Does iced coffee go bad? So you’ve left iced coffee out in the kitchen for hours now, and it would be such a waste to throw the whole cup away. Indeed, it is still safe to consume, right? So we tried to investigate the shelf life of iced coffee, the risks of drinking iced coffee, and general iced coffee information.
Yes, iced coffee can go bad. If you have noticed, even bottled water has an expiration date, so obviously, iced coffee can go bad as well. However, unlike bottled water, its shelf life is much shorter.
Curious about iced coffee? Let’s chill it out, shall we?
What Is Iced Coffee?
Iced coffee is an umbrella term for all coffee menus (lattes, cappuccinos, mochas) served cold, preferably with ice, hence the “ice” in its name.
Unlike hot coffee, which may use powdered sweeteners, iced coffee cannot enjoy the magic of powdered sugar as it simply will not melt quickly in lower temperatures. Therefore, instead of powdered sweeteners, most baristas will use syrups or melted varieties of sweeteners.
Iced coffee first started in Algeria in 1840, served using coffee syrup and cold water as its main ingredients. Today, many alterations of iced coffee are now in place, making them highly different from their original form. Moreover, it makes iced coffee truly an international drink, not pertaining to a specific culture or practice.
Today, some iced coffees are brewed hot and served cold, while others are made using cold brew, a brewing process that does not use pressurized hot water.
They are more preferred during hotter climates as they do not only give you the energetic bump that you might need, but they can also serve as a refreshment, a drink to extinguish body heat.
Does Iced Coffee Get Stale?
As said earlier, iced coffee can get stale. Most black iced coffee, such as the long black over ice and iced americano coffee, can get stale but typically have higher leverage as they get stale longer.
Because black coffee only uses the most fundamental ingredients, the chances of having quickly stale ingredients are heavily reduced.
If you want to make sure that your iced coffee will taste as delicious as possible, make sure to drink it before it gets warm, or at least before the last of the ice melts away. Coffee’s flavor will drastically change for the worse after 30 minutes of being exposed and left in the open air.
However, most black iced coffee can stay edible even after twenty-four hours of idling. However, since it’s been left so long in the open, the volatile organic compounds would have already reacted to the oxygen, making them undergo the oxidation process, heavily altering its taste.
This staling process is detrimental to the taste of coffee that hotels that have iced coffee or coffee in general left sitting out will be reheated to near scalding levels to mask their true, stale flavor. After all, you wouldn’t be able to taste any flavor if everything you taste is your burning tongue, right?
Because of the prominent staling process, the answer to “Does iced coffee go bad?” is much more apparent. Just like all perishables, yes, iced coffee does go bad.
The Milk, Not So Much
Although black iced coffee can stay edible even after being exposed to room temperature for twenty-four hours, milk-infused coffee menus will probably go bad after two hours. On the other hand, even when chilled, drinks like the latte, cappuccino, and the flat white will go bad after only 120 minutes.
The temperature where milk is stored safely is between 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4.4 degrees Celsius) to 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 degrees Celsius).
Leaving your milk outside this golden temperature spot will expose them to dangerous microorganisms which may interact with the milk, forming mold colonies. Mold colonies form faster when the milk is left with open contact to the outside air.
If possible, all milk-infused iced coffee should be fully consumed in less than two hours to avoid the chances of contamination. If your latte is already more than three hours old, better heat up the coffee maker because we’re making a new cup!
Going back to the original query: does iced coffee go bad? Yes, and fast if you use dairy products on it.
Does Water Get Stale As Well?
Many would consider how exposure would make coffee and milk go bad, but have you considered the water in there as well? That’s right; water can get stale too!
According to Truls Korgh, the Department of Water Hygiene director at the Norwegian Institute of Health, water will get stale even at the peak of quality. However, if you have fantastic quality water with you, you could probably drink it even after a thousand years, a far cry from the iced coffee cup you left overnight.
However, this millennia-old water is probably not the same water available to you at the tap. The thing is, water today is not in its purest form, so make sure to drink it after you have opened the water bottle. Just like coffee, water can get contaminated by outside elements as well.
