QUESTION: Does old coffee make you sick? I am staying at a cabin and I only have a bag from last year. — Edward F
ANSWER: For the most part, old coffee beans, or even old ground coffee will not make you sick. The brew that old coffee produces, however, will not taste as good as fresh coffee will, and might even taste stale, or unappealing. There are exceptions to this rule, however. Old coffee that was not stored in a well-sealed container can go rancid in certain cases. If the beans or grounds were not sealed properly, were exposed to water, or have developed mold or growths, there is a good chance that it will make you sick, even if it’s brewed with boiling hot water.
If you run out of your coffee stash and realize that you have some old beans or grounds sitting around in your cabinets, you shouldn’t have any adverse reactions to drinking the coffee you brew from your backstock. However, check the package and the grounds (or beans) thoroughly before you decide to brew and consume it. Check the packaging for holes or a break in the seal. Check for dampness or wetness, and look for any signs of mold. Go ahead and give the coffee a good smell test too. If you notice anything unusual, it’s probably best to avoid the old coffee entirely and grab your morning coffee from a coffee shop until you have a chance to restock.
The best way to get the freshest, most enjoyable cup of coffee possible each day, is to purchase fresh, whole coffee beans in small batches, preferably only enough coffee to last your household for about one week. Then, when it comes time to brew your morning java, only grind enough coffee beans to make the pot, or cup you are about to drink. This way, you are grinding fresh beans right before brewing, insuring yourself that you are making the freshest, best tasting cup of coffee possible.
Coffee purists stick to this method of freshness and swear by it. It is also recommended that serious coffee enthusiasts invest in a burr grinder for grinding their coffee beans. Burr grinders crush the beans instead of using blades to cut the beans into grounds. The crushing process causes less friction and heat, whereas bladed grinders cause so much friction, they can actually burn your grounds. Burr grinders also provide a more even, uniform grind size, so you can make your grounds as coarse, or as fine as you desire, without a lot of variation. This is especially important when brewing using a pour over device.
The general rule of thumb is to use the coffee you purchase within one week if it is pre-ground coffee, or within two weeks if it is whole beans. However, some people like to store up on coffee for longer periods of time. This can be done without too much loss of flavor and aroma if you store your coffee properly in a container that is sealed airtight. As long as the coffee is stored properly, it can stay good for ages.
A redditor named LitrillyChrisTraeger found a 50 year old can of coffee that was still sealed and unopened and decided to give it a try and report his experience. Amazingly, the coffee was still good. Unsurprisingly, however, it tasted downright awful. The adventurous redditor described the taste of the ancient coffee as being similar to burnt popcorn.
So, all in all, old coffee can be used in a pinch, but only if you are willing to sacrifice the flavor and aroma of your java just to get the caffeine content. However, if you want your coffee to taste fresh and delicious, it’s best to stick with the freshest product possible. Old coffee will most likely not make you sick, but be sure to discard it if the package was compromised, the coffee has a strange odor, or if there is any sign of saturation or mold present on the beans or grounds.