Nothing like the smell of coffee in the morning! Whether you’re opening a bag of beans, watching drip coffee accumulate in a pot, or hanging a percolator over an open fire – coffee creates feelings of warmth and comfort. Knowing how to store coffee long term is essential for anyone wanting to enjoy a cup of it during times of instability.
Coffee isn’t essential to survival, but as a prepper, it’s a comfort food I’d like to enjoy (and share) in any grid-down, post-collapse situation. Naturally, I wanted to stock plenty of coffee so I set about researching various ways to have coffee stocked in my prepper pantry.
I know I’m not alone here. Food and Wine magazine cites a survey that says 64% of Americans drink a cup of coffee every day. More than just a personal comfort food, in a societal collapse coffee could become a very valuable barter good. Look back at the value coffee had during the Civil War as an example.
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Coffee Goes Bad Over Time
Time is the enemy of us all. It breaks our bodies down and it certainly has an effect on coffee beans. It’s not just time, however. Coffee contains oils that can go rancid when exposed to air for extended periods. This is why ground coffee and beans are sold in vacuum sealed bags.
While coffee can go “bad” if stored in poor conditions over time, it can certainly lose its flavor and aroma well before going bad. You ca still drink it, but will it taste good? Unlikely. That process takes time, however, and if stored properly, you can dramatically extended the life of your coffee.
Shelf Life Varies
Coffee’s shelf life varies depending on the type of coffee you’re storing and the conditions under which you’re storing it.
Ground coffee is certainly convenient. Just open the package and scoop it into your coffee maker. This is perfectly find for daily use. Regular coffee drinkers will never have to worry about ground coffee going bad because they’ll go through it fast enough.
- Unopened Ground Coffee: Lasts around 5 months.
- Opened Ground Coffee: Lasts around 4 months.
Ground coffee has the shortest shelf life because grinding the bean into tiny pieces exposes so much of it to air. It’s the same idea with hamburger. A medium rare steak is safe to eat but medium rare burger is not, because the inner parts of the steak were not exposed to air whereas all parts of hamburger have been exposed to air.
Ground coffee will certainly still be safe to drink, but the odds that you’ll actually enjoy drinking it plummet dramatically if too much time passes.
Roasted beans will last longer than ground coffee because less of the bean has been exposed to air. This gives whole beans an advantage in long term storage, and it’s why coffee aficionados will often buy whole beans and grind them at home. They make for a fresher cup of coffee!
However, roasting beans exposes them to heat which causes the bean to start breaking down. If you’ve never tried roasting your own beans I’d suggest giving it a go. You’ll see the bean go through the heat-driven chemical reaction process that causes the bean to crack.
- Unopened Roasted Beans: Lasts 18-24 months.
- Opened Roasted Beans: Lasts 8-12 months.
It seemed like instant coffee has fell out of favor over the years. Perhaps that’s because it falls out of flavor. I remember my parents, and my friends’ parents, all scooping instant coffee into a cup of hot water as their preferred way of making coffee. Fast and easy!
My guess is that people don’t use instant coffee as much these days simply because it doesn’t taste as good as other methods of making coffee, but for the prepper, instant coffee comes with a much longer shelf life. That’s because instant coffee is creating through freeze drying, which removes nearly all of the moisture from the coffee.
- Unopened Instant Coffee: Lasts up to 20 years.
- Opened Instant Coffee: Varies significantly, but expect 5-10 years.
Buying and storing green coffee beans will bring your long term coffee storage to a whole new level (more on that in a moment). The advantage to green beans is that they have not been exposed to the heat that the roasting process involves. That makes their oils more stable.
- Sealed the way I describe below: Lasts 20+ years.
- Opened: Lasts around 1 year for best flavor.
2 Storage Options for the Short Term
The following 2 options are suitable for shorter-term storage and are going to serve most people well for daily consumption. They will extend the shelf life (and taste) of the coffee you buy at the grocery store.
1 – Air-Tight Containers
Ground coffee may be the most convenient, but it’s the least favorable way to store coffee long term. Once opened, ground coffee should be used within 1 to 2 weeks. Take it out of the container it came in and place it in an airtight coffee container.
Whole beans are going to last longer than ground coffee. There’s less surface area for the whole bean to begin breaking down than there is when the bean is ground.
Roasted beans are still roasted, however, and roasted beans are intended to be consumed, not stored for the long term. Storing roasted beans is like storing cooked food. You can do it, but food keeps a lot longer when stored fresh from the outset.
Note: Do not refrigerate it. Due to its porous nature it will pick up moisture and flavor from anything else you might have in there (fish, for example).
2 – Freeze It
If your ground coffee bag is unopened, you can keep it in a freezer, but there is not widespread consensus on whether this makes the most sense. You’ll find people saying yes, others saying no.
Coffee absorbs moisture (and odors) from the air, and where virtually all containers will let moisture in, you end up – eventually – with freezer burn. This will take months, however. A true coffee connoisseur will notice a breakdown in taste over time if it’s stored in a freezer (source).
2 Storage Options for the Long Term
If you want to do the prepper way, you need to think outside the average person’s approach listed above. When we talk about “long term” in the prepper sense we are talking about years, not months. This is not something you can accomplish with grocery store-purchased ground coffee or whole roasted beans.
