It’s true that a good cup of morning joe is addictive. However, there are numerous health benefits – both physiological as well as mental – associated with responsible consumption of caffeine, which is all the more a valid reason for coffee-lovers across the globe to celebrate coffee. More than the caffeine-kick itself, the enticing aroma that rises as soon as you open that pack of ground coffee makes one yearn for the perfect cup.
Can ground coffee ever go bad? Does vacuum-packed coffee stay fresh for longer duration? We share all the expert insight here, including the shelf lives considerations of coffee, how to store vacuum-sealed coffee once opened, and how to tell if your coffee has begun to taste rancid.
Coffee and its shelf life
Coffee doesn’t really go bad – in the sense of rotting – but the once-magical seeming aroma and taste does start to dissipate with time, and it eventually goes stale.
The shelf life of coffee is determined from various factors, like its origin, roasting parameters, how it is packaged and how and where it is stored etc.
Packaging plays a major role in ensuring that the freshness and flavor of the coffee is preserved for the longest duration possible, as it acts as an effective barrier that protects coffee from exposure to outside environment.
Last but not the least, the major parameter that determines the shelf life of coffee is whether or not the coffee is purchased within the relative ‘best by’ date window, and consumed within that span of time too. This goes to show that the onus of ensuring the coffee’s freshness is on the end customer as well.
Does coffee ever go bad?
Coffee does not necessarily go bad, but definitely begins to lose its wonderful aromas with time. As long as it is stored properly in a dry and cool area, in most cases an unopened vacuum-sealed pack of coffee is believed to be safe for drinking for several years. In fact, several grocery stores and coffee houses have vacuum-sealed coffee bags on the shelves for months, even if you discount the duration for which these will sit idly in the consumer’s pantry after purchase, before they’re finally opened and consumed.
However, if you chance upon an old pack of ground coffee, it would be wise to closely monitor its quality. Do not immediately proceed to brew the same, if:
- The seal is broken, or if the coffee bag wasn’t tightly sealed
- The coffee is moist or wet, given away usually by formation of lumps on the top.
- There’s an off-odor or a rancid aroma emanating from the bag.
- If you spot or smell mildew, mold or any other foreign growth.
- If you are not 100% sure about the storage conditions or the quality of the coffee.
Even if the grounds from a long-forgotten pack pass this inspection and you brew coffee using these, do a tentative flavor and aroma test first and continue usage only if you’re completely satisfied with the brewed coffee.
If your unopened, properly sealed coffee pack has been sitting for months on the ledge, you usually needn’t worry about its freshness. On the contrary, coffee grounds in an opened pack are best consumed within 2-3 weeks.
Why is coffee vacuum-packed
There is no greater joy than when you open your pack of fresh-ground coffee, and the inviting aromas just waft through the kitchen. However, coffee that has been ground for a long time can lose its magical aroma, which upon brewing may produce a lifeless cuppa that lacks any of the invigorating qualities that we associate with a good cup of coffee.
Vacuum sealing for coffee grounds
Coffee grounds are especially vulnerable to oxidation or exposure to oxygen in the environment due to their larger surface area, which makes it imperative for roasters and suppliers to reduce the chances of coffee coming in contact with the oxygen in the atmosphere. Vacuum packaging ensures that air has been eliminated from the package, thus preventing fresh ground coffee from losing its valuable aroma and going stale.
As a result, the coffee grounds stay protected against environmental factors like moisture, exposure to oxygen and humidity etc. Vacuum packing also prevents the beans and grounds from tarnishing and acquiring a scent of “oldness” that we usually associate with stale coffee.
Vacuum sealing for roast coffee beans
While ground coffee is usually vacuum-sealed for keeping its properties intact, roasted coffee beans are packaged in bags equipped with a one-way valve to ensure that while the intrinsic gases released by roasted coffee beans can escape out, atmospheric air cannot enter inside to tarnish the beans. Freshly roasted coffee beans release inherent carbon dioxide into the air in a process called ‘degassing’ – this CO2 is what causes our beloved coffee to ‘bloom’, assuring us that the coffee grounds are fresh and possess all the qualities we so cherish.
