- Coffee beans can go bad, but not in the traditional sense of the word. Expired coffee won’t have a foul stench or grow mold; however, its taste and aroma will be dulled. Moreover, bad coffee won’t make you sick.
- Oxygen is the main culprit behind the quality deterioration coffee beans undergo when stored for extended periods.
- It’s best to use them as close to the roasting date as possible (which should also be imprinted on the packaging) — if you’re looking to get peak flavor out of your beans.
Whether you went a little overboard when your favorite coffee brand went on sale or are just a smart consumer looking to buy in bulk, you might’ve found yourself asking the question, “Does coffee expire”?
The answer isn’t as cut-and-dry as you might think, as while coffee can indeed go bad, it doesn’t do so in the traditional sense of the word.
In short, while expired coffee beans can be recognized through their dulled taste and intensity, they won’t cause any health-related issues when consumed (unlike other expired food items).
They won’t even taste particularly bad, as there’ll be no stench or strong unpleasant taste coming from a bad bunch; the end result will just seem sub-par.
To learn more about how coffee beans expire, how to tell if they’ve gone bad, and much more, keep reading.
Do coffee beans go bad or not?
Coffee beans can go bad and lose their taste after being stored for extended periods. Store-bought coffee beans have a shelf life of up to 1-2 years, while specialty beans start losing their flavor and aroma after a month of storage. Neither variety will make you sick if consumed after expiration.
When buying coffee beans at a general store or supermarket, a “best consumed by” date should be printed on the packaging. Generally speaking, these beans should be fine to use even five or six months after the recommended date.
The reason why specialty coffee beans bought from independent stores have such a shorter shelf life is that their value lies in the potent flavor and aroma they carry.
Therefore, as soon as these components start dulling after a few weeks, it can be argued that the coffee beans have gone bad.
Another essential difference between the two varieties is that they’re targeted to different customer bases.
Your average coffee drinker who uses store-bought beans doesn’t care about (or can’t tell) the difference between a one-week and a one-year-old coffee.
On the other hand, specialty beans are pretty pricey, which makes it safe to assume that they’re generally bought by avid coffee enthusiasts and connoisseurs who are willing to make an investment for that extra punch.
Some of these coffee beans include Geisha coffee beans, which you can learn more about in this article.
These types of customers are able to detect even the slightest decrease in coffee quality, which is why they won’t be able to enjoy the same beans for more than a few weeks.
On the other hand, the good news is that a dulled flavor is probably the extent of the downsides you’ll get by using expired coffee beans.
They’re a dry food item, meaning there’s not enough moisture for mold or harmful bacteria to grow.
However, once you get coffee beans wet, they’ll start to undergo the same rotting/ expiration process as any other high-moisture food.
Therefore, as soon as beans or grounds come in contact with water, you should either use them immediately or throw them away.
Following the same logic, it’s important to note that brewed coffee can actually go bad in the real sense of the word, meaning it can be relatively harmful to consume after a specific timeframe has passed.
Last but not least, it’s worth mentioning that the shelf life of coffee grounds heavily depends on how they’re stored.
I’ll discuss some of the best coffee storing techniques in one of the following sections titled “How to store coffee beans to extend shelf life”.
How coffee beans go bad
If there’s no moisture to facilitate bacterial growth, you might be wondering what element can cause coffee grounds to lose their taste and aroma in the first place.
Oxygen is the main culprit behind the quality deterioration coffee beans undergo when stored for extended periods.
This means that as long as a brand’s packaging is airtight, you’ll be able to easily store your coffee for months or even years without it becoming dull.
However, once open, the air exposure will cause the beans to start breaking down and losing their intensity.
Moreover, coffee beans comprise compounds such as carbs, fats, and amino acids, all of which can deteriorate as time goes by. As in any other form, the carbs and fats found in coffee will start going stale and rancid, respectively.
As you can imagine, both of these processes will significantly impact the final product’s quality and intensity.
In short, if you’re looking to get peak flavor out of your beans, it’s best to use them as close to the roasting date as possible (which should also be imprinted on the packaging).
However, if you’re a practical consumer looking to budget their coffee consumption rather than looking to get the most intense flavor possible, buying in bulk (within reason) shouldn’t be an issue, especially if purchasing airtight containers.
How to tell if coffee beans have gone bad
A downside to coffee beans not going bad in the traditional sense of the word is that it can be challenging to tell whether they’ve expired or not.
Luckily, if there aren’t enough visual clues to go off when evaluating a batch’s freshness, you can always take a leap and taste a cup of coffee instead. After all, there’s no risk of you getting sick.
However, there’s no need to resort to tasting right away. Here are a few tips and clues to help you determine whether your coffee beans have gone bad:
- They have been stored way beyond their expected shelf life. If you’ve taken note of your coffee beans’ purchase date, you can simply track how long they’ve been sitting in the cupboard. For example, if you’ve bought them longer than two years ago (which I’d argue is the maximum shelf life you can expect out of coffee beans), it’s safe to assume that the coffee they’ll make will be subpar. Throw them out.
