If you’re a coffee lover like me, chances are more often than not, you’re counting down the seconds until your fresh brew is ready to drink each morning. But sometimes there’s no way around it—you put some coffee on, then suddenly you have to go. Will you still be able to enjoy your coffee, or will it go bad?
How long is coffee good for after brewing? While there are no hard and fast guidelines, there is a general rule of thumb: coffee stored at room temperature will be good for up to 12 hours. Even if you have to leave unexpectedly, your coffee should still be fine to drink as long as you get to it by the end of the day. And if you need more time, get it into the refrigerator, and it should be suitable for 72 to 96 hours.
That said, this isn’t necessarily a simple question that you can answer in just a sentence or two. There are several critical mitigating factors you’ll have to keep in mind to make sure you’re getting the best out of your coffee and not letting it go to waste. Read on for everything you need to know.
How Long Does Brewed Coffee Last: The Basics
How long is brewed coffee good? The answer depends on what, exactly, you’re looking for. As we stated, coffee left out at room temperature should be fine for up to 12 hours. But real coffee connoisseurs won’t want to wait that long. That’s because the oxidation process continues after your coffee has brewed.
What is Oxidation?
As simple as possible, oxidation is when a substance interacts with oxygen, and a chemical reaction occurs. That is actually what happens to your coffee while it brews, and we’ll have more on that later. But the process continues even after you’ve brewed your coffee; let’s focus on that for now.
Have you ever sliced an apple, then left it out for a time? When you came back to it, the slices had almost certainly already begun to turn brown. That is the effect of oxidation. When an apple is whole, the exterior skin and relatively low surface area dramatically slow the oxidation process.
But when you slice the apple, not only do you create dramatically more surface area, you also expose damaged tissue that doesn’t typically interact with the air. That substantially expedites the oxidation process and has dramatic effects on the flavor and texture of the apple.
What Does That Mean for Coffee?
Simply put, it means that the flavor of your coffee will start deteriorating immediately after you brew it. The full flavor should stay potent for about half an hour after the brew is finished. Beyond that, you will be consuming a lesser product.
So, is there anything you can do about it?
The description above is about coffee stored at room temperature in an open container. You can take two steps to slow the oxidation process and preserve the taste and overall quality of your coffee. The first is storing it in an airtight thermos.
That is the ideal approach if you want to take your coffee on the go. In an open travel cup, the coffee will deteriorate quickly, but the taste will be preserved in a sealed container. However, you should still aim to finish it before the day is done.
Further, refrigeration will also slow the process dramatically. If you keep it in the refrigerator, the process will slow dramatically, and your coffee should remain palatable for 3 to 4 days. However, if you go this approach, I recommend you consume it as refreshing iced coffee rather than heating it up in the microwave, as this will have adverse effects on flavor and freshness.
Does Dried Coffee Go Bad?
Now you know the general information about preserving brewed coffee—drink it as quickly as you can, but don’t pour it out until the end of the day if stored at room temperature, or three to four days later, if stored in the fridge. But what about coffee beans? Can they go bad, or make you sick? And what if they’re already ground?
All of these questions have different answers, but let’s cut to the chase on the most important one: no, coffee will never make you sick, as long as it stays dry. That can of Maxwell House you bought last year in a pinch and forgot about in the back of your pantry will still brew properly and will still give you a jolt of caffeine.
However, if you’re reading our site, odds are you want more out of your coffee than a little bit of energy to start your day. Returning to the apple comparison, apples that haven’t been sliced won’t oxidize nearly as quickly as sliced apples, but will still go bad eventually. Likewise, coffee beans will hold strong much longer than others, but eventually, the flavor will begin to dissipate.
If you want your coffee to deliver full flavor and aroma, then you’ll need to make sure your coffee is stored correctly. What exactly does that entail?
Tips for Storing Your Coffee
There are several factors that will affect the way your coffee ages while it is stored. Let’s break them down now.
1. Keep it Dry
This is truly the most critical aspect. While the other suggestions will work to keep the coffee fresh and flavorful, this one is important to ensure your coffee remains safe to drink. If moisture gets into the coffee, it could decay and not only lose flavor but become unsafe. So your first priority is to ensure your coffee is kept in a thoroughly dry place.
2. Keep it Airtight
As we’ve stated, oxidation leads to a faded flavor. Keeping your coffee in an airtight container, away from oxygen, will keep it fresh much longer. If fresh oxygen can get to your coffee, it will undoubtedly get stale.
3. Keep Away from Light
A lot of coffee lovers enjoy the visual aesthetic of coffee beans in clear containers. I certainly used to be that way myself. But then I learned that coffee beans can go stale when exposed to light, and obviously, clear glass containers leave the beans exposed to light. Store your coffee in an opaque container and/or in a dark place.
4. Keep it Cool
There is no reason to let your coffee beans get hot until it’s time to brew them. Heat, like light, will lead to flavor draining from the beans. If you want your coffee to stay fresh and flavorful, it’s essential to store your coffee in a cool, dry, dark, airtight environment.
Frequently Asked Questions
Now that you know more about the basics, let’s dive into some specifics. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about the subject:
What Type of Coffee Stores the Longest?
Bar none, coffee will store the longest before it is ground. The overall quality of the coffee will deteriorate over time in any form, but the effects will be negligible for unground coffee beans, as long as they are appropriately stored.
If, for whatever reason, you grind more coffee then you plan on brewing right away, it should be fine for a bit as long as it stays dry. But you should be sure to brew and drink it within two weeks for the best results. Likewise, if you’re drinking instant coffee, you should try to finish it within two weeks of opening the seal.
As we’ve mentioned, coffee that’s already been brewed should be consumed as soon as possible, but it should stay palatable for three to four days if stored in the refrigerator.
Will I Get Sick if I Leave My Coffee Out Too Long?
The taste and aroma of coffee will deteriorate over time, but coffee should never “go bad” in a way that would make the drinker ill. The only exception will be if too much moisture gets into the coffee, as it could then develop harmful mold. But otherwise, you should feel safe drinking coffee no matter how long you’ve had it.
What Causes My Coffee to Taste Bitter?
So, now you know how quickly you should drink your coffee, but the quality will deteriorate. But you might be wondering why, exactly, that happens.
To put it simply, when ground coffee beans come into contact with hot water, a chemical reaction occurs, which causes the coffee to release its flavor, oils, and acids into the water. That process continues after the brewing is complete, and the longer it sits, the more acidity will be present in the coffee. That leads to the increasingly bitter taste.
So How Long Is Coffee Good For After Brewing?
The bottom line is room temperature coffee will be good to drink for around 12 hours and refrigerated coffee for three to four days. But if you’re a true coffee aficionado, you won’t want to wait that long. The overall quality will start to deteriorate right away, so if you want to maximize your experience, you should drink it as quickly as possible.