QUESTION: Are year old coffee beans still good? I have an old can that I opened up and only used half of. –William G
ANSWER: Year old coffee beans may still be good if they were kept in an airtight package and stored in a cool, dry location. Coffee beans don’t typically go bad in the traditional sense. Coffee beans do not typically rot, deteriorate, or become spoiled when stored correctly. However, when stored incorrectly, or when exposed to oxygen, moisture, or humidity, coffee beans can deteriorate rather quickly.
If your coffee beans have been exposed to the elements, or have any contact with moisture or humidity, they could no longer be worth putting to use. Be sure to check your coffee beans closely, especially if they were exposed to moisture, to look for signs of mold, or other growths, and throw them out if you find any evidence of damage.
Coffee beans start to break down a little bit the moment they are exposed to the open air, so as soon as you open the package. This is because coffee beans are made up of compounds that break down little by little over time. The molecules that make up your coffee beans are composed of carbs, aminos, and lipids, all of which are known to degenerate both physically and chemically, which can affect the aroma and flavor of your coffee beans.
When you purchase coffee beans, depending on the type you buy, coffee roasters will typically label their beans with a “best if used by date”. This date is typically one year after the coffee beans were roasted and packaged for distribution. Most coffee is stored in air-tight containers with nitrogen to preserve freshness.
Once the seal is broken, the nitrogen escapes, and the beans begin to be exposed to oxygen, which starts the process of degradation. If you store your coffee beans in an airtight container after opening it, the beans will typically remain fresh for up to six months after the, “best if used by date.” Some storage containers, such as triple-foiled packaging, only allows carbon dioxide to escape the container, and doesn’t allow much oxygen to fill the container, which preserves the coffee better than standard airtight containers.
Coffee beans that are stored properly and kept in the freezer can last as long as three to four years. Storing your coffee in the freezer, though it will make it last longer, also exposes the product to moisture, which can ruin your coffee. Expert coffee drinkers recommend never storing coffee beans in the freezer for any period of time.
Unopened whole coffee beans can last up to 10 months. Even if you have opened the package but are storing it in a sealed package, whole coffee beans will still stay fresh for up to six months. So coffee beans store rather well, it seems. Grounds, on the other hand, tend to break down quicker, as there is less surface area, therefore more of the beans are exposed to open air.
However, once you grind the coffee beans, there is a short window of time in which they will retain their flavor. While best enjoyed just minutes after grinding for the best possible taste, freshly ground coffee will keep a good flavor and aroma for two to six months. However, keep in mind that your beans will start losing their flavor much more quickly after being ground, so it is best to buy your coffee in whole bean form and wait until just before brewing to grind your beans. Also, when grinding, you only need to grind up the beans that you are just about to brew. Leaving the majority of your beans whole will allow them to stay fresh for a longer period of time.
If you don’t like to grind your own beans and prefer to grind them at the grocery store, you might want to consider investing in a coffee vault or a vacuum sealer to help preserve the freshness of your coffee ground for longer periods of time.