How To Tell If Coffee Is Bad The Easy Way!

How To Tell If Coffee Is Bad The Easy Way!

Last updated on March 3rd, 2024 at 11:30

There is nothing worse in life than sitting down, chillaxing and looking forward to that great cup of coffee and only to have that moment shattered by taking a sip and finding that it tastes rancid and off. Nobody likes bad coffee!

There is nothing nice about stale coffee or any sour notes to it. In this article you will find out how to tell if coffee is bad in an easy and effortless way.

Are you ready to find out how you can tell if your coffee is old and rancid?


Then pull up a chair and keep reading.

How To Tell If Your Coffee Is Rancid And Old

Coffee, like anything else in your kitchen that is edible or drinkable, is a food product. All food products have an expiry date. It is not safe nor wise to consume anything that has passed its expiry date.

Coffee is something that has a short window of prime or peak flavor window and that is 48 to 72 hours after roasting to 10 days after roasting. That is a 7-day window for the maximum flavor from your beans.

When your cup of coffee goes off, you will not be able to physically see any difference as it looks exactly the same.

To tell if it is rancid and off you need to take my two-step test. First give it the good old-fashioned sniff test.

Fresh coffee has a very familiar strong caramel like aroma, but when it goes off, the coffee oils from your roasted coffee go off, and they start to have an ashtray, ash like taste.

If you brew coffee with beans that are off and out of date it will have some bitter notes, taste a little sour and off.

That is your two-step test. First, the sniff test, second, a quick sip as a taste test. It is possible that your first test, the sniff test, that your coffee smells fine, but can fail the second test.

Belts and braces!

How To Tell If Your Coffee Is Rancid And Old
A Sniff Test Will Tell You If Your Coffee Is Rancid

Read: How to make espresso with regular coffee

Does Ground Coffee Expire And Go Bad?

Yes, of course. Coffee beans are a food product and all food products can go bad. Pre-ground, prepared coffee grounds will go off and expire quicker than whole beans, not by much, but it is clear that whole beans stay fresher for longer.

This is due to a greater surface area being in contact with the air and being more exposed to oxygen and the oxidization process and other unwanted chemical reactions that accelerate the decay of your coffee grounds.

This is just one of the reasons why I encourage you to grind your beans immediately before you brew them.

The shelf life of ground coffee, which is not the same as the peak flavor window I spoke about earlier, can vary from 3 months to 5 months depending on which beans. If the bag is opened, this reduces dramatically to just a few weeks.

I strongly encourage you to store your beans properly. Use an airtight coffee canister with a one-way valve to allow the carbon dioxide to escape. These are much better than an ordinary airtight container.

Go a step further and store that canister in your fridge for maximum freshness.

Does Ground Coffee Expire And Go Bad
Ground Coffee Goes Bad Quicker!

Read: What country does espresso come from?

How Can You Tell If Coffee Has Gone Bad?

By far, the best way to tell if is to first sniff test your coffee. If it smells moldy, rancid or off, it probably is. If it smells fine, proceed to the taste test.

Simply take a little sip. If it tastes off – do not drink anymore. Use it to water your plant as it still has nutrients that will help it grow.

There is no point in wasting it or wasting water!

What Does Rancid Coffee Smell Like?

The scent of rancid coffee is rather distinctive. It’s flat, dusty, ash-like scent and mildew is how it smells. You will know by the lack of a rich, fresh aroma.

Can Instant Coffee Go Bad?

Instant coffee, to describe it perfectly. Extremely broken-down ground coffee. Due to the way in which it is made and processed, it can last significantly longer. Instant coffee can last for up to 2 years.


that does not answer the question – can instant coffee go bad?

Yes, any type of coffee can go bad! If you are making coffee with old, out of date instant coffee, be sure to run the sniff and taste test.

All coffee beans, no matter how they are processed, can go bad.

Can Instant Coffee Go Bad
Instant Coffee Can Take A Long Time To Go Bad

How Can You Know If Your Coffee Is Fresh?

The best way is a quick visual and check the best before date. It is unadvisable to consume any food product that is past its best before or use by date.

A second check is to check for its freshness and give it a sniff test. Fresh coffee should have a caramel like aroma to it. If it has that distinctive scent, then brew a cup of coffee.

The freshest coffee will have a layer of crema on top. If there is no crema, let that be a visual indication that your coffee is not as fresh as it could be.