The main difference between water and coffee is that water can go way longer than your standard cup of caffeine. However, one thing might confuse you: how about those expiry dates on water bottles?
Most expiry dates are labeled as “best before,” meaning they are not necessarily unsafe to drink or eat, but their taste may have significantly depreciated below company standards.
So just like coffee, the taste may worsen after some time of exposure as well. Just because something is safe to consume does not mean that they remain palatable.
So does iced coffee go bad? Well, it can, especially if it uses subpar water or water not meeting health qualifications. Although these situations are possible, they are still doubtful, especially if you buy coffee from artisan cafes.
Keeping Iced Coffee Preserved
If you find yourself making too much iced coffee for your own good, you might get frantic about worrying about such waste. However, fret not! Iced coffee can be preserved just as well as other perishable goods.
1. Keep It Refrigerated
If there’s one thing about iced coffee that discerns it from other coffee types, it’s cold. So, obviously, the primary course of action for preserving iced coffee should be refrigerated. By refrigerating, you can reduce contaminants, especially when compared to being left at room temperature.
The milk inside iced coffee will be heavily affected in less than stellar conditions, so make sure to refrigerate it well. Unfortunately, one of the common mistakes in refrigeration is that they put their iced coffee in the freezer.
Putting iced coffee inside a freezer is a grave mistake, as when the time comes that you would want to drink it, the iced coffee will be a massive block of ice.
What this implies is that this would, in turn, create a lot of complications. First of all, if your iced coffee is frozen with glass, there is a genuine possibility of the glass breaking, as the water expands when frozen.
Another issue is that you would need to thaw it out, most probably at room temperature, exposing it to further bacteria, viruses, and other contaminants.
Another thing one might need to be aware of is that freezing can actually decrease the food or beverage quality. It means that if you would ever want to keep your iced coffee as good as possible, finish it at your pace.
However, if you plan to drink it a few hours later (up to eight hours only), keep it chilled, not frozen.
2. Milk Curdles
So you have refrigerated your coffee, only to see milk curdles form on the outside. What do these milk curdles mean, and should you drink your coffee?
Milk curdles show up exclusively on milk-infused coffee such as cappuccinos. These milk infusions can be steamed milk, milk froth, cream, ice cream, and more. They can appear despite many reasons, such as very acidic coffee, high serving temperature, and the most common of all: expired milk.
Milk can last for weeks, but with iced coffee, when your milk is exposed to the outside elements, you may need to consume it within two hours as it will soon expire. When the milk expires, it will cause curdling, signifying that your iced coffee is not safe to drink.
If you ever find your iced coffee having milk curdles, better to throw it away for your own safety. To prevent curdling, refrigerating, using cooler temperatures for coffee preparation, and making less acidic coffee may be of huge help.
3. Heating Up Iced Coffee
What happens if you find your iced coffee all melted and don’t want to go through the trouble of cooling it? Well, you can probably opt to heat it.
Although heating iced coffee is very ironic, it is a sure-fire way to ensure that your iced coffee will be eliminated from external contaminants such as bacteria, making sure it lasts longer while tasting better than regular room temperature coffee.
Heating iced coffee is preferred to be done in mug-safe ovens for one to two minutes. However, the flavor of the coffee afterward is probably not as good as initially intended. Since iced coffee, especially commercial ones like Starbucks, is made to be paired with ice, heating them will result in a less desirable taste.
4. Storing It Right
If you want your iced coffee to have a longer shelf life, you might want to store it right. But, of course, the best way to store things is to make sure that they are concealed within an airtight, sterilized container, put away in a cool, dry place.
Exposing your beverage to warm conditions may hasten the spoiling process, especially if exposed to harsh sunlight.
Can You Get Sick From Iced Coffee?
If you have tried to buy the world’s most expensive food, just like that gold-plated caviar, you would still get sick, especially if they are not correctly prepared or just spoiled. You can also say the same for iced coffee. Iced coffee, when not prepared properly, can get taxing on your digestive system.
