How long can I store cold brew coffee?

Cold brew coffee has become increasingly popular over the last few years. The smooth, less acidic taste makes it an appealing alternative to traditional hot coffee. But how long will homemade or store-bought cold brew last in the fridge or freezer? Here is a comprehensive guide to maximizing the shelf life of cold brew coffee.

What is Cold Brew Coffee?

Cold brew coffee is made by steeping ground coffee in room temperature or cold water for an extended period of time, usually 12-24 hours. This lengthened brewing time extracts the flavors and caffeine from the coffee grounds without exposing them to heat. The result is a smooth, rich coffee concentrate that can be stored in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

There are a few key differences between cold brew and iced coffee:

  • Cold brew is brewed slowly in cold or room temp water, while iced coffee is brewed hot before being poured over ice.
  • The cold brew process results in lower acidity and a smoother taste compared to iced coffee.
  • Cold brew concentrate can be stored for extended periods, while freshly brewed iced coffee is best consumed immediately.

Keep these differences in mind as we explore just how long cold brew can last when properly stored.

How Long Does Cold Brew Last in the Fridge?

Properly stored, homemade or store-bought cold brew concentrate will last up to 2-3 weeks in the refrigerator. The key is keeping it in an airtight container to prevent oxidation. An airtight pitcher or glass jar works well for this.

Over time, you may notice some changes in the taste of older cold brew. It may start to lose some smoothness and flavor intensity. For best quality and taste, aim to drink cold brew concentrate within 2 weeks of the brew date.

Diluted cold brew lasts 1-4 days in the fridge. If you’ve already diluted the concentrate with water or milk, make sure to drink it within a few days. The added ingredients reduce the shelf life compared to plain concentrate.

Tips for Extending Fridge Life

Follow these tips to get the maximum fridge life out of your cold brew:

  • Use a clean container – Wash the storage pitcher, jar, or bottle thoroughly before filling with cold brew concentrate. This prevents contamination.
  • Minimize oxygen exposure – Try to limit oxygen exposure by fully filling the storage container and sealing it tightly.
  • Avoid temperature fluctuations – Store cold brew at consistent fridge temps between 35-40°F.
  • Keep an eye on it – Check concentrate periodically for any mold or “off” odors, which are signs it may be past its prime.

Does Cold Brew Go Bad?

Cold brew concentrate and diluted cold brew can go bad past the recommended storage times. Signs that your cold brew has spoiled include:

  • Sour, unpleasant smell
  • Mold growing in the liquid or on surface
  • Fizzy, carbonated texture
  • Visible separation or curdling
  • Bitter, unpleasant taste

If you notice any of these issues, it’s best to discard the cold brew rather than drinking it. As long as it’s stored properly, cold brew can safely last 2-3 weeks before these undesirable changes occur.

How Long Does Cold Brew Last Frozen?

Freezing is a great long-term storage method for cold brew concentrate. It pauses the aging process for several months.

To freeze cold brew, fill freezer-safe containers leaving 1-2 inches of headspace to allow for expansion. Sturdy plastic, glass, or BPA-free pouches work well. Secure lids tightly.

Cold brew concentrate that is properly frozen will keep for 4-6 months before losing flavor and aroma. Occasional taste tests can help you determine if frozen batches are still good.

Once thawed and refrigerated, frozen cold brew concentrate should be consumed within 7-10 days. The freezing and thawing process tends to accelerate aging slightly.

Tips for Freezing Cold Brew

Follow these best practices when freezing your cold brew concentrate:

  • Small batches – Freeze concentrate in smaller 1-2 cup portions so you can thaw only what’s needed.
  • Leave headspace – Don’t fill containers to the very top, allow 1-2 inches for expansion.
  • Use freezer bags – Reusable plastic freezer bags take up less room than rigid containers.
  • Label and date – Clearly label each batch with the brew date before freezing.
  • Avoid temperature fluctuations – Prevent thawing and refreezing, which can impact quality.

Can You Freeze Diluted Cold Brew?

It’s best to only freeze undiluted cold brew concentrate, not the ready-to-drink diluted version. There are a few reasons for this:

  • Diluting the cold brew introduces water, which can lead to undesirable ice crystal formation when frozen.
  • The added ingredients like milk, sweeteners, or juice reduce shelf life compared to plain concentrate.
  • Freezing and thawing diluted cold brew impacts the texture and taste.

For best results, freeze the plain cold brew concentrate. When ready to consume, simply thaw the needed amount and then dilute with water, milk, or other mix-ins.

How to Tell if Thawed Cold Brew is Bad

Here are the signs that previously frozen cold brew has spoiled and should be discarded:

  • Appearance – Unnatural separation, appearance of sediment, visible mold
  • Aroma – Sour, unpleasant odors
  • Texture – Fizziness, curdling, or sliminess
  • Taste – Bitter, “off” flavors
  • Time – More than 7-10 days refrigerated after thawing

If your thawed cold brew shows no signs of spoilage, it should be safe to drink or re-freeze within the 7-10 day window. When in doubt, remember it’s better to be safe and toss it out.

Does the Type of Coffee Beans Affect Cold Brew Shelf Life?

The shelf life of cold brew does not vary significantly based on the type of coffee beans used. Whether you use light, medium, or dark roast beans, the concentrate should keep for 2-3 weeks refrigerated and 4-6 months frozen.

However, roast level can impact the flavor and how it evolves over time. Darker roasts may retain their intensity longer compared to lighter roasts when stored. But all beans will eventually start to lose fresh flavor and aroma the longer the cold brew is stored.

The grind size also should not affect shelf life. Coarse grounds are typically recommended for cold brewing, but concentrated liquid can be extracted from finer grinds as well. Proper storage is more important than grind size for maximizing how long cold brew lasts.

