Are Expired Coffee Beans Safe?

I’ve had this question put to me a few times lately, and that is, are expired coffee beans safe to drink?

And I think this is a very interesting opportunity for me to talk to you about this issue, because I am currently enjoying some very nice Ethiopian coffee beans that were roasted just over 2 years ago. So the quick answer to the question that friends have asked me is “Do coffee beans go bad?”, is yes. However, you’ll be surprised how long wholesale coffee beans will last or bulk coffee beans. And of course green coffee beans that are not yet roasted will last quite a bit of time. This is what we are going to discuss today. I’m going to share with you some rough guidelines about storing coffee beans as well as how long coffee beans can really last.

A caveat about expired coffee beans

To some of my readers this might sacrilegious. And I will put in a caveat that indeed, the fresher the wholesale coffee bean or green coffee bean that you roast the better tasting it will be. Though the case can be made for slightly fermented coffee beans being roasted as well. But that is outside the scope of this particular coffee klatch chat. I mean when you think about it, a lot of expensive products are aged. How about single malt whiskey, aged for decades sometimes in oak casks. Or the wide variety of cheeses that are aged and enjoyed because of that aging process. So really, aged products, especially food products have been long enjoyed by humans in a variety of ways.

So please understand that these are only my impressions. I’ve enjoyed espresso coffee beans that were roasted over 6 months prior to me enjoying them. And of course the wholesale coffee bean will last a long time. So let’s go through the different stages of the coffee bean and determine when the coffee beans expire.

We’ve already determined that expired coffee beans are drinkable. Is that the best practice? Of course not, we’re pushing the envelope a little bit with our exercise here. Ideally, we’d brew and drink ground coffee beans within a few days. Also, we’d grind, brew and enjoy roasted coffee beans within a couple of weeks. Again, those are rules of thumb for the freshest coffee. But sometimes we get coffee that is expired. So rest assured, like most expiry dates on products nowadays, expired coffee beans can be enjoyed.

Rules of thumb for expired coffee beans

Here would be my rules of thumb in answer to the question “do coffee beans expire?”. Sealed and roasted whole coffee beans, and this would be for just about any coffee beans, 100 Kona coffee, Brazilian coffee etc., can be enjoyed for up to a year after they’ve been roasted. I know that’s not very helpful, so as a rule of thumb, I believe that one can enjoy whole roasted coffee beans for up to 6 months after the indicated expiry date on the package.

What I always do though, before enjoying expired coffee beans is to look at the beans. If there is any mold on them, then of course I won’t ground them up and brew them. Though having drank some pretty long expired coffee beans, I haven’t yet had this problem. And as I mentioned, as I currently write this I’m enjoying some 2 year old Ethiopian Sidamo that tastes almost as good as the fresh stuff, but not quite 🙂

Green coffee beans can last for years if stored at room temperature and in dry conditions. A general rule of thumb is that green coffee should be roasted before they reach 2 years old. Again, that is mostly because folks think that green coffee beans start losing their flavor characteristics after that time. Green beans can often be fine for a few years and up to 5 years if you’ve stored them correctly. Just like soybeans or other beans. They will survive years when stored properly.

Okay, on to the perhaps most pressing concern regarding expired coffee beans, and that is how long will they last ground? Here we have less time to play around with. Again, I’d be looking for signs of mold, aromas and such that would indicate the ground coffee beans have gone off. However, I don’t use ground coffee that is older than a couple of months regardless. These expired coffee grounds however are good for sprinkling around your garden and wetting them to help seep the coffee ground nutrients into the soil. The reason for this is because ground coffee gets stale much more quickly than just expired coffee beans or roasted coffee beans. Think about it, folks buy those big cans of Folgers coffee, not the Folgers coffee pods, and they enjoy them over a couple of months. Me personally, I like to have my ground coffee as fresh as possible and so I generally grind coffee in small batches that will last no longer than a week to 10 days.

So there you have it friends. My quick and dirty rules of thumb about enjoying expired coffee beans and hopefully the answer to how long until coffee beans expire? Don’t worry too much about it unless they are exceptionally old, they look or smell bad. So you can enjoy those expired coffee beans but you won’t have the same flavor profile to enjoy as you would from the fresh roasted coffee beans.