Coffee is a valuable commodity and will likely continue to be. Around 150 million Americans consume coffee on a regular basis and wouldn’t be able to function quite as well without it. Besides the obvious caffeine boost, coffee is good for your body: it’s full of antioxidants and beneficial nutrients. Baearing all of this in mind, it’s safe to say that coffee isn’t something people would part with willingly.
If something is valuable to you and helps you be a more productive and effective person, there’s no reason not to safeguard it. Stocking up on coffee while you are able may be one of the variables that give you an edge in a disastrous situation, as well as a means of barter for the things that you were not able to stock up on and preserve.
The best way to store coffee long-term is to keep factory-sealed whole bean coffee in a bucket lined with a mylar bag and oxygen absorbers.
This will add several layers of protection from moisture, light, heat, and oxygen. The bucket of coffee should be stored in a dark and cool indoor space if possible. Green coffee lasts longer than pre-roasted coffee, and instant coffee lasts the absolute longest.
There’s plenty more to know. You should access all of your options and consider the ideology “two is one, and one is none”. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket; don’t store all of your coffee in one way. Perhaps your situation would benefit uniquely from a different long-term coffee storage method, so we will break down all of the most effective methods and compare them so you can see the big picture and make an educated decision.
How Does Coffee Go Bad?
Yes, coffee can go bad. You can tell if coffee has gone bad by a slight smell and a lighter less pleasant taste. While coffee that has “gone bad” is generally still okay to drink, you probably won’t want to.
Coffee has an impressive shelf-life as is. Even manufacturers say it is safe to consume well past the “sell-by” date. However, before the coffee goes bad it will lose its taste and become generally less pleasant. We can avoid this if we understand why it happens.
There are four variables that need to be eliminated to keep coffee stable: heat, moisture, light, and oxygen. Once roasted, coffee beans begin to expel carbon dioxide and decay. The cell structure of the bean becomes progressively less stable and the flavor becomes dull.
Once opened, coffee beans can be exposed to moisture, which will lead to mold and mildew which will obviously ruin the integrity of the coffee and render it unsafe for consumption.
Ultraviolet light like that from the sun can cause the molecules in the coffee to change and evaporate. This will deplete the flavor and aroma, and eventually, the entire composition of the coffee.
Lastly, heat accelerates oxidation, and oxidation is effectively decomposition; we want our coffee to be as air-tight, dry, and in the dark as possible—and at room temperature or cooler.
How Long Does Coffee Last?
It’s important to understand the different forms of coffee that are commonly sold and how they differ in shelf-life. Assuming the coffee is being stored in an environment that is dry, dark, and room temperature, here is the usable shelf life you can expect from coffee in its original packaging:
Ground Coffee: 5 months past date on container
Whole Coffee: 24 months past date on container
Instant Coffee: 10 years past date on container
However, just because the coffee is probably safe to consume, that doesn’t mean it will taste as good as it should. It also may not have as many beneficial compounds, and if you are in a situation where you need to use your long-term coffee reserves, chances are you will need all the nutritional help you can salvage.
The rest of this article is going to exclude instant coffee only because it isn’t most people’s preference. If you have a taste for instant coffee or don’t particularly care about the taste in general, by all means utilize it instead of the other options. Instant coffee stores impressively better than ground or whole bean coffee.
The bottom line is, if you want to store coffee as long-term as physically possible (without cryogenics or an unknown future technology), you are welcome to combine the techniques to follow with a surplus of instant coffee that will last indefinitely.
Many people do not think about the roasting process of coffee. It doesn’t come off the plant all brown and pretty like it is when you open it. Coffee beans begin green, protected from oxidation by their natural oils. Once these oils are compromised in the roasting process, oxidation takes place much more easily and the coffee will lose quality over time.
The good news is that you can buy coffee green; the bad news is that you have to do all the work that the manufacturer would have done for you and roast the beans. There are two sides to that coin: coffee roasting can be fun, fulfilling, and give you a better control over the taste of your coffee, in addition to allowing your coffee reserves to last longer than they would pre-roasted. The other side of the coin: roasting takes energy, both from you and a fuel source. If times are tough, you may not want to expend those additional resources.
So while green coffee does undeniably store better than pre-roasted coffee, they can both be made to last a very long time, and whether or not you want to roast the beans yourself is truly a matter of preference. Consider your other stored resources: what is your fuel supply? How long will it last? Am I willing to drink unroasted coffee if I run out of fuel?
Yes, you can drink it unroasted—but it wont taste the way you’re used to. Now’s the time to experiment and see if you prefer green coffee, but if you want to stick with what you know and don’t feel like learning how to roast coffee beans, I don’t blame you.
If the idea of busting out a cast iron skillet every so often and roasting coffee beans over a fire to resupply your daily fix sounds strangely romantic, definitely go green.
