We all know that fresh is best when it comes to coffee. But what exactly does that mean? Just because your beans haven’t officially expired doesn’t mean you’re going to get a decent cup of coffee out of them.
Read on to find out how long you can keep your beans and the best ways to maintain their freshness.
How long do coffee beans stay fresh?
There are two different questions: how long do roasted coffee beans last, and how long are coffee beans good for?
General retail recommendations say that coffee beans will last around 2-6 months if stored correctly. However, this is simply the timeframe that they are considered as still suitable for use. How long they stay fresh is another matter. If you want to enjoy beans with the best flavor, you’ve only got a window of around 2-4 weeks.
The smell and taste of coffee are interlinked, and if your beans have lost that enticing aroma, then it’s safe to say that they may have passed their peak.
Just remember that these time frames start from the date of roasting the coffee beans, not from when you get it home. It’s best to buy coffee with the roast date marked on the package – check out some of our favorites.
You’re probably aware ground coffee loses its freshness much more quickly, as the grinding process exposes more of the coffee to oxygen. While your bag of grounds might have an advertised shelf life of several months, the peak time for flavor is only 20 minutes (1).
If you know how coffee is made, you’ll know that green beans are the final stage before roasting. These have a much longer shelf life, as the roasting process breaks down compounds within the beans that release carbon dioxide. You can store green beans for up to 12 months without any significant loss of flavor.
What is the best way to store coffee beans?
You might not be able to stop the passage of time, but storing your coffee beans correctly will help them stay fresh for longer. This means protecting your beans from all of the elements that can speed up their degradation: light, heat, humidity, and most importantly, oxygen. Keeping your beans fresh will mostly be a matter of holding them in an airtight container.
The best way to keep your beans fresh is with a coffee-specific canister or “vault”, but make sure you choose a good one. Look for something that’s completely opaque to protect the coffee from light, as well as airtight. Ideally, you want one with a one-way air valve, that releases any gas build-up without letting any air in. Even with a canister you still need to protect it from extreme temperatures, so don’t store it on the counter close to the cooktop.
The bag that your beans are sold in can be fine for short-term storage, provided that the packaging has a zip-lock and a one-way valve. But again, you’ll need to protect it from extreme temperatures. Otherwise, you can transfer your coffee to an airtight jar or plastic container. If it’s at all transparent, you’ll need to keep it in a cupboard to protect the beans from light.
The bottom line is that while coffee beans can last for months without actually going stale, the fresher the beans, the better your coffee will taste. Try to buy in small quantities so that you can use all the beans at their best.
Coffee beans can go bad if you expose them to too much moisture. This allows mold to develop and renders the coffee unusable. You can avoid this by storing the beans in an appropriate container in a dry environment (2).
You don’t need to throw out old beans unless they have developed mold or mildew. You can successfully use old beans to make cold brew, as the longer extraction time helps to balance out the flavor (3).
Instant coffee doesn’t go bad in the same way that beans or ground coffee do. Because the coffee has already been brewed, instant coffee can last indefinitely – though the flavor may degrade over time (4).
- Grind my coffee beans. (2017, September 21). Retrieved from https://driftaway.coffee/grindmycoffee/
- Skrzypiec, M. (2020, August 21). Do coffee beans go bad? Retrieved from https://www.doesitgobad.com/do-coffee-beans-go-bad/
- Buxton, E. (2018, April 26). Why you should stop buying cold brew this summer. Retrieved from https://www.refinery29.com/en-us/2018/04/197350/make-cold-brew-at-home-cheap-coffee
- Fisher, B. (2020, June 16). Does instant coffee actually expire? Retrieved from https://www.mashed.com/218337/does-instant-coffee-actually-expire/
Husband, father and former journalist, I’ve combined my love of writing with my love of coffee to create this site. I love high end products, but write all my content with budget conscious coffee enthusiasts in mind. I prefer light roasts, and my normal brew is some sort of pour over, although my guilty pleasure is the occasional flat white.