, and eaten, it never tastes as good as when fresh and it stayed that way. The same is true for frozen coffee beans too.
However, if you must, then ensure they’re vacuum-sealed to prevent air from getting inside. You’ll also want to use a solid, not see-through container, that’s similarly airtight once sealed up. Otherwise, they will deteriorate quickly.
The bottom line with coffee is that it’s always best to consume it shortly after it’s been brewed. Also, storing the coffee beans is best done in a refrigerator or similar cool environment away from light, moisture, and other damaging elements. That way, you’ll always enjoy the wonderful coffee flavor without suffering disappointment.