Maybe breakfast is over, but you still have a coffee pot full of precious liquid. Or maybe you’re trying to turn a humble instant coffee into an icy java drink.
Either way, there’s a simple solution: storing coffee in the fridge.
But before you refrigerate and forget, you need to consider an important question. How long does coffee last in the fridge?
You might not have as much time as you think.
How Long Does Coffee Last In The Fridge?
Brewed coffee lasts between 7 and 14 days in the fridge. But the exact lifespan depends on the storage container, milky additives, and brewing method.
Refrigerated black coffee will be safe to drink for up to two weeks. But a safe cup of coffee is not the same as a delicious cup of coffee. For the freshest coffee taste, consume the coffee within the first 1-2 days of refrigeration.
An airtight container maximizes coffee’s fridge life. Adding dairy or creamer to your coffee reduces its shelf life.
Different brewing methods also impact how long you can refrigerate coffee, essentially thanks to oxidation levels. In simplest terms, brewing with colder water extends shelf life more than brewing with hot water.
Let’s take a look at more details for individual brewing methods.
Compared to other brewing methods, cold brew coffee lasts longer in the fridge.
When it comes to fresh coffee, this method is a durational experience. Brewing can take anywhere from 12-24 hours, depending on how you like it. But the benefit of waiting? An extended fridge life.
To understand why this chocolatey taste stands the test of fridge time, let’s review a few facts of coffee chemistry.
Stale coffee flavors occur as a result of oxidation. For our purposes, oxidation is a chemical reaction wherein oxygen is added to a substance.
As coffee cools, the molecules within the liquid vibrate at a much lower frequency. This causes increased oxidation.
But cold brew gets its name because it is brewed with cold or room temperature water. So when you put the coffee in the fridge, the oxidation process is less drastic than if you were chilling coffee brewed with hot water.
(Sealing the liquid in an airtight container will further reduce oxidation. But more on that in a bit.)
Chemistry aside, it sounds like common sense: the brewing method designed to produce cold java withstands refrigeration better than brewing methods designed to produce hot java.
Trying to save that last bit of nitro you grabbed from the local coffee shop? Remove any ice cubes prior to putting the beverage in the fridge.
Also, keep in mind that if you’ve added creamer or any milky substance to the coffee, that will reduce its fridge life. (More on that in a later section.)
I’ve kept cold brew in the fridge for a few days without an issue. Some people claim that it will last up to two weeks in the fridge.
Technically, it will. So long as you didn’t add milk, the coffee will be safe to drink on day 14. But the flavor won’t be great.
Iced coffee will last a day or two in the fridge.
When you’re craving something cool and caffeinated on a hot summer’s day, you might not care much about the difference between iced coffee and cold brew.
(I’d argue that the two drinks taste entirely different. But not everyone’s as fussy as a former barista.)
Regardless of where you stand on the debate, there is an important distinction when it comes to how long these liquids last in the fridge.
Remember what I said about oxidation? Think about how iced coffee is made. Hot coffee is brewed, then poured over ice. That means the coffee has started oxidizing before it even reaches the fridge.
So it’s a scientific fact that you’ll enjoy the best flavor if you drink your iced coffee as soon as you make it.
When that’s not an option, you can store iced coffee in the fridge. But make sure you remove any ice cubes. It’s a fridge, not a freezer. And when the ice melts, it will water down your drink.
But if you care about crafting a quality cup of coffee, don’t refrigerate espresso. Even for a few hours. It won’t reheat properly, no matter how hard you try. Plus, you’ll never be able to recreate the crema.
It might be tempting to chill espresso in the fridge for iced lattes. But it’s an unnecessary step.
An iced latte is about one part espresso to four parts milk. So assuming you keep your milk in the fridge, this pre-chilled liquid plus a cup of ice will quickly cool down the espresso.
Another reason to avoid putting espresso in the fridge?
There are a few situations where you’ll accidentally end up with excess espresso shots that you don’t want to go to waste. And these exceptions usually take place in coffee shops.
I once worked in a cafe that served espresso martinis. To speed up the assembly process, we pre-batched espresso and then stored it in the fridge.
I’m not proud of my actions, but it worked in a pinch. But when I’m making post-dinner drinks for friends and family, I definitely use fresh espresso shots.
If you do need (or want) to pre-batch espresso, you’re best just keeping it sealed in a cool place outside the fridge. But don’t let it sit for more than one day.
Keeping Milky Coffee Fresh
Regardless of how you brew the coffee, you can keep black coffee in the fridge for a relatively long time without impacting the coffee’s potability. Two-week-old black coffee might not taste great. But it will be safe to drink.
