How Long Do Coffee Beans Last?

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Coffee is the most consumed caffeinated beverage for a reason. A cup of coffee at the right time can make a busy day at work more manageable. But most people drink coffee not only on impulse: the taste is also very important.

Unfortunately, you may be disappointed to find that the coffee beans you bought just a week ago have gone bad or stale. The question we are often asked is: How long do coffee beans last?

As you might expect, storing coffee beans or grounds in a good, airtight container can help them stay fresh long after their expiration date. However, keeping coffee fresh depends not only on how it is stored but also on the production and packaging.

How Long Do Coffee Beans Last?

Coffees aren’t made to last forever, so it’s often better to replenish your coffee supplies regularly than to store them for a long time.

It’s also important to know that pre-ground or home-ground coffee has a shorter shelf life than coffee beans. Because ground coffee has a larger surface area and the core of the bean is not protected, the natural chemical processes that break down coffee molecules occur much faster. However, this difference can be minimized through proper packaging and processing techniques.

Coffee Storage

Coffee shop

Image credit: Stocksnap, Pixabay

How and where coffee is stored is paramount to extending the shelf life of ground coffee or coffee beans. It is best to store coffee beans in an airtight container in a cool, dry place at room temperature or below.

Fortunately, proper storage can extend the shelf life of the beans by several months.

When stored properly, coffee beans can remain fresh for up to 12 months, although their quality will slowly decline. Coffee grounds stored in an airtight container can keep a few months longer.

Freezing Coffee

Refrigerating or freezing coffee is a common practice among coffee drinkers. While freezing coffee can extend its shelf life, it destroys its flavor and aroma. The cold atmosphere causes the water in the coffee and in the coffee container to condense.

This alters the cellular structures of the coffee molecules and causes the beans or coffee grounds to lose much of their flavor. Not to mention absorbing bad odors from the freezer.

Storing coffee beans in the freezer can be even worse if the coffee is regularly put in and removed from the freezer. This causes temperature fluctuations that harm the coffee and remove its flavors. For these reasons, we recommend never storing coffee beans or grounds in the freezer or refrigerator.

Packaging

Starbucks blonde roast

Image credit: Marcus R. Donner, BizJournals

Some aspects of coffee preservation are beyond your control. How coffee companies package their beans also affects the coffee’s shelf life.

Washing with nitrogen

Some coffee producers use the nitrogen flushing method, in which freshly roasted coffee beans are first packaged, and then nitrogen is used to remove the gases in the packaging, which keeps the beans from going rancid.

Because coffee beans release carbon dioxide for several days after roasting, these packages are usually equipped with a one-way valve that allows this carbon dioxide to escape without oxygen re-entering the bag.

Coffee packed in nitrogen can be kept fresh for more than half a year before opening.

One-way valves

One-way valves allow the gases slowly produced by the coffee to escape from the bag without allowing oxygen to enter. This prevents the beans or coffee grounds from remaining in their own gases, which can affect the quality of the coffee.

Vacuum Sealing

A far more common practice than nitrogen purging is vacuum sealing. In this process, coffee beans are placed in a vacuum-sealed container. This serves the same purpose as keeping the coffee in an airtight container. But all gases are first exhausted from the package, leaving no oxygen behind, as opposed to the small amount of oxygen that remains in an airtight container.

In this method, the beans are left for 1 to 2 days to allow them to outgas before packaging so that the container does not burst.

With either method, once the package is opened, the beans will immediately begin to go rancid due to the oxygen. It is advisable to place the coffee beans in an airtight container immediately after opening the package.

Hand-packaging

Companies that pack their coffee industrially often have huge coffee warehouses waiting to be packed. This means that the beans are waiting to be packed while they are exposed to oxygen and their quality deteriorates.

Coffee companies that pack by hand typically have fewer beans waiting to be packed, and the beans themselves are packed faster than with industrial machines.

Coffee Beans vs Ground Coffee vs Instant Coffee

Espresso coffee beans

Coffee beans always last longer than ground coffee. This is because ground coffee has a larger surface area, allowing oxygen to act on more coffee molecules at once. The shelf life of coffee beans and ground coffee still depends on storage and preparation. But if you want to store your coffee for a few months, it’s best to keep it whole.

Coffee beans stored in an airtight container can keep for up to 12 months, while ground coffee can keep for several months.

Instant coffee is not only a quick and convenient way to enjoy your coffee, but instant coffee can last for 1 or 2 years even when opened.

Tips for Fresh Coffee

  • Use an airtight container.
  • Brew coffee as close to the roast date as possible.
  • Replenish your coffee supplies regularly or use a coffee subscription.

How to Recognize Fresh Coffee

There is no such thing as a coffee molecule. Coffee is composed of thousands of compounds and molecules. Therefore, the coffee itself does not spoil.

On the other hand, many of the molecules contained in coffee do evaporate or decompose. Carbohydrates spoil, fats rot, and organic compounds such as oils evaporate.

Fortunately, we humans have one of the best tools to determine if coffee is fresh: our sense of smell. While our tongue can only distinguish five tastes, our nose can detect thousands of different molecules. You can tell if coffee beans are bad just by smelling them. If they smell bad, the coffee is bad.

Takeaway

How long do coffee beans last? Coffee grounds or beans can stay fresh for a very long time after their expiration date if they are kept in a suitable, airtight container. However, keeping coffee fresh depends on production, packaging, and storage.