Every coffee enthusiast needs a backup stash of instant coffee, whether it is your personal preference for convenience, or in case you run out of your beloved pre-ground coffee beans.
After all, instant coffee offers something that ground and whole fresh beans can’t – a pretty long shelf life.
If you ever drink instant coffee, you’re probably wondering, does instant coffee go bad?
In this article, we’ll answer this question and discuss how long it lasts, along with other questions you might have about instant coffee.
Can Instant Coffee Expire or Go Off?
So let's get right to the biggest question: does instant coffee expire? Well, good news! Instant coffee does not expire.
It actually has an excellent shelf life, and you can use it even a few months after the "expiration date" on the label.
One thing you should note, the supposed expiration dates on the packets are just the manufacturer's estimate of how long the coffee will stay fresh.
If you look closely, you'll see that the date printed isn't actually labeled as an "expiration date."
Instead, what you'll see is a best-before date--an indication that the black coffee doesn't expire. It just simply loses its freshness.
However, there are a few caveats. First, instant coffee won’t expire if you only store them correctly and prevent any exposure to moisture after opening the packet.
The right storing conditions can allow the coffee to last months past the expiry date. In some situations, it can go on for several years after crossing the printed date.
Another thing, Even though it doesn’t expire, it’s still recommended to consume it before the best-before date.
The older it gets, the less intense it will be. Fresh instant coffee will always have the best flavor compared to an old one.
How Long Does Instant Coffee Last?
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), instant coffee is a shelf-stable food. 
This means that it has a longer shelf life compared to other types of coffee, like whole beans, especially if stored properly. In fact, it has a shelf life of over 20 years, even if it's unopened.
So how can you ensure that your instant coffee lasts this long? The first thing you need to ensure is that it's properly stored.
Some experts recommend that you keep it in a sealed-tightly storage container. This will ensure that moisture won't come into the coffee.
If it has a moisture content, the product will go bad right away.
Apart from keeping the moisture out, you also need to keep it in a dark place, as light can promote oxidative reactions that may hurt its flavor.
Basically, if the coffee is exposed to too much oxygen, it will result in flavor release that can make your coffee stale.
That’s why instant coffee is usually packaged in a low-oxygen environment, which can help prevent the loss of aroma.
So, once opened, the oxidation process begins right away. However, it doesn't necessarily mean that the flavor will be gone right away.
It’s still a slow process, but it’s best to store it properly to prevent this from happening.
This means that if you have an instant coffee stored properly for 5 years now, you can still enjoy an excellent morning cup.
In addition, if the package is still sealed, it's highly likely that it will still have a fresh flavor.
On the other hand, if you haven't stored it properly and have been exposed to light, heat, moisture, or humidity, the flavor will be gravely affected.
It may even lump together, encouraging bacterial growth, and may develop fungi and mold.
How Do You Know That Instant Coffee Is Bad?
If you don't store instant coffee properly, the first thing you'll notice is that it doesn't have the same aroma as when you first opened the package.
This can happen if you don't seal the jar properly or you haven't transferred it to tightly sealed packaging.
In some cases, especially if it's been stored for an extended period, the coffee aroma will disappear, even if you stored it properly.
Another way to know if the coffee has gone bad is its taste. A stale instant coffee will taste very flat. This means there is no flavor profile, and every sip is just bland.
You'll notice the difference immediately if you compare old instant coffee with a fresh packet of instant coffee or regular coffee.
The next thing you should watch out for is mold. If your instant coffee smells weird and has mold on top, don't try to consume it. It's best to throw it away as it may cause health risks.
In some situations, after storing coffee for over a year, you'll notice that it has become hard. If this happens, moisture has seeped into your container.
This isn't good to consume as mold may already have started growing on it.
Most of the time, moisture is the reason your coffee becomes bad. Still, that's only sometimes the case.
Even if you have an airtight container, moisture can still sneak into the coffee. For instance, using a wet scoop may leave some water residue in the jar.
What Exactly Is Instant Coffee Anyway?
Instant coffee is a type of coffee that easily dissolves in hot water, which makes brewing coffee simple and quick--hence the name, instant.