Ground or Whole Coffee?
The shelf-life of whole coffee is substantially longer than that of ground coffee. Once the coffee is ground there is much more surface area to be exposed to heat, light, oxygen, and moisture. The coffee loses flavor and potency quicker than before it was a whole bean, and there’s no way around it.
Does that mean you can’t stock up on ground coffee? No, it doesn’t. Using the methods that follow, you can still achieve excellent shelf-life for ground coffee, just not as excellent as whole bean coffee.
Grinding the beans is something you should try before you commit. If you’ve never ground your own coffee beans, you will want to get a system in place and a few redundancies to ensure you will be able to grind your beans. A whole bean of coffee doesn’t do much in water, though it does make a nice snack.
There are many different types of coffee grinders on the market. Do yourself a favor and get a manual grinder as a backup, and make sure you know how to use it. As a matter of fact, buy the manual grinder first and use it for a while, and see if you even feel the need to buy an electric one. If there’s a disaster that takes out your electricity and all you have is an electric grinder and whole beans, you’re going to be eating your coffee if you don’t get creative.
There are ways to grind coffee beans without a grinder. Learn a few backup methods just in case. Once you’re comfortable with processing the whole bean you’ll feel a lot better about stocking up on the stuff that lasts longer.
How to Store Coffee
These are the most effective methods to date for storing coffee long-term:
Just like most things, coffee will keep for longer in the freezer. Coffee will last several years in a freezer in ideal conditions, and because there is very little moisture you do not have to worry about freezer burn. Unfortunately, there are several reasons that this is probably the worst of the storage methods when it comes to coffee.
First of all, freezers use power. Freezers use a lot of power, and if our intention is long-term storage for if things go south, relying on power from traditional means is very impractical. The electricity we use is not eternal; it’s actually a rather delicate resource that should not be taken for granted.
If you harvest your own electricity by means of solar, generator, or what-have-you, you should still consider how much energy a freezer actually uses and the toll it will take on your resources. If you have already considered all of this and are planning to depend on a freezer still, there are many other valuable resources (like game meat, for instance) that would benefit from the freezer space more than coffee would.
Coffee has an interesting ability to absorb smells from other items if not isolated and contained properly. I think most people would agree that whatever-is-in-your-freezer-flavored coffee isn’t the most appealing option if there is an equally effective alternative.
These are essential. Oxygen absorbers are iron-packets that suck in oxygen molecules and remove most of the air from the container they are in. Less air means less oxidation, fresher coffee, and longer storage.
On the market there are several brands of oxygen absorbers with different “cc” values. This represents how much oxygen they will absorb in cubic centimeters. A 300cc oxygen absorber will absorb 300cc of oxygen. For a 5-gallon bucket you should use 5-7 300cc oxygen absorbers, or a single 2000cc oxygen absorber.
Oxygen absorbers are useful for a variety of long-term storage methods and can be purchased for as low as $15 for a 2000cc. If you stock up on them now, you’ll be happy you did.
A common practice among survival-enthusiasts and preppers is to take a 2 or 5 gallon bucket and fill it with shelf-stable food products. The bucket will keep additional oxygen, light, temperature, and moisture from reaching the contents inside.
Inside the buckets will be your factory-sealed bags of coffee along with a few oxygen absorbers. This creates a cheap, practical, and effective storage environment so long as the bucket stays in a room-temperature environment and is not damaged.
This is a slight step up from using buckets. Investing in a vacuum sealer and storing already-sealed bags of coffee in sealed bags may seem a bit redundant, but the extra layer of protection can be extremely effective in storage.
You can also use a single oxygen absorber with a few factory-sealed bags of coffee; vacuum seal everything together and let the iron remove the residual air. This creates an environment that is better sealed than a bucket and can be arranged in more convenient ways for storage. For example, laying and sealing three bags of coffee side-by-side creates a relatively flat storage option in comparison to a large bucket.
If you for any reason are not able to store your vacuum sealed coffee in a dark place, you may want to stick with the bucket. The bucket will help keep light away from the packaged coffee while a vacuum sealed bag is usually clear and lets light through.
Mylar is a material that is puncture-resistant, durable, reflects light, and is impermeable to gas. It’s a great material for long-term storage of dry goods, coffee included. Bags are purchased and sealed with a commercial-grade clamshell heat sealer that is entirely unnecessary if you have an iron laying around.
This is a far better material than the plastic vacuum-sealer bags, but to vacuum seal a mylar storage bag you will need expensive, specialized equipment. A few oxygen absorbers in the mylar bag will work just fine if you do not intend on purchasing yet another piece of specialized equipment that serves a single purpose.
