Ground Coffee Do’s and Don’ts

If you’re a coffee-lover, you’ll have seen all the push to buy whole bean coffee and grind it at home to get the freshest, most delicious batch of coffee possible. But for many, getting a bag of good whole bean coffee can be a challenge. So instead people turn to the big bags or canisters of ground coffee that populate supermarket shelves.

Can you make a great cup of coffee with this ground coffee? The answer: yes! But there are a few guidelines that you should abide by to get the best pot of coffee from this grind. So if you need to turn to pre-ground coffee when you head to the grocery store, you can still have a steaming delicious cup of coffee by just making sure of a few dates, times, and storage tips.

Coffee Expirations

While many coffee experts push hard on whole bean coffee as the freshest and most wonderful choice for coffee lovers, both whole bean and ground coffee expires! If you’re not drinking up the coffee quickly you’ll end up dealing with it going bad after a certain time frame.

The specific expirations for coffee all depend on the form of coffee, the roast, and how it’s eventually stored. At its core, coffee expires because it’s a natural product even after being roasted. The compounds within the coffee itself including the carbohydrates, lipids, and amino acids break down over time.

Roasters typically label the coffee within the bag and the typical expiration is a year after it’s been roasted. The coffee is sealed within bags that contain nitrogen which helps to keep things fresh but as soon as open the bag to brew up a cup, the exposure to oxygen makes it begin to break down.

For the freshest cup of coffee, you’ll want to invest in whole bean coffee and only grind it in small batches that match how much coffee you’ll be making. But if you need to turn to ground coffee to make your favorite beverage, you can work within the time frame listed on the bag. You’ll need to trust your nose as well and if the coffee starts to smell a little flat, you’ve probably gone outside of the expiration date.

For the most part, ground coffee that you pick up in the store will stay fresh for a week or two in normal conditions. You can choose to store it a little bit more effectively and it will end up staying fresher longer but you’ll need to invest in some good opaque airtight containers. If you go with this route your coffee will stay fresh for up to two months!

Coffee Preservation

You’ve purchased some delicious ground coffee and while you enjoy a cup every day, you know you’re not going to end up using it all before it goes flat. The race is on to make sure you can preserve it as much as possible so you can keep using it on the regular! So how should you preserve it so you can keep enjoying it?

The first thing you want to make sure you do to store your coffee efficiently is to buy an airtight container that offers your coffee a cool, dark, moisture-free area. The key part of this is that it stays moisture-free. Moisture and water are the greatest enemies of good coffee whether ground or whole bean.

Moisture can ruin the flavor of your coffee and it will also encourage your coffee to start growing mold and mildew. If you come across your coffee-growing mold or mildew, throw it out! There’s no saving it at this point!

An airtight container will only extend the life of your coffee by a little bit and the best choice to make sure you have the freshest ground coffee is to drink it as quickly as possible. This may require that you may rethink the way you buy your coffee. You might want to switch to smaller bags that you can more easily use up before going in for the huge value saver coffee canister.

Freezing Coffee

It’s a big contentious point within the coffee community: can you freeze coffee to extend the life of your ground coffee?

The bottom line is that coffee in the freezer is just a good way to let moisture seep into the coffee and ruin the flavor. Freezing may extend the life just a little but not enough to risk the moisture getting into the coffee.

Again, the best method to keep your ground coffee fresh is to consume it as quickly as you can! The expiration on the coffee may not be a hard line but it’s a good suggestion.

Whole Beans Vs. Ground Coffee

There are so many different ways to consume coffee and the entire coffee community has strong feelings according to their camp. Whole bean coffee tends to be more expensive but offers a chance of longer fresh periods for your morning cup of Joe. Ground coffee is cheaper and much more available in bulk sizes for large parties.

So which should you choose? Take a minute to think about what type of coffee you want to make and the method you’ll be using to brew. Once you know what your goals are and what type of coffee you want to make, you can choose a good roast, grind, and flavor for yourself or your family.

Whole Beans

This is the freshest form of coffee you can get without plucking the beans straight out of the roaster yourself! These are sealed by the roaster and will stay fresh for about 6-9 months without opening. So if you choose to purchase bags in bulk, you can keep this in a cool, dark, airtight container and still make fresh coffee almost half a year later. Once the bag is opened the coffee will stay fresh for about 6 months easily. If it’s exposed to moisture or too much light the flavor will break down more quickly so keep a close eye on where it’s stored!

