How To Know if Coffee Beans Have Gone Stale (6 Signs)


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How To Know if Coffee Beans Have Gone Stale (6 Signs)

If you’re a coffee lover, you probably look forward to the first cup of coffee in the morning and relish your afternoon cup as the perfect pick-me-up. But anyone who drinks coffee knows that sometimes, it doesn’t quite hit the spot. This is usually because the beans are stale.

You’ll know coffee beans have gone stale by paying attention to how they smell, feeling them to see if they’re dry, or look for a layer of oil on the surface of the beans. Additionally, if the coffee beans are past their expiration date or have a bitter taste, they’re likely stale.

To avoid the disappointment of making a pot or cup of coffee only to take a sip and realize it’s stale, it’s best to check the beans beforehand to ensure they’re still fresh. The rest of this article will go over the tell-tale signs that your coffee beans are stale and what to do with stale coffee beans.

1. The Delicious Coffee Aroma Is Missing

You’ll know your coffee beans are fresh and will make a flavorful cup of coffee when the beans have a lovely, rich aroma. When you grind the beans, you should be hit with the aroma signaling that it’s fresh. However, you’ll know they’re stale if you grind the beans and can’t smell anything. Usually, when coffee beans lose their smell, they lose their flavor too.

You can apply the same principle to pre-ground beans. If you’re a fan of the convenience of instant coffee, you probably notice that the first time you open it, the beans have a deliciously inviting smell that you can’t resist. Unfortunately, the smell will disappear after a while, and you’re likely to notice it in the flavor too. 

2. The Coffee Beans Look Oily

It may be tricky to determine whether your oily coffee beans are stale because both fresh and stale coffee can be oily. If you buy a particular roast, you may be able to figure it out by observing your beans closely.

All coffee beans have oil inside them, but some contain more oil than others. How much oil seeps out of your coffee beans is determined by several factors, for instance, the bean’s type and how it’s processed.

 If the outside of your beans is oily, there could be several reasons for this:

  • Since some beans are naturally more oily than others, more oil will leak out of them, and you’ll notice a sheen on the surface of the beans.
  • When you roast coffee beans, the heat causes the oil to leak out, so the longer you roast them, the more oily they will become.
  • Oil is instinctively pushed to the bean’s surface over time, so if your beans haven’t been over-roasted and they’re not a naturally oily type and you notice a gloss on the bean’s surface, it could be an indication that it’s been on the shelf for a while. This is particularly the case when they’ve been exposed to air. 

If you’re curious about why some coffee beans are more oily, click on the link to read my other guide. You’ll learn what makes coffee beans oily and how the oiliness affects the taste of the coffee. [Why Are Starbucks Coffee Beans So Oily?]

3. The Coffee Beans Feel Dry

You can tell how fresh your coffee beans are by feeling them. Take a few coffee grounds and rub them between your fingers. Fresh coffee grounds should feel slightly moist because of the oils and stick together a bit. 

However, you’ll know if they’re stale if they feel dry and grainy. This is because the flavor comes from the oils and lipids; if these evaporate, they become stale.

4. The Coffee Beans Weren’t Stored Airtight

Without even looking at the beans, feeling the beans, or tasting the coffee, you can have a pretty good idea if the beans are stale by paying attention to how the beans are stored. It’s best to keep your beans or coffee grounds in an airtight container because they become stale when exposed to air.

However, you may keep your coffee beans in an airtight container but notice that they still become stale after a few weeks. If you’re making coffee every day or several times a day, the beans are exposed to air each time you open the jar – making them stale. 

If you like buying coffee beans in bulk packages but want to prevent them from becoming stale, it’s a good idea to keep a small amount into a small container and keep the rest in a large, airtight jar.

This way, all the beans won’t be exposed to air every time you make coffee, keeping them fresh for longer.

Another option is to purchase a few small airtight jars and divide the coffee beans into them, using one jar at a time. This way, you won’t have to get the coffee beans from the large container and expose them to air unnecessarily.

5. The Coffee Beans Are Expired

A good indication of how fresh your coffee beans are is to look at the expiration and roasting dates. Many coffee brands have the roasting date stamped on the package, and all will have expiration dates.