I can’t say the same thing about refrigerating coffee mixed with milk or creamer. Milky coffee lasts for a much shorter amount of time than black coffee.
All milk has an expiration date, particularly affected by whether or not it’s been opened. This shelf life will also vary depending on type. Dairy tends to last for a shorter amount of time than soy, oat, and almond milk.
Pouring milk into coffee does not change the fact that it has a limited life. Bacteria occurs naturally in milk and will grow at temperatures above 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
If possible, keep the milk separate from the brewed coffee until you’re ready to drink it. Doing so will keep the coffee fresher for longer. Then, simply add the milk when you need it.
Otherwise, consume milky coffee within two days of refrigeration. And maybe do a quick sniff check prior to quaffing. Save yourself from the taste of spoiled dairy.
You Don’t Need To Store Coffee In The Fridge
Thermos Works For Short Periods
Sometimes pre-batching isn’t deliberate. Sometimes you overestimate how much caffeine you can guzzle before your workday begins.
But no one wants to dump coffee down the drain. Even if the excess was accidental. Fortunately, there is a simple way to minimize waste without compromising taste.
If you brew more coffee than needed, use a thermos to keep it hot for a short period of time. Some vacuum-insulated thermoses claim to maintain the temperature of hot coffee for up to 24 hours.
To maximize performance, preheat the thermos with hot water. Then, transfer the leftover coffee from the coffee pot to the thermos while the coffee is still hot.
You can keep milky coffee in a thermos. But black coffee will retain its taste better than milky coffee.
Realistically, expect a low-quality thermos to keep coffee fresh for six hours. A premium flask should work well for up to 12 hours.
Coffee Ice Cubes
Another way to reduce coffee waste is to freeze the excess liquid into coffee ice cubes. Simply pour the brewed coffee or espresso into an ice cube tray, pop the tray into the freezer, and bam.
Next time you make an iced coffee, you won’t have to worry about melting ice watering down your drink. Instead, the cubes will simply add more coffee to your coffee.
Think of it as a sort of a DIY cometeer process.
What About Storing Coffee Beans & Grounds?
In an ideal world, you grind your beans right before brewing the grounds for a fresh cup of coffee.
I’m aware that we don’t live in an ideal world. Sometimes convenience and cost make us use pre-ground coffee rather than whole bean coffee.
Whatever your reason for using pre-ground coffee, you don’t need to store unbrewed coffee in the fridge. Same goes for coffee beans.
Coffee loses freshness when exposed to light, air or heat. So a fridge might sound like an ideal storage location. But when improperly sealed, coffee will absorb other fridge aromatics.
And nobody wants their coffee to taste like cabbage, fish, or whatever casserole has been forgotten at the back of your fridge.
Instead of risking cross-contamination, store coffee grounds and beans outside of the fridge in an airtight container. Simply put, a vacuum-sealed container is the best way to prevent oxidation and maintain flavor purity. Just make sure the container is clean and non-porous.
To maximize shelf life, place the coffee in a cool place away from light. A cupboard away from the stove and oven will work well.
When I was growing up, my parents used to buy coffee grounds in bulk and store the excess ground in the freezer. This tactic was good for a budget, but not so good for brewing delicious drip coffees.
Even if you store the coffee beans in a truly airtight container, you still shouldn’t freeze them.
Coffee beans contain moisture molecules. When these molecules freeze, they expand. This expansion creates tiny fractures within the bean. Over time, the air trapped within these fractures becomes stale.
Yes, I know. Buying coffee in smaller quantities might come at an additional cost. But the payoff is fresher flavors.
So, to recap: the best way to make coffee last is to keep it in an airtight container. Don’t bother refrigerating or freezing it.
Storing coffee for later drinking won’t give you the best taste known to coffee kind. But sometimes, even people who love coffee sacrifice flavor for convenience.
So how long does coffee last in the fridge? The answer depends on a few factors: storage container, milky additives, and brewing method.
When stored properly, iced coffee will last for a day or two in the fridge. Coffee brewed without hot water lasts a few days longer. Espresso lasts for about a day, but really shouldn’t be refrigerated.
Also, remember that creamers and milks reduce the fridge life of coffee. Sniff before you sip to make sure the drink hasn’t spoiled.
When in doubt, make sure the coffee you’re keeping in the fridge is black coffee. No sugar, no syrup, no creamers. Just black. You can always add milky goodness after you’ve reheated your cup of coffee.
One final reminder. Don’t put coffee grounds or coffee beans in the fridge. Instead, keep them in an airtight container away from heat or sunlight.
The best cup of coffee is a fresh cup of coffee. But sometimes, storing brewed coffee can reduce waste or speed up your morning routine—two very important goals.