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2 Ways You Can Tell Your Coffee Has Gone Off

5 Ways You Can Tell Your Coffee Has Gone Off

Imagine this: you get up early in the morning and you’re in that dazed state that leaves you with only one thought- coffee. You crave caffeine, but you also want something nice, warm, and tasty. If it wasn’t for this part (taste, aroma) we probably wouldn’t even drink coffee. We would perhaps take some caffeine pills that would do the job. But no, we love that beautiful taste of coffee, its richness, and the coffee-drinking ritual.

Let’s get back to our scenario: So you start making the first cup of java in the day, the most important one. You’re finally done, and as you’re taking that first crucial sip, you notice that something is wrong. It kind of smells weird. “Well, to hell with it,” you say, proceeding to take the first sip which leaves you flabbergasted. It’s like you’re drinking liquid rubber. What happened? Your coffee has gone off. Would you like to avoid this awful situation? Then stick with me and I will tell you all about how you can recognize stale coffee, and of course how to prevent this nasty situation.

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Rancid Coffee (Best Detected By Smelling It)

This is a no-brainer. We all do this- you buy a lot of coffee, then forget about it and discover it after a few months. The logical question is: can you drink it? First of all, you probably won’t be able to detect anything visually bad. The coffee that stood around for long probably won’t change visually.

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But there’s another way to detect rancid coffee, and that’s with the help of your smell. If it smells kind of sour, feel free to throw it away. If the smell doesn’t repel you enough and you proceed to brew one or two cups, you’ll most probably realize just how the taste differs from good old tasty coffee- I mean, not literally old coffee.

When java sits around for long periods of time, essential oils tend to evaporate which in turn takes away all the pleasant aromas. This will especially be noticeable if you prefer dark roast which has the strongest taste and richest taste.

How to solve the rancid coffee problem? Well, simply use the grounds before they expire. If you want to use these stale grounds in some way, there are many uses of coffee leftovers.

Damp Coffee (Visual Inspection)

Rancid coffee isn’t that big of a deal. Even if you drink it you’ll probably only end up with a lot of disappointment, nothing too serious. But damp coffee can result in mold development, and molds can really endanger your health. I mean, like really screw you up.

Damp Coffee (Visual Inspection)

I am not that of an expert when it comes to mold and fungi, but I wouldn’t take any chances. There are some mold species that are somewhat benign, but then again there are some hardcore mold types that can even kill you!

So, how do you detect mold or fungi on your beans/grounds? First of all, find signs of humidity. If you’re keeping your grounds in damp places and dark places, chances are that mold will develop. Moreover, when things get really serious you’ll probably see mold on coffee grounds, and this is the right moment to find some masks (thank God now they are everywhere), cover your face and get that bastard out of your house.

Why should you cover your face? Some mold species are extremely dangerous once they get into your lungs. Don’t take chances. And in any case, DON’T drink coffee grounds that have some weird visible changes. Your stomach might not handle it that well.

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Keep in mind that everything I told you concerns roasted coffee beans (and of course ground coffee). If you happen to have raw, green beans, you’ll have to be even more careful. You’d usually want to roast them as soon as possible. If for some reason you simply want to have a lot of green beans sitting around, you’ll have to focus on proper storage.

To make a long story short, you’ll need to find an airtight container, keep humidity at about 50% and keep the temperature at 13 degrees C or about 50 F. Easier said than done. Storing roasted beans is somewhat easier, but still takes time and necessitates attention to details.

Insect Infestation Raw coffee beans have one archenemy- coffee borer beetle. Simply put this beetle attacks raw beans, and leaves distinct dark marks or holes on otherwise light color (light brown) raw beans. So keep an eye for these dark spots on your raw coffee beans- they might be a sign of coffee borer beetle.

FDA listed this pest as one of the most common insects that infest the coffee plant. This article also lists some fancy ways to tell your coffee has gone off, like for instance X-Ray Examination. Pity I don’t have money for an X-Ray Scanner (anyways, this thing is kind of a big source of radiation so you wouldn’t want it in your home).

Here’s what FDA advises concerning the visual examination of raw coffee beans:

  1. Check for insect damage by searching for small holes and tunnels.
  2. You can check with the naked eye or max 5x magnification. Anything above this has no point.
  3. Check for mold damage- which is a possibility especially if the package was damaged by water.
  4. Search for unwanted materials. Here are just some of the things people sometimes find in their coffee packages- rodents, insects, birds, coffee sweeps (sticks, splinters), cigarette butts, etc. (don’t worry this doesn’t happen that often but still take care).

Beans And Grounds The Dilemma

Throughout the text, I didn’t specify that often whether you should store your coffee in the whole beans form or ground form.

Beans And Grounds The Dilemma

The truth is, whole beans will preserve the aroma much longer- up to half a year. On the other hand, ground coffee won’t last that much- it’s most likely that we’re looking at something like a few months’ time before it goes off.

So the coffee form is also an important factor when trying to tell if it has already gone off. Moreover, instant coffee is the champion of lengthy life, as it can stay more or less potent for years!

But how should you store the coffee so that it reaches its maximum lifespan? The answer’s quite simple- freeze it. But beware. It’s not like your freezer is a place where Walter Disney is stored. In other words, many things can still go wrong while you’re coffee’s being frozen. The most benign thing that can happen is a simple loss of aroma. As the surrounding moisture in your freezer finds its way to the coffee, the latter starts to lose the characteristic aroma and taste.

In other words, the freezer storage method will kind of get the job done, but at what cost? What should you do if you want to avoid the freezer method? Well, the simplest thing to do would be to keep the coffee away from the moisture. As I’ve already mentioned, moisture can really ruin it all. So if you find a dry place that’s free from insects and whatnot, you should be okay.

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Of course, provided that you respect the timeline for coffee storage. The rule of the thumb is: whole beans will retain their essential oils up to 9 months, ground coffee up to 5 months, while instant coffee can last for years.


That’s about it- you have the most efficient ways to determine whether your coffee has gone off. But I didn’t simply want to leave you empty-handed and go away. In the second part of the text, I wanted to show you some methods that can help you preserve the thing that keeps us going even in the gloomiest of days.

As the world’s pandemic is slowly approaching its second year, I wonder whether we’ll see some food shortages. If that’s the case, the imported products will be the first ones to fly off the store shelves. This is why you should consider gearing up and start prepping for this future period.

Who knows? Maybe the world will get even more closed, leaving us who live in the colder parts of the world without even a tiny drop of coffee. Making a good storage environment, storing various types of coffee, might actually be a great idea.

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The only problem is: how to avoid nasty things such as bugs and infestations, and of course, how to recognize bad coffee. You simply don’t want to consider something which has mold or insects in it, so I think this text really does a big favor to everyone who wants to start prepping for some future coffee shortages.