Dealing with clumps of chunky, hard coffee powder is a common issue and can ruin your morning. Before tossing out the hardened coffee powder, use the following tips to freshen the powder and prevent it from hardening again.
Why Does Coffee Harden?
Coffee powder typically hardens due to exposure to moisture. Just a few drops of water inside a coffee can or jar may cause the powder to clump and harden.
Water may get inside the coffee can or jar in a variety of ways. For example, you may place a damp measuring spoon on top of the coffee powder or accidentally splash water inside as you prepare coffee.
High humidity levels may also cause the coffee powder to harden. When moist air reaches the coffee container, the moisture condenses. Without a proper seal, moisture may eventually reach the inside of the container and cause clumping.
Is Hardened Coffee Safe to Consume?
Hardened coffee may pose health risks if mold or bacteria appear on the surface. However, it may take a week or longer for mold spores and other growth to begin spreading across the clumps of coffee powder.
If the clumps include physical signs of mold growth, do not consume the coffee. Some types of molds produce toxic chemicals called mycotoxins. Consuming mycotoxins may suppress the immune system and lead to various health issues, including gastrointestinal problems such as vomiting and diarrhea.
Damp coffee grounds may attract a variety of different types of molds, including Trichoderma and aspergillus. Trichoderma is often a green or blue-green fungus. It is a natural part of the decomposition process and is not considered a major health concern.
Aspergillus is often white and feathery. It may cause severe health issues when consumed, especially for those with weakened immune systems.
Visible signs of mold growth may indicate that the coffee powder is unsafe. Even a few small spots of fungi may mean that smaller spores are hidden within the clumps. Yet, if the coffee powder appears free of mold growth, it may simply need to be softened before using.
While the mold-free coffee powder is likely safe to use, it may not retain its full flavor. Moisture promotes the release of flavors and aromas, which may cause the powder to become stale.
How to Make Hard Coffee Soft Again
You can try one of several methods to soften and use hard coffee again, including adding a small amount of water to the container. You can use these steps with ground coffee or instant coffee powder.
Allow lukewarm water to drip from the sink faucet into the can or jar. Close the lid and shake thoroughly. The water should help soften the clumps of coffee powder while shaking the container helps the chunks break apart.
Prepare a pot of coffee using your normal routine and place the remaining coffee powder in the fridge. Keeping the coffee in the refrigerator helps reduce the risk of mold growth and makes the clumps easier to break apart when measuring out coffee powder.
Another option is to scoop the hard coffee clumps out of the can or jar and place them in a separate container. Try to remove as much of the hard coffee as possible to preserve the remaining powder. Place the clump-free powder in a cool, dry spot to avoid exposure to moisture.
Allow the moist coffee clumps in the second container to dry on a counter for several hours. Use a spoon to break up the clumps. Use the powder to make a pot of coffee and place the remaining powder in the fridge.
A third method involves placing the lumps of coffee powder in a blender or small food processor. Add a few drops of lukewarm water. Chop the chunks of coffee into a fine powder using the lowest speed setting.
How to Prevent Coffee Hardening
The best way to prevent coffee from hardening is to protect it from moisture. Use dry spoons or measuring cups and store the coffee container properly.
Using a damp spoon is a common cause of hard coffee. This often happens when using a spoon or measuring cup that has not fully dried. Consider using a paper towel or a napkin to wipe the spoon or cup clean before dipping it into the powder.
Place the lid back on the container immediately after scooping the coffee powder. Forgetting to put the lid increases the chance of spilling water into the container as you make coffee or clean up.
How to Store Coffee Powder
Coffee needs protection from air and moisture. Exposure to air accelerates the deterioration of the coffee, reducing its taste and aroma. Moisture promotes hardening and mold growth.
Coffee should be stored at or just below room temperature. Seventy-two degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsius) is typically considered room temperature. Slightly cooler temperatures help protect against hardening as cooler air holds less moisture.
Store coffee powder in a cool, dry spot, such as a kitchen cabinet. When you cook or wash dishes, the excess humidity may create condensation under the lid of the container. Storing the powder in a cabinet or pantry helps it stay dry.
You should also use an airtight container to store the powder. The inexpensive plastic lids that come with some coffee products may not offer an airtight seal. Reusable containers with secure lids often include rubber or foam to shield the contents from moisture.
How to Use Hardened Coffee Powder
If the hardened coffee powder is too hard, you can repurpose it. Old coffee powder and grounds are often added to compost bins or piles. The nitrogen and bacteria from old coffee promote the composting process.
Coffee powder chunks can also be ground and scattered over the ground as mulch. The acids in the coffee powder help repel slugs and other pests.
The hardened instant coffee powder may also work as a skin exfoliant. Mix the coffee powder with a small amount of coconut oil and use it as a scrub. However, do not use the powder on your skin if you notice signs of mold growth.