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 really die? 

If so, how long do dead espresso shots take to happen? What does a dead espresso shot taste like? 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.

A dead shot of espresso usually takes around 2 to 3 minutes to happen, instead of 10 seconds like a big coffee chains used to promote.   

So, do espresso shots die? Or is this just a myth? Unfortunately, they do “die” after a few minutes and it's nothing to do with bad coffee beans or poor preparation, it's a natural part of the coffee journey.

This happens when the crema (a thin layer of foam that sits on top of the shot) dissolves back into the rest of the cold espresso shot and ends up with a burnt, ashy, and bitter taste.

The same thing happens with double espresso shots too (though the time frame may be different).

This is because the layer of crema actually protects the coffee from oxidizing. Once that layer has dissolved, the cold 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 into the brewed coffee, causing it to become stale and have a burnt taste to it. 
  • What does dead espresso taste like?
    The coffee beverage 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, whether it's fresh coffee or dead coffee and 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 without tasting espresso shots is to check 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 then it may be dead. 
  • When do espresso shots die?
    The taste of the espresso will diminish after 2 to 3 minutes. However, some coffee tasters state that it doesn’t “die” until the shot sits for about 20 minutes. It really depends on a variety of factors, but a good rule of thumb is that they're dead shots whenever the crema disappears. 
espresso shot being brewed from machine

Why Do Espresso Shots Die? (Common Reasons) 

Whether you have your own espresso machine, or you buy your espresso from a coffee shop or coffee bar, it will eventually die.

Just with any fresh food there's a few reasons coffee goes bad. Surprisingly with espresso, it's not related to the type of coffee bean you use or how you grind coffee. Here are the key reasons why it happens:

  • Espresso Crema:
    This is the thick layer of foam that sits on top of a fresh espresso shot and is comprised of hot water and oils combined with carbon dioxide (Co2). This carbon dioxide mix 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.[1
  • 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 Your espresso?  

While they all affect the taste of the espresso, the temperature probably plays the biggest role. Letting any kind of hot 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 Normally 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 Can You Make Your Espresso Last Longer? 

Fancy espresso machines in coffee shops make a shot of espresso in minutes, but 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.[2] 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

Every big coffee chain offers a short cup of coffee called an espresso, but unfortunately they can "die" quite quickly.

Now that you not only know what a bad espresso shot is but also how they "die," and hopefully our guide has given you some useful tips to extend their life. 

By following this guide, you're sure to only have the most fresh, delicious espresso shots around! No risking bitter, "burnt" flavors anymore!

References:

1. https://joyresolve.com/blogs/news/oxidation

2. https://prestocoffee.com/blogs/coffee/how-long-does-coffee-last-in-a-vacuum-sealed-bag

Kayla Stavridis

Head of Marketing

Kayla Stavridis
Kayla Stavridis is a coffee enthusiast and Head of Marketing for Barista HQ. She blends her professional insights and experience with a deep passion for all things coffee. Kayla offers a unique, hands-on perspective on coffee culture and trends. You can find her sipping a cold brew with just a touch of milk on the beach in the afternoon and a Corona with lime in the evening.

My favorite drink? I'd go with... Cold Brew

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