Cold brew coffee has become increasingly popular over the last few years. Unlike traditional hot coffee, which is brewed by pouring hot water over ground coffee beans, cold brew coffee is brewed by steeping ground coffee in cold or room temperature water for an extended period of time – usually 12 hours or longer. This long, cold steeping time extracts the flavorful oils and solubles from the coffee beans, creating a smooth, low-acid coffee concentrate. The concentrate is then diluted with water or milk before drinking.
One of the biggest appeals of cold brew is that it can be conveniently stored in the refrigerator as a concentrate for up to 2 weeks. This makes it easy to quickly prepare a cold glass of refreshing iced coffee whenever you want. But exactly how long does pre-made cold brew coffee concentrate last in the fridge before going bad? Here is a comprehensive look at how long cold brew concentrate lasts, proper storage methods, signs of spoilage, and more.
Shelf Life of Cold Brew Concentrate
The shelf life of cold brew concentrate stored in the refrigerator is about 2 to 3 weeks. During this time, the concentrate retains its robust flavor and aroma. The key things that affect its shelf life are method of brewing, coffee bean quality, and storage conditions. Here are some general guidelines for how long properly stored cold brew concentrate lasts:
- Unopened, store-bought cold brew concentrate: 2-3 weeks past the printed expiration or sell-by date.
- Unopened, homemade cold brew concentrate: 2-3 weeks from the brew date if stored properly.
- Opened, homemade or store-bought concentrate: 5-7 days in the refrigerator.
So you can enjoy your batch of cold brew for up to 3 weeks if unopened and stored properly. Once opened, it’s best to use the concentrate within a week before quality starts to decline. Now let’s look more closely at the factors that affect shelf life.
The immersion brewing process used to produce cold brew coffee concentrate leads to a shelf life of 2-3 weeks. This is much longer than traditional hot brewed coffee, which only stays fresh for about a day. There are a couple reasons why cold brew lasts longer:
- No heat is used, so there is less acidity and bitterness created during brewing.
- Immersion brewing evenly extracts flavor compounds, leaving behind less residual coffee solids that can go stale or rancid.
So the gentle cold brewing process creates a smooth concentrate that doesn’t spoil as quickly as hot brewed coffee. This allows the concentrate to be stored for up to 3 weeks when refrigerated.
Coffee Bean Quality
The quality and freshness of the coffee beans used can also impact cold brew’s shelf life. Higher quality beans that are recently roasted tend to produce concentrate with better flavor and a longer shelf life. Here are some tips for choosing beans:
- Pick freshly roasted beans with a roast date no more than 2 weeks prior.
- Choose high-quality arabica beans rather than lower quality robusta.
- Look for bright, complex flavors you want to come through in the cold brew.
Premium coffee beans lead to a concentrate with vivid flavor that stays fresh longer. Lower quality, stale beans create a weaker concentrate that deteriorates more rapidly.
Proper storage is crucial for maximizing the shelf life of cold brew concentrate. Follow these cold brew storage tips:
- Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator – This prevents oxygen exposure which causes the concentrate to oxidize and lose flavor.
- Keep container away from light – Light can also accelerate oxidation and fading of flavors.
- Avoid extreme temperatures – Keep stored around 35-40°F to preserve quality.
- Don’t let product freeze – Freezing concentrates coffee solubles and alters the flavor.
With proper refrigeration and limited light and air exposure, you can achieve the full 2-3 week shelf life from your cold brew concentrate.
Signs Cold Brew Concentrate Has Gone Bad
Cold brew concentrate that has been stored properly will remain good for up to 3 weeks. However, there are some signs that indicate if your cold brew has spoiled and should be discarded. Look for the following:
- Sour or unpleasant aroma – Fresh cold brew smells sweet and aromatic. Foul odors indicate spoilage.
- Mold growth – Mold will render the concentrate unsafe to consume.
- Darkening color – Oxidation causes fading and darkening of the light brown color.
- Bitter, astringent taste – Stale, spoiled concentrate will taste noticeably more bitter.
- Cloudy appearance – The concentrate loses clarity and may contain sediment.
If you notice any of these changes in your refrigerated cold brew concentrate, it’s best to discard it and brew a fresh batch. The unpleasant flavors and food safety risk make spoiled concentrate unfit to drink.
Does Concentrate Go Bad Faster After Opening?
Once opened and exposed to oxygen, cold brew coffee concentrate has a shorter shelf life compared to sealed, unopened concentrate. Instead of lasting 2-3 weeks, opened cold brew concentrate typically stays fresh for:
- 5-7 days if refrigerated and re-sealed properly after each use
- 3-5 days if left at room temperature after opening
So you gain an extra several days by storing opened concentrate in the fridge. But best practice is to use up opened cold brew within a week to retain the highest quality and avoid spoilage.
Why does opened concentrate go bad quicker? Exposure to oxygen allows oxidation reactions to take place, causing the concentrate to degrade and lose flavor more rapidly. An opened container can also become contaminated with airborne microbes that accelerate spoilage.