Still, coffee is a complex product, so no “one size fits all” rule exists. Usually, coffee remains fresh up to a month after it was roasted, but depending on how it was roasted and the length of time it was roasted, it may become stale quicker or slower. 

For example, a lighter roast coffee bean may still taste fresh a month after it was roasted, while another coffee bean will become stale after three weeks. 

It’s important to note the difference between roast and expiration dates. The roast date tells you the day the beans were roasted, while the expiration date tells you when the beans are likely to be stale

Therefore, there’s a good chance the beans will be stale if they’re past the expiration date. 

However, expired coffee beans don’t lose their caffeine because it’s a highly stable chemical. 

6. The Coffee Beans Taste Sour or Bitter

Perhaps you missed all the signs that the beans are stale and went ahead and made a cup of coffee. In this case, a sure way to know the beans are stale is by the taste. 

Stale beans make coffee that’s bitter or sour. You may even notice that your coffee has a citrus flavor. Adding extra sugar, cream, or condensed milk may help to mask the bitterness or citrus notes, but you won’t get that full-bodied, balanced flavor that you’d get from a fresh roast. 

Not all sour coffee beans are stale. Coffee beans can smell sour for multiple reasons.

Will I Get Sick From Drinking Stale Coffee?

Unlike other food items like fresh produce or bread, coffee doesn’t go bad or rot, and drinking coffee made with stale beans is unlikely to make you sick even if you drink it when it’s passed the expiration date.

Still, it’s best not to leave your coffee beans in an unopened jar for too long and exposed to air, as coffee beans can attract bacteria, some of which are harmful.

What To Do With Stale Coffee Beans

Good quality coffee beans aren’t cheap, so, understandably, you’d not want to toss them if they’ve become stale. Luckily, there are ways to use them. Consider the following:

Mask the Stale Coffee Taste

If you still want to salvage the beans and be able to enjoy them in a cup of joe, you can try to mask the taste. This is a trial and error process; you’ll need to experiment with different flavors and methods. 

One option is to grind your beans with spices like cardamom or cinnamon to add another flavor profile and give the coffee a different taste.

Another option is to add other ingredients to your brewed coffee to mask the sour taste, such as:

  • Vanilla extract
  • Honey
  • Maple syrup
  • Dark chocolate

What you should add to your coffee depends on your palette. There’s also a wide range of coffee syrups and flavored coffee creamers that you can purchase from specialty coffee stores or your local supermarket.

Make a Face and Body Coffee Scrub

Coffee is more than just a yummy drink. It also has many benefits when applied to the skin: 

  • Anti-aging properties
  • Improves circulation
  • Reduces cellulite
  • Tightens the pores

Follow these steps to make a coffee scrub: 

  1. Grind your beans, ensuring they’re still quite close. 
  2. Add the ground beans to a jar.
  3. Top the beans with oil, like coconut oil.
  4. Mix the ingredients together. 

You can apply this scrub to your face and body two to three times a week or whenever you want to exfoliate and moisturize your skin.

Use the Coffee Beans as a Fertilizer

Coffee beans contain high levels of nitrogen, which is good for plants like roses, hydrangeas, camellias, and berry plants. 

To fertilize your plants with coffee beans, dig up some of the soil around the plant, bury the coffee beans, and cover it with soil. Apart from nourishing the plants, coffee beans also keep away pests like slugs known to eat the roots, which kill the plants.

Use Stale Coffee Beans To Decorate Your Home

Coffee beans can add interest to your home when used as part of the decor. Pour your stale coffee beans into a boring, plain vase to give it a new look, or add a small amount to the bottom of glass candle holders. 

If you’re artsy, you can use the beans to create a mosaic or grind the beans and mix them with water or oils to make your own paint. You can play around with different shades by adding varying amounts of coffee grounds and liquid. 


There are many signs that indicate your coffee beans have gone stale, including:

  • The coffee aroma is gone.
  • The beans are overly oily.
  • The coffee beans are very dry.
  • The coffee beans weren’t stored properly.
  • The beans are past their expiration date.
  • The coffee tastes sour.

Luckily, expired coffee beans usually aren’t dangerous to consume. So, while stale coffee isn’t great, there are many ways to mask the flavor to allow you to use the beans, including adding spices or flavors to your drink.