An infographic containing 6 coffee storage tips.

Ahhh, coffee… There’s nothing quite like the taste of a fresh cup of coffee in the morning right when you wake up…

or in the afternoon during that lull after lunch break…

or in the evening when you are cozied up with that book. Hey let’s be honest, coffee is great around the clock! But you want to know what the key is to coffee’s great taste? It’s the freshness, one hundred percent! Your coffee has to be fresh…

This begs the question: How do I Keep My Coffee Fresh? If you appreciate the taste of a great coffee and are looking for tips to maximize the length of your coffee storage, then you are in the right place! Let’s begin, shall we?

  • Light, Heat, Moisture, and Oxygen are the coffee killers. Avoid them at all costs in your coffee storage.
  • The fridge is not the place for coffee storage. Don’t even think about it.
  • Invest in a good coffee storage canister that checks off all the boxes of good coffee storage protocol.

 

A very common question we hear is: How long can I keep coffee fresh? The answer to this question will vary depending on the storage location of the coffee, whether the coffee is ground or whole bean, and whether the coffee has been brewed yet or not. We will look at each one of these in order.

Storage Factors for Keeping Coffee Fresh

There are several coffee storage factors to be aware of that will make your coffee go bad and stale… the coffee killers, so to speak. These factors are light, temperature, moisture, air, and grinding.

light rays on coffee storage beans

Photo by Tomi Vadász on Unsplash

#1. Exposure to Light

The first factor to consider in keeping coffee fresh is light. Direct sunlight will accelerate the decay of your coffee beans. The process is called photodegradation, and it is responsible for the breakdown of pigments, fats, proteins, vitamins… Ok, well we don’t need to get into all the technical stuff, just know that it makes your coffee less tasty.

And the frustrating part is this: photodegradation takes place with all types of light. This means that even LEDs, lamps, and other sources of light can initiate photodegradation, just like sunlight. Quite an enlightening fact, isn’t it?

Thermometers with hot and cold temps, emphasizing extreme temperatures in coffee storage.

#2. Extreme Temperatures

A second storage factor to consider for keeping coffee fresh is temperature. Temperature acts as a catalyst for chemical reactions. As a result, a chemical reaction will take place faster at a higher temperature. That’s why we stick food in our refrigerator or freezer, to slow down that rate of chemical change (wow, you weren’t expecting this much science when you began reading this article, did you? 😉 )

You probably guessed where this is going: hot temperatures are not good for coffee because they will cause it to break down faster. So if you were thinking about storing your coffee in a cabinet next to the oven, think again…

If hot temperatures are bad for keeping coffee fresh, then cold ones must be the right approach, not? Why not just throw the coffee in the freezer then? This topic has been a heated debate for some time, and the short answer is this: you can, but know what you are doing. Freezing your coffee, if not done correctly, will ruin your coffee. For more info on this topic, hop down to our section on “Common Coffee Storage Questions.”

Moisture droplets on gray background that hinder keeping coffee fresh

#3. Exposure to Moisture

A third factor to consider in keeping coffee fresh is moisture. Moisture will affect any type of food item, and coffee is no different. Moisture will instantly start reacting with your coffee, giving it a moldy, fermented flavor and a darker color. Not exactly what you are looking for in a fresh cup of joe, eh?

beans lying out open on a countertop in a kitchen

#4. Exposure to Oxygen

A fourth factor in keeping coffee fresh is oxygen in the air. But wait, oxygen is a harmless and needed thing, isn’t it? Well, to you it might be, but not to your coffee! Oxygen, like the previous factors above, will start breaking down your coffee if it is exposed to it for a long period of time. This process is called oxidation, and it occurs when oxygen molecules break down acids, aromas, sugars, and… ok sorry, we’re straying too much into the science again. Just remember, oxygen is not your coffee’s friend.

Whole Bean vs. Ground Coffee: Which Stays Fresh Longer?