In fact, there are only a few items of food that do not spoil. For example, if sealed properly, honey cannot spoil indefinitely. But, unfortunately, iced coffee is not honey, and it does and will spoil.
First of all, a stale cup of coffee will probably not bring you much physical harm. So even though a cup of coffee tastes stale, it is probably safe to consume. However, iced coffee and all coffee, in general, will spoil; and spoiled food is not safe to eat at all.
Coffee With Molds
Molds are those plant-like substances you see on spoiled food, including coffee. Although these tiny organisms look fascinating, they can be very dangerous, especially when consumed.
Although there are moldy foods, like blue cheese, moldy coffee is not safe. Blue cheese, for instance, uses a special type of mold found in penicillin, making it generally safe to consume.
Molds do not form from the coffee itself. Instead, we need to know that molds use spores to spread, so when food is exposed to the air, molds in the environment will stick to your coffee and start to grow. So when food is left dormant at room temperature for an extended period, molds will soon begin to grow.
Now, not all mold is harmful. In fact, mold’s cousin, yeast, is instrumental in our cuisine, especially in bread. However, when it comes to molds in food, it is safe to assume that they are not fit for consumption, as without proper rigorous testing, we won’t be able to discern good mold from bad mold through visuals only.
So what should you do to moldy coffee? Can you strip the moldy part away and drink the rest? Well, let’s take a look at it on a microscopic level, shall we?
Bacteria mostly accompany mold, so it is almost certain that harmful bacteria are present when you throw out the moldy part away. It is why you should avoid keeping your iced coffee out for too long at room temperature, especially when it’s fully exposed.
One of the most common reasons for food poisoning is the ingestion of rotten or spoiled food. In iced coffee, in particular, the most easily spoiled ingredient is milk.
First of all, a blatant olfactory indicator that a milk-infused coffee is unsafe for consumption is when a pungent, nefarious smell wafts around the area. Drinking spoiled coffee with milk will leave you at risk of indigestion, diarrhea, food poisoning, vomiting, stomach pain, nausea, and more.
So if your iced coffee really has gone bad, instead of trying to save it, brew another cup and save yourself some cash from the hospital bill and the discomfort from food poisoning. It’s better that way.
Iced Coffee: Real Coffee?
Iced coffee is a personal favorite, and it will probably stay that way for a long time. However, many people seem to think that iced coffee is not “real coffee.” It is sort of a pet peeve of mine, as it invalidates the magic of iced coffee.
Unlike hot coffee, you can enjoy an iced coffee in higher quantities. Since hot coffee is more often concentrated and too hot to consume quickly, iced coffee is often served with ice to dilute the mixture.
Additionally, since it is cold, iced coffee is easily consumable for those on the go, especially those who want to achieve a caffeine high as fast as possible.
Contrary to some (not popular) beliefs, iced coffee is real coffee because both hot and iced coffee shockingly contains espresso or drip coffee. The main difference is that hot coffee is hot, and iced coffee is cold (quite the revelation, ain’t it).
The Cafe Questions (Frequently Asked Questions About Iced Coffee)
Is iced coffee just hot coffee with ice?
Although some iced coffee is just regular hot coffee with ice (looking at you iced americano), some iced coffee recipes are genuinely made to be paired with ice. For example, some iced coffee contains whipped cream served on top while their hot counterparts don’t.
What happens if I accidentally drank spoiled iced coffee?
We believe that safety must always be number one. Therefore, instead of taking any chances, we recommend you visit a doctor immediately.
Although spoiled coffee is not highly harmful in minute amounts, the doctor’s opinion is almost always valuable. Going to the doctor will ensure your peace of mind as well.
Can I drink spoiled coffee after heating or chilling it?
Although this may seem like a brilliant solution, at the bottom line, it is a very dumb one. Spoiled food, heated or chilled, will still remain spoiled. It is because the spoils have already made their chemical changes that alter the coffee’s chemical compositions.
If you want to preserve your coffee, heating and chilling may work. However, heating and chilling already spoiled coffee is not a good idea, nor does it help.