How long does vacuum packed coffee last?
Typically, vacuum packed coffee beans or grounds are exposed to less than 17% oxygen, which helps in keeping their freshness and aroma intact. Here’s how long vacuum-packed coffee can last:
- Green coffee beans are pretty much inert, and can remain fresh in a vacuum-sealed pack for several years, even at room temperature.
- Roast coffee beans that are vacuum-sealed immediately after complete cool-down can remain fresh at room temperature for up to 1 year.
- Unopened, vacuum-sealed ground coffee can remain at its best for several months at room temperature. Take care to keep the storage place dry, cool and devoid of humidity or moisture.
- Coffee grounds in an opened pack can start losing freshness at a fast pace, and can remain fresh only for a period of 3-4 days at room temperature, and up to 2-3 weeks if kept in a freezer.
How to store coffee to maximize freshness
The shelf life of ground coffee also depends on whether it is kept in a sealed pack or has been opened for consumption. Once the vacuum-sealed coffee packet is opened, it begins to gradually lose its flavor and aroma with time, and hence it’s best to consume the coffee grounds within 2-3 weeks. If placed in the freezer, coffee in an opened pack may retain its qualities for up to a month.
Here we take a look at the different storage possibilities for coffee, and how each of these impacts its shelf life:
Storing coffee in airtight container
For fresh roast coffee beans, storage in an opaque airtight container is the most recommended method by professional roasters. This acts as an effective barrier against moisture, and keeps the coffee fresh for 2-4 weeks.
Fresh ground coffee should be transferred into an airtight container as soon as removed from the vacuum sealed pack, in order to minimize exposure with moisture and oxygen in the air. If you tend to use this coffee on a regular basis, it’s a good idea to divide the grounds into smaller batches and store each in separate airtight containers.
Storing coffee in freezer
Although this method is widely debated by experts and coffee aficionados, freezing fresh ground coffee is advisable only for a shorter period of time, as while it extends the shelf life, it also results in diminished taste profile. Coffee grounds do not freeze, and hence need not be thawed for every single use. Store the coffee grounds in an airtight container in a freezer to eliminate the risk of moisture development inside the vacuum sealed pack. If storing coffee grounds for regular usage, try dividing into smaller batches to avoid the risk of entire batch going stale at once.
Tips to increase the shelf life of vacuum packed coffee
Here’s how you can make your coffee taste good for longer:
Vacuum-sealing on your own – If you’re a coffee-perfectionist and hold your coffee-brewing process to the highest standards, chances are that you grind your own coffee beans. Investing in a vacuum packing device like FoodSaver will help you preserve your coffee grounds for a longer duration. However, one should consider the plastic wastage and increased cost associated with this option.
Buying only the required amount – While it’s good to follow all the necessary precautions and tips to extend the freshness of the coffee, it’s easier to not have the need to store excess coffee, and to just purchase the right amount of coffee needed instead. Whether you buy roast coffee beans or ground coffee, estimating your usage and fine-tuning your buying frequency accordingly would enable you to relish a fresh-tasting cuppa, every time you brew coffee.
Look for stamps on the valve – Turns out, the presence of one-way valve on the pack is only one step in the direction of ensuring coffee’s freshness. Manufacturers and roasters have now begun to stamp the roasting date on the valve as well, so as to give the buyers a fair idea about the extent of degassing and subsequent freshness of the coffee.
When it comes to savoring a truly magnificent cup of coffee, it’s not just the origin of beans that makes a difference. Each step along the coffee supply chain – including selection of highest quality beans, careful roasting with the right temperature and duration kept in consideration, packaging and storage – play a role in ensuring that the properties of the coffee are intact for the longest time. Vacuum-sealing preserves the flavors and aroma of the coffee for the longest time, making coffee-brewing a truly enjoyable experience.