How Long Do Coffee Beans Last: Opened vs Sealed Bag Comparison

By | June 28, 2017

Let me guess, you have a bag of old coffee beans that has been cluttering up your kitchen cabinet for a long time now and are wondering if you should throw them out?

Am I right?

That’s what happened to me a few years back. I ended up researching the shelf life of coffee beans and now I know way too much.

Please read on to learn how long coffee beans last once opened, how long they last while they are still vacuum bagged, if they are stored in the fridge or freezer, and all other related situations you can think of.

Click here to see the summary of this post.

How Long do Roasted Coffee Beans Last

Right now I’ll be talking about roasted coffee beans. Click here to read up on un-roasted green coffee bean shelf life.

A few years back I purchased a bag full of beans thinking I would grind them right away. This is back when I was using my blade grinder once a week or so (somewhere around 2010 or 2011). The blade grinder wouldn’t let me grind more than a small bit at a time so eventually I kind of stopped using the grinder.

After I tucked that grinder away in my cabinet the last bit of beans I purchased never got ground up or used for a really long time. I forgot about the beans as they got pushed to the back of my coffee cabinet and then there they sat for who knows how long.

The other day I packed up myself, my son, and our cats to drive out to the Oregon coast and as I was rummaging through the coffee cabinet I found the old (small) bag of beans and started wondering: “how how do long open bags of coffee beans stay fresh” – “do coffee beans actually go bad” – “can expired coffee make your sick”?

Before I go into detail on my findings let me summarize for you:

  • Vacuum sealed bags of whole coffee beans are good for around six months before flavor really starts deteriorating.
  • Vacuum sealed bags of whole beans will begin losing their freshness in a month.
  • If you store unopened bags of coffee beans in the freezer they will last up to a couple years before flavor starts getting bad.
  • In a refrigerator a vacuum sealed bag of coffee may last up to a year before flavor suffers too much.
  • For opened bags of coffee beans freshness starts diminishing after about 2-3 weeks in an airtight container and in even less time in a cabinet.
  • Whole beans actually start losing freshness within days after roasting although many people can’t tell the difference until a few weeks has past at least.
  • Once you grind coffee the freshness starts fading very quickly. The freshness of ground coffee lasts for only a few days before the average person can notice the difference in flavor. This does not however mean the coffee grind is bad in the sense that it will make you sick. So long as unused coffee grind stays dry it will be usable for a long time. The only problem is that the flavor will continue to go stale. After a few weeks to a month there will only be very few people that think the grind will actually taste good.

Why Do Coffee Beans Only Last A Few Weeks

Ground coffee starts oxidizing right away and if left in an airtight container away from heat, light, and moisture it can last a few weeks before the grind starts tasting old. Roasted coffee beans also start oxidizing right after the roasting process. In this however the flavor doesn’t start getting worse immediately though. The roasted beans will emit carbon dioxide (CO2) for a few days. After they stop emitting CO2 the flavor will be at peak but will then slowly start getting worse as freshness dissipates.

Whole beans simply have less surface area than a ground bean so the oxidation process is a lot slower. That’s why whole beans will taste fresh for a lot longer than ground beans. Even still the shelf life for fresh flavor is only going to be a couple weeks unless vacuum sealed or stored in an airtight container. Make sure to see this post on how to best store roasted coffee beans.

Can You Taste Coffee Beans That Are Not Fresh?

If you have a poor palate you might be able to take ground coffee out of a vacuum sealed bag 6 months after purchase and not tell the difference but most people can.

In fact roasted coffee beans (even when left unopened) in a sealed vacuumed bag can last for six months or so before the average drip coffee drinker will start noticing the difference in taste. For those who drink burnt gas station coffee and don’t care about the taste then certainly coffee beans can last even longer than that.

As is always the case with coffee beans. So long as they are stored in a dry location and never actually get wet the taste is the only thing that will decline. Older coffee beans will not make you sick.

There is one thing however that will go bad…

Brewed coffee will go bad.

I’m not sure why you would want to save brewed coffee for a really long time but it can go bad. Wet coffee grind and wet coffee beans will store growing mold and so will brewed coffee it if site out for days on end. Personally I’d be fine making coffee in the morning and then reheating it and drinking it 6-8 hours later (event though IO wouldn’t prefer to do so) but by the next day I’d be tossing it just like any other food that sits out overnight.

Of course in the fridge brewed coffee can last for a week or so but it’s all about storage. If you prepare it and store it properly then go for it but if you leave it out for a long time and then stick it in the fridge the life span of that coffee not going bad will be a lot less.

I took a look at Eat By Date to see what they said about the shelf life of coffee and as it turns out their recommendations jive closely with my own intuition. Sealed beans that have been stored properly can probably last for 6-9 months or even a couple years in a freezer but for those who don’t care or can’t tell the difference in flavor there’s really nothing bad about using coffee beans that are older than that.

On the other hand for those that are coffee snobs it’s worth noting that even in a vacuum sealed bag that has been stored in a freezer the “freshness” of the roasted bean starts fading away in days to weeks. I for one wouldn’t use beans that are older than a month unless I was making a bit of coffee for cooking or for a group of people that don’t particularly care about good coffee.

For more on storing coffee take a look at this post I published a few weeks back on storing coffee the right way. You’ll learn a bit more about how to store coffee beans for the long term and how long ground coffee can last in an airtight container vs a clamped bag.

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