If you're someone who's a coffee enthusiast like me and can't go a day without a cup, you know we usually stock up on coffee. Even the pulses and cereals in our household don't get the same priority. And if you've bought some great coffee on a sale, obviously it makes sense to buy a lot of it.
But the question arises, "will it go bad?" or "how soon before it expires?" This is a common concern and a stressful one too. In short, yes, coffee can go bad.
Let's get into the details of it.
As coffee is a dry, packaged food item, there's no exact expiration date. But coffee past a certain date or period will indeed go bad. When we say "go bad", one will be reminded of foul stench or mold, but none of that happens when it comes to coffee. Actually, when it comes down to it, bad coffee won't even make you sick. So then exactly how does it go bad?
Well, the dreaded process is known as oxidation. That's right, the oxygen and moisture in the air are the culprits. As coffee is exposed to oxygen, your coffee will lose its intensity and flavor over time and break down eventually. So bad coffee will taste subpar.
So if we talk about coffee types specifically:
If exposed to air, ground coffee will absorb moisture and clump up. It's recommended to consume coffee grounds in 2 weeks once unpacked. Although this doesn't happen with instant coffee due to preservatives added to prevent decay, specialty coffee will lose its delicate notes and thick texture.
Dry coffee beans don't exactly go bad. The beans, as long as they haven't come in contact with water, will stay fine. These will last as long as you can keep them in an airtight container—pretty much the longest-lasting ones out of all the options.
It's recommended to consume coffee beans in 2-3 weeks and only grind them when needed.
These coffees usually come with instructions or dates that you must consume coffee by. A general rule of thumb is, once opened, coffee must be consumed within a few weeks.
A pot of brewed coffee will go bad. This is because the natural oils in the coffin come in contact with the water and start decomposing. If you leave your coffee pot out in the open, over time, it'll definitely go bad and end up tasting rancid.
As soon as coffee is made, it should be consumed immediately. If that's not possible, it should be transferred to a thermal carafe to slow down or halt the loss of delicate notes. One must not leave the coffee on the pot or let it brew for too long as it will get bitter. Past 12 hours, any cup of coffee should not be consumed, especially if it contains dairy.
If we get down to the nitty-gritty of it, the factors that ruin coffee are:
- Oxygen: causes staleness. Once exposed or left out in the open, coffee beans will degrade at a rapid pace.
- Light: if kept in direct sunlight, coffee can go stale.
- Moisture: the oils in coffee will get rancid as coffee absorbs the moisture.
- Heat: When exposed to heat, coffee beans or ground coffee will start losing their flavors.
So how do we prevent this from happening?
It's all about the storage. As beans will always last longer or stay fresh when compared to coffee grounds, it's best to only grind the beans or get ground coffee for immediate use (couple of weeks). Its also recommended storing your coffee in an airtight container or a sealed package to avoid exposure to air.
Another fact, while harsh, is that one should only buy the right amount of coffee. My suggestion would be a subscription service.
Should you store coffee in the fridge?
Some believe that storing your coffee in the fridge will keep them fresh and delay any loss of flavor. But, this may not be true.
Coffee is absorbent, especially beans. Any odors or smells surrounding the coffee tend to get absorbed by the coffee and mess with the aroma. Not to mention, the coffee may end up losing its moisture and get "stale" due to the cold. But if you must, a fridge is a better option than humid and bright environments, but expect some loss of flavor and aroma.
Even pre-made coffee, which is frozen into cubes for later consumption, must be consumed once thawed. This is because the change in extreme temperatures will ruin their flavor.
So instead of wasting coffee, buy only as much you need or even experiment with new coffee every now and then. Or simply get some airtight containers to keep your coffee fresh!