A cup of coffee is only as fresh as its beans.


If you can't imagine starting your day without a delicious cup of coffee, you're not alone. According to the National Coffee Association, 62 percent of Americans drink at least one cup of coffee every day. That's a lot of java! Whether you prefer french press coffee or a frothy cappuccino, one thing is certain: all mugs of coffee are not created equal. If you want your daily cup to taste fresh and delicious, the coffee you start with needs to be fresh and delicious, too. Old stale beans just won't cut it. To learn what you need to know about making a perfect cup of coffee, we chatted with two of the South's best coffee shops to find out how long coffee lasts.

Is there an expiration date?

Both Ryan Hall, Director of Operations at Due South Coffee Roasters in Greenville, South Carolina, and Adam Kelley, Owner of Leopard Forest Coffee Company in Travelers Rest, South Carolina, say the taste of coffee begins to degrade about two weeks after roasting. They are both clear, however, that coffee can still be drinkable and even delicious long after that date. Hall explains, "There are a lot of variables to consider when talking about coffee's timeframe of freshness but how the coffee is packaged and stored makes a big difference. Many coffee trade organizations have compiled multiple studies on coffee staling over the years, and found that coffee packaged in nitrogen-flushed, vacuumed sealed bags with a degassing valve to allow carbon dioxide to escape, can last about six months; and a coffee packaged without nitrogen flushing and with a degassing valve can last nearly three months."

How Long Does Coffee Last?
Credit: Matthew Horwood/Getty Images

It is important to note, however, that once you open your coffee, it will become stale at a much faster pace. This means infrequent coffee drinkers will probably be best served if they purchase their coffee in smaller quantities. Says Kelley, "buying too much in bulk and accessing that same bag daily will continually expose the coffee to oxygen and moisture in the air, which leads to degradation."

Another factor that can affect how long coffee lasts is whether that coffee is ground or whole bean. Says Hall, "whole beans will always lengthen the window of freshness. A large part of what makes coffee lively and exciting are the aromatics trapped inside those little beans after going through the roasting process. When you grind the coffee, you break up the cell walls of those coffee beans, and the rate that those gasses exit the material is significantly quicker than if it were to be fully intact (whole bean)"

What are some uses for stale coffee?

What if you were a little zealous about stocking up when your favorite brand went on sale or received one too many bags of beans over the holidays? First, taste it, although it may not be at its prime, the coffee may still be acceptable to your palette. If you find it isn't fresh enough for your liking, Kelley suggests using it to make cold brew coffee (his recipe calls for one part medium grind coarse coffee to 16 parts water, immersed for 12-18 hours. Be sure to filter before serving). He also says that aging stale coffee for a couple of weeks with water, vodka, and vanilla bean will result in a delicious coffee liqueur.