With your whole beans, you can take a handful of beans, put them in a ziplock bag and remove all the air. Leave the bag overnight in your cupboard or counter top. If you see it puffing up the following day or morning, your beans are fresh. The puffing up of the bag will be from carbon dioxide being released from your coffee beans. This happens only when they are fresh.

If it is flat, you can be assured your coffee beans are stale.

How Long Does Coffee Stay Fresh?

How long a coffee can last depends on what type of coffee we are talking about. Whole beans, ground beans and instant coffee all have different expiry durations.

Instant coffee, which is dried, can last for years! Whole bean coffee will last you a couple of weeks. Freshly ground coffee will last only about 10 days to two weeks.

The shelf life of coffee depends on a number of factors, with instant coffee lasting long due to being freeze-dried. Whole beans last longer than ground beans due to the increased surface area of the ground beans getting greater exposure to oxygen and this breaking down faster.

If you are unsure of how fresh your beans are before you make your morning cup of coffee, sniff test them.

How To Store Your Coffee To Extend Its Shelf Life?

Every coffee drinker knows that their coffee will degrade over time and that whole beans will stay fresher for longer. To avoid getting an unwanted morning surprise and waking up to a bad cup of coffee.

To maintain maximum freshness factor and coffee flavor I always use an airtight coffee container with a one-way valve and store it in the fridge. I only take out the amount of beans that I am going to use immediately before I grind and brew them.

Storing your coffee this way keeps it fresher for longer and maintains optimum conditions. Ensure the coffee container is specifically designed for coffee and blocks out all light as light can damage your beans.

As coffee is a food product, the usual rules of proper food storage apply.

How To Store Your Coffee To Extend Its Shelf Life
A Proper Coffee Canister

Frequently Asked Questions About How To Tell If Coffee Is Bad

What Does Spoiled Coffee Taste Like?

Spoiled coffee, as the natural acids and oils start to degrade, can turn sour and stale. At best, your coffee beans will taste flat; at worst, they will taste bitter and citrus-like.

What Happens If You Drink Bad Coffee?

If you drink bad coffee that has no signs of mold and is milk free, the worst situation is you will have a horrible taste in your mouth and an upset stomach.

You can get food poisoning from old coffee beans, but it is very unlikely if you examine them well for traces of mold. In most case, the worst situation is an upset stomach.

Coffee that doesn’t have any milk in it is okay to drink after 24 hours when left at room temperature. It might be a stale coffee that you drink, but it is not detrimental to your health.

If your coffee suddenly tastes weird, it might be a problem with your machine, and you need to descale it. The problem may be that your machine is calcified or built up with scale and causing your machine not to reach the correct brewing temperature.

Yes, old coffee can lose their flavor, degrade and eventually taste sour if they are old enough.

Frappé-ing It All Up – How To Tell If Coffee Is Bad

How to tell if coffee is bad is something that can be easily found out by a few tell-tale signs. First check the use by date or best before date. If this is fine, proceed to the sniff test. If your coffee smells fine, great, please do continue and brew a cup of coffee.

Once you have brewed your cup of coffee, and it is missing the distinctive thin layer of crema it may be that your beans are off. Still, though, continue to the sniff test of the brewed cup of coffee. If it is fine, proceed to the final test – a taste test.

Take a sip, if it tastes fine, enjoy your cup of coffee. Always run all tests to ensure they are off as a belts and braces process to confirm that they are indeed off.

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Derek Marshall, a certified barista by the Specialty Coffee Association possesses over two decades of experience in specialty coffee shops. He holds professional certifications for coffee brewing and barista skills. Derek is also an author with authoritative books covering various coffee topics including specialty coffee, sustainability and coffee, coffee brewing, coffee recipes, coffee cocktails and books focusing on Brazilian coffee, Vietnamese coffee, Indonesian coffee and Malaysian coffee. As a barista for over two decades, Derek Marshall has worked in specialty coffee shops across the United Kingdom, Spain, Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia, Indonesia, and Vietnam. His expertise extends to the distinct coffee cultures, specialty beverages, and brewing techniques of each nation. Functioning as a coffee consultant, Derek charges US$50 per hour. To learn more about Derek Marshall and Latte Love Brew, visit his About Me Page. For coffee inquiries, contact him at +34-639-410-375 or, mentioning your name and location

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