- They smell a bit off. Sometimes you don’t even have to make a cup of coffee to notice that the beans have surpassed their shelf life. Therefore, make sure to give your old coffee beans a whiff before using them any further. If they smell funny or rancid, it’s safe to say that the coffee they’ll make won’t be much better either.
- They look a bit off. Before using your year-old coffee beans, inspect them for any visual cues that they might’ve gone bad. For example, if you see mold growing on the surface, you’ll know that there’s excessive moisture inside the container and that the grounds should be thrown out right away. Similarly, if you notice a significant change in color or spot pantry bugs inside the container, don’t risk using these coffee grounds.
- They lack shine. Due to their considerable lipid content, most coffee beans are characterized by a signature sheen. However, as time goes by, their fats will start to dry out and go rancid, meaning the beans will become duller in appearance.
- The coffee they make tastes off. Lastly, if none of the previous steps turned out to be helpful, you might have to make some coffee out of the beans and taste it for yourself. Unfortunately, there are very few visual cues that might tip you off, and given that drinking expired coffee probably won’t cause any health-related issues, you can simply make a cup to determine whether it’s palatable or not.
Assuming you’re a regular coffee drinker, you already know what fresh, peak-flavor coffee tastes like. By now, you should have become accustomed to that nutty, caramel-like aroma that makes you drool from a mile away.
However, as time goes by, the rich flavor and scent start to become dull and dusty, leaving somewhat of an ashy aftertaste.
If you notice this is the case with the coffee you make out of your beans, it’s best to throw them out.
Even if they’re not inherently bad for you, drinking flat coffee defeats the whole purpose of the ritual. Not to mention you don’t want to be stuck with rancid-tasting coffee whenever a guest comes by.
How to tell if brewed coffee has gone bad
Luckily, it’s much easier to tell whether brewed coffee has gone bad. Its flavor and aroma change more drastically due to the high moisture content, making it easier for you to tell a fresh and rancid cup of coffee apart. Here’s what you’ll want to do:
- After brewing your coffee, make sure to let it cool down to room temperature. It can be hard to notice the flavor of a scorching hot cup of coffee. Therefore, let the liquid cool down completely before tasting it.
- Taste to see whether the coffee seems sour or bitter. As mentioned, the taste of expired brewed coffee will be much more noticeable than that of coffee made out of expired beans. If your brewed coffee has gone bad, it’ll likely taste intensely bitter. In this case, it’s best to throw out the whole batch right away.
What happens when you drink expired coffee?
By this point, you already know that drinking expired coffee isn’t likely to cause any health concerns.
However, as with everything, there are some caveats and exceptions to this rule. Here’s what you need to know.
When you drink expired coffee, you shouldn’t experience any serious health concerns. However, if the coffee has gotten moldy, consuming it can lead to digestive discomfort and stomach aches. Other than that, there aren’t many issues that can arise from drinking bad coffee.
Therefore, if you’re unsure whether the coffee beans you ordered in bulk are still consumable or not, the good news is you can always make a cup of coffee out of them and taste it directly.
However, when it comes to consuming expired coffee, always proceed with caution. Just because doing so doesn’t seem to cause any severe health issues doesn’t mean you should be drinking it in bulk.
As with all expired food items, you never know how your body will react to bad coffee, which is why if you feel uneasy about drinking it, it’s best to throw it out altogether.
Likewise, if you notice that something is off after taking that first sip, discard the coffee and the beans used to make it immediately.
Lastly, and I hope this goes without saying, if your coffee has grown mold, there’s no point in trying it to see if it’s salvageable.
While mold generally isn’t the most dangerous substance to ingest, in severe cases, it can even lead to death. Therefore, consuming it is definitely a bet you don’t want to take.
How to store coffee beans to extend shelf life
While there isn’t much you can do to salvage already spoiled coffee beans, there are some tips and tricks you can use to make your fresh batches last longer. Here are some of the most important coffee bean storing practices:
- Store in a dark, dry, cool environment. As I previously mentioned, excessive light and moisture are two of the most important factors that make coffee beans go bad. Heat can also similarly impact coffee quality, meaning you’ll have to be extra careful during hot summer months.
- Store in an airtight container. While light and moisture can both deteriorate a coffee bean’s quality, neither affects its taste and flavor as negatively as oxidation. By storing your coffee beans in an airtight container, you’ll be able to keep them fresh much longer.
- Don’t store your coffee beans in the fridge or freezer. Even though I mentioned that coffee beans require a cool environment, fridges and freezers actually achieve the opposite of what you’re trying to do. Both of these environments will expose your coffee beans to excess moisture, rendering them flavorless much quicker than you’d think.
If you must freeze coffee beans, make sure to package them in the most airtight container available to ensure no moisture can get in.
When you’re ready to consume them, simply thaw the beans at room temperature and use them as you usually would.
While coffee doesn’t go bad in the traditional sense of the word, it can still expire. Expired coffee is much duller both flavor and scent-wise than its fresh counterpart.
However, drinking expired coffee is unlikely to cause any severe health problems (unless you ingest mold in the process).
If you can help it, steer clear of buying coffee beans in bulk and only purchase when necessary to make sure you always get the freshest tasting coffee.