Despite the legal requirement to add dates to coffee packaging stating when it should be consumed you can still drink coffee after that date. It will not taste as good but coffee does not go off to the point where you can’t drink it after the date on the packaging.
In this article we will cover how to identify if your coffee has gone off but also how to keep your coffee fresh for as long as possible to make sure that it doesn’t go off before you drink it.
Before 1996 you would have to decide for yourself if coffee goes off by inspecting, smelling and tasting it yourself because there was no proper requirements or clear rules for adding dates that food needs to be consumed by.
In 1996 very strict food labelling regulations required all perishable food items to either have a “Use By” date or a “Best Before” date clearly visible on the packaging to help you understand when you need to consume it by.
If something has a “Use By” date on it then it’s very clear. You need to use it by the date displayed or it should be thrown away.
You’ll find a used by date on a lot of perishable foods that need to be kept cold in the fridge but it is not limited to this type of food and a large cross-section of things have use-by dates.
“Use By” is clear but all coffee I have ever come across does not have “Use By” it has a “Best Before” date. What does that mean?
It is supposed to be used as a guide to when the coffee has gone past its optimal quality and is basically on the way to becoming stale and not very nice.
However, It doesn’t tell you if the coffee will go off after the “Best Before” date so how do you know how long it is good to drink for?
Has the coffee been opened?
It makes a big difference to how long past the best before date you can still drink coffee depending on whether or not you have opened it and how it was sealed in the first place.
Oxygen is the enemy when it comes to keeping coffee drinkable for as long as possible because as soon as coffee is exposed to oxygen it starts to eat away at it.
Instant coffee, for example, is not normally vacuum-packed into the jar with some air remaining before a seal goes on and then the lid.
With pre-ground coffee the packet feels solid because all of the air has been sucked out before the packet is sealed.
Coffee beans is a whole mixture of different things. Sometimes they are just in a bag with no air removed at all and other times you will notice a valve that lets CO2 (Carbon Dioxide) out of the bag but no Oxygen in.
The reason for that is that after coffee beans are roasted they release CO2 gasses naturally that needs to be released from the bag but we don’t want any Oxygen going in.
Which unopened coffee lasts the longest after the expiry date?
Pre-packed, pre-ground coffee will last longest before it goes bad because absolutely all of the air has been removed.
To prove that point James Hoffman who was the World Barista Champion in 2007 decided to drink some Melitta pre-ground coffee that had been vacuum packed in the 1970s!
Here is the video that he made drinking coffee that had been ground more than 40 years ago.
He is still making video’s today so he must have survived it but as you will see from the video it wasn’t a very pleasant experience
Obviously drinking coffee that is 40 years old is not recommended and unsurprisingly the coffee had gone off but it hadn’t become poisonous.
The point here is that if you have some ground coffee and it has gone a few months over the best before date then you are going to be fine.
Just make sure you check it out first using the tips below for identifying if it’s still ok to try.
What about coffee that has been opened?
If you come across an old jar or bag of coffee in the back of your cupboard and it has already been opened and it has passed its best before date then you need to apply a bit more caution before you crank up the coffee machine.
There are several things you can do to identify whether or not it’s worth a try.
Smell. Give the coffee a good sniff. Remember what is like when you open a jar or bag of coffee that you have just bought.
A wonderful immediately recognisable strong aroma hits your senses and you know you the unmistakable scent of fresh coffee straight away.
If you are smelling some old coffee then there should still be some coffee scent coming your way. The older the coffee the weaker the scent.
If you can’t smell anything coffee at all and it’s more of a stale odour then it’s probably best left alone.
Appearance. What does the coffee look like? If its instant coffee does it still have the shine on the granules like when you open the jar for the first time or are they dull and are they a bit stuck together because moisture has got in?
If its coffee beans then they should have a glossy look to them from the oils that are naturally present after the roasting process.
Ground coffee should be almost moist to the touch. If its sandy and all dried up then it’s probably no good.
If it passes the smell and appearance test and it hasn’t gone mouldy or manky then you can brew up a cup and then very tentatively give it a try.
If James Hoffman was fine after drinking coffee that was packed in the 1970’s then you can be pretty sure that you are going to be ok trying some out that has been in the cupboard for a little too long.
If coffee has gone past its best before date it certainly doesn’t mean you should throw it away it just means that it won’t taste as good as it did when it was fresh.
How to keep coffee fresher for longer
If you buy coffee beans only buy as many as you need for about 4 weeks. After that, they slowly start to lose their freshness.
Coffee beans are still absolutely fine for 3 months after they’ve been opened but they are always better when used in the first 4 weeks.
The next thing is to only grind as much as you need for the coffee you are drinking there and then. When the beans are whole they stay fresher.
Once you grind the beans they will go stale much quicker and won’t taste as good even after a few days.
Keep coffee beans and ground coffee in an airtight container to keep them fresher for longer.
Here is a detailed article on how to store coffee and keep it fresh:
How long does a pot of coffee last?
If you are using a filter coffee machine and brewing more than one cup of coffee at a time and keeping it hot in a jug on the hotplate of the coffee machine you should try and drink it all within about 40 mins.
It certainly won’t go off after 40 mins but the flavour will start to degrade after that amount of time.
The hotplate on a lot of filter coffee machines will turn off after 40 minutes and some people would prefer that it stayed on for longer but its actually very deliberate by the manufacturers of these coffee makers.
You can turn the machine off and back on again to restart the 40 minutes and keep the coffee warm for longer but it’s not going to taste as good.
Here are some filter coffee machines to consider if you like to brew more than one cup at a time:
So if you find some coffee that you don’t know you had and you really don’t want to throw it away then now you know how to decide whether it’s still worth a go or whether the coffee has gone off.