Cold brew coffee has become increasingly popular in recent years. Unlike traditional hot coffee, which is brewed by pouring hot water over coffee grounds, cold brew coffee is made by steeping coffee grounds in room temperature or cold water for 12-24 hours. This long steeping time extracts the flavors and caffeine from the coffee beans, producing a smooth, less acidic coffee concentrate. While you can easily make cold brew coffee at home, many coffee shops and grocery stores now sell ready-to-drink cold brew coffee in bottles, cans and cartons. But does store bought cold brew coffee go bad? Here is a detailed look at how long store bought cold brew lasts and how to tell if it has gone bad.
How long does store bought cold brew last?
The shelf life of store bought cold brew coffee depends on a variety of factors:
- Container type – Bottles, cans or cartons?
- Pasteurization – Has it been pasteurized?
- Added ingredients – Does it contain anything other than coffee and water?
- Storage conditions – How has it been stored?
Let’s look at how each of these factors impacts shelf life:
The type of container the cold brew comes in affects how long it will stay fresh. Here are some general guidelines:
- Plastic bottles or cartons – Unopened, these will stay fresh for 3-4 weeks from the roast date. After opening, they will stay good for about 7-10 days in the fridge.
- Cans – Unopened cans have a slightly longer shelf life of 4-6 weeks from the roast date. Once opened, transfer to the fridge and use within 10-14 days.
- Glass bottles – Glass provides the best protection against oxygen, light and temperature fluctuations. Unopened glass bottled cold brew will stay fresh for up to 2 months. Consume within 2 weeks of opening.
Pasteurization involves heating the cold brew coffee to high temperatures for a short time to kill microorganisms and extend shelf life. Pasteurized cold brew coffees typically last 1-2 months longer than unpasteurized versions.
Plain cold brew coffee (just coffee and water) will last longer than versions with added dairy, sweeteners or flavors. The additives can shorten the shelf life. For best quality, check the “best by” date on cold brews with added ingredients.
Proper storage is key for extending the shelf life. Store unopened cold brew coffee in a cool, dark pantry. Once opened, keep it refrigerated and tightly sealed. The fridge temperature helps slow the growth of bacteria and mold.
How to tell if cold brew coffee has gone bad
Here are some signs that your store bought cold brew has expired and should be discarded:
- Sour, bitter or unpleasant taste
- Moldy, rotten or off smells
- Fizzing or bubbling when you open the bottle
- Visibly moldy or slimy texture
- Severe discoloration
- Separation of ingredients
- Well past the expiry or best by date
As cold brew coffee contains no dairy, it generally will not spoil in a way that could make you sick. At worst, expired cold brew may simply taste stale or unpleasant. When in doubt, remember this general rule – if your cold brew smells, looks or tastes “off” in any way, err on the side of caution and throw it out.
Does cold brew go bad faster than other coffees?
Due to the lower acidity and higher caffeine and antioxidant content, cold brew coffee actually lasts longer than hot brewed coffee. Hot coffee develops stale, bitter flavors within 20-30 minutes of brewing. Cold brew’s smooth taste stays fresh for up to 2 weeks refrigerated.
Here’s a comparison of how long different types of coffee last:
|Type of Coffee||Shelf Life|
|Freshly brewed hot coffee||20-30 minutes|
|Iced coffee||24 hours|
|Cold brew concentrate||2-4 weeks refrigerated|
|Ready-to-drink cold brew||3-6 months (check best by date)|
So while hot coffee perishes quickly after brewing, chilled and cold brew coffee options last for weeks or months, even after opening, if properly stored.
Tips to extend the life of store bought cold brew
Here are some tips for getting the longest life out of your ready-to-drink cold brew purchase:
- Store unopened bottles in a cool, dark pantry away from direct light and heat.
- Refrigerate after opening and keep tightly sealed between pours.
- Check for expiry or best by dates and don’t purchase if they have passed.
- Inspect bottle before drinking – discard if you see mold or sediment.
- Finish opened cold brew within 10-14 days.
- Don’t return any unused coffee back to the original container.
- Keep the surrounding fridge area and pour spout clean to avoid contamination.
Can you freeze store bought cold brew coffee?
Freezing is an excellent way to extend the shelf life of store bought cold brew beyond the expiry date. Here’s how to do it:
- Transfer the cold brew from the original bottle to a freezer-safe container, leaving 1⁄2 inch of headspace.
- Seal the container tightly.
- Freeze for up to 3-6 months.
- Thaw in the refrigerator before using.
- Use thawed cold brew within 1 week.
- Avoid refreezing any unused thawed coffee.
Freezing prevents the cold brew from oxidizing and deteriorating in quality. Thawed cold brew retains its smooth flavor, however it may have a slightly different consistency and mouthfeel compared to fresh.
Can you make your own cold brew instead?
Making DIY cold brew coffee is simple, costs a fraction of store bought and allows you to control the ingredients and freshness. All you need is ground coffee, water and time!
Here is an easy cold brew recipe to try at home:
Easy Cold Brew Coffee
Prep time: 5 mins
Brew time: 12-24 hours
- 1 cup coarsely ground coffee
- 4 cups filtered water
- In a large glass jar, combine the coffee grounds and filtered water.
- Give it a stir, cover, and let it steep at room temperature for 12-24 hours.
- Strain the concentrate through a coffee filter into another jar.
- Dilute with water or milk over ice.
- Store leftover concentrate in the fridge for 2 weeks.
The beauty of DIY cold brew is you control the roast date for ultimate freshness. You can use high quality coffee beans and tailor the strength to your taste. Homemade also costs a fraction per glass compared to store bought.
With proper storage, unopened store bought cold brew coffee can last 3-6 months past its roast date before going bad. Once opened, it will stay fresh for 1-2 weeks in the refrigerator. Signs your cold brew has expired include foul odors, change in texture, visible mold, fizzing and separation. Look for a “best by” date on the bottle and store sealed in the fridge after opening. Extend the life even longer by freezing for up to 6 months. For maximum freshness and savings, consider making your own using ground coffee beans and water.