Does Iced Coffee Go Bad?

This morning, you started your routine as usual, pulling up to your favorite café and ordering an iced coffee. Then you got busy with work and forgot about your beverage until late afternoon. Is your iced coffee still drinkable?

Iced coffee can go bad if you don’t drink it soon after buying it. By stashing it in the fridge, you can get several more hours, even up to 24 hours (in the case of bottled store-bought iced coffee), out of your beverage before you’d have to dump it in the trash.

What is the lifespan of an iced coffee you buy at Dunkin’ Donuts versus a bottled Starbucks iced coffee? In this article, that’s exactly what we’ll explain, so make sure you keep reading!

Does Fresh Iced Coffee Go Bad?

Every morning, you walk into Starbucks or Dunkin’ and put in the same order: one iced coffee with milk. Unlike those with hot beverages, you can enjoy the caffeinated goodness of your iced coffee the moment the barista hands it to you.

Yet when you inevitably stop sipping–such as when your boss slams a huge report on your desk with a deadline of EOD today–what happens to your iced coffee? Is it still considered edible a few hours after you bought it?

Perhaps, but it will have started to melt if all the ice isn’t already gone. The beverage’s temperature will also have come down significantly, leaving you with lukewarm coffee that’s far from tasty. 

If you know that you won’t get to your cold drink for a while, you need to stash it in the fridge. 

How long can your fresh iced coffee stay in the fridge? You want to avoid pushing your luck here, so the less time, the better. Ice will still melt in the refrigerator since the fridge’s temperature is above freezing. Thus, keeping your iced coffee in the refrigerator only slows down its melting but doesn’t prevent it outright.

Some fridges are colder than others, including mini-fridges with smaller heating elements. If your fridge feels like an arctic tundra each time you open the doors, you might get away with storing your iced coffee in there until it’s quitting time at work. Any longer than that, though, your drink should be thrown away. 

Does Bottled Ice Coffee Go Bad?

Perhaps you’d rather buy bottled iced coffee at the grocery store to save you the hassle of sitting in the Starbucks drive-through line. Plus, you love having iced coffee whenever you want, even if the café isn’t open. 

How long will it be good if you have a bottle of iced coffee? Before we answer that question, we do want to note one thing. If it’s a cold bottled beverage from Starbucks, it’s probably cold brew instead of iced coffee. That’s another ball of yarn, so keep reading to learn more.

Dunkin’ Donuts sells iced coffee in a bottle, though, as do plenty of other coffee brands. It’s a lot easier to determine how fresh these products are because the bottle will have an expiration date printed somewhere on it. You may also see usage instructions, which will recommend if you should refrigerate the iced beverage. More than likely, you will have to.

If you keep your bottled iced coffee in the fridge and it’s unopened, you can safely store the drink until its expiration date. Once you break that seal and open the iced coffee, the urgency you need to consume the drink increases.

You can let the opened bottled coffee sit until the next day, but we wouldn’t recommend waiting longer than 24 hours. The cream and milk in the coffee can go rancid, wrecking the otherwise enjoyable taste of your iced coffee! 

Is Iced Coffee the Same as Cold Brew?

As we said, let’s talk about the differences between iced and cold brew coffee.

Many coffee brands like to blur the line of what these beverages refer to, which is only more confusing for consumers. Cold-brew coffee involves steeping coffee beans in filtered water. The beans will sit for at least 12 hours. This brewing process encourages caffeine, sugar, and oil extraction.

Cold-brew coffee might be more aromatic than other cups and tends to have a strong, smooth flavor. The sweetness feels more natural than coffee with cream and sugar, and the flavor notes of chocolate make sipping cold brew beverages a delight. 

The most significant difference between cold brew and iced coffee is this: cold brew coffee, despite the name, does not have to be served cold. It’s brewed at room temperature, so you can enjoy this drink hot if desired.

