Mornings are often hectic in your home, so instant coffee is a lifesaver. Today, you thought the coffee maybe smelled a bit off, but you weren’t sure. How long should you expect instant coffee to last?
Instant coffee has an impressive shelf life of anywhere from six months to two years on average, but sometimes up to 20 years. Since instant coffee is only dried coffee extract that you add water to, its rather simple composition allows it to last for a surprisingly long time.
In this article, we’ll talk further about the lifespan of instant coffee as well as some indicators that your instant coffee has gone bad. If you have instant coffee at home in the pantry, then this is one article you’re not going to want to miss!
How Long Does Instant Coffee Last?
As much of a luxury as brewing your own coffee at home is, it’s not a luxury that all people have time for during the week. For those ultra-busy mornings, there’s instant coffee, which is pre-brewed dried coffee extract.
Given its rather simple composition, you might think that instant coffee lasts a long time, and you’d be correct!
As we talked about in the intro, the average lifespan for instant coffee is at little as six months. The stuff is good for up to two years in many cases, and that’s about the expiration date you’ll see many manufacturers recommend.
Some coffee lovers believe that instant coffee can last upwards of 20 years, which is just an insane lifespan!
Does Instant Coffee Last Longer Than Other Types of Coffee?
Are you just now making the switch to instant coffee from whole coffee beans or ground coffee? If so, then you might be curious about what the lifespans of these other forms of coffee are.
Let’s take a look.
How Long Whole Roasted Coffee Beans Last
Whole roasted coffee beans, if unopened and kept in the original vacuum-sealed bag they came in, will last for between six and nine months.
Once you open the bag, the whole beans will be good for about six months.
If you freeze whole roasted coffee beans unopened, their lifespan extends to two to three years. Opened whole beans in the freezer are good for just two years.
As you can see, the lifespan of whole roasted coffee beans cannot touch the longevity of instant coffee. It’s not like you’d want your whole roasted beans to stick around for that long, anyway.
Once you roast coffee beans, their flavor gradually degrades more and more over time.
If you wait to brew the beans a year or two after you bought them because they were in the freezer all this time, you’d be disappointed at the lack of flavor.
For further details, check out our other article, “How to tell if your coffee beans have gone bad?”
How Long Coffee Grounds Last
Ground coffee has an even shorter life than whole roasted coffee beans, which should tell you enough.
On average, an unopened, vacuum-sealed bag of roasted coffee lasts about five months. Once you open the bag, you have between three and five months to use its contents before they expire.
Freezing an unopened bag of ground coffee does nothing to extend its lifespan. Yep, that’s right, the ground coffee is still only good for five months.
If you open ground coffee and then freeze it, it might hold for a year or two.
Instant coffee has a much longer lifespan than ground coffee as well!
How Do You Know If Instant Coffee Is Bad?
Instant coffee can stick around for an extremely long time, and sometimes, even past its expiration date, it doesn’t taste (or smell) all that terrible. Well, at least at first.
The following are signs that your instant coffee should be immediately discarded, starting from the least to the most severe.
The Taste Is Stale
You know how if you open a bag of snack crackers, don’t clip them up, and then come back to them about a month later, they’re edible but taste stale?
While it takes a lot longer for your instant coffee to get to that point, it can indeed become stale as well the longer it’s been hiding in your pantry.
While you can dilute the stale flavor of the coffee by drowning it with cream, milk, or sugar, that’s no way to drink coffee. You’re barely getting any health benefits at that point, just a sugar rush to go with your caffeine spike.
You’ll have a nasty crash in an hour or two!
You Can Barely Taste Anything
Another sign that something is wrong with your instant coffee is that it’s practically flavorless. In fact, it is flavorless.
You know that, compared to brewing your own coffee at home especially, that instant coffee is not going to taste high-quality. You weren’t expecting gourmet coffee, just an edible cup with some notes of flavor.
Once your instant coffee tastes as flavorless as water, you should do yourself a favor and chuck it in the trash.
That flavor will never come back, and drinking lifeless coffee cups is not the best way to start the day.
Something Smells Off
Perhaps it never even reaches the point where you make your instant coffee. As soon as you pop open the lid, you smell something terrible.
Instant coffee might not get to quite the level of rancidity that old coffee can in other forms, but it will smell rank.
This is a sign that your instant coffee has more than outstayed its welcome, especially if you’ve had it for a year or more. You need to get rid of it immediately.
You See White Stuff
The biggest and most obvious sign that your instant coffee has gone bad is that you can see white stuff growing on the surface.
That stuff isn’t just anything; it’s mold.
This usually happens with open bags of instant coffee. You didn’t choose an airtight container for instant coffee storage, so moisture got in and caused mold development.
Even if it’s only a little bit of mold, and even if it’s just right on the top, it doesn’t matter. You need to throw away the instant coffee before you brew another cupful.
Is It Okay to Drink Expired Instant Coffee?
Instant coffee, as we established, can last long past its sell-by date. For precisely how long can you drink it after it expires?
Well, that depends on just what kind of state it’s in.
If your instant coffee tastes stale or lifeless, while drinking it won’t be an enjoyable experience, the coffee is technically still edible.
You might have an upset stomach and diarrhea after consumption due to the age of the ingredients in the instant coffee, or you might feel fine.
You should never drink instant coffee with a bad aroma or mold. You could get very sick if you do!
How to Make Instant Coffee Last Longer
Although instant coffee has an enviably long lifespan, you can make it last even longer. Here’s how.
Put the Instant Coffee in an Airtight Container Once Opened
We can’t stress enough the importance of storing your instant coffee in an airtight container after you open it.
Instant coffee, although maybe not the most preferred type of coffee, is still made of coffee grounds at the end of the day.
One of the biggest enemies of coffee is moisture, as it can sap away the flavor and lead to the aforementioned growth of mold.
You don’t necessarily have to keep the instant coffee in the original bottle or canister it came in. You can transfer the grounds to a plastic, acrylic, or stainless steel container with an airtight lid. Below are some airtight containers that I have used and recommend.
Only open the instant coffee when you want to make some to keep moisture out.
Store in a Cool, Dry Place
Coffee also doesn’t like warm, bright environments. These conditions can again dilute the flavor as well as encourage mold growth.
The best spot for any coffee grounds, instant or otherwise, is in a pantry with the door closed.
The kitchen pantry is cool and dark enough that the grounds will stay of good quality for a long time to come.
If your pantry is filled to the brim, then at least keep the instant coffee out of direct sunlight and in a room temperature environment.
No Fridge or Freezer Storage
After reading that both roasted whole coffee beans and coffee grounds last longer in the fridge or freezer, that gave you the idea to squeeze a few more months out of your instant coffee by chilling it as well.
We wouldn’t recommend it. Instant coffee lasts long enough that it doesn’t need to be frozen or refrigerated. Besides, those cold environments could affect how fresh your coffee tastes and its strength.
Instant coffee can last as little as six months but up to 20 years if you properly store it.
More than likely, you’ll have yours for a year or two, tops, which should be enough time to get through the canister’s contents!
While you can still likely enjoy instant coffee if it tastes stale (of course, that enjoyment will be reduced), you should not drink the stuff it smells bad or has grown white mold!