Last updated on August 24th, 2023 by Jules Winnfield
So you’re already late in the morning and need a cup of coffee pronto.
Of course, you’re out and SOMEBODY forgot to restock.
But the old bottle of instant coffee is sitting in your pantry and you begin to wonder.
Is it still good enough to drink? Does instant coffee expire in the first place?
In order to answer this question, let’s first talk about what instant coffee is, how it’s made and packaged, and what contributes to it going bad.
Ok grab yourself an instant cup and let’s dive in!
- What is instant coffee?
- How is instant coffee made?
- How is instant coffee packaged?
- How does instant coffee go bad?
- How long does instant coffee last?
- So, does instant coffee expire?
- Best storage conditions
- Final Thoughts
What is instant coffee?
Instant coffee, also known as soluble coffee or dried coffee extract, is coffee that has been roasted, brewed and then dried into soluble powder or granules. When you are ready to enjoy a cup of instant coffee, you simply pour it into some hot water or milk and your coffee is done.
With over 25% of the coffee market drinking instant coffee, it’s definitely a growing trend. This isn’t a surprise when you consider that instant coffee is super convenient and cheap compared to traditional brewing.
How is instant coffee made?
roasting -> grinding -> brewing/extraction -> concentration of extracted liquid -> cooling -> freezing -> sublimation drying -> desorption -> drying -> smashing -> and finally packaging.
The point to pay attention to is the freeze drying. Freeze drying allows the liquid coffee extraction to be turned into a dry coffee powder. This powder has to be packaged quickly and in special conditions so it doesn’t lose quality or revert back to a liquid for reasons we will discuss shortly.
How is instant coffee packaged?
So you will see instant coffee usually packaged in a low oxygen atmosphere with CO2 or N added, and low humidity moisture proof conditions. Instant coffee will generally come packaged in glass jar, vacuumed cans, or airtight plastic pouches, mugs or bags.
Also it’s worth noting that the overall quality of the final product will be dependent on the quality of the initially sourced coffee beans, the roasting, the brewing, and of course drying process. This means there is a lot of variability in quality from one manufacturer to another and one batch to another.
How does instant coffee go bad?
Now that you have the big picture of what instant coffee is and how it’s produced, understanding how and why instant coffee expires will make more sense.
Remember that instant coffee is a freeze-dried version of fully roasted coffee. This makes it very susceptible to oxidative reactions and flavor release. All it takes is enough exposure to air and light, and the oxidative process can release the volatile flavor compounds. There goes your delicious aromatic flavors right at the door!
This is similar to what happens when coffee beans are roasted and then grounded. The clock on flavor release begins and keeps on counting down. This is why methods to keep coffee grounds fresh and reduce breakdown are necessary.
The same applies to instant coffee, but with a bit more urgency. Why?
Because you’re dealing with a double whammy of decreased volatile oils from the initial extraction in the first place plus rapid release of these oils post drying.
In addition to light and air, instant coffee can go bad by too much exposure to moisture. Instant coffee is hygrospopic. This means it pulls moisture from the air.
If the moisture content exceeds 7-8%, instant coffee can cake up into a tough mass or paste. Add on additives like milk derivatives in the instant coffee and the caking rate can increase further.
How long does instant coffee last?
With the way most instant coffee products are manufactured and packaged, if left unopened, it can last for years. The consensus appears to be upwards of 20 years.
Check your bottle for expiration date. Most products should be labeled to last at least 18 months from packaging.
So, does instant coffee expire?
Instant coffee does not necessarily expire per se. But once opened the clock begins. Overtime, the oxidative process will occur and the quality, flavors and aromas will decline. So it’s not exactly expiring where you can’t drink it for safety reasons, but the experience and enjoyment will take a hit.
But, if it is not stored properly and moisture is introduced, instant coffee can go bad, as in growing bacteria, fungus and mold. In which case, it’s best to opt for a new bottle.
Best storage conditions
The trick to make your instant coffee last as long as possible is to store it in such a way that it can never absorb moisture from the air.
For example, keep it in moisture proof containers away from light and air, like a cool, dry dark pantry. Also avoid using wet utensils to scoop out your instant coffee.
Instant coffee is a nice backup plan for when you forget to restock your coffee pods or run out of ground coffee. But if that bottle of Nescafe in your pantry has been sitting there for awhile, you can likely feel good using it beyond the expiration date, provided it is unopened and stored properly.
There are a lot of good brands to consider. Some come in single servings as well which may be the better option over bottled containers. My good friend swears by the Deathwish coffee!
And you really can’t go wrong with Starbucks offerings.
Either way, enjoy your instant coffee and don’t be afraid to test it out before you decide to toss it away.
What happens if you drink expired instant coffee?
In general, nothing dramatic will happen to you. But your experience may be poor given that most of the flavors and aroma have been lost. If you want the full sensory experience of great taste and aromas, then you should toss the expired bag and grab a new batch of instant coffee.
What is the difference between instant coffee and filtered coffee?
Instant coffee and brewed filtered coffee differ in a few key areas. First, brewing is simpler with instant coffee than filtered coffee. Second, the aroma and flavor is more robust with filtered coffee and muted in instant coffee unless extra oils are added in the manufacturing process. Lastly, the minerals, oils, and caffeine are in larger concentrations in filtered coffee. This is because portions of the contents of instant coffee are lost during the extraction and drying process.
Coffee Has Never Read This Good!
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“Jules” is a pharmacist by day and investor, writer, and health nut by night. When he’s not sipping on some coffee laced with MCT oil during an 18 hour fast, he is writing about how to get your coffee grind on or playing Monopoly with his 2 boys and wife. Ahh…life is good!