How long does Cold Brew last according to a food scientist?

meEven though it looks like the brutal heat wave is behind us, there are still a few weeks left in the warm weather season, which means we’ll stay cool (and caffeinated) with a cold glass of coffee at least twice daily. Whether store-bought or homemade, this icy concoction is a non-negotiable staple in our homes all summer long.

However, if you’re slower than us in getting your batch of cold brew (kudos, honestly) or if you’re going on vacation and come home wondering if it’s still okay to drink coffee that’s been chilling in your fridge for a couple of weeks, the answer is… probably not. Here’s what you need to know about keeping cold brew fresh, including how long it lasts and ways to extend its shelf life, according to coffee experts.

How long does cold beer last?

In short, it depends on whether your coffee is homemade or store-bought. “If you’re brewing your cold brew at home, I recommend keeping it refrigerated and drinking within a week of brewing,” says Cary Wong, coffee educator, food scientist, and specialist at Partners Coffee. “If you don’t drink cold brew every day, you may want to stick to single servings of cold brew, like these Rockaway Cold Brew Bags, to avoid food waste.” However, if you drink cold brew coffee regularly, go ahead and brew a larger batch, as long as you discard it within seven days.

As for store-bought cold brew, manufacturers typically list the brew date and expiration date on the packaging. “As a general rule of thumb, any cold brew made in a commercial facility can be good to drink for up to four to six months from the brew date on the package, as long as it’s not opened,” says Wong.

And FYI: cold canned coffee is the safest product to drink from a longevity perspective. “It needs to be kept stable until the point of the expiration date on the can,” says Martin Bucknavage, food safety expert at Penn State Extension.

The good news is that your cold beer probably won’t go moldy if you keep it too long; however, it can still be home to pathogens. “Cold beer naturally has some antimicrobial properties, so it’s not prone to contamination,” says Bucknavage. So where is the risk? “We know that organisms like salmonella and listeria can survive in a cool environment for a long period of time.”

However, those types of foodborne pathogens are rarely found in hot or cold coffee products, so the presence of such bacteria in home-brewed cold coffee is unlikely. To minimize risk, drink your homebrew within one to seven days and don’t store it for an extended period of time.

Does the type of water matter?

If you’re making homemade cold brew coffee, does filtered, mineral, or tap water make a difference? “From a flavor perspective, yes, but not from a microbial level,” says Bucknavage. As long as the water is drinkable, it is safe to use to make coffee.

What happens if you keep the beer cold for too long?

It happens to the best of us: you reach into the back of your fridge and pull out a dark mug of cold beer you brewed a long time ago…but can’t remember exactly how long ago. So how do you know if it’s safe to drink?

According to Wong, the best thing to do is take a small sip and see how it tastes. “If the beer is kept cold for too long, you may notice the flavors start to diminish and it can start to taste slightly stale and bitter,” she says. This process is known as oxidation, says Bucknavage, and it will create certain “off” flavors.

Bucknavage adds that yeast, lactic acid bacteria, and other spoilage bacteria can grow the longer cold coffee is allowed to sit, which can cause it to go sour and ferment like alcohol. However, there will rarely be any visual indicators to show that you have passed your peak. To avoid any guesswork, label your cold brew with the date you brewed it and an expiration date (FWIW: do this with leftovers as well as your weekly meal prep).

How to prolong the shelf life of your cold brew coffee

To store cold brewed coffee for up to a week, store it in an airtight container, like a mason jar, and cover. Put it in the refrigerator and keep it in a cold refrigerator at least 36℉.

The only way to safely extend the shelf life of home cold brew coffee for weeks or months would be to pasteurize the batch, which is a more labor-intensive process than the average home brewer is likely to expect. Wong recommends just making smaller batches at a time. “This way, you can enjoy a fresh cold brew more often without worrying about it losing its flavors if it’s kept too long,” he says. Sounds like an A+ plan, right?

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