Are you one of those individuals who prefers to grind all their beans at one shot? If so, you might not be enjoying the freshest cup of coffee that you could be. As much as you might like to deny it, it’s true.

When you grind your beans, the process of oxidation starts right away, and your coffee will become stale much sooner. This is because ground coffee has much more surface area and the middle of the bean is unprotected, allowing oxidation to work quicker. Some even say the ground coffee will lose notable flavor in just 15 minutes. Whole coffee beans, on the other hand, will retain their flavor and aroma much longer, increasing shelf life.

When we say shelf life throughout this article, what are we referring to? We are referring to the amount of time your coffee retains reasonably good freshness (its flavor and aroma). We are not referring to whether or not it is safe to drink. That would bring about a whole different set of numbers, which we aren’t concerned about. Coffee isn’t worth consuming unless it is fresh, right? We certainly think so.

Picture of grounds and beans together.

Speaking of numbers, let’s start with the shelf life of whole beans. If you have a sealed coffee canister in good storage conditions, you can expect the shelf life of whole beans to be about 2-3 months past the “best-by” date.

Ground coffee, as we specified above, is a much different story. After grinding your beans, you can expect the grounds to stay fresh for about a week. If you buy ground coffee at the store, you should use it within two weeks of purchase at the latest if you want that fresh, flavorful coffee… and who doesn’t, am I right?

How Long Can You Keep Instant Coffee Fresh?

Hand pours instant coffee into a mug.

If you ever have run out of coffee and desperately needed that boost of caffeine, you may have turned to instant coffee. Instant coffee is basically coffee crystals or powders that have been dehydrated by either hot air or the freeze-dried method.

According to the USDA, instant coffee has been placed in the category of “shelf-stable food.” In other words, instant coffee will keep relatively fresh for a long, long period of time. Most instant coffee brands list the shelf life around 1-2 years.

However, if all the best coffee storage methods are followed, instant coffee can last for about 20 years. Wait, what! 20 years? Yup, you read that right. At this point, however, you can’t expect the flavor and freshness to be as good, but it is just as safe to consume as it was on day one!

How Long Can You Keep Coffee Pods Fresh?

A keurig machine with coffee pods in the background.

We all appreciate the convenience factor of a quick coffee pod when we are on the go. But how long do these coffee pods retain their freshness?

You would probably guess that the shelf life is similar to that of ground coffee. But actually, coffee pods have a much longer shelf life because of how they are packaged. According to Keurig, their coffee pods are “nitrogen-flushed, sealed for freshness, and impermeable to oxygen, moisture, and light.”

In other words, coffee pods are vacuum packed, meaning all the oxygen is removed and replaced with nitrogen. Then they are stored in pods that are specifically designed for optimal coffee storage. As a result, coffee pods retain freshness for about 3 months past the “best-by” date.

However, if your coffee pods are damaged or the seal is broken, this would obviously change things.

How Long Can You Keep Brewed Coffee Fresh?

Pouring a cup of fresh brewed coffee out of a pot.

When you brew coffee, the liquid starts deteriorating instantly and freshness is lost. If you leave brewed coffee sit out in your favorite mug, it will retain its freshness for about 20-30 minutes. Wow, that’s fast! Some of us aren’t even done drinking our coffee by then.

But what about storing it in a sealed container? Doing this would help the coffee retain freshness for about 1-2 hours. If you decide to put that sealed container in the fridge, you could potentially save your brewed coffee for about 2-3 days. But at that point, your coffee would greatly suffer in the flavor category. So do yourself a favor and drink your coffee shortly after brewing…

How Long Can You Keep Cold Brew Coffee Fresh?

fresh cold brew coffee being poured in tall glasses

You might be guessing that cold brew has the same shelf life as regular brewed coffee, but this is not the case. Cold brew is not just hot coffee that has been poured over ice. Cold brew is made by slow-steeping coffee beans before straining them out. The result is a very strong concentrate of coffee. This concentrate can retain freshness in a fridge for about 7-10 days. If you dilute the concentrate with water, that number changes to about 2-3 days.

