Do Coffee Beans Expire? The Answer Will Surprise You
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Anyone who tells you that those coffee beans you bought 9 months ago (and forgot about in the back of your pantry) are still perfectly good is lying to you.
For all intents and purposes, they are, most definitely, expired. Yes, it’s true. Coffee beans expire.
Now, would drinking coffee made from these expired coffee beans hurt you? Doubtful.
Would the coffee taste fresh and delicious? Also doubtful.
Here we’ll break down some common misconceptions about coffee expiration and take a deeper dive into how coffee beans expire and how best to keep yours fresh.
Because fresh coffee is the best coffee. So let’s get grinding.
Do Coffee Beans Expire?
In a word, yes.
Queue the collective sigh of disappointment from all of the coffee enthusiasts out there.
Now, for those who consume coffee daily, coffee expiration isn’t that big of a deal. We don’t keep any coffee around long enough to worry about it.
But for occasional coffee drinkers, the rate at which coffee beans expire is definitely an area of concern.
All coffee beans, regardless of roast, type of bean, or bean origin, will eventually expire. But, fear not.
Several factors come into play when determining the rate at which coffee beans expire, such as roast level, storage method, and bean form (whole vs. ground).
So first, let’s take a look at the different roast levels and how each of these coffee beans expire.
Green Coffee Vs. Roasted Coffee
Side note: green coffee beans are unroasted coffee beans. Green coffee beans and roasted coffee beans have unique physical attributes, and there are marked differences in how these two forms of coffee beans expire.
Unless you’re roasting your beans yourself (and if you are, good for you!), you’re most likely buying roasted beans.
You might even have them ground before bringing them home (more on why you shouldn’t do that later).
So for the purpose of this article, we will look at how roasted coffee beans expire. Do green coffee beans go bad? Sure, but at a much different rate than roasted coffee beans.
So, what types of roasted coffee beans are we talking about?
Light roast coffee beans are golden brown in color with a matte exterior (no oils released during roasting). They are sometimes referred to as Light City Roast.
Light roasts have recently gained popularity, as the quality of coffee beans has improved in recent years, and roasters can be incredibly creative with their lighter roasts.
Light roast coffee beans are known for their complex, bright, and often fruity notes. More caffeine and acidity are retained in the bean because they are roasted less than other coffee beans.
Yep, you read that right. Light roast coffee beans have more caffeine than dark roast beans.
Light roast coffee beans are best used in manual brewing methods like pour over and cold brew.
Medium roast coffee beans are roasted slightly longer than light roast but not long enough to release the oils from the beans. They have a medium-brown color with minimal sheen.
Medium roasts are the most common coffee beans you’ll find in America. They are the most versatile and work well for a variety of brewing methods.
The nuances in medium roast coffee beans are primarily determined by where the coffee beans are grown. Medium roast beans are the best coffee beans to try if you’re new to coffee brewing and want to try several brewing methods.
Medium-dark roast coffee beans, also known as Full City Roast, are darker in color than medium roast beans, with a slight sheen to the surface due to the oils released during roasting.
Medium-dark roast beans have a more complex flavor profile than medium roast and offer more bittersweet, dark chocolate flavor nuances.
Medium-dark roast beans are another fantastic option for those who switch between brewing methods, as this roast can be used for espresso in a pinch.
Dark roast beans, often referred to as French Roast, are dark, almost black, with a gleaming exterior.
Dark roasts offer more of the charred, smoky flavor notes that we’ve come to expect in espresso but are smoother and less acidic than other roasts.
Dark roast beans are traditionally used for espresso and are not as well suited for standard drip brewing or other manual brewing methods (pour over, french press, etc.).
Does roast impact how fast coffee beans expire?
So now that you’ve got the low-down on all of the roast categories you might consider trying, you’re likely wondering how the roast level impacts how fast the coffee beans expire.
While the difference in expiration rate is minimal, some will argue that light roast coffee expires slower than darker roasts.
As the beans are roasted, oils are released from within the bean and then sit on the surface of the beans. These oils then interact with the environment around them and can cause the beans to spoil faster.
Coffee beans roasted at a light level are more similar to their original green coffee bean counterparts. They have a drier exterior which tends to resist physical and chemical change better.
But, again, the difference is negligible.
No matter which roast you choose, the form in which you store your coffee (whole or ground) will have a more significant impact on how fast the coffee beans expire.
Whole Coffee Beans Vs. Ground
Spoiler alert: pre-ground coffee is already stale when you bring it home.
Yes, even if you grind it as you’re leaving Costco.
If you’re a person who prefers to buy pre-ground coffee or grind the beans at the store, we beg you to change your ways. Like seriously, please stop.
Pre-ground coffee will never taste as good as freshly ground coffee. This is because coffee beans begin to oxidize immediately after roasting (yikes), and the more exposure they have to the air, the faster the coffee beans expire.
Like roasting, when coffee is ground, more oils and aromas are released from the beans, and more of the bean is exposed to the air around them.
So, essentially, ground coffee is never actually fresh. Is it technically expired? No. But who wants to drink stale coffee?
How To Properly Store Coffee Beans
In addition to bean form, coffee bean storage has a notable impact on the rate at which the coffee beans expire.
Consider this before you toss that 2lb bag of coffee beans into your Costco shopping cart.
You’ll want to store your coffee beans in an airtight container, away from sunlight.
Coffee beans will last about 90 days post-roasting (in their original vacuum-sealed bag) but will only stay fresh for about 10-14 days once you’ve opened the bag. (gasp!)
Here are a few simple tricks to keep your coffee beans as fresh as possible:
Our favorite storage method is a stainless steel-lined, vacuum-sealed storage container like this one. We keep one handy on our kitchen counter, away from sunlight.
But maybe you don’t want yet another storage container cluttering up your kitchen. We feel you.
If your beans came in a foil bag with a one-way air filter (let’s air out but not in), you can just leave them in there.
Once opened, simply seal the bag with a couple of clips and store it in a cool, dark place away from any heat sources. The coffee beans will stay decently fresh for up to 2-3 weeks by doing this.
If your coffee comes in a paper bag, transfer it to an airtight container and then store the container in a cool, dark place.
If you couldn’t resist the 2lb bag of beans at Costco, please do resist the temptation to refrigerate your coffee beans. Refrigeration actually makes the coffee beans expire faster as condensation pushes the oils to the surface of the beans.
The freezer is your best option if you really need to store coffee beans longer than a few weeks. But we caution against this method as well.
We recommend dividing the coffee beans into small, airtight containers to avoid freezer burn. The catch here, other than the extra freezer space necessary to store all of your containers, is that you’ll need to fully thaw the beans before grinding and brewing.
What was once a convenient morning beverage is not so anymore.
Coffee beans expire more rapidly than any of us would like to admit. But, like many other dried goods, they are perfectly safe to consume even after the expiration date (as long as there is no mold, mildew, or any other marked changes to the composition of the beans, of course).
But we don’t think consuming them would be particularly enjoyable.
And life is too short to drink crappy coffee. So do yourself a favor and just throw out that old bag of beans and pick up a freshly roasted bag.
We promise you’ll taste the difference.