Coffee isn’t a food necessity but, if a large-scale disaster were to hit, I wouldn’t want to go without it (and my family certainly wouldn’t want to deal with me going through coffee withdrawal!).
So, I’ve made sure to have a large stockpile of coffee on hand. Luckily, storing coffee long-term is actually pretty easy.
Here’s what you need to know to store coffee for 25+ years.
Does Coffee Go Bad?
Contrary to common belief, coffee can go bad. Like other beans, coffee contains natural oils. When these are exposed to air, the oils start to oxidize and eventually go rancid. Even when the coffee is stored away from oxygen, the coffee beans can still go rancid because of compounds that are produced from the roasting process.
Luckily, it usually takes a very long time for coffee beans to go rancid. This is why many people and even coffee manufacturers say it is safe to use expired coffee. However, long before the coffee goes rancid, it will lose its taste and aroma due to “gassing off”. This stale coffee is still safe to consume but isn’t nearly as enjoyable to drink.
Coffee Shelf Life
Before we get into storage conditions, it’s important to note that certain types of coffee will naturally last longer than others.
Ground Coffee Beans
- Unopened, in Pantry: 5 months past best-by date
- Opened, in Pantry: 3-5 months past best-by date
Grinding breaks down coffee beans so it has more surface area. This means that more of the coffee will be exposed to air, causing it to gas off and oxidize faster. The coffee should still be safe to consume for several years after its “best by” date but may have already lost a lot of its flavor.
Whole Roasted Coffee Beans
- Unopened, in Pantry: 12-24 months past best-by date
- Opened, in Pantry: 6-12 months past best-by date
Whole coffee beans will last a lot longer than ground coffee. However, because the roasting process uses heat, it triggers a chemical reaction that causes the natural oils to start breaking down. Like with ground coffee, roasted whole beans will still eventually go bad.
- Unopened, in Pantry: 10+ years past best-by date
- Opened, in Pantry: 1-10+ years past best-by date
Instant coffee is made by freeze drying or spray drying. The process removes all moisture from the coffee and creates a very shelf-stable product. Unopened, instant coffee can last for years or decades without any special storage. Once you open instant coffee, it can still last for years – but there’s a big potential issue.
Was opened, instant coffee will start to absorb moisture from the air. In humid areas (like Florida), the coffee can get very wet and start to go bad quickly. If you want to store instant coffee long-term, either keep it in its original packaging or repackage it in an air-tight container. Ideally, you should package it on a low-humidity day.
Green Coffee Beans
- Unopened, in Pantry: 5+ years past best-by date
- Opened, in Pantry: 12+ months past best-by date
Green coffee beans haven’t been roasted, so their natural oils are more stable. Because of this, green coffee beans can last for a very long time and are best for long-term storage.
How to Store Coffee Long Term
If you want to store coffee long-term, you’ll need to protect it from oxygen, light, moisture, and heat. Here are some of the best ways to store coffee so it lasts years or even decades.
Option 1: Freezer
Coffee has very little moisture in it. Because of this, you don’t have to worry about it getting freezer burned. It will stay fresh for years in the freezer.
There is one potential issue about storing coffee in the freezer though: it can absorb smells from other items. If you keep your coffee next to leftover steaks, for example, the coffee can get a funky aroma.
To prevent this, make sure you store coffee in sealed non-permeable bags (won’t let gasses through). Some coffee already comes in these bags (the metal-looking bags) and can go straight in the freezer. Once you remove the coffee beans from the freezer, make sure you let them get to room temperature before opening. Otherwise, they will absorb humidity and start to go bad.
Option 2: Air-Tight Containers
Once you’ve opened a bag of coffee, put it in air-tight containers. This isn’t the ideal solution for coffee because there will still be oxygen in the container. However, it will help slow down the oxidation and gassing-off process. If you have a large number of coffee beans, you could even store them in buckets with gamma lids.
Option 3: Vacuum Sealing
Good-quality coffee comes in vacuum-sealed packaging. This packaging helps protect against oxidation. You can also vacuum seal bulk coffee beans or open packages of coffee to keep it fresh longer.
Note that coffee beans and grounds have air inside of them. Vacuum sealing will only remove air around the coffee. Home vacuum sealer bags are also semi-porous and will eventually allow coffee aromas to escape. So, while this is a better method than storing coffee in opened packages, the coffee will still go stale after a couple years.
Option 4: Nitrogen-Flushed Coffee
Nitrogen flushing is a method of removing oxygen from coffee packaging. Very good-quality brands of coffee use this method. It is done immediately after roasting the coffee, so the coffee is stored at its maximum freshness.
Because coffee beans “gas off” after roasting (air from inside the beans moves outwards), nitrogen-flushed bags would explode if left to sit long enough. To prevent this, manufacturers will put a one-way valve on the bags to let the gases escape. By comparison, vacuum-sealed coffee is usually packaged after the beans have had a chance to gas-off; no valve is required but the beans aren’t as fresh when packaged.
Simply by choosing nitrogen-flushed coffee (look for the one-way valve on the bag), you’ll get a fresher product that will store longer.
Option 5: Oxygen Absorbers
Oxygen absorbers are little packets of iron. The iron grabs oxygen molecules. If you put oxygen absorber packets in an air-tight container with coffee, the packets will remove virtually all oxygen and keep the coffee fresh. Read more about oxygen absorbers for food storage here.
Option 6: Mylar Bags with Oxygen Absorbers
The best long-term storage method for coffee is sealed Mylar bags with oxygen absorbers. Mylar is a metallic-looking material that is impervious to gases. When you put an oxygen absorber into a bag and then seal it, the coffee is protected from oxygen, humidity, and light. Instant coffee can last for 25+ years this way.
If you want to store coffee beans in Mylar though, there’s an important caveat: they must be unroasted green coffee beans. The reason for this is that the roasting process causes the natural oils in the coffee to start breaking down. By contrast, green coffee beans won’t deteriorate and can last 20+ years in Mylar bags with oxygen absorbers.
Read more about storing food in Mylar bags here.