Do Espresso Shots Die? (What, How & Why Explained)

Whether you're a coffee enthusiast or are just getting into the world of espresso, you may have heard the theory that espresso shots die. Specifically, that if the shot is sitting for a certain amount of time, that it goes "bad." So, let's clear the air – do espresso shots die? If so, how long does it take for them to do so? We're here to cover it all right here, so grab a coffee and settle in! 

First things first: what is a dead espresso shot? It’s when the shot cools down, and the heart, body, and crema all blend together. This negatively affects the flavor and texture of the beverage, regarding it as "dead," as the resulting taste is pretty bad. This usually takes around 2 to 3 minutes to happen, instead of 10 seconds like a large chain coffee shop used to promote.   

So, do espresso shots die? Or is this just a myth? Unfortunately, they do “die” after a few minutes. This happens when the crema (a thin layer of foam that sits on top of the shot) dissolves back into the rest of the shot and ends up with a burnt, ashy flavor.

This is because the layer of crema actually protects the coffee from oxidizing. Once that layer has dissolved, the coffee touches the air. Of course, some crema will last longer, which can affect how quickly the shot "lives."  

  • What happens when an espresso shot dies?
    The shot basically oxidizes when the crema dissolves, causing it to become stale and have a burnt taste to it. 
  • What does dead espresso taste like?
    It has a very “off” flavor, with the oils and fats in the coffee turning bitter, making it almost undrinkable. It is simultaneously very oily and metallic-tasting. 
  • Do espresso shots lose caffeine?
    No, that is one good thing about espresso shots, no matter how long they’ve been sitting around. While they may not taste nor smell as good, the quantity of caffeine will still be the same. 
  • How do you know that the espresso shot is dead?
    An easy way to instantly tell is if the ratio of crema is off, if there’s a lace-like residue on the sides of the glass, and/or if the color changes to a very dark brown/black. 
  • When do espresso shots die?
    The taste of the espresso shots will diminish after 2 to 3 minutes. However, some people state that it doesn’t “die” until after about 20 minutes. It really depends on a variety of factors, but a good rule of thumb is whenever the crema disappears. 
Do Espresso Shots Die? (What, How & Why Explained)

Why Do Espresso Shots Die? (Common Reasons) 

  • Espresso Crema:
    This is the thick layer of foam that sits on top of a fresh espresso shot and is comprised of water and oils combined with Co2. As it creates a protective shield against the air, and thus, oxidation, a shot with its crema intact should still be good. 
  • Oxidation Phase:
    That brings us to our next point. Oxidation begins when the coffee makes contact with the air, aka when the crema dissolves. 
  • Time And Temperature:
    We're sure you can think of at least one beverage that you enjoy when it's ice-cold. And perhaps not so much when it starts getting warm. It's kind of the same with espresso, but in reverse. Temperature plays a significant role in how espresso tastes, and over time, espresso starts getting colder and colder. 

How do these things affect espresso?  

While they all affect the taste of the espresso, the latter probably plays the biggest role. Letting any kind of coffee sit out long enough until it's cold isn't going to taste good, but a single espresso has such little mass sitting that it gets colder, quicker.  

dead espresso coffee

How Long Does An Espresso Shot Last? 

How long can an espresso shot sit out before going dead? You’ll have a bad espresso shot if you let it sit out until the point that the crema is dissolved. This tends to happen around the 3-minute mark, but sometimes it may be even longer than that.  

Why should you drink your espresso quickly? Because the crema needs to be on top, so the flavor and aromas aren’t negatively affected due to oxidation and it getting colder.  

Can you reheat espresso when it gets cold? Does it affect the taste? Reheating espresso is definitely not a good idea and is not going to make the espresso taste better once it’s already gone cold. It further alters the espresso’s chemical structure – actually at an even faster and extreme rate than naturally cooling down with the air.  


How To Make Your Espresso Last Longer? 

Can you make the espresso life last longer? Really the most effective way to do so is by storing it in the fridge in an airtight container for up to half a day. However, as we just mentioned, we don't recommend reheating them.

Instead, we recommend using your preserved shot with milk for an iced latte or perhaps using them to make coffee ice cubes. The cold cup/glass seems to preserve the shot better than if you were to just leave it on the counter.  


Frequently Asked Dead Espresso Questions 

Can you drink dead espresso?  

While you technically can, you probably aren’t going to want to. We’ve all had a cup of coffee sitting out for a while and drank it anyway, but trust us when we say you are not likely to be able to palate a dead espresso shot. There are the rare ones out there who say that they like the “added flavors," but it's not recommended from a taste perspective.  

Do espresso coffee beans expire?  

Coffee beans never really "go bad," which is why you can keep looking at a bag of beans and never see an expiration date. However, they definitely lose freshness after about a week of being roasted. With that being said, all that goes out the window if your beans have mold or mildew on them.  

Can espresso sit overnight in a fridge?  

As we mentioned, you can store espresso perhaps overnight in the fridge or freezer, but it's not going to reheat as you'd probably like it to. You'll get the best results by making it fresh.

What happens if you get a dead espresso when buying in a café?  

You could definitely ask the barista to make you a new one if you have a dead espresso shot, and explain why. However, it’s really up to their discretion if they want to give you a new one or not. If they really care about the quality of their coffee, then they’ll give you a brand new espresso.  


Conclusion

Now that you not only know what a bad espresso shot is but also how they "die," we hope our guide has helped you learn how to avoid them. By following this guide, you're sure to only have the most fresh, delicious espresso shots around! No risking bitter, "burnt" flavors anymore!