1 – Buy Prepper Coffee
The easiest, fastest way to build up your supply of emergency coffee is to buy it outright. My Patriot Supply sells freeze-dried emergency food, but they also sell Franklin’s Finest Emergency Coffee, which has a 25-year shelf life. This is what I call “prepper coffee” (read my taste test).
Franklin’s is billed as “the first ever emergency survival coffee” providing a one-year supply of Franklin’s Finest Coffee for one person. The supply comes conveniently packages in twelve resealable 60-serving, heavy-duty 4-layer zipper pouches. This gives you a total of 720 servings. Now that’s survival!
2 – Seal Green Coffee Beans
This approach will give you the longest-lasting coffee without having to buy instant/freeze-dried coffee. It will involve having the equipment/skill to roast your own beans (more on that in a moment).
There are 4 steps to storing coffee beans long term:
- Start with fresh, green coffee beans.
- Place the beans in a Mylar bag with O2 absorbers.
- Seal the bag and label it.
- Be prepared to roast and grind beans.
Preppers will know this type of storage strategy already, but let’s break it down into more detail for those who might not.
Step 1: Start with Fresh, Green Coffee Beans
For the ultimate way to achieve long-term coffee storage, you have to start with the freshest beans you can find. Unless you live on a coffee plantation, that means buying unroasted, green beans. You’re probably not going to be buying these at your local Starbucks, but you can order them online. There are all types of varieties to be had.
- WE SEEK OUT UNIQUE COFFEE FROM ALL OVER THE WORLD Our coffee buyers source unique and quality unroasted green coffee beans from single-origin farms and co-ops all across the world.
- 100% RAW ARABICA COFFEE BEANS Arabica coffee beans are known across the world for their quality and superior flavor over other coffee species. Enjoy some of our top offerings that rotate seasonally with each harvest.
Unroasted beans are apt to last a year or more under normal circumstances. We are not going for “normal” circumstances, however. We are creating a much better environment for beans to last longer by protecting them oxygen and light.
Step 2: Place the Beans in a Mylar Bag with O2 Absorbers
Coffee beans’ greatest enemies are air, moisture, and light. Oxygen absorbers and Mylar bags will protect your beans from enemies. The absorbers remove the oxygen and moisture, and the bags facilitate a proper seal and protect them from the light.
So, you start by transporting those beans from the bag they came in to a Mylar bag with O2 absorbers. Place an absorber in the bottom of the bag and a few at the top. If you are unsure how many to use, check an oxygen absorber chart on our long-term rice storage article. Alternatively, you can just do what I do and throw in more than you know is necessary.
An alternative to Mylar bags is to use a quality vacuum sealer to remove the air. It’s the only way to be sure. Then you want to store the beans in a dry area away from the light. Call it overkill, but I would still place an O2 absorber in it just the same
Step 3: Seal the Bag and Label It
Mylar bags seal with heat; i.e. a standard clothes iron. Lay the bag on its side, hand squeeze as much air out as you can, make sure there are no stray beans where you are going to heat seal the bag, and then run a hot iron across the end, sealing it tight.
If your coffee is part of a larger long-term food storage plan, be sure to label the bag so you know 1) what is in the bag, and 2) when it was sealed shut. When you have a lot of foods stored in Mylar bags it will be very easy to forget what is what, and dating the seal will assure you are properly rotating stock.
Then you just need to wait around 4 hours for the oxygen absorbers to work their magic.
Congratulations! Your coffee beans are now in a great position to maximize their shelf life. But what happens when you need to open the bag to brew fresh coffee? It’s not just like you’re going to put them in your auto-drip coffee maker. This isn’t ground coffee. Those beans haven’t even been roasted. You need to…
Step 4: Be Prepared to Roast and Grind Beans
This means you have to roast them yourself. This is a whole other process that you will want to learn, and to do so, read my post on off-grid coffee roasting and brewing.
In a nutshell, the beans can be roasted in a skillet or you can buy a coffee roaster. A simple ceramic coffee roaster will cost you about thirty dollars. A fancier model will cost you well over one-hundred dollars.
You’re not going to be able to replicate the roasting process of a large commercial roaster in a skillet or a ceramic roaster, but a fancier model will make a much better, more fresh roast that is hard to beat… unless the power goes out! That’s when you’ll be using a ceramic roaster or cast iron skillet, and if you are storing prepper coffee, that’s what you’re going for anyway.
The same goes for grinding coffee beans. You can buy a basic electric grinder, but again, if the power goes out… well, then you’ll need a hand-crank grinder. I prefer those, but in a pinch, you can always crush the roasted beans in some other, more primitive fashion. They won’t be very uniform that way, and thus lack in perfected taste, but you’ll get the caffeine you need.
How to Store Coffee Long Term Summary
I’ve got a couple of the #10 cans full of coffee in my basement that I’ve had for a long while with my other #10 cans. I decided to try a can of French Roast. If it’s French roast it can’t be half bad right? Ha! It tasted terrible.
You don’t want to drink nasty coffee today, so you certainly won’t want to drink if after the apocalypse. Follow the steps I outlined on how to store coffee long term and you will be a post-apocalyptic coffee master… at least, until you run out of beans.