As a professional coffee roaster, I’m often asked, “How long does coffee last”. Before I answer your question, let’s assume that you love coffee. In fact, let’s assume that you only love really good coffee; coffee that’s as smooth as silk, with an aroma that would tame a wild beast, and flavor that would make a Marine cry. If that’s what you’re looking for, then let’s delve in and answer this very important question, “How long does coffee last”.
So, what kind of coffee are we talking about? Are we talking about green unroasted coffee, which if kept cool and dry, will last perfectly well for 2-5 years. Or are we talking about brewed coffee, which in my humble opinion, lasts for about 1-2 hours. Or are we talking about fresh roasted coffee?
To make this easier, let’s be a little more specific with this question. Most people, but perhaps not all, are asking, “How long does roasted coffee last”? Now that’s a little more specific, but let’s take it a few steps further. Let’s face it, you could say that roasted coffee will last forever, but it sure wouldn’t taste very good, would it?
You see, all roasted coffee slowly grows more and more stale and more and more bitter over time. Yep. Starbucks, Yuban, Folgers, and even my coffee here at Lake City Coffee will begin to grow stale and bitter in just a few days. You can actually taste the difference between coffee beans that were roasted today compared to beans roasted yesterday. Granted it takes a pretty sensitive pallet to notice that little of difference, but nearly everyone can taste the difference between coffee that was roasted this week verses coffee that was roasted a month or two ago.
Yet, sadly a vast majority of roasted coffee sold in the United States has been sitting in a warehouse or on store shelves for months if not years, the inherent bitter and burnt taste of industrial coffee.
So, what’s a coffee lover to do? The difference in taste between fresh roasted coffee and stale and bitter old industrial coffee is like the difference between night and day. There just isn’t any comparison.
Vacation Coffee Syndrome
Just this morning my doctor told me that the best coffee she’s ever had was while she was on vacation in Mexico. It doesn’t matter what country people vacation in, their coffee experience is the best of their lives. I call it, Vacation Coffee Syndrome.
The reason the coffee is so good in other countries is because that coffee was probably roasted yesterday. Any fresh roasted coffee from anywhere and brewed in any way, is always going to beat six month old roasted coffee in the US.
Ahhh…, but you’re thinking, “If I freeze the fresh roasted coffee, then it’ll last longer”. Nope. Or you could be thinking, “I’ll just put it in an air tight container and it’ll last longer”. Nope. “Ok, then I’ll buy coffee that’s been hermetically sealed in a nitrogen infused bag”.
Actually, coffee is going to start going stale and bitter no matter how you store it. There is no space age technology that can keep coffee fresh. Now, on the other hand, if someone doesn’t care what the coffee tastes like, then I suppose any storage method will suffice.
That brings our question, “How long does coffee last?”, to the point of asking more specifically, “How long does good fresh roasted coffee last”? Just for fun, I ask this same question of specialty coffee roasters everywhere that I go. The definitive answer from hundreds of top-notch coffee roasters is 30 days. That means that 30 days after roasting, the beans have turned rancid enough to significantly notice a bitter taste.
You might be thinking, “Well Russell if that was true, then all the coffee companies would have a roasting date on their coffee bags”. Yep, you’d think they would, but by and large, they don’t. Why? Because the grocery stores and even the coffee houses want coffee that’ll sell after 30 days and they can’t do that if you have a roast date on the bag.
Additionally, the roasters make more money if they can use economies of scale by roasting a lot of coffee all at once, thus keeping a large inventory of roasted coffee on their shelves.
How long do coffee beans last?
Let’s talk about how long coffee beans last? Not all beans are created equal. Some are sweet and others are bitter. As you might guess, bitter beans are cheaper seem to last considerably longer. These would be the beans that large industrial coffee companies buy to create their special blends. A coffee blend is really marketing speak for, “We bought the cheapest damn beans that we could find and blended them together”; producing muddled flavors that compete with each other, resulting in a poor mishmash of an excuse for good coffee.
On the other hand, specialty coffee roasters like me, buy single source coffee. That just means that all our beans come from the same grower. These beans are typically high elevation, shade grown, hand picked, and sun dried by small independent farmers. Single source coffee beans are typically more flavorful with very discernible flavor notes of citrus, chocolate, spice, etc.
That’s why I buy all of our beans from the same grower. I only source my beans from the Amapola Co-op, in the Tarrazu region of Costa Rica. In my humble opinion, these specific beans make the smoothest (non-bitter) and most flavorful cup of coffee on the planet.
Fresh beans means fresh flavor
What makes coffee so great is the oils within the bean. These oils are where all of the bioflavonoids, anti-oxidants, caffeine, and flavor reside. How long coffee lasts all depends on how long these oils last. The best preservative for these oils is the bean itself.
If you grind up the fresh roasted bean and then package it, you have a lot of surface are for the oils to evaporate or dissipate, thus losing all that goodness. The best way to preserve the oils is to only buy whole bean coffee and then grind those roasted beans a few minutes before brewing. You can easily taste a big difference with last minute grinding.
One technique that the industrial coffee companies use to preserve their beans is to roast the snot out of the bean. In my opinion, if the bean is black, it’s over roasted; there are just too little oils left in the bean and thus little taste and little caffeine. That’s why, dark roast has less caffeine than a light roast. And I might add, less taste.
At Lake City Coffee, our Delectable Dark roast is barely dark, i.e., a very dark brown, but certainly not black. If you want over roasted charcoal, then buy Kingsford Charcoal or Charbucks.
How Long Does Coffee Last?
Here’s the bottom line; “The fresher the roasted beans, the better the cup of coffee”. If you want a truly incredible cup of coffee then try this:
- Don’t even think of buying beans that don’t have the roast date prominently displayed on the bag.
- Only drink beans that have been roasted less than 30 days ago. After 30 days, toss them out.
- Grind your beans right before using them.
Lake City Coffee exists for one purpose and that’s to provide the best home coffee brew of your life. My competition measures freshness by the week or month. I measure freshness by the hour. You see, I don’t want to be the biggest coffee roaster. I just want to be your coffee roaster.