Coffee beans are one of the world’s most precious commodities. Although they fuel many people’s everyday lives, they can be a bit pricey to purchase, so it’s natural to want to know how long you can make them last.
With this guide, you’ll learn the typical freshness periods for coffee beans and how to improve your storage techniques to extend their shelf-life.
How Long Do Coffee Beans Stay Fresh After Roasting?
How long your coffee beans stay fresh after roasting depends on how you store them. This also depends on the amount of time that passes between roasting and storage.
For instance, did you buy the beans in a package at the grocery store? If so, they may have already expended some of their shelf life.
However, if you bought the beans freshly roasted or prepared them yourself, you may get a bit
of extra time.
In one study, scientists measured coffee beans’ freshness based on two distinct approaches:
- Degassing: This is mainly characterized by the loss of CO₂ (carbon dioxide) and CO (carbon monoxide) during storage.
- According to scientists, up to 2% of freshly roasted coffee’s weight consists of trapped gas. Over time, these gases release, which can contribute to a loss of freshness.
- Aroma profile evolution: This is based on one specific “freshness index.” The index refers to the ratio of certain gases that change over time to speed up the beans’ flavor degradation over time.
The coffee’s freshness begins to decline as soon as the roasting process is over. What drives its degradation?
In addition to these factors, you’ll also need to make sure your coffee is stored in an area with a suitable temperature.
The study found that the best temperature to store coffee beans at is about 22°C (72°F). When packaged with a proper CO₂ valve, your beans will remain stable for as much as 46 weeks.
Keep in mind that, although the coffee’s packaging should be sealed tight, thus allowing the gas release valve to function correctly, it’s best to store the coffee in a well-ventilated area.
Researchers warn that storage in “non-ventilated spaces” can lead to excessively high levels of CO₂.
Severe imbalances in degassing can lead to the package’s inflation, which can cause it to tear, thus exposing the beans to the elements mentioned earlier.
How Do You Preserve Coffee Beans?
There are many different methods you can use to store your coffee beans.
However, know that some work better than others. Some of the primary coffee bean storage methods are described below.
- Short-term storage: If you plan on consuming the coffee within just a few weeks, this is unnecessary. Keeping it in either a resealable packaging or a vacuum container is just fine.
- Long-term storage: If you need to store your coffee for more than just a few weeks, it would be wise to invest in a vacuum container.
Surprisingly, the best packaging out of these two is the zip-up bag. A study found that some vacuum containers had higher “water activity” or humidity levels within the container when compared to resealable zip bags.
However, cups of coffee from zip bags had higher acidity levels, lower sweetness, and a dry after taste, which may deter some coffee drinkers.
On the other hand, although generally less suitable than zip bags, vacuum containers had lower acidity levels, and the coffee was sweeter and more balanced to taste.
As mentioned above, you will need to store your beans at about 22°C (72°F), or room temperature away from the following elements:
- Excessively high temperatures
This is the best way to make sure your coffee beans last as long as possible.
Should You Storage Your Coffee Beans in the Freezer?
Some coffee enthusiasts suggest freezing your beans to keep them fresh. Although this sounds like an appealing option, it is not a good idea to freeze the coffee beans.
This storage technique invites far too much risk for accumulating moisture upon thawing, which can harm the beans’ quality.
Additionally, freezers and the containers stored within them are notorious for letting in bits of oxygen from time to time. This exposure could accelerate the beans’ loss of freshness.
If you have no choice but to freeze your beans, remove only enough coffee for one week and immediately return the container to the freezer to prevent the accumulation of condensation.
The best method for freeze-storing coffee beans is described below:
- Separate the coffee into 1-2 week quantities. (This means that if your purchased bag is too much to consume in a single week, divide your week-long servings and package them separately)
- Eliminate as much air in the packaging as possible.
- Some people choose to vacuum seal their coffee beans. Feel free to do so, but this is a bit unnecessary for coffee beans, in particular. If not, you can use Ziploc bags, mason jars, or other freezer-friendly containers with reliable seals.
- When you need the next coffee ration, take it out of the freezer the day before you intend to use it.
- Leave the container out overnight for thawing.
*Keep in mind that freezers are incredibly dry areas. This is the main reason why ice crystals can accumulate on things, as the moisture is drawn away from the air and products inside and subsequently freezes.
Moving your coffee beans in and out of the freezer unnecessarily (and repeatedly) exposes the beans to the humid air outside the freezer, expediting the quality degradation.
How Do You Know if Coffee Beans Are Bad?
Although coffee isn’t necessarily a food product that can “go bad” or “spoil” in the way that others can, it can lose its flavor and caffeine concentration over time. While these effects won’t necessarily hurt you, they can put a damper on your coffee-drinking experience.
Expired coffee beans can’t make you sick like most foods because of the roasting process. The roasting process causes the beans to lose practically all their moisture, which eliminates the possibility of the accumulation of contaminants like mold and bacteria.
Without the colonization of these harmful microorganisms, you are not at risk of digestive complications thanks to drinking the old coffee.
However, grinding causes the beans to have far more surface area potentially exposed to humidity in the air, so you’re more likely to see mold and bacteria on the grounds, as opposed to the beans.
The following signs will tell you if your coffee beans (or grounds) have gone bad:
- The appearance of mold on the beans or grounds
- Rancid or otherwise unpleasant smell
- General loss of pleasant aroma that was present when the beans were new
Do Coffee Beans Stay Fresh Longer than Ground?
As previously mentioned, coffee beans are more likely to have a longer shelf-life than grounds because of the differences in surface area.
Whereas the beans are one enclosed item, the grounds are broken up, and therefore more susceptible to the accumulation of mold or bacteria due to moisture exposure.
Coffee grounds can lose their flavor profile and aroma only a few months after safe storage, whereas beans can last for nearly a year (as mentioned above).
For this reason, it is recommended that you only grind your coffee beans on an as-needed basis. It is best to avoid grinding a bag of coffee beans as soon as you get home.
Although it is convenient to have all your coffee ready-to-go at any time, this is a risky move and may compromise your entire bag.
Grinding enough beans to make about 2 tablespoons of grounds per 6 oz. of water is perfect for your morning joe.
Can I Use Expired Coffee Beans?
Using expired coffee beans isn’t recommended, but it won’t hurt.
As long as you’ve stored them properly according to the guidelines above, you won’t have nearly as much exposure to potentially harmful microorganisms when using expired coffee beans as you would with eating expired bread or cream that has gone bad, for example.
The only difference you’ll notice between the old and fresh coffee is that the flavor will be essentially muted. It won’t taste or smell as vibrant as fresh coffee would, so you’re unlikely to enjoy it much at all.
You can still give yourself a better chance of enjoying your brew by using the grounds within 30 minutes of grinding. Leaving them out for too long will only contribute to the stale taste.
The storage of coffee beans is almost an art form due to the scientific complexities that inform this process.
Your methods of storing will contribute directly to how long your coffee beans last, which can range anywhere from a few months after grinding to almost a year when left intact and stored properly.
Although you can use the beans after their expiration date, it’s not recommended due to the impacts on the flavor profile.
You can store your beans in a resealable zip bag or a vacuum container for the best shelf-life, and perhaps even freeze them (but be very careful when thawing!).