Does Adding Milk or Creamer Reduce Cold Brew’s Shelf Life?

Yes, adding dairy or non-dairy milk or creamer will reduce the shelf life of your cold brew versus plain black concentrate. Here’s why:

  • Dairy milk spoils faster than cold brew, and curdles as it ages.
  • Non-dairy milk alternatives also degrade faster than concentrate.
  • The higher fat content in creamers accelerates spoilage.
  • Added sugars in flavored creamers provide food for bacteria.

For longest shelf life, store black cold brew concentrate and add fresh milk or creamer only when ready to drink. Consume any diluted cold brew within 3-5 days for best safety and quality.

Does Sweetener Shorten Cold Brew’s Shelf Life?

Adding a sweetener like sugar, honey, or syrup will decrease the shelf life of diluted cold brew. Sugars allow bacteria and mold to grow faster. Here are some shelf life estimates based on sweetener:

Sweetener Fridge Life of Diluted Cold Brew
No sweetener (plain) 5-7 days
White sugar 3-5 days
Honey 2-3 days
Flavored syrup 2-3 days

For maximum shelf life, keep concentrate and sweetener separate. Sweeten individual servings as needed. Discard any sweetened diluted concentrate after the times noted above.

Does Flavoring Shorten Shelf Life?

Flavored cold brews have a shorter shelf life compared to plain versions. Added flavorings introduce ingredients that can degrade faster than coffee alone. Here are some examples:

  • Vanilla – Natural vanilla extract or flavored syrup may grow mold.
  • Chocolate – Cocoa powder sediment can promote spoilage.
  • Spices – Cinnamon, nutmeg, and chai spices contain oils that oxidize.
  • Fruit – Purees or juices introduce acidity and microbes.

General guidelines for flavored cold brew shelf life:

  • Refrigerated – 3-5 days
  • Frozen – 2-3 months

Keep flavored cold brew chilled and consume within a few days for food safety. Plain concentrate lasts longer if you add flavors only when ready to drink.

Should You Refrigerate Store-Bought Cold Brew?

Yes, always refrigerate pre-made cold brew coffee purchased from a cafe or grocery store. Brands that sell bottled cold brew should always be kept chilled. Shelf-stable cartons may seem like an exception, but refrigeration is still recommended after opening.

Unopened, shelf-stable cold brew likely has preservatives and/or went through a pasteurization process to hit the “best by” date printed on the package. But once exposed to oxygen and light, it will start to degrade faster.

For maximum freshness and shelf life, store all pre-made cold brew in the fridge after purchase. Follow use-by dates, and finish opened cartons within 5-7 days.

Tips for Storing Store-Bought Cold Brew

  • Store unopened bottles and cartons in the center of the fridge, not the door.
  • Transfer opened cold brew to an airtight container if not finishing quickly.
  • Mark containers with dates to track shelf life.
  • If concentrating, dilute with water and consume diluted version within 4 days.

Does Reheating Leftover Cold Brew Reduce Shelf Life?

Reheating leftover cold brew is not recommended, as it introduces additional food safety concerns and further reduces remaining shelf life. Here’s why you should avoid reheating cold brew:

  • Heating risks dangerous bacterial growth in the “danger zone” between 40-140°F.
  • It alters the flavor profile from a smooth cold-extracted coffee.
  • Leftover cold brew is closest to expiration and vulnerable to spoilage.
  • Reheated cold brew should be discarded within 1-2 days.

For food safety and quality, avoid reheating leftover cold brew. Only make the amount you plan to consume during a sitting. If you do reheat it, drink within 1-2 days and don’t reheat a second time.

Can You Freeze Leftover Cold Brew?

Freezing small portions of leftover cold brew is safe, provided it has been continuously refrigerated and is not past the standard 2-3 week shelf life. Here are some best practices for freezing leftovers:

  • Only freeze cold brew that still smells and tastes fresh.
  • Portion into ice cube trays or small freezer bags first.
  • Note the date and use within 2-3 months for best quality.
  • Thaw in the fridge before using.
  • Avoid refreezing any thawed cold brew.

Freezing leftovers in small batches lets you enjoy the last drops without waste. But make sure the cold brew has not exceeded refrigerator shelf life before transferring to the freezer.

Common Questions about Cold Brew Storage

How can you tell if cold brew has expired?

Signs that cold brew coffee has spoiled and should be discarded include foul odors, visible mold, fizziness, bitterness, separation, and curdling. Trust your senses – if it smells or tastes “off,” the cold brew has expired and should not be consumed.

Why does cold brew get slimy?

A slimy texture in cold brew is usually caused by bacterial growth or overextraction during brewing. Storing at cool fridge temperatures and avoiding extended brewing over 24 hours reduces the chances of sliminess. Discard any cold brew that appears slimy or viscous.

Can you get sick from drinking expired cold brew?

Consuming spoiled cold brew could potentially make you sick, due to bacteria growth over time. Stomach issues like vomiting, diarrhea, and nausea are possible if enough expired cold brew is consumed. To be safe, always discard cold brew past recommended fridge and freezer times.

Does cold brew last longer than iced coffee?

Yes, cold brew inherently has a longer shelf life compared to regular iced coffee. The cold brewing process creates a smooth, robust concentrate that can keep for 2-3 weeks refrigerated or 4-6 months frozen. Freshly brewed iced coffee is best consumed immediately.

The Bottom Line

When stored properly, cold brew coffee can last 2-3 weeks refrigerated, or 4-6 months in the freezer. For maximum shelf life, use air-tight containers, avoid temperature fluctuations, and limit light and oxygen exposure. Discard cold brew that smells or tastes “off” even if within the time frame. Following proper storage and food safety guidelines lets you safely enjoy cold brew’s smooth flavor even weeks after brewing.

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