Ever bought some coffee, stored it for a while, attempted to drink it and got a stale, tasteless beverage? Let’s talk about how long roasted coffee beans last. This whole post will be like an FAQ of common coffee freshness related questions, so let’s dive in.
How long do roasted coffee beans stay fresh?
Roasted coffee beans will stay fresh for about 10-14 days after roasting. This is the ideal time to drink your coffee. After 14 days, the coffee will start losing its flavor and freshness and you’ll start noticing a slight difference in the taste.
The freshness of coffee beans depends on how much of the original flavor compounds and gases are still in the coffee bean. After roasting, depending on the strength of the roast, most of the compounds are still in the beans.
With each passing day, though, carbon dioxide and other gases inside the bean begin to slowly escape. That’s why you’ll find many roasters package their coffee beans with a little plastic or rubber valve that allows the excess carbon dioxide to escape easily.
This is a natural process and there is no way to stop it, but once all of the gas has escaped, your coffee is stale.
There are two more factors that affect coffee: oxygen and moisture. The more oxygen interacts with the coffee beans, the more compounds in the coffee begin to oxidize and change. Moisture also plays a big part here.
That’s why 10-14 days is the best window for using coffee beans. It’s enough time to be able to use all the beans, and also not too long as to let the gases escape and lose flavor.
Having coffee in the 10-14 day window from roasting is what will enable you to taste and smell all the floral/chocolate/nutty/spicy notes that you read about in coffee descriptions but feel like you never taste. Drinking coffee is as much about the taste as it is the smell.
When you grind freshly roasted beans, the aromas you’ll experience as the beans are being ground is truly something else and it’s as much a part of the coffee drinking experience as the actual coffee itself.
How do you know if coffee is stale?
If you always use supermarket coffee grounds, chances are you’re already drinking stale coffee. One of the most telltale signs of stale coffee is when all of the gas has escaped.
You can tell if there’s no gas left in the coffee when you pour water over it and don’t get any bubbles.
The bubble burst when water first touches coffee grounds is called the coffee bloom. The bloom happens when hot water touches the grounds and a rush of carbon dioxide and other gases are released.
Some of the gases and compounds stay dissolved in the water and that gives the coffee its distinct flavor.
In fact, blooming is a technique used by baristas to make sure the coffee is extracted as evenly as possible. If too many gas bubbles escape at once, they’ll prevent the water from interacting with the coffee grounds.
Instead, what some baristas do is pour just enough hot water to wet the grounds, and let the gas bubble out, then pour the rest of the water and let it brew.
Can I buy coffee grounds?
Can you? Sure.
Should you? No!
To make great coffee, please, please, please, please, don’t buy coffee grounds! You MUST use freshly roasted coffee beans and grind them right before brewing.
Here’s the issue:
You’ve already seen how coffee beans slowly lose their gases and compounds. In chemistry, if you ever want to speed up a reaction or process, you need to increase the surface area.
This is the same way a sugar cube would take ages to dissolve in water but the same amount of powdered sugar will dissolve much quicker. The powder increases the surface area and allows more water to interact with it.
Same principle with coffee grounds. The moment you grind the beans, the carbon dioxide and other gases start escaping exponentially faster like there is no tomorrow.
Coffee beans stay fresh for 10-14 days, coffee grounds stay fresh for just 30 minutes to an hour! Unbelievable, right?
Sure, grinding is an extra step, but it’s like cooking food. If you skip some steps in a recipe, you’re not going to get the same flavorful result.
Buy freshly roasted coffee beans and grind just before using. If you’re on a budget, get a manual hand grinder. They cost about $10, give or take a little, and it takes about 2 minutes to grind enough coffee for one serving(12-18 grams).
If you need to grind larger quantities, pick up a burr grinder.
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How to keep coffee fresh for as long as possible
Now that you have your 10-14 day window established, what’s the best way to store roasted coffee beans so they stay as fresh as possible?
There are specialized coffee canisters that you can pick up. They’re inexpensive, and are quite functional with little bells and whistles like a day counter and CO2 valve that make your coffee brewing life easier.
If you don’t want to shell out the extra cash(it is a luxury so to speak), you can use any airtight canister you have lying around at home.
The key word here is airtight. Coffee canisters have to be as airtight as possible to help preserve freshness.
Moisture, oxygen, heat, and to some degree, light are the enemies of good coffee.