Now that we have covered important coffee storage factors and the shelf life of various forms of coffee, what are some optimal coffee storage tips that you can use today to retain freshness?

Use the Right Coffee Storage Container

A picture of a stainless steel coffee storage canister.

One example: Coffee Gator Storage Container

Storage Canister for Keeping your coffee fresh longer

Another example: Planetary Design Airscape

Coffee’s retail packaging is usually not ideal if you are trying to retain freshness for a long time. If you are serious about your coffee, then invest in some proper coffee storage containers.

The best coffee storage container is going to be one that is airtight. This will slow down the rate of oxidization since your beans will not have airflow or oxygen. In addition to this, make sure your coffee storage container is opaque; meaning, it doesn’t let light through. As we mentioned above, light exposure will accelerate the decay of your coffee, so avoid using anything that is clear or light colored.

What are your options then? A stainless steel, ceramic, or dark colored canister of some kind is your best bet. Some of these canisters also have special lids that utilize certain techniques, like degassing and vacuum packing.

In summary, our recommendation would be a stainless steel canister with a special degassing or vacuum packing technique. There are numerous models out there. You can check out a few here.

Choose the Right Coffee Storage Location

This point is pretty straight-forward. Light is bad… heat is bad… moisture is bad… So find a spot that doesn’t have these things! Find a dark, cool, dry place in your kitchen somewhere. Perhaps the back part of a pantry shelf or cupboard space is the optimal place that checks off those boxes for you.

Whatever you decide to do, be sure you don’t place your coffee in or near a heat source, like an oven, stove top, or a cupboard or shelf in direct sunlight. Also, find a spot that doesn’t have much temperature fluctuation. If severe, temperature fluctuation can create moisture in your coffee storage container and ruin your coffee.

Only Buy the Amount of Coffee You Intend to Use

Handing scooping fresh coffee beans at a store.

It can be tempting to stock up on a stash of beans, especially when the local grocery store is running a sale. But if you are serious about coffee freshness, then you need the exert some self-control and avoid the urge.

The best cup of coffee is one made with the freshest, most recent beans or grounds. If you have a large stash of coffee, you’ll be sacrificing freshness. By the time you get to the end of your stash, your beans or grounds will be old and less flavorful. As a result, it’s best to buy coffee in quantities that will last you 1-2 weeks.

Do Your Coffee Storage in Small portions

If you store a ton of coffee in one container, you are actually hindering the quality of your coffee. It’s simple, really. Consistent opening and closing of a large canister exposes your coffee to harmful elements, such as light, oxygen, and potential moisture and temperature changes. The smaller your coffee storage canisters, the fewer times you will need to open and close it.

Buy Coffee That Has Just Been Roasted

roasting fresh coffee beans red mug

When you buy coffee, you want to be aware of the roast date. Beans slowly start to lose their freshness as soon as they are roasted. With that in mind, buy coffee as close to the roast date as you can.

Another option is to skip the local grocery store and head straight to the local coffee roaster (if you have one nearby, of course). Some coffee roasters will even grind the beans for you if desired!

Buy Some Fresh Coffee

Roast Your Own Beans (if you’re adventurous)

We get it, DIY roasting is not for everyone. But if you want to try roasting yourself, it can be a great strategy for coffee storage! As we mentioned above, beans slowly star losing their freshness as soon as you roast them. But green beans can last much longer! If they are properly stored, green beans can last up to 12 months while still retaining a reasonable amount of freshness.

And that right there is the 6 tips for coffee storage and keeping coffee fresh! Here’s an infographic for you that summarizes these points concisely:

An infographic containing 6 coffee storage tips.

There are plenty of questions out there about coffee storage and keeping coffee fresh. We picked some of the most common ones to answer here.

Does Putting Coffee in the Fridge Keep it Fresh?

The answer is no. The refrigerator is a bad idea for storing your coffee, no matter if it is ground or whole bean. When coffee is roasted, the beans lose a ton of moisture. As a result, they will quickly absorb moisture after roasting if they are exposed to it. The fridge is one place where there is plenty of moisture exposure.

