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Do Coffee Beans Expire? (Can They Go Bad?)

I don’t know about you, but whenever I sit pondering what life in a post-apocalyptic world might be like, I always worry about coffee.

Presumably, a world devoid of life, but rich in misery and zombies is gonna be a tough world to endure.

I can barely handle eight a.m. on a normal day without a cup of hot motivation in hand.

If you too worry about coffee in your dystopian musings, I’m here to provide you with some comfort.

Coffee beans DO NOT GO BAD. Like ever.

At least, not in the way you’re probably thinking. They never rot or spoil (under normal conditions) and they won’t ever make you sick.

What coffee beans do instead is go rancid and loose some of their oomph.

Which is tragedy in itself, but at least means when you find a bag of old coffee beans on one of your supply runs during the alien invasion, you can safely give them a try. (Though, you’ll probably want to give them a small sniff first, which will tell you all you need to know.)

When are coffee beans bad?

The term “bad” when it comes to coffee beans (and even ground coffee) is a tricky one.

While coffee doesn’t actually go bad (not bad enough to make you ill), coffee beans begin to lose their freshness shortly after they are roasted.

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Air, light, moisture, and high temperatures are all enemies of the coffee bean, so practically as soon as coffee beans are shucked they start to degrade.

The expiration date you see on bags of coffee (both whole bean and ground) is based on flavor, not danger.

You can continue to safely use coffee beans and ground coffee long after their expiration dates.

Though, you may prefer not to in a world where coffee is still readily available.

Can coffee expire?

No. Not really. Coffee can certainly become unpleasant or even unpalatable, but, barring contamination or mold/mildew growth, it can’t actually expire or go bad.

Some bags of coffee have no expiration dates for this very reason. It doesn’t ever, technically, spoil.

And it shouldn’t spoil as long as its in vacuum-packed coffee bags or sealed cans.

But under unfavorable conditions where it is exposed to moisture or the elements, coffee beans/grounds can certainly grow mold/mildew or become contaminated by other substances.

The good news is, these contaminants should be easily visible to the naked eye before you would dare brew up the first cup.

Do Coffee Beans Lose Flavor Over Time?

Here’s where the story of our post-apocalyptic, coffee-scarce world gets sadder.

While coffee beans don’t go bad, they do degrade, losing flavor over time.

Ten, twenty years into the zombie apocalypse when you come across an untouched bag of coffee, it will still be safe to drink (barring contamination), but all the flavor may be long gone.

I know. It’s awful.

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Does Coffee Lose Caffeine Over Time?

Now, you might be thinking, ‘Okay, so it might taste bad, but it will still give me a kick, right?’

The story gets even sadder.

If the question is ‘Do coffee beans lose caffeine over time?,’ the answer is an unfortunate ‘Yes.’

As coffee beans degrade, the oils in them start to dry up, the flavor weakens, and the total quantity of caffeine dwindles along with it.

Basically, the whole bean “goes bad” at the same time.

That said, caffeine is a highly stable substance under the right conditions (dark, cool, dry – the same conditions that keep coffee beans fresh for an extended period of time.)

So, while the caffeine does evaporate, it does so incredibly slowly, over a period of years or even decades.

The coffee beans or grounds will likely be undrinkable long before their caffeine is completely depleted.

In fact, the caffeine may be one of the main reasons coffee beans don’t go bad.

Caffeine has been found in studies to inhibit the growth of bacteria, mold, yeast, and (possibly) microbes, which means the very coffee itself is warding off potential contaminators and corruptors.

How do I know if coffee beans or coffee grounds are safe to brew?

They are. Almost always.

Unless you see something growing on it or moving in it, coffee beans/grounds are safe to brew up and drink.

However, you might want to give it the smell test before you do.

Before coffee beans go bad, they go sad, losing almost all of their flavor and most of their oomph.

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The liquid that passes through them won’t make you sick, but it won’t taste or have the same effect as coffee.

In conclusion, if you’re in the midst of a zombie apocalypse, alien invasion, or just general end of the world dystopia and stumble upon a batch of coffee beans (or grounds):

  1. Check them for signs of visual disturbance. If there’s no mold, and nothing growing or moving within them, they are safe to brew and drink.
  2. Give them a sniff. If they smell like coffee, they’ll taste like coffee. And have a nice caffeine kick to boot.
  3. Brew up those coffee-smelling beans. You’ll be happy. – OR – Brew up those somewhat bland, weak-smelling beans. They *might* taste something like coffee or they might be terribly, terribly disappointing.

Either way, you won’t get sick.

You’ll still have the ability to run away, hide in a basement, or hack off a head with a machete.

Spread the word!

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