One of the things that put people off buying fresh coffee beans is the question of how long they last. No-one wants to pay a good price for some nice whole beans for their favourite latte then find out they aren’t at their best in no time! So the question of how long do coffee beans last and also stay fresh is something to understand before you make a purchase.

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One good thing to note is that most coffee roasters will publish a ‘roasted on:’ date on their labels. This means from the start, you have an idea of how long they have been around. It is important to find this to help understand how long to keep them for.

How long does roasted coffee beans last?

In a way, this is a trick question because coffee beans don’t ‘go off’ in the sense that something like a yoghurt or a smoothie drink would.

Coffee beans are considered to be shelf-stable dry goods and have a long shelf life. This means it can take them years to go stale. Most will have an expiration date on them but that’s more of a legal requirement than anything.

Coffee grounds and instant coffee are a similar deal. It is generally the least fresh option because there’s been a bit of work involved to get it to the current state. But it doesn’t go bad in that sense. This means you can have a jar on the shelf for years and it will still be drinkable.

The key thing is that in both cases, the coffee might not be as fresh as would be ideal.

How long do coffee beans stay fresh?

There’s a difference between how long whole coffee beans last and how long they stay fresh. To understand the difference, try making a cup from fresh beans that just arrived versus beans that have been in the cupboard for a couple of months!

Generally, coffee stays freshest for about 7-10 days after being roasted. That’s why getting your hands on the freshest beans is always preferable for hardcore coffee fans – that’s when it tastes best.

Ground coffee will lose freshness quicker, usually within a week. So if you buy ground coffee, the idea is to buy the right amount to get through it within a week.

Degassing process

The reason that coffee beans lose their freshness is something called the degassing process.

The process happens when you roast coffee beans and involved gases (particularly carbon dioxide) being released from inside the bean. Most of it happens in the first few days after roasting.  

Degassing can be a problem because it causes small bubbles when you brew coffee. These tricky little air pockets interfere with the process of coffee and water coming together and spoil the flavour and aroma of the coffee made.

So the trick is to get the coffee beans a little after this process has finished. However, after this, the beans start to absorb oxygen and oxidize which causes them to lose flavour.

Degassing doesn’t impact ground coffee as much but it also is more susceptible to oxygen damage and this is why it stays fresh for a stronger period of time.

How long do green beans keep?

Raw coffee beans are known as green coffee beans and these have a lot longer lifespan than roasted beans. Stored properly, they can last for a long time, up to 12 months from the roast date without losing flavour and aroma. They can then be roasted and used.

You need to store them somewhere cool and dark with stable conditions and away from any pests.

Can you keep coffee in the freezer?

The idea of freezing coffee beans is one that causes a lot of debate among coffee lovers. For some it is a practical solution, for others, it is a bad idea.

The problem with freezing coffee beans is that you can’t know how it will affect the flavour of the bean. Coffee beans can absorb moisture from their surroundings which is why keeping them in the fridge isn’t a good idea.

Take the freshly opened beans and put them in an airtight container or a freezer bag. You can even freeze them in their original packaging if this hasn’t been opened. It still isn’t a long term storage option, ideally only keep them there for 3-6 months at the most.

Make sure you thaw to room temperature before you make any coffee with the beans.

Should you vacuum pack ground beads?

Another idea that’s often mentioned to make coffee beans last longer is to use a vacuum bag. The idea here is that all of the air is sucked out of the bag and therefore the oxidization process can’t take place.

It can work but there are a few variables in there. How darkly the roasting process is can impact how well they take to being vacuum packed for example. One way valve bags are the best to use if you do want to try them as these releases any gases that could make the beans go bad.

Coffee bean storage options

There are a few basics to remember when looking at coffee bean storage options. Whatever you store the beans in, keep them in a dry place, away from light and moisture.

Heat is something else that can spoil those oils in the beans that help give them their flavour. So keeping them somewhere cool is an important thing to keep in mind. This is why people often use the fridge but you need to be certain there’s no way moisture can get near them and that’s tricky in the fridge.

Coffee storage canisters

The best way to store coffee beans and keep them fresh longer is to use a special coffee storage canister. These are designed to create the environment the beans need to keep fresh and are often made from stainless steel.

The most important thing is that the container is airtight and doesn’t allow any oxygen in so the oxidation process can’t take place. Most of the time, this is done with some kind of seal and clasp. The clasp pulls the lid tightly closed and the seal makes sure it is airtight.

The container should ideally be solid without windows or clear sections. This stops light from getting in and helps to keep the beans at room temperature. It also stops any moisture from sneaking in and ruining your beans.

Other coffee storage tips

Here are a few other tips to help keep those beans fresh and to get coffee that has the perfect taste:

  • Buy fresh, whole beans but check the roasted on date to aim for ones roasted within 1 week
  • Have a high-quality coffee grinder so you can grind the beans as needed rather than reduce their lifespan by grinding them all in a batch
  • Measure beans as you add them to the grinder and never leave them in it afterwards. Once they are ground, if you don’t use them for some reason, have another coffee storage container to add them to
  • Aim to get through the beans within 2 weeks of opening the original packaging. This might be extended by another week or two with the right storage, depending on the bean

How to spot coffee beans that have gone bad

While coffee beans are pretty tough, they can go bad in some situations. This is usually something to do with how they have been stored.

If you see mould or any other visual changes to the beans, then don’t try to drink or grind them. Also if they don’t smell right, don’t take a chance. Smelling not as strong is okay but if they don’t smell like coffee beans, then they may have gone bad.

Freshest is always best

With coffee beans, there’s no doubt that freshest is always the best. Ideally, you should buy coffee in small enough sizes that you can get through it within a week or two. Or experiment with freezing it to see if the beans cope and can extend their lifespan. While it is rare coffee goes bad, watch for those signs so you always enjoy your cup of coffee!

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