In addition, coffee beans are known for absorbing smells and removing odors. If you place coffee in the fridge, it will absorb all the smells in your fridge and change its taste. Yuck! You certainly don’t want that.

Does Putting Coffee in the Freezer Keep it Fresh?

Ahhh, the good ole freezer vs. pantry debate. This debate has been going on for a long time, and there are coffee connoisseurs on both sides of it. Freezing coffee can increase the shelf life, but you need to be careful.

Let’s start with the dangers of freezing your coffee. First, there is a ton of moisture in your freezer, and your coffee will soak in all the moisture and odors your freezer has to offer if left exposed. Secondly, extreme temperature variation can also create moisture in a storage container. You don’t want to keep pulling your coffee out of the freezer and then later putting it back in to refreeze. In fact, you don’t want to ever refreeze your coffee if you can help it.

However, the freezer can keep your coffee fresh if it is done correctly:

  • First, you must use an air-tight or vacuum-packed storage container so that your coffee isn’t exposed to moisture or odors.
  • Secondly, only remove your beans when you are ready to use them. Don’t remove them from the freezer during the freezing period and then later put them back.
  • Thirdly, when you do remove your coffee, let it thaw to room temperature without opening the container. If you open the container, your coffee will suffer a rush of warm air that quickly turns to condensation.
  • Lastly, be sure to grind and brew your coffee within two weeks of thawing.

What’s our recommendation? We always say the best cup of coffee is made with the freshest, most recently roasted coffee. You can interpret that however you like 😉.

Does Coffee Expire?

Not necessarily. Coffee doesn’t really expire like other foods: sour milk, moldy bread, rotten bananas, etc. Actually, coffee is safe to drink well behind the “best-by” date. However, coffee can go bad in a sense. What we mean by this is that coffee can become stale and lose its flavor and aroma.

How Do You Know if Coffee is Stale?

Give your coffee the good ‘ole sight and smell test.

When beans are just roasted, oil-like substances will be drawn out and coat the outside of the bean. If your beans do not have a glossy appearance or you don’t see oil residue on your hands after holding them, they may be stale.

Secondly, give your beans or grounds a good smell. Fresh coffee will have a strong, vivid scent. Stale coffee will have a dull, lifeless, musty aroma. If your coffee smells that way, you can be sure they are stale.

Lastly, if you have coffee that you just purchased and you know is fresh, compare the questionable beans in sight and smell to the fresh beans.

What can I do with Stale Coffee Beans?

So you found some old, stale beans in the back of the cupboard. What should you do with them?

  • Try making some cold brew with them. The extraction time for cold brew is much longer, so stale beans actually don’t impact the flavor as much.
  • Use it as a décor item. The look of coffee beans in a glass container is really trendy and makes a great décor piece. Or, you could just come up with your own creation!
  • Neutralize Odors. Coffee is known as a deodorizer because it contains nitrogen.
  • Use as a Fertilizer. Grind your stale beans and use them as fertilizer in your garden. Coffee grounds contain important nutrients that help growing plants.
  • Mix in your Compost. Coffee contains nutrients that aid in the composting process.
  • Repel Insects. There are certain compounds in coffee grounds, like caffeine and diterpenes, that are toxic to insects. Try spreading some stale grounds in cracks and flower beds around your home to deter insects from getting in.

Well, that about wraps it up! To summarize everything up, just remember the following:

  • Light, Heat, Moisture, and Oxygen are the coffee killers. Avoid them at all costs in your coffee storage.
  • The fridge is not the place for coffee storage. Don’t even think about it.
  • Invest in a good coffee storage canister that checks off all the boxes of good coffee storage protocol.

I hope this information helps you in your quest for keeping coffee fresh long-term. If it has been helpful, be sure to let us know! And if you have any remaining questions about coffee storage, please reach out and we’ll do our best to answer them.

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