The Best Method
So, the most effective method is a combination of techniques. Start with factory-sealed coffee in good condition. It doesn’t matter whether it’s in a can or a bag. Make sure it’s dry and that there isn’t any damage to the packaging.
If you have a vacuum sealer that will seal bags big enough to fit your coffee inside, go for it! If not, a bucket is absolutely fine, provided we get the oxygen out.
Lay an appropriate sized mylar bag into the clean, dry bucket, and put the coffee bags close together inside the mylar. Add a few oxygen absorbers and seal off the mylar with an iron or clamshell heater, then add a few oxygen absorbers in between the mylar and the bucket and seal the bucket. Label it appropriately and keep it in as cool and dark of a place as you can.
There’s no guarantee as to precisely how long this method will keep your coffee fresh, but 20+ years wouldn’t be considered an unreasonable guess.
Prepper Coffee / Survival Coffee
If there is a market, there will be a product. Unless you are truly in love with your particular blend of coffee, you may be inclined to try one of the “survival coffee” blends currently on the market.
Coffee purists may turn up their noses at the idea, but some of us down in the land of practicality appreciate the fact that this exists. Survival coffee is freeze-dried and made simply by adding hot water and mixing. Some brands like Franklin’s Finest Survival Coffee even throw in a bucket for storage.
While it’s simple and boasts a true 25-year shelf life, it might be hard to convince yourself that it’s anything more than glorified instant coffee. It’s a niche product, for sure. It isn’t as cheap as instant coffee, but it tastes better, at least.
How Much Coffee Should You Store?
How much coffee do you drink? Three bags of coffee a month might be a safe bet, and most people will get by with two. Take notice of how long a bag of coffee lasts you and decide how many weeks, months, or years worth of coffee you want to have in case of emergency.
There’s no hard rule; you can store as much or as little as you want. If you’re storing more than a few months worth, however, you should store the coffee in smaller batches. For instance, a bucket filled with 5 coffee bags would be appropriate. Why not more? First in first out.
There is more that can be done if you want to ensure that your coffee stays as fresh as possible for as long as possible. Once a year, use and replenish your coffee. You can keep the bucket, but you will want to use a new mylar bag and fresh oxygen absorbers.
Make a plan for yourself. If you have 5 bags of coffee per bucket stored, take the oldest bucket of coffee and start using it. Fill that bucket with fresh coffee when you do, making it the last in the rotation. Rinse and repeat as often as you’d like, but once a year is a good foundation. Every six months is excellent.
Where to Store Coffee
A pantry is an obvious choice. The basement isn’t too bad of a choice either, but consider your climate. The less humidity the better, as humidity is just another word for moisture. Wherever you store the coffee should be indoors and away from direct sources of light, especially sunlight.
Keeping all of your coffee provision buckets together also may not be the best choice. For instance, if you have 6 buckets of coffee stored in the basement, and the basement becomes flooded in a natural disaster, now you have no buckets of coffee.
However, if you store 3 buckets of coffee in the basement, 2 in the pantry, and 1 in a closet upstairs, you’ve got a much better chance at having a delicious cup of coffee to get your head right when your survival depends on a clear mind. Two is one, one is none. Never underestimate the power of redundancy.
The Value of Coffee
It might not be as shiny as gold, but you’d be surprised how valuable a resource coffee has historically been, and could very well once again become. Coffee has been rationed during wartime before; who’s to say it couldn’t happen again? Coffee in the United States is primarily imported, with the only US territories growing it being Hawaii and Puerto Rico.
In times of economic crisis during which imports could be halted or stopped altogether, people will be looking for coffee everywhere. If you’ve got it, you’re a valuable friend.
Coffee Making Provisions
You’ve got all the coffee that you could ever need, now what do you do with it? A standard electric coffee maker works fine until the electricity is gone, so unless you’re going the instant coffee route, you should get yourself a more analog coffee-making apparatus in case of emergency.
A French press is simple and effective, as well as a stove top coffee percolator. Camping suppliers like Coleman also make propane-powered coffee makers that have been received well, but this may not be as resourceful as boiling water over a wood fire.
A simple pour-over coffee can be made with nothing more than a reusable metal coffee dripper cone that can be purchased for around $10.00 and would make a great backup coffee maker.
With nothing else at hand, you can make coffee by simply pouring water over coffee grounds into a mug and using a mesh strainer or coffee filter to remove the spent coffee grinds. Though not exemplary, it’s certainly better than nothing.
Anything that you or somebody else considers valuable is worth stocking up on, provided you know how. A surplus of coffee becomes less valuable if it has gone bad, but a surplus of fresh coffee could be a lot of things. It could be traded for some food, ammo, or medicine, or service by means of barter. It could keep you energized and on your feet when you need it most. It could even just be a nice warm cup of coffee.
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