Have you ever wondered if coffee can go bad, like most other foods?
Coffee has been a popular drink for decades and has been around for centuries. Recently, people have been wondering if coffee beans go bad, and if so, how long does it take for them to go bad.
According to the article we looked at on the subject, “Coffee beans do not go bad as long as they are stored in an airtight container” (Sugarman). However, like any other food product that is exposed to oxygen and moisture, such as tea leaves or potato chips, coffee beans will eventually lose their flavor and potentially start to develop mold.
To better understand what’s going on here, we need to take a look first at what a coffee bean is and how it does it go from farm to cup.
What is a Coffee Bean?
These are the seeds of a coffee plant. A single tree can produce about two pounds of green beans every year.
They are harvested from ripe, red, and dry cherries. Coffee trees begin to produce cherry-like fruit about four years after planting.
Once dried, the green beans have a distinctive flavor and fragrance.
A machine called a pulper removes the outer layer of the bean to reveal a yellowish-brown bean inside with a distinctive aroma known as “coffee bloom.” It is then roasted to bring out its full flavor.
Seeds, usually, are quite resistant to going bad. This is because they don’t contain as much water- they are mostly fiber and fat. This protects them from the elements- so coffee beans, even when green, are quite resistant.
Green beans travel, inside cloth bags, hundreds of miles from farm to a shipping port. From there, they travel across countries or continents to get to the roasting facility. And throughout this process, 99% of all green beans are still in good condition.
Roasting consists of technically baking the beans. This will remove what little water they had and now they are even more resistant to going bad.
After roasting, the beans are usually packaged in sealed bags. And this is key: the bags are never transparent and are made of resistant material- they are certainly not just a bit of plastic, but good material.
How Long Do Coffee Beans Last
Coffee beans will last for 6-9 months, but the taste and flavor will decrease as time passes. It is best to buy it from a well-known and reputable store so that they will be fresh and not stale.
Bad or Stale? Is it the Same?
We’ve established that coffee can’t really go bad because there isn’t much water in the beans, to begin with. You’ll never get sick from drinking coffee made from bad beans, nor never open a bag to find a rotten stink.
What can happen, however, is that the oils in the beans go rancid. This gives it both a sour smell as well as a distinctly sour taste that isn’t pleasant like the usual acidity in coffee. It’s also possible that coffee becomes bland in taste, or that it tastes like something it shouldn’t – such as rubber, or something else.
Because coffee is very absorbent, whenever the seal is compromised in packages, it’s as good as gone. It will take in smells from outside and soak them in. Some of them can be very, very unpleasant.
Alternatively, if coffee is exposed to too much heat or warms for prolonged periods of time, the oils will go rancid and ruin your coffee.
It is absolutely possible that you’ve had stale coffee before. It’s hard to tell the difference because it could easily just be a bad batch. Sometimes, we even convince ourselves we did something wrong during the brewing process.
How can I Prevent my Coffee From Going bad?
Four things: humidity, oxygen, sunlight, and temperature. These four things are what compromise the integrity of our coffee. If we learn how to properly control these four things when we store coffee, we can keep our fresh and tasty for much longer than you think.
- Humidity is the most obvious one. It attracts bacteria and mold. Since coffee is usually stored in dark places, mold is one of our primary concerns here. It can spread quickly if we’re not careful. Keep coffee stored somewhere dry, inside a seal container. Whenever you need to use it, close the container as soon as you’re done using it because of the humidity in the air.
- Oxygen is very dangerous. It will oxidize the fats in coffee and turn them rancid. This is why we need containers that are very effective at keeping oxygen out, and why we can’t leave our coffee hanging around in the kitchen after we’ve used it.
- Sunlight kills the compounds responsible for flavor in coffee. It’s so dangerous that all coffee packaging is as opaque as possible (except for instant coffee containers). Even grinders have tinted glass where the beans go to protect them as long as possible from the sun.
- Temperature exacerbates all three previous factors. If there is some humidity but low/medium temperature, you’re fine. But if it’s warm for too long, it’s a big problem. High temperatures will make bacteria spread faster, it will make oils go rancid twice as fast, and it will kill all aroma and flavor. If nothing else, see that your coffee is guarded from high temperatures. Anything over 95°F is considered high.
Coffee canisters have emerged in recent years and they do a great job at keeping beverages fresh. They don’t let any air in, are opaque, and some of them even have a CO2 valve that lets gas through, but not oxygen. Coffee beans emit CO2 naturally and having an escape valve for it will further protect your beans from unwanted odor.
To put it simply, store your coffee beans in a dark, cool, dry place. Ensure they are in a sealed container and they should stay in great condition for a long while.
Ground Coffee vs. Whole Bean
Another thing to take into account is that ground coffee has a much shorter shelf life than whole beans. Because ground coffee consists of very fine particles, it’s much more vulnerable. They are all exposed to the elements in a way that whole beans aren’t because they are still whole.
By rule of thumb, whole bean coffee lasts anywhere from three to six times longer than ground coffee. Ground coffee can last up to three weeks in good condition after the container’s been opened. Whole beans can last up to six months as long as they are stored properly.
This is why some ground coffee can already be bad as soon as you open it: you don’t know how long it’s been sitting there. It could have been roasted in another country (or even continent) and then shipped to your area. There, it sat in storage for at least a few days. Then, it was put up on the shelves.
In general, it’s a better idea to buy the whole beans because of this. Ground coffee is of course much more convenient (not everyone has a grinder), so if you do buy ground coffee we suggest you stick to buying small quantities – and storing them according to what you’ve just read here. You’ll definitely notice a big difference in taste.