Coffee, a beloved beverage for many, holds a special place in our lives. But what if a disaster strikes and you find yourself without a fresh cup of joe? As an avid coffee connoisseur, I understand the importance of having a stockpile of coffee on hand. Storing coffee long-term is easier than you might think. Let me walk you through it.
Does Coffee Go Bad?
Contrary to popular belief, coffee can indeed go bad. Coffee beans contain natural oils that can oxidize and eventually turn rancid when exposed to air. Even when stored away from oxygen, compounds produced during the roasting process can cause the beans to go bad. However, it takes a considerable amount of time for coffee beans to reach this state. Before that happens, the coffee will lose its taste and aroma due to “gassing off.” So, while it may still be safe to consume expired coffee, it won’t be as enjoyable anymore.
Coffee Shelf Life
Before we delve into storage methods, it’s important to note that different types of coffee have varying shelf lives.
Ground Coffee Beans
- Unopened, in Pantry: 5 months past the best-by date
- Opened, in Pantry: 3-5 months past the best-by date
Grinding coffee beans increases their surface area, exposing more of the coffee to air. This accelerates the oxidation process and causes the coffee to lose flavor faster. While ground coffee can still be safe to consume for several years after the best-by date, it may have significantly diminished flavor.
Whole Roasted Coffee Beans
- Unopened, in Pantry: 12-24 months past the best-by date
- Opened, in Pantry: 6-12 months past the best-by date
Whole roasted coffee beans have a longer shelf life compared to ground coffee. However, the roasting process triggers a chemical reaction that breaks down the natural oils in the beans, eventually causing them to go bad.
- Unopened, in Pantry: 10+ years past the best-by date
- Opened, in Pantry: 1-10+ years past the best-by date
Instant coffee, made through freeze-drying or spray-drying, removes all moisture and creates a shelf-stable product. Unopened instant coffee can last for years with normal storage. However, once opened, it can absorb moisture from the air, especially in humid areas. To store instant coffee long-term, keep it in its original packaging or transfer it to an airtight container, preferably on a low-humidity day.
Green Coffee Beans
- Unopened, in Pantry: 5+ years past the best-by date
- Opened, in Pantry: 12+ months past the best-by date
Green coffee beans, unroasted and with more stable natural oils, can last for a very long time. For long-term storage, store them in a food storage container, preferably without oxygen, heat, and light.
How to Store Coffee Long Term
To ensure your coffee lasts for years or even decades, it’s crucial to protect it from oxygen, light, moisture, and heat. Here are some of the best ways to store coffee long term:
Option 1: Freezer
Coffee has very little moisture, making the freezer an excellent storage option. To prevent the coffee from absorbing odors, store it in sealed non-permeable bags. Let the coffee beans reach room temperature before opening to avoid humidity absorption and spoilage.
Option 2: Air-Tight Containers
After opening a bag of coffee, transfer it to an air-tight container. While oxygen will still be present, slowing down the oxidation and gassing-off process will help preserve the flavor. If you have a large quantity of coffee, consider using buckets with gamma lids for storage.
Option 3: Vacuum Sealing
Vacuum-sealed packaging is commonly used for good-quality coffee to protect against oxidation. You can also vacuum seal bulk coffee beans or open coffee packages to prolong freshness. However, note that air remains inside the coffee beans, and home vacuum sealer bags are semi-porous. As a result, the coffee will eventually go stale but will still last a couple of years.
Option 4: Nitrogen-Flushed Coffee
Some high-quality coffee brands use nitrogen flushing to remove oxygen from the packaging after the roasting process. This method ensures maximum freshness. To allow gases to escape without causing the bags to explode, one-way valves are added. Nitrogen-flushed coffee provides a fresher product and longer storage time compared to vacuum-sealed coffee.
Option 5: Oxygen Absorbers
Oxygen absorbers are small packets of iron that remove oxygen molecules. Placing oxygen absorber packets in an airtight container with coffee eliminates virtually all oxygen and keeps the coffee fresh for an extended period.
Option 6: Mylar Bags with Oxygen Absorbers
For the best long-term storage option, use sealed Mylar bags with oxygen absorbers. Mylar is a gas-impermeable material that protects coffee from oxygen, humidity, and light. Green coffee beans can last over 20 years in Mylar bags with oxygen absorbers. However, roasted coffee beans should not be stored this way due to the breakdown of natural oils caused by roasting.
Storing coffee long-term is not only possible but also necessary for coffee enthusiasts. With the right storage methods, you can enjoy a fresh and flavorful cup of coffee even in the most challenging times.
Before you go, if you’re curious about making coffee without electricity, check out our guide.