Coffee is probably one of the world’s most popular drinks, so it is more likely that the packet will be finished long before it comes anywhere near its sell-by date. But what if you find a forgotten packet at the back of the cupboard? Can it still be used? When does coffee go bad?
The answer depends on the type of coffee, how it is packaged, and how it has been stored. Interestingly, most coffees have a “Best before” date, rather than a “Use by” date, which is an indication from the manufacturers that it can still safely be drunk after this date has passed.
Fortunately, the freshness of coffee can easily be identified by its smell: once it has lost its smooth aroma, it has lost its flavor.
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What Does All the Coffee Labeling Mean?
You need to be aware of the meanings of the different labels that appear on food and drinks:
1. “Use By Date” – it is not recommended to consume the product after this date. This label does not usually appear on coffee. It could be dangerous to your health to ingest the product after the ingredients have begun to denature.
2. “Best Before Date” – this is the last date the product is guaranteed to be at its best. Eating or drinking it after this date means it might be compromised on taste or quality but shouldn’t have an impact on your health.
3. “Sell by Date” – similar to “Best before,” this is the last date shops are legally allowed to sell the product. After this date, the item is likely to lose quality. In some cases, a “Sell by” date may be followed by a “Use by” or “Best before” date.
What Happens to Coffee When it Goes “Bad”?
In many cases, it simply loses its taste. There are plenty of stories around about people drinking coffee that has been stored for decades with no side effects other than a sour taste.
It is important to think about how the coffee has been stored. If it has been open or become damp, it is probably wise to avoid. If mold has begun to appear, drinking the coffee could make you seriously ill.
When Does Coffee Go from Being Fresh to Stale?
Once coffee has been brewed, it needs to be consumed within 3-4 hours, or it will begin to taste sour. Keeping coffee warm in an insulated flask can be effective for a few hours, but it will begin to taste different as time goes on.
Coffee is not really a drink that can be reheated so another option is to turn it into an iced coffee. All you have to do is add ice, sweetener and a creamer and it turns into a whole new drink.
Ground coffee begins to lose flavor quite quickly as the oils evaporate, which eliminates some of the flavor. Once opened, a packet of ground coffee should last about 3-5 months.
Unopened ground coffee could last about five months past its sell-by date, although freezing the coffee can make it last for up to two years more.
Whole bean coffee is a very popular choice among real coffee connoisseurs. The whole bean coffee that you grind at home probably affords the richest flavor and smell.
It also lasts about 6 months after opening and unopened packs will usually last about the same length of time past their sell-by date. Freezing whole beans makes them last significantly longer, up to two years in some cases.
Instant coffee has made a name for itself due to our society being more fast paced. Because instant coffee is already freeze-dried, it can last longer than you might imagine.
As any coffee-drinker knows, the quality and taste of this type of coffee can vary quite considerably; therefore, there is likely to be a substantial variation in how long this type of coffee could last.
In some cases, freeze-dried coffee could last up to 20 years, and this applies whether it has been opened or not. Storing instant coffee in a freezer could mean it might never go bad.
Is it Okay to Store Coffee in the Freezer?
Freezing coffee is another great way to keep your coffee around longer. Not only does it extend it’s shelf life but it can be a great way of preserving the taste.
While in the deep freeze, coffee does not actually freeze and can still be brewed immediately with no side effects. If you have access to a freezer, this is probably the most effective way to store your favorite drink.
As outlined above, there are many different variations of keeping your coffee fresh after buying it. There is no right or wrong way. It’s completely up to the buyer to find the best way to keep their beans lasting longer.