Does Iced Coffee Go Bad? Here’s the Truth!

This morning, you started your routine as you usually do, pulling up to your favorite café and ordering an iced coffee. Then you got really busy with work and totally forgot about your beverage until well into the 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 people 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’s going to have started to melt if all the ice isn’t already gone. The beverage’s temperature will have come down significantly as well, leaving you with lukewarm coffee that’s far from tasty. 

If you know that you’re not going to get to your cold drink for a while, then you need to stash it in the fridge. 

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

Some fridges are colder than others, including mini fridges which have a smaller heating element. If your fridge feels like an arctic tundra each time you open the doors, then you might be able to get away with storing your iced coffee in there until it’s quitting time at work. Any longer than that though and your drink should really 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 having to sit in the Starbucks drive-through line. Plus, you love how you can have iced coffee whenever you want even if the café isn’t open. 

If you have a bottle of iced coffee, how long will it be good for? Before we answer that question, we do want to note one thing. If it’s a bottled cold beverage from Starbucks, it’s probably cold brew instead of iced coffee. That’s a whole other 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 ice coffee in the fridge and it’s unopened, you can safely store the drink until its expiration date. Once you break that seal though and open the iced coffee, then the urgency in which 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 very pleasant taste of your iced coffee! 

Is Iced Coffee the Same as Cold Brew?

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

Lots of 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 it 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 biggest 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 if desired, you can enjoy this drink hot.

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 iced coffee or cold brew is that 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 gets funky very quickly. 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? Here Are Some Signs That You Shouldn’t

You really have a hankering 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 all the ice melted in your cup, it probably watered down the coffee, so you wouldn’t even 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

Maybe you’re one of those people who have to do a little 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. 

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

Final Thoughts

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

It’s always a real shame when iced coffee goes bad. With the information in this article, you can keep your iced beverages frosty cold and prevent their premature spoiling!  

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