Iced coffee is regular coffee with ice poured in. That doesn’t mean it isn’t delicious, but making iced coffee is very simple. As a medium-bodied beverage, you might get some notes of caramel, but the flavor is relatively mild as well. 

The reason it’s so important to know whether what’s in your cup is an iced coffee or cold brew is because the latter drink lasts much longer than iced coffee. Since it’s not on ice, you can store cold brew in the fridge for at least a week, sometimes two weeks. 

When left in a room-temperature environment, though, cold brew quickly gets funky. In a couple of hours, you’ll see mold on your drink! That could make you want to quit coffee forever. 

Can You Still Drink That Iced Coffee? Signs That You Shouldn’t

You want to finish your iced coffee, but admittedly, you haven’t been counting the hours since you bought it. How do you know whether it’s time to go back to Starbucks? Here are some signs your iced coffee is past its useful shelf life.

There’s No Ice Left

As we explained in the last section, cold brew is still cold brew whether you drink it hot or cold. Without ice, though, your iced coffee is just coffee. As the ice melted in your cup, it probably watered down the coffee, so you wouldn’t want to finish your beverage anyway. 

It Smells Awful

What is that smell? As you raid your fridge, you might have assumed that your eggs expired, or maybe you had some leftovers stashed in there for too long. Then you take a whiff of your iced coffee and realize the smell is emanating from your plastic coffee container. 

As the ingredients in coffee begin to spoil, their rancidity will invade your nostrils until you want to pinch your nose. This drink is not salvageable anymore. Throw it away immediately and buy or brew a new one. 

But the Taste Is Even Worse

You may be one of those people who have to do a taste test to determine if your food is still good (to you, at least). What you’ll taste when you sip on your stale iced coffee is not just watered-down coffee but spoiled ingredients. 

Your iced coffee is spoiled. The flavor notes might be bitter and sour, like gulping down vinegar. If that doesn’t prove it, then nothing else will. 

Should you Put Iced Coffee in the Freezer?

We’ve discussed how placing your iced coffee in the refrigerator can help it stay good for longer. So, would it make sense that putting it in the freezer would help it stay good even longer? Not exactly; here’s why. 

If you were to put your drink in the freezer, the next time you went to drink it, it would be impossible since it would be rock solid. You wouldn’t want to put it in the microwave for a few seconds, so your only option would be to leave it on the counter to thaw.

Here’s where the problem lies. Leaving it out at room temperature long enough for it to be drinkable would invite bacteria and other contaminants to grow. Your stomach would not be happy with you if you drank those. 

Making Coffee at Home? How to Give Your Coffee a Longer Shelf Life?

When you make an effort to buy fresh, high-quality beans, you want to extend the shelf life of the coffee. When the coffee comes in contact with oxygen, a chemical reaction occurs called oxidation. This causes your coffee beans or grounds to grow stale. 

Fortunately, there are some tips and tricks to keep your morning cup of coffee delicious without noticeable staleness. First, you always want to purchase whole coffee beans from a master roaster.

When you have your beans, store them in an airtight container, preferably an opaque one. Place the container in a dark cupboard away from any heat or moisture. 

Purchase a burr coffee grinder to grind only the beans you wish to you that day. If you follow all these tips, you can extend your coffee’s freshness.

To read more about stale coffee and how to prevent it, click here. 

Table explaining how to prevent stale coffee. 
Buy whole beans instead of ground coffee.
Only buy what you need. 
Purchase directly from a Master Roaster. 
Grind beans as needed. 
Store beans in an air-tight container.
Store in a dry dark place.
Keeping Coffee Fresh Table

Final Thoughts

Iced coffee from the Dunkin’ or Starbucks drive-through should only be refrigerated for a few hours, as the ice will still melt in the fridge. Once you open the drink, consume it within 24 hours. If yours is a store-bought bottled iced coffee, you can keep it in the fridge unsealed until its expiration date.

No one wants to drink old coffee. Hopefully, the information in this article, you can keep your iced beverages frosty cold and prevent premature spoiling! 

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