Ground Coffee

This is the coffee you’ll find most often on your grocery store shelves. So if you’re just starting on developing your coffee palate, this is where you’ll most likely start. Grinding the coffee starts the breakdown process and begins to expose the beans to the elements before it even gets to your house and hits your coffee pot.

The oils within the coffee evaporate at a much quicker rate with ground coffee and an unsealed bag of coffee will last 3-5 months beyond the expiration date. After the bag is opened and it’s sitting in your pantry, the coffee will retain its flavor for 3-5 months.

If you choose to grind your whole beans at home, the rule of thumb is to only grind as much as you need to make a cup of coffee as the grinding process of fresh beans will cause the grinds to expire at your home within just a few minutes. After about 20 minutes of being ground, the newly ground coffee will lose its flavor. Use it up quick!

Instant Coffee

Instant coffee is a forgotten aspect of the coffee community! Instant coffee doesn’t expire and can last for years rather than simply months. While it’s not as flavorful or as highly caffeinated as typical coffee, this can stay “fresh” in your pantry for 2-20 years. You’ll still need to store it well for it to last this long but this is a good option if you don’t drink much coffee but want to have it on hand for friends or family.

Brewed Coffee

You’ve had friends over and now you’re left with a big carafe of brewed coffee that you’re just not going to drink before it loses its flavor. Is there a good way to save it and keep it “fresh” for the future?

Water ends up releasing the solubles in coffee that will end up causing it to oxidize and lose flavor more quickly once it’s in liquid form. Brewed coffee won’t be good for any longer than 8 hours.

It can be extremely tempting to simply pour yourself a cup of cooled coffee and pop it in the microwave for a quick pick-me-up in the afternoon. This reheating will end up breaking down the flavor molecules even further and leave you with a sludge that’s just not appealing. Invest in a quality thermos or travel mug that will simply retain the heat instead of leaving you with cold coffee to reheat from scratch.

While it’s not quite a cold-brew, if you’re into iced coffee you can freeze the leftover coffee in ice cube trays and add them to iced coffee, cold-brews, smoothies, and other applications. So the leftover won’t go to waste but it may just be a bit unconventional when you use it again!

How to Tell if Your Coffee is Bad

Unlike fruit that’s gone bad or food in the fridge that you know has turned, coffee can be a little tricky to determine if it’s still good. This is where you’ll need to rely on your nose!

The freshest coffee will smell strong and pleasant. Coffee that’s gone stale or is now spoiled won’t have the same strong odor and will end up smelling just a little flat. You won’t be able to take note of the flavors that came out when you first bought the bag.

Flat coffee will end up smelling dusty and just lack the complexity of smells. It may take time to get your nose adjusted to ferreting out the types of smells of good or bad coffee. Brewed coffee will also end up changing in taste and smell the longer it sits and is exposed to moisture and the air. Typically after about an hour, the smell will change from a normal coffee aroma to one that’s more bitter and potentially sour.

Roast Matters

There are lots of different roasts available for ground or whole bean coffee and some last longer than others with flavor and freshness. Light roasts seem to last longer than darker roasts. Dark roasts have more oils and amino acids that are pulled to the surface of the beans and that can cause them to spoil much more quickly over longer times. Lighter roasts don’t have this thick oil and that means they’ll end up lasting on your shelf a little longer.

Bag vs. K-cup

Many people have turned from grinding their coffee or even using a bag of ground coffee to simply utilizing the convenience of K-cups or disposable coffee products. Each cup is packed individually and then sealed which means the coffee inside is very well protected. When you open a whole bag of ground coffee you end up exposing the entire bag to air which can cause it to go stale. K-cups are “opened” one at a time which keeps them fresher for much longer.

Coffee Do’s and Don’ts (Video)

Takeaway

Before you invest in all of the equipment needed to grind and brew your coffee, there are plenty of ways to make your favorite ground coffee from the grocery store fit your needs. Invest in a good airtight container that will keep moisture from entering your coffee grounds and keep it stored in a cool, dry place and you can continue to use your ground coffee for several months!

There are so many different ways to brew coffee and create a drink that suits your tastes but to begin, you’ll need the freshest coffee possible. While using ground coffee is convenient, for the freshest roast possible, you’ll want to grind your coffee from whole beans. Use up your ground coffee as quickly as possible and buy it in smaller batches to keep things fresh and moving through your coffee system.

Don’t discount the good ground coffee you can get at the grocery store! Use it and enjoy it but keep in mind the best ways to keep it fresh and you’ll be able to save money by using it without losing out on all of the flavors you want! Start brewing today!