Using a proper airtight container will keep moisture and oxygen out, so you’ve got those two bases covered.
For heat and light, the best place to store coffee is in a cabinet or pantry so light doesn’t get in and it’s in a cooler spot. Don’t leave it near a window where sunlight will heat the coffee beans.
Remember, airtight is the word of the day.
In case you wish to store coffee in the freezer for a longer period of time(freezing will slow down the CO2 release, as lower temperatures will mean slower molecular movement), you can do so but you absolutely must use an airtight container.
Otherwise, the coffee will absorb the aromas from anything else in your freezer and you may end up with coffee that tastes like chicken. Oops.
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Does coffee ever spoil?
Does coffee ever spoil? Depends on how you define the word spoil 🙂
If by spoil, you mean go bad like milk or meat to the point that maggots will start consuming it and if you eat it, you’ll most definitely get sick, then no. Coffee does not spoil.
But if by spoil, you mean lose its flavor and end up brewing a really sour, bitter drink, then sure, coffee does spoil 🙂
While the 10-15 day window is for the optimal freshness of a roasted coffee bean, it’s by no means an expiration date. You’ll still get drinkable coffee even after a whole month(this is provided you’ve been storing it well, if it has been exposed to aromas then everything is fair game).
Once you’ve tasted what really fresh coffee is, you’ll be ruined for anything else.
Here’s a shocker: the coffee you’ve been drinking at your favorite chain cafe? It’s most likely spoilt. These cafes don’t really roast fresh – with a few exceptions – so while they do indeed grind fresh, the beans may be a bit older.
What’s the “resting period?”
With all this talk of freshly roasted beans, perhaps it’s wise to raise the question of whether beans can be “too” freshly roasted.
When coffee beans are roasted, they are exposed to and reach very high temperatures, nearly 400 degrees F and sometimes above for specific roasts.
As you can imagine, that’s a lot of generated heat and the during this process and you need to wait for the beans to cool down and rest for a day or two before you start grinding and brewing.
Anyhow, if you are buying online, even if your favorite roaster is roasting just before they ship, the beans will have had sufficient resting time in the 2-3 days they’ll take to reach you.
Once you break the seal, your 10-14 day counter has started!
Note: this is not to say that you can leave a roaster-sealed pack of coffee for a long time. The gases will still escape and your beans will still lose flavor. The 2-3 day shipping window essentially increases your window to 12-16 days instead of 10-14. It’s not an exact science, after all.
Where can I get fresh coffee beans?
By now, you should have been convinced that you need to use freshly roasted coffee beans and never ever use store-bought grounds unless it’s some weird sort of coffee emergency.
So where do you get good beans from?
Your supermarket may have freshly roasted beans, but even then, they’ll still be well into the countdown and you will want to finish them fast.
There are plenty of local roasters you can pick up coffee beans from and many lesser known roasters actually roast some really fantastic coffees sourced from all over the world.
With coffee beans there are so many varieties that there will always be something new to try and you can probably buy sampler packs that will help you find which combination of coffee bean and roast suits you the best.
Good roasters often write the date of roasted and a suggested use-by date, too.
I’ve actually compiled a list of lesser-known but really awesome roasters that may be worth checking out. Giving some love to these roasters will help the small-scale coffee roasting scene bloom, if you catch my drift!
What is the best way to brew fresh beans?
The answer to this eternal question is:
Whichever way you want to brew!
Here are some guides to help you get started:
How long does ground coffee last?
While we’re on the topic of how long roasted coffee beans last, I suppose we should also talk about how long ground coffee lasts.
Here’s the bad news: ground coffee will lose most of the nuanced flavors within an hour or so of grinding. That’s because grinding increases the surface area of the beans so many times over that all the gases escape.
If you’re buying ground coffee, don’t. As much as possible, try to get freshly roasted beans and grind them just before brewing. Grinding one cup of coffee’s worth of beans takes about 5 minutes in a hand grinder and just a few seconds using an automatic grinder.
There’s also going to be a marked difference between freshly ground coffee and supermarket ground coffee. If you must get ground coffee, consider buying from a small-batch roaster so you know the beans were really fresh before they were ground.
Even if you let those grounds sit for a few days before using them, you’ll still experience a whole new taste compared to supermarket ground coffee which is often ground and let to sit for months before it reaches your cup.