To extend the shelf life after opening, transfer concentrate to smaller, airtight containers to minimize air exposure. Also clean any dispensers or spouts thoroughly between uses to avoid microbial contamination.
Does Diluted Cold Brew Last Longer Than Concentrate?
Diluting cold brew concentrate with water shortens the shelf life compared to unmixed concentrate. The typical shelf life for diluted cold brew is:
- 3-5 days if refrigerated
- 1-2 days at room temperature
So diluted cold brew lasts for less than a week, while the concentrate lasts 2-3 weeks. There are a couple reasons for this shorter shelf life:
- Dilution reduces the preservative effects of coffee solids and lowers acidity.
- Added water introduces microbes that can multiply or cause spoilage.
- Higher water content allows for faster chemical reactions that degrade flavor.
For the longest shelf life, it’s best to keep your concentrate undiluted. Only mix with water right before serving. An exception is if you keep pre-diluted cold brew stored in an airtight growler or sealed bottle.
Tips to Extend Shelf Life of Cold Brew Concentrate
Here are some helpful tips for maximizing the shelf life of your cold brew coffee concentrate and keeping it fresh longer:
- Store in smaller batches – Smaller containers mean less air exposure each time you open it.
- Use up opened concentrate within 5-7 days – Don’t let it linger and go bad in the fridge.
- Keep containers airtight – Secure lids prevent oxygen from degrading quality.
- Add nitrous oxide – The gas acts as a preservative to inhibit bacterial growth.
- Mix in citric acid – The acid acts as a stabilizer and antioxidant for longer shelf life.
- Keep away from light – Block light exposure that accelerates staling.
Getting the most out of your cold brew concentrate comes down to limiting air, light, heat, and time. Follow the best practices outlined here, and you’ll be able to enjoy properly stored concentrate for its full 2-3 week shelf life.
Can You Freeze Cold Brew Concentrate?
Freezing is an effective long-term storage method for cold brew concentrate. The typical shelf life of frozen concentrate is 3-6 months when kept consistently frozen.
To freeze cold brew concentrate:
- Portion concentrate into airtight containers or bags.
- Remove as much air as possible to reduce oxidation.
- Label the containers with brew date and batch details.
- Freeze concentrate immediately at 0°F or below.
Thawed cold brew concentrate should be stored in the refrigerator and used within 10-14 days. Make sure to mix the concentrate after thawing, as some separation can occur when frozen.
One downside to freezing is that ice crystals can form and damage coffee compounds, resulting in some flavor loss. Using freezer bags designed for liquids reduces this issue. Overall, freezing preserves far more flavor and freshness than letting concentrate sit at room temperature or the fridge for months.
Tips for Freezing Cold Brew Concentrate
Follow these guidelines for best results freezing cold brew coffee concentrate:
- Use freezer-grade plastic bags or airtight rigid containers.
- Exclude as much air as possible prior to freezing.
- Freeze small batches to limit repeat thawing and freezing.
- Store flat and evenly to quicken freezing time.
- Once thawed, use within 2 weeks and don’t re-freeze.
With proper handling, freezing can extend the shelf life of your cold brew concentrate for up to 6 months, allowing you to enjoy it year-round.
Can you refrigerate cold brew after it’s been sitting out?
It’s not recommended. Cold brew that has been left at room temperature for over 4 hours should be discarded. The warmer temperature allows for rapid bacteria growth. Refrigerating after sitting out won’t make the cold brew safe to drink again.
How long does cold brew last unrefrigerated?
Unrefrigerated, cold brew lasts for up to 48 hours if kept chilled below 41°F. At room temperature it’s only safe to drink for about 4-6 hours before bacteria can multiply to dangerous levels. Always keep cold brew refrigerated for the longest freshness.
Can you reuse cold brew grounds?
It’s not recommended. The intense extraction during cold brewing leaves behind very few flavorful compounds for a second use. Reusing grounds produces weak, watery cold brew. Get the best results using fresh, coarsely ground coffee for each new batch.
Does putting cold brew in the freezer extend shelf life?
Yes, freezing properly stored cold brew concentrate can extend the shelf life from 2-3 weeks up to 3-6 months frozen. Allow concentrate to thaw in the refrigerator before using, then drink within 2 weeks. Take care to minimize air exposure and ice crystal damage when freezing.
The Bottom Line
When stored properly in the refrigerator, unopened cold brew coffee concentrate typically lasts 2-3 weeks from the brew date before quality deteriorates. If exposed to oxygen, light, and warmer temperatures, expect shelf life to be less than the full 2-3 weeks. For best flavor, use refrigerated concentrate within 1 week of opening. Diluted cold brew lasts just 3-5 days refrigerated. Freezing concentrate for long-term storage can extend shelf life for 3-6 months. Follow proper handling and storage, and you can enjoy fresh, flavorful cold brew concentrate for weeks to come.