Everything You Need To Know About Stale Coffee

by | Feb 13, 2022

What is Stale Coffee?

Stale Coffee is defined as coffee that has gone bad. However, stale coffee can also be used to describe any coffee that lost its flavor and the “coffee freshness” over time. Stale coffee is simply an unpleasant-tasting cup of joe, with all the good stuff (the caffeine, the antioxidants) long gone. The term “stale coffee” is typically used to describe coffee that has been sitting for longer than two weeks, but it can take just a couple of days for your java to lose its flair. As the flavor and freshness fade over time, what was once an aromatic brew slowly becomes stale and flat-tasting.

Everything You Need To Know About Stale Coffee

Coffee beans, like most natural foods, begin to lose their freshness and flavor once they are ground. So if you grind your coffee at home with a grinder or buy whole beans and then the coffee sits in the grinder for more than an hour before brewing – it’s going stale. Likewise, if you leave pre-ground coffee in your machine’s permanent filter for a few days before brewing it, the coffee will go stale because the moisture from the coffee seeps out into the filter.

In addition to making bad-tasting coffee, stale grounds provide an environment where bacteria and mold can grow. When these microbes come into contact with your coffee beans or grinds, they can produce compounds that make your coffee taste sour or moldy.

In How Long Time Does Coffee Go Stale?

As far as how long it takes for coffee to go stale, the answer varies depending on how you store it. Coffee will begin to stale once it is ground, but full-bodied whole beans last much longer because the flavor and freshness are locked inside the bean itself. Once the coffee is ground, the flavor and oils in the beans start to escape into the air.

For best results, buy whole coffee beans and grind them only before you brew your morning cup (or when you’re ready to enjoy a second or third cup later in the day). To keep your java fresh for as long as possible, store it in an airtight container in a cool, dark place.

Coffee is a highly absorbent food, and it can pull out flavor from anything that it comes into contact with. So if you want to keep your coffee at its freshest best, make sure you never store it near any odiferous foods (onions or garlic) or harsh smelling products (bleach).

What Are Some Other Names for Stale Coffee?

“Stewed,” “stewy,” and “old” are three words that people use to describe a stale cup of coffee. If you want to be more specific, though, there are a few other terms that can help define exactly what you’re tasting in a stale cup of coffee.

Off flavor:

This term describes any number of unpleasant tastes, such as earthiness, mold, mustiness, and/or staleness.


When your coffee tastes or smells like mold, it is definitely past its prime. While some molds are safe to consume (as in cheese), moldy coffee is not.


This term refers to a flavor that resembles wet soil or the smell of an earthworm. The earthiness in your cup of coffee typically indicates that it has been exposed to excess moisture.


If you taste something reminiscent of cooked vegetables, this means your coffee beans have gone mushy. A mushy taste or texture can also be caused by coffee that has been stored near onions or garlic.

If you’re not sure if your java is stale, just think about the last time you pulled a fresh bag of beans out of the freezer and thawed it for use. If it tastes anything like what you describe, it’s time to start a fresh pot.

What Are Some Culprits Behind Bad-Tasting Coffee?

Several things can go wrong in the process of making your morning cup of coffee and leave you with a stale cuppa joe. This includes:

Brewing the Coffee too Soon

Just like with wine, the flavor of coffee is at its best shortly after roasting. If you brew your coffee within 20 minutes of grinding it, you’re getting the most out of your beans and preventing them from going stale.

Brewing Bad Quality Beans or Grounds

Coffee is one of the most highly traded commodities in the world. That means the beans you buy are likely to be very different than what someone else might buy. Your coffee can taste better by either buying good quality whole beans or, for more consistent results, sticking with pre-ground coffee.

Using Old Beans

If your coffee is older than two weeks when you brew it, you’re not getting the most out of it. Coffee has a “best by” date stamped on the bag, but it doesn’t mean that you have to finish it within a certain number of days after opening it. In fact, the sooner you get through your coffee once this date passes, the better off you’ll be.

The Water Wasn’t Hot Enough

If your coffee isn’t brewed through hot enough water, your coffee grounds won’t be saturated and your beverage won’t have the full flavor it’s capable of.


If your coffee tastes bitter, this means you’ve extracted too much from the beans. If you want a strong cup that is on the bitter side, just adjust your ratio of coffee to water for a less potent brew.

Using the Wrong Grind Size

The ideal size of your coffee grounds will depend on your preferred brewing method. A French press needs much coarser grounds than a drip coffee maker, but either way, you’ll get better results with the right amount of ground beans.

Storing Your Coffee Incorrectly

Coffee is meant to be enjoyed as fresh as possible. That means you should store your coffee in a cool, dark place that is airtight and odor-free. If you don’t use all of your coffee beans right away, consider putting them into an airtight container that’s filled with nitrogen to help preserve the flavor.

The best way to prevent stale-tasting coffee is to buy whole beans and grind them yourself in small batches. Not only will you enjoy the freshest cup possible, but your wallet will thank you for skipping out on all of those pricey coffee shop drinks that aren’t nearly as good.

Wrapping Up:

Stale coffee can have a number of negative impacts on your morning routine. If you don’t include high-quality beans, water, and equipment in your coffee-making process, you could get a bitter drink that tastes nothing as the original flavor profile intended. By understanding what stale coffee is and how to prevent it from ruining your brew, you’ll always be able to enjoy a great cup of joe.

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