Cold brew coffee has become increasingly popular in recent years. Unlike traditional hot coffee, cold brew is brewed by steeping coffee grounds in room temperature or cold water for an extended period of time, usually 12-24 hours. This long steeping time extracts the flavors and caffeine from the coffee beans, resulting in a smooth, less bitter taste compared to hot coffee. But does cold brew coffee last as long as hot coffee? Here’s what you need to know about how long cold brew lasts and whether it goes bad.
Does Cold Brew Coffee Go Bad?
Yes, cold brew coffee can go bad, but it tends to last longer than traditional hot coffee. Since cold brew is less acidic due to the cold brewing process, it is less prone to quick spoilage. However, cold brew coffee still has a limited shelf life and will eventually go bad.
How Long Does Cold Brew Last?
The shelf life of cold brew depends on a few factors:
- Container: Cold brew stored in an airtight container will last longer than cold brew stored in a permeable container. Oxygen speeds up spoilage.
- Roast date: Freshly roasted coffee beans produce cold brew with a longer shelf life. Cold brew made from older beans won’t last as long.
- Storage conditions: Refrigeration helps extend the shelf life of cold brew. Cold brew stored at room temperature will spoil faster.
- Additions: Plain cold brew lasts longer than cold brew with flavorings like milk, cream, sweeteners, etc. These additions introduce bacteria and speed up spoilage.
Properly stored, plain cold brew coffee can last:
- Refrigerator: 2-3 weeks
- Freezer: 3-6 months
For cold brew with additions like milk or cream, it’s best to drink within:
- Refrigerator: 3-5 days
How to Tell if Cold Brew Has Gone Bad
Here are some signs that your cold brew coffee has spoiled and should be discarded:
- Sour smell and taste: Fresh cold brew is smooth and mildly sweet. A sour or acidic smell means it has gone bad.
- Mold: Mold will appear fuzzy or slimy and often green, black, or white in color.
- Bubbles: Bubbles or fizziness signals fermentation and spoilage.
- Discoloration: Cold brew that was once a rich brown color may turn greyish or pale when it has gone bad.
- Curdling: Additions like milk or cream may curdle or separate after the cold brew spoils.
If your cold brew exhibits any of these characteristics, it’s best to dispose of it. When in doubt, remember the old adage – if it smells funky, it’s probably gone bad.
What Happens If You Drink Spoiled Cold Brew?
Drinking spoiled cold brew coffee likely won’t make you severely sick, but it can lead to some temporary digestive upset:
- Stomach cramps
- Acid reflux
These symptoms may last a few hours to a day as your body works to expel the spoiled cold brew. To avoid getting sick, always inspect your cold brew for freshness before drinking and stick to the recommended storage times.
How to Store Cold Brew to Make it Last
To maximize the shelf life of your cold brew and prevent waste, follow these storage tips:
- Store in an airtight container: Choose a container with an airtight seal like a mason jar, rather than permeable options like a pitcher. The airtight seal prevents air exposure which causes oxidation and spoilage.
- Refrigerate: Keeping cold brew refrigerated is ideal, as the cool temperature slows bacteria growth. Store for up to 2-3 weeks.
- Freeze for long term storage: Frozen cold brew stored in airtight containers can last for 3-6 months without deteriorating in quality or taste.
- Avoid dairy and sweeteners: Additions like milk, cream, and sugar shorten the shelf life of cold brew since they can spoil quickly. Store dairy and sweeteners separately.
- Keep beans and grounds fresh: Buy coffee beans in smaller batches and use within 1-2 weeks of the roast date for optimal freshness. Store coffee beans and grounds in a cool, dark place.
- Check for freshness: When in doubt, inspect the cold brew’s appearance, smell, and taste before drinking to catch any spoilage.
How is Cold Brew Different from Hot Coffee?
Cold brew coffee is significantly different from traditional hot coffee in a few key ways:
|Difference||Cold Brew||Hot Coffee|
|Brewing method||Steeped in cold or room temp water 12-24 hours||Hot water poured over coffee grounds|
|Brewing temperature||Room temp or cold||Hot, 195-205°F|
|Flavour||Smooth, moderately sweet||Strong, sometimes bitter|
|Caffeine content||Less caffeine than hot coffee||Higher caffeine content|
|Acidity||Up to 70% less acidic than hot||More acidic|
|Shelf life||Lasts 2-3 weeks refrigerated||Lasts 1 week refrigerated|
The differences in brewing method lead to cold brew having a smoother, sweeter taste with less acidity compared to traditional hot coffee. The cold water also extracts less caffeine from the coffee beans. Since cold brew is less acidic, it tends to last a bit longer before spoiling.
Troubleshooting Cold Brew
Having trouble getting your cold brew to taste just right? Here are some troubleshooting tips:
Cold brew is too weak
- Use more coffee grounds when brewing, such as 1 cup of grounds for every 3-4 cups of water
- Let the coffee steep for the full recommended time (12-24 hours)
- Give the coffee grounds a stir midway through the brew time to extract more flavor
- Try a coarser grind size – finer grounds can create overextracted, bitter cold brew
Cold brew is too strong/bitter
- Use fewer coffee grounds, such as 1 cup grounds per 4-5 cups water
- Don’t let the brew sit for longer than 24 hours
- Make sure you aren’t using overly finely ground coffee
- Add a splash of water or milk to dilute the brew
Cold brew has an off or sour taste
- Make sure to use fresh, high quality coffee beans, ideally roasted within the past 1-2 weeks
- Rinse coffee filters before brewing to remove paper taste
- Clean brewing container and equipment to remove residue
- Don’t let cold brew sit out too long after brewing – store in the fridge
Adjusting the coffee to water ratio, grind size, and brew time can help fix many issues with weak, strong, or off-tasting cold brew coffee. Using fresh, quality beans and clean equipment is also key.
Can you drink expired cold brew?
It’s not recommended to drink expired or spoiled cold brew coffee. Even if it won’t make you severely ill, the change in smell, taste, and texture is a sign that bacteria is growing and the coffee has spoiled. Drinking the expired cold brew could lead to nausea, stomach cramps, and other temporary digestive discomfort. Always discard cold brew past its prime.
Can cold brew be reheated?
It’s best not to reheat pre-made cold brew coffee. Cold brew has a delicate flavor profile that can be destroyed by high heat. Reheating may make the coffee taste bitter, acidic, or off. However, if you want a hot coffee drink made with cold brew, you can brew a fresh batch of cold brew and use that as the base for hot coffee drinks.
Is cold brew less acidic than iced coffee?
Yes, cold brew coffee is significantly less acidic than hot coffee, including iced coffee. The cold water used to steep cold brew coffee helps extract fewer acids from the beans. Hot water extracts more acids. Brewing hot coffee hot and then cooling it into iced coffee doesn’t reduce the acidity already extracted.
Can you make cold brew with milk?
It’s best to avoid adding milk, cream, or other dairy when making cold brew. The proteins in milk will break down over the long 12-24 hour steeping time, curdling the milk and potentially causing off flavors. For a creamy cold brew, brew the coffee concentrate first, then add fresh milk or creamer right before drinking.
While cold brew coffee boasts a longer shelf life than hot coffee, it will eventually spoil after 1-2 weeks in the fridge. Keeping cold brew in an airtight container and stored in the fridge or freezer can maximize its freshness. Signs that cold brew has expired include a sour smell and taste, mold growth, fizziness, discoloration, and curdling. Drinking spoiled cold brew can cause temporary digestive distress, so it’s important to discard cold brew past its prime. With proper storage and careful inspection before drinking, cold brew can remain fresh and delicious for weeks to come.