Basically, all you need to do is a cup of hot water and a teaspoon of instant coffee, and your cup of joe is ready.
While some coffee lovers prefer other brewing methods, many still choose this one over brewed coffee, thanks to its swift preparation.
Even though it's not everyone's choice, some instant coffee brands can provide you with a good flavor profile.
Lastly, it's one of the essential pantry items for some, as it is a popular baking ingredient as well.
Storing Instant Coffee - Good Conditions Explained
Low Oxygen Environment
Instant coffee is packed in a low-oxygen environment. Oxygen can cause oxidation, which can affect the overall quality of the coffee.
This is also the same with brewed coffee. So, the best way to store coffee is in a low-oxygen container like an airtight jar.
If your instant coffee comes in plastic packaging, upon opening, make sure to transfer it to an airtight container right away. If you bought an instant coffee jar, there is no need to transfer it.
One thing to note: once you open the packaging, air will go in, no matter how careful you are. That's okay. What matters is that you can keep it at a minimum to ensure its freshness.
At the same time, when air creeps into an airtight jar, it will stay there for a long period. This will cause oxidation but won’t necessarily spoil your coffee.
So, if you’re wondering why instant coffee has become stale after quite a while, this might be the reason.
No Direct Sunlight
Whether you're storing instant coffee, pre-grounds, or whole beans, direct sunlight is a big no-no.
Exposing coffee to direct sunlight increases its chances of oxidation--and we all know what this entails. So, it's recommended to keep your coffee in a cool place to avoid this from happening.
You can also keep it in the fridge. Just make sure to keep the coffee in an airtight container to ensure that there will be no unpleasant taste sticking to it.
But if your pantry doesn't face the sunlight, you can keep it there instead of the fridge.
Always Use A Dry Spoon
Moisture doesn't only come from a loose container. Most of the time, it's by using a wet spoon to scoop coffee out of the jar.
Unfortunately, if you do so, it will introduce bacteria and mold to your coffee over time. On top of that, it will cause the coffee to lose its dry nature and will instead become a wet mass of coffee.
This will render your coffee useless unless you plan to use the whole thing. That's why it's important to remember to consistently handle your coffee with a dry spoon.
This is the best trick to store your instant coffee for a long time.
Use Single-Serve Packets
If you continuously fail to store your coffee properly, the solution might be to use single-serve sticks instead. This allows you to get the best quality every time you make coffee.
On top of that, it will consistently taste good. Basically, you can just buy bulk without worrying about storage time because the packets will keep the coffee fresh.
However, this might not be the best course of action if you want to keep your waste at a minimum, as using single packets can generate a lot of waste.
It's recommended to use them if you only drink coffee occasionally. If you frequently have a cup of joe, buying coffee jars is more economical and environmentally friendly.
What To Do With Expired Instant Coffee
One advantage instant coffee has over other types, like ground coffee, is that it doesn't expire. However, it does go bad, so drinking it may not be the best experience.
While it's not a bad idea, if you drink expired instant coffee, especially with unusual amounts of mold, you're exposing yourself to health risks.
We suggest that you use your old and opened instant coffee somewhere else. They can be used as a bug repellent and can be mixed with the soil, which can help in the growth of your plants.
You can also use it in areas with a foul smell, like your compost bin, as it can neutralize odor.
Frequently Asked Instant Coffee Shelf-Life Questions
How does stale instant coffee taste?
Stale and old coffee doesn’t have any flavor in it. It’s basically bland and doesn’t have any aroma that regular coffee has.
Will expired coffee make you sick?
Not all the time, but those that have mold and bacteria growth can make you sick.
How long do coffee beans and coffee grounds last?
When stored properly, coffee beans and ground coffee can last up to 9 months. You can store it for longer, but its quality will degrade over time.
How long does freeze-dried coffee last?
If you’re using an airtight jar, instant coffee can last up to 20 years.
Instant coffee is indeed one of the pantry items that has the longest shelf life, especially if you store it correctly.
Even though it has an "expiration date" that comes with it, it's usually an indication of how long the product can stay fresh.
However, do note that it can still go bad regardless of whether it's expired or not, so be sure to follow the suggestions above!