If you’re an avid coffee drinker, you’re likely to have asked yourself, “How long does ground coffee last?”. We can also guess you might stock up on plenty of ground coffee for your machine. Buying pre-ground coffee means you don’t have to grind it yourself at home, but you also have to be aware of how long your coffee lasts.
Though some people don’t realize this, coffee can actually go bad. The longer you leave your coffee sitting in a jar or even in the fridge, the more the flavour will diminish. Knowing how long you can reasonably expect to keep coffee fresh should help you to make the right decisions about storage and even throwing unused coffee away.
Does Freshly Ground Coffee Go Stale?
If you’re used to grinding whole bean coffee to make your favourite drinks, you’ll know that it often tastes much better straight after its ground than when you buy pre-ground coffee from the store. As soon as coffee beans are ground, they begin to deteriorate.
Coffee beans are made up of hundreds of compounds, from lipids and amino acids to carbohydrates.
As time passes, these compounds undergo various changes on a chemical level. Although you might not notice any change to your ground coffee, it’s gradually losing the things that make it delicious. Carbs go stale, volatile organic compounds evaporate, and other components become bland due to exposure to oxygen.
Whole coffee beans generally last longer than coffee grounds because fewer internal compounds are exposed to the air. You can also get frozen ground coffee that may last longer than the standard coffee package’s shelf life.
How Long Does Ground Coffee Last?
How long your coffee can last will depend on many different factors, including where in the world it came from and how it was prepared. If you’re grinding and storing coffee at home, you won’t have a ‘best before’ date. However, a note on your whole coffee beans may tell you how long coffee grounds are likely to last.
In general, a bag of fresh coffee left unopened should last between around three to five months after its ‘best by’ date. Alternatively, frozen coffee should stay in good condition for up to a year or two after the roasted beans reach their ‘best before’ date. Once you open your package, you’ll need to use that freshly ground coffee to get the best flavour within a couple of weeks.
Vacuum sealed coffee packets help to prevent some of the air from getting to your coffee grounds and ruining the flavour. Notably, the flavour usually suffers the most when coffee lovers leave fresh grounds out for too long. As long as your coffee is properly stored, it shouldn’t expire in a way that makes you feel unwell. However, it will lose freshness past its expiration date.
Notably, coffee pods and instant coffee might have a shorter expiration date because they’re often mixed with other substances that go off quicker.
How to Store Ground Coffee to Keep It Fresh
The best way to keep ground coffee and coffee beans fresh is to learn how to store them correctly. Fresh coffee will still be fresh for longer if it’s kept away from elements that might encourage the rapid deterioration of various elements within the coffee beans. For instance, your best bet is to store ground coffee in an airtight container. You can store whole beans and ground beans in separate vacuum-sealed bags when you’re not using them. Ground coffee lasts longer placed in the freezer, as this can slow down the deterioration of the molecules following the grinding process.
Ideally, it would help if you kept whole beans vacuum sealed to make them last longer, as the grinding process significantly speeds up the deterioration of the coffee. If you’ve ever noticed the pleasant aroma when you use a coffee grinder at home, you’ll know that ground coffee essentially opens the coffee bean up to the world. As you grind, oils begin to rise to the surface of the coffee bean, and more of the coffee bean’s surface area is exposed to the air.
Having the right storage method for your ground coffee should help it maintain the best taste. Store coffee in an airtight container as soon as you’re done grinding it, and keep it out of any areas where it might be exposed to moisture. It would be best if you also stored coffee beans away from moisture where possible.
To improve the shelf life of your ground coffee and its flavour, make sure any grounds are kept away from sunlight. Extra heat can cause your grounds to lose flavour faster.
If you decide to freeze the airtight container, you use for your coffee grounds to protect them against carbon dioxide and other substances, remember you don’t need to defrost the grinds to use them. You can tip grounds from the freezer straight into your mug for a great cup of coffee.
How Do You Tell if Ground Coffee Has Gone Bad?
Whole bean coffee and ground coffee won’t always show signs of going bad. It’s not until you’ve brewed your morning drink with a spoonful of stale coffee grinds that you’ll usually begin to notice the difference.
The most obvious sign that you should throw your coffee away is if you notice mould or moisture inside the container you’ve been using to store your coffee grounds. Evidence of moisture around freshly ground coffee indicates that your grounds have been exposed to substances that will accelerate their deterioration. If you can’t see mould but you can see moisture or condensation, most coffee companies will recommend throwing your grounds away.
If your coffee looks fine but it’s been sitting in your cupboard for a while, you can test whether it’s gone bad by smelling the coffee. The roasting process used to prepare coffee beans helps to pack in many flavours and delicious aromas. However, when you grind your coffee, those aromas break down. If it’s been a while since the roasting date of your coffee, your grounds might not have the same strong smell anymore.
If the roast date was several months ago, and your grounds smell bland, they might have been exposed to carbon dioxide and oxygen for too long to produce a good cup of coffee. It’s also worth checking to see whether your ground coffee beans look the same colour as they did when you made your first cup of coffee. Even if you’re freezing coffee regularly, the beans in your freezer shouldn’t go pale in colour. If your ground beans look lighter than usual, this may be a sign they’re going bad.
What Does Stale Coffee Taste Like?
Coffee can stay fresh for a decent period, but the longer you leave it in storage, the more it will lose flavour. Often, the loss of taste indicates you might not have been following the correct storage tips with your beans and grounds.
If your coffee beans haven’t been stored properly, the grinds won’t taste as fresh as they would when you first used them. No matter how you brew your coffee, you still won’t get the best flavour out of it.
The best way to preserve a strong ground coffee taste is to keep your grinds in the freezer. If you haven’t been able to do this, you might notice a significant change in the flavour of the beans.
How to Know if Your Coffee Grounds Have Gone Stale
If you’re unsure if you can keep ground coffee in your freezer for any longer, or you’ve had different results with how long ground coffee lasts before, you can always try brewing a cup of ground coffee and tasting it. As mentioned above, though you might not get the best flavour, brewing a cup of coffee that’s gone stale shouldn’t hurt you, and it should save time when it comes to deciding whether you should be throwing your beans out or preparing them for long-term storage.
If, after brewing yourself a cup of ground coffee, you discover your ground beans aren’t as delicious as they used to be, try to reduce exposure to the elements with your next lot of ground beans by placing them in the freezer. You can also keep them in an airtight container before you’re ready for your morning cup of freshly brewed coffee.
Keeping Your Ground Coffee Fresh
The coffee flavour doesn’t last forever, but the right steps should ensure you can improve the shelf life of your ground coffee and get the most out of your beans. Alternatively, only buy coffee beans and grind them when you need them to avoid the problem altogether.
Either way, you should know how long your coffee should last and when to know it’s time for a new bag.