How Long Do Coffee Beans Last?
Coffee isn’t the second most widely consumed drink without good reason. A cup of coffee at the right time can help prop you up for a hard day’s work. But most people don’t drink coffee just for the boost--its flavor is also very important. Unfortunately, many people are often disappointed to find that coffee beans they bought just a week before have gone flat or stale.
This is rarely due to poor quality, but rather poor storage methods. Luckily, with proper storage you can prolong the life of your beans by several months.
How Long Does Coffee Stay Fresh?
Keeping your coffee beans or coffee grounds in a good airtight container can help prolong their freshness for long after their expiration. However, keeping your coffee fresh isn’t just about how you store it--it also depends on how the coffee was prepared and packaged. Some coffee just isn’t made to last forever (and you wouldn’t want it to), so it’s often good to replenish your coffee stores regularly rather than stock up for a long time.
It’s also important to know that pre-ground coffee or coffee you ground yourself will last for less time than coffee beans. Since there is more surface area in coffee grounds, and the middle of the bean is not protected, the natural chemical processes that degrade the coffee’s molecules will move much faster. However, with proper packaging and processing techniques, this difference can be minimized.
Storing Your Coffee
How and where you store your coffee is the most important thing in prolonging the shelf life of ground coffee or coffee beans. The best way to do this is to store your coffee beans in an airtight container in a cool, dry area at or below room temperature.
Stored properly, coffee beans can stay relatively fresh up to 9 months, although their quality will slowly degrade over this time. Coffee grounds stored in an airtight container can last you an extra couple of months.
To Freeze or Not To Freeze?
Refrigerating or freezing coffee is a very common practice for coffee drinkers. While freezing coffee can prolong the life of the coffee, it also kills its flavors and aromas. The cold atmosphere causes condensation of water within the coffee and coffee container. This alters the cell structures of the coffee molecules and causes the beans or grounds to lose much of their flavor--not to mention that it will pick up the bad odors from the freezer.
Storing the coffee beans in the freezer can be even worse if you move the coffee in and out of the freezer regularly, as this causes temperature fluctuations that damage the coffee and drain its flavors. For these reasons, we never recommend storing coffee beans or grounds in the freezer or fridge.
Processing and Packaging
Some parts of keeping your coffee fresh are out of your hands. The methods that the coffee companies use to package their beans affect the shelf life of the coffee as well.
Some coffee producers use a method called nitrogen flushing, in which the freshly roasted coffee beans are first packaged, then the gasses in the package are flushed out with nitrogen, which does not stale the beans.
Since coffee beans off-gas carbon dioxide for a few days after roasting, these packages are often equipped with a one-way valve that allows this carbon dioxide to escape without oxygen going back into the bag.
Nitrogen flushed coffee can stay fresh for more than half a year before being opened.
A far more common practice than nitrogen flushing is vacuum sealing. This is simply the process of putting the coffee beans in a vacuum-sealed container. This serves essentially the same purpose as storing coffee in an airtight container, although all the gasses are sucked out of the package first which leaves no oxygen rather than the small amount of oxygen left in an airtight container.
With this process, the beans are left out for 1-2 days to allow them to off-gas before packaging so that they don’t burst the packaging.
It is important to note that with both of these methods, once the package is opened the beans immediately begin to stale due to the oxygen. It is a good idea to move the coffee beans to an airtight container right when you open the package.
Companies that pack their coffee using industrial methods often have huge stores of coffee waiting in the system to be packaged. This means the beans are sitting in wait to be packaged--all the while being exposed to oxygen and degrading in quality.
Coffee companies that hand-package typically have less beans waiting for packaging, and the beans themselves are packaged faster than with industrial machinery.
One-way valves allow the gasses that are slowly produced by the coffee to exit the bag without oxygen getting in. This prevents the beans or grounds from sitting in their own gasses, which can degrade the quality of the coffee.
Light vs Dark Roast
The roast of a coffee also affects how long it will last, although not as much. Part of a darker roast is that it is exposed to higher temperatures and for longer, which leaves behind less of the natural oils and molecules of the coffee. This means that there is less to degrade, and it will go stale quicker.
Lighter roasts have more molecules to degrade and so they will last slightly longer before going stale.
Coffee Beans vs Ground Coffee
Coffee beans will always last longer than ground coffee. This is because there is more surface area in coffee grounds which allows the oxygen to affect more of the coffee molecules at once. How long coffee beans and how long ground coffee lasts still depends on storage and preparation, but if you plan on keeping your coffee for a few months, it is best to keep them whole.
Coffee beans kept in an airtight container can last for up to 9 months (although we don’t recommend pushing it), while coffee grounds can last for several months.
How To Tell If Your Coffee Is Fresh
There’s no such thing as a “coffee molecule”. Coffee is made up of thousands of compounds and molecules. So coffee itself doesn’t actually go bad.
Instead, much of the molecules within the coffee either evaporate or degrade. Carbohydrates go stale, lipids rot, and organic compounds such as oils evaporate.
Luckily, us humans are equipped with one of the best tools for telling if coffee is fresh: our noses. While our tongues can only differentiate 5 tastes (sweet, sour, bitter, savory, and umami), our noses can detect thousands of different molecules. Just by smelling the coffee beans, you can usually tell if they are bad. If they smell flat, the coffee will be flat--it’s as simple as that.
How To Get the Most out of Your Coffee
Brew as Close to the Roasting Date as Possible
Coffee is best when it’s fresh. Though coffee beans need a couple of days to off-gas before being ready for brewing, their quality begins to decline immediately after. The sooner you brew the coffee, the better!
Use an Airtight Container
Like we talked about above, using an airtight container is the best way to keep your coffee fresh. Although it won’t work as well as vacuum-sealed coffee, it’s pretty darn close.
Refill Your Coffee Stocks Often
Rather than needing to worry about how long the coffee you bought will last, replenishing your coffee once a month or every couple weeks will ensure that you always have fresh coffee. A coffee subscription can be the perfect way to do this without even needing to worry about going to the store.
Why Choose Amora?
Amora is a coffee subscription that ships you bags of premium coffee beans once a month--meaning that you don’t have to worry about keeping your coffee beans fresh. We also provide free airtight canisters!
Our unique small-batch 9-step roasting process is designed to limit the amount of coffee waiting for packaging, which minimizes the coffee’s exposure to oxygen and gets them into their packaging as soon as possible.
Choose from among our exclusive blends the roast and intensity that is best for you. Our Delicata Blend is the perfect light roast for those who want a smoother body, and our Intenso Blend is great if you prefer a more smoky, full-bodied coffee. All of our blends are hand-packaged with one-way valves to ensure that your coffee is fresh when it reaches you and stays fresh for as long as possible.
You can choose to purchase our coffee as whole beans or pre-ground. We recommend the pre-ground option in order to limit exposure to oxygen during the grinding process. Also, our exclusive grinding process utilizes blades that won’t burn or shred the coffee--unlike most at-home grinders.
Stop worrying about how fresh your beans are, and sign up for our premium coffee subscription today!