There's nothing better than a great freshly brewed cup in the morning. I know it sounds cliche, but it's a fact, coffee is only good while fresh. As a former barista and coffee snob, I'm quite picky when it comes to my coffee. In fact, I am not the only picky coffee lover. The “third wave of coffee” helped consumers realize that coffee is not just a carrier for the caffeine dose.
Coffee is a wonderful drink, with both bold and delicate flavors and aromas. And the flavors and aromas are now more important than the caffeine content in the world of specialty coffee, or gourmet coffee.
In order to extract properly these flavors and aromas, we need to use exact recipes; a precision that reminds us of the French pastry rigor. More than that, in the specialty coffee world, the concept of terroir has gained a lot of traction and the single origin beans are now selling more and more.
The only problem with coffee is that all flavor and aromas are volatile and unstable. How volatile are they, and how long is brewed coffee good for? We’ll show you in a bit.
What is Coffee's Shelf Life?
Green coffee beans can be stored for years in a cold dry place. All the compounds that give coffee flavor and aromas are trapped inside the green bean. The moment we roast the beans we allow those compounds to surface.
Roasted coffee has a shelf life of about four weeks, but coffee aficionados consider two weeks being the maximum acceptable. With special packaging, nitrogen flushing, or vacuum sealing, these four weeks can be prolonged to two months and even more.
Once you grind the beans, you should immediately prepare the drink. Ground coffee has the cellular structure broken, so aromatic compounds can easily come in contact with air. Ground coffee should not be stored more than a day or so.
Once brewed, coffee suffers even more dramatic changes. The heat helps to dissolve all the sugars and proteins that make up our cup of joe. By exposing coffee to heat though, we increase the volatility of coffee oils, and accelerate the oxidation of certain compounds.
Also read: Nine Uses For Leftover Brewed Coffee
Can Your Coffee Go Bad?
Absolutely! Coffee can go bad, it takes a while though. If left unrefrigerated long enough, microorganisms such as bacteria and yeasts will start to feed on it and grow colonies. But coffee going bad is an extreme example.
Unlike most foods, brewed coffee loses its oomph very fast. If you are a drip coffee lover, the worst are leftovers. I hate it when I leave coffee on the hot plate for too long because I end up with burnt tasting brew.
Non refrigerated brewed coffee should not be consumed past 24 hours. Bacteria, yeast, or fungi might grow in your coffee, and you won’t see it. To make sure I get the message across, just because you drank it a few times and you were OK, don’t make it a rule. Even if the taste didn’t change, it doesn’t mean is not contaminated.
So Really, How Long is Brewed Coffee Good For?
The reason why we brew coffee at home is mostly that it's the best and easiest way to drink coffee without going to a café. It's also one of the best-tasting cups we could ever serve ourselves – it’s fresh.
In fact, ours can taste better than the one at Starbucks; here is a guide that can help you if you are still perfecting your technique. But the reality is we're guilty of one thing: letting coffee sit for too long.
The third wave of coffee brought us not only the single origin beans, but also a lot of research and science to understand this wonderful drink better.
Here are a few facts on the lifespan of brewed coffee:
A cup of brewed coffee lifespan is about 10-15 minutes. You are allowing the coffee flavors to slip away if you leave your cup of coffee out for too long. As the hot coffee gets colder, the flavors disappear, and your drink goes flat. It won’t make you sick; it just won’t taste as good as fresh.
An even worse habit is to leave your coffee pot on the hotplate for later. Coffee left on the hot-plate continues to be cooked and it will get bitter. The more time you leave it on the hotplate, the more bitterness you extract. If bite is your thing, and you like burnt coffee, I have some more news for you. All the flavor and aroma in coffee gets burnt away on the hot plate.
As a general rule; if you want more than just the caffeine jolt, drink your coffee while it’s still warm. I am not an advocate of drinking piping hot coffee. Very hot coffee can actually be worse than cold coffee, because your taste buds cannot feel any flavor. But don’t let your joe wait too much in the cup.
How to Save Brewed Coffee for Later?
If you're running late for work and you barely have time to even prepare your daily cup, don't worry. You can save your coffee for later. In order to preserve the delicate flavors of gourmet coffee, you have to follow a few simple rules.
1. Keep it Black
Well, if you insist on drinking your joe past its 15 minutes prime, at least learn a few trick to minimize the damage.
When storing brewed coffee, you need to store it black and pure. Adding sugar, milk, creamer or other flavors will cause a chemical reaction in your coffee. The chemical reaction will ruin your coffee in the long-run. As much as possible store it as it is. If you've already added your creamer and sugar, the best option is to take it away. OK, maybe if you add some sugar is not that bad, but don’t use creamer if you don’t drink it on the spot.
2. Sealed and air-tight
We do realize that there are situations in life when drinking coffee straight from the dripper just doesn’t work. Some of these cases are on a trip, some parties and functions where there is no place for a coffee maker, etc… For these cases the best solution is an airtight container.
Coffee becomes dull and tasteless, sometimes even bitter when exposed to oxygen. This is why we need to drink it fresh. By using an airtight container, we are blocking the contact with the oxygen.
3. What Material Is Best?
The best material for storing coffee is porcelain, or treated glass. Porcelain is the best material because it doesn’t impart any taste to your drink, and because it insulates very well. Glass doesn’t insulate that great, unless the recipient has double walls.
Plastic is not good because it can leach into your coffee. Your drink will smell like plastic, and you will drink a little plastic every time.
A widely used material for storing brewed coffee is stainless steel. Many airpots and travel coffee mugs are made from stainless steel. While stainless steel is a great material because it is very durable, it does react with your coffee. You will notice a slight specific taste.
As a last piece of advice, drink your coffee fast, and brew only what you drink. Third wave of coffee brought back the manual dripper, and the single serve. It also popularized espresso. The trend is to choose quality and not quantity. Coffee is not just a simple vessel for your caffeine dose.
We hope you enjoyed reading our article on How Long is Brewed Coffee Good For, and would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!