What can coffee roasters learn from specialty tea packaging?

Aidan Gant
July 7, 2022

A brief examination of the specialty tea and coffee industries reveals just how much they have in common.

There are significant areas of overlap within the industry, including a desire to learn more at the source. More so, both tea and coffee are a hot beverage with the potential for complex flavour profiles.

Factors such as weight, temperature, and brew time will all affect extraction, and while the ratios may differ, the processes are similar.

Additionally, the materials used to package specialty tea and coffee should share similar traits. Packaging must ensure its contents remain fresh until the last cup, while preserving the inherent flavours of the coffee beans or tea leaves.

Furthermore, the packaging must convey essential information to customers. This includes information on origins, processing methods, flavour profiles and, on some occasions, brewing methods.

To find out more about what coffee roasters can learn from specialty tea packaging, I spoke with the marketing manager at Spirit Tea, Casey Chartier-Vignapiano.

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close up image of specialty tea packaging, displaying earl grey tea in a black and grey paper box.

How do materials differ between tea & coffee packaging?

When it comes to preserving the integrity and freshness of the product inside their packaging, tea and coffee have slightly unique challenges to overcome.

That said, the two need to accommodate a similar, yet broad, set of needs.

“Both types of packaging ‌serve the same purpose,” says Casey, who is also an experienced product marketing strategist. “It must keep the product fresh using an air and water-right system.”

She explains that, at minimum, tea requires a light-blocking material, as well as an assurance that no moisture will penetrate the bag. As a result, many tea companies opt to use boxes or tins.

A tin or box may be a better fit for tea, as the rigidity of the structure is essential in protecting the delicate and fragile dried tea leaves.

Alternatively, coffee beans by nature are substantially more resistant to impact.

“Most specialty coffee packaging that favours tall, block bottom bags will not work with a variety of teas,” Casey says. As these bags are likely to be packed tight for transportation and delivery, there is a greater risk the dried tea leaves will be crushed.

The majority of coffee packaging also requires degassing valves. Once coffee is roasted, it continues to undergo a process known as “degassing”. This is when carbon dioxide (CO2) is continually released as the beans age.

Due to this process, coffee bags must be fitted with a one-way valve to prevent the packaging from expanding and possibly exploding.

Dried tea leaves are more stable in this respect, and as a result, the packaging will not require a degassing valve.

The differences in packaging design

Comparisons do not stop at the physical requirements of specialty tea and coffee packaging.

An area where coffee roasters may benefit from some friendly appropriation is specialty tea packaging design.

When asked about the increase in maximalist design themes in tea compared to coffee, Casey looked at her own company as an example.

“Spirit Tea’s rebrand provides a unique answer,” she says. “We traded in our Sans Serif font, black retail boxes, and kraft paper bags for a feminine, playful, and charming identity. Now, our packaging features soft lilac and jewel colour tones, with debossed boxes for premium teas.

“There is so much colour in tea; in the stories of producers and the farms we source from,” Casey says. “So, we wanted our packaging to reflect our identity.”

This move away from previously dominant minimalist designs is not just a phenomenon in tea design. Both the specialty tea and coffee industries are moving towards a maximalist feel.

In the two industries, the design and branding on packaging should communicate as much of a business’ identity and ethos as possible. This is because a customer can learn a lot about a company by looking at its packaging, and will probably decide to buy based on its impression.

Notably, there are some differences in emphasis between the two sectors. This may be primarily from the different relationship between producers and importers.

“Typically with tea, there is no processing work done by the importer besides importing, packaging, and distribution,” Casey explains. “As the tea producer does all the necessary processing, a tea’s brand and identity tends to focus on the producer and their philosophy on tea-making – much like coffee.”

Conversely, there may be as much to convey about a roaster’s approach to coffee as there is for the producer. This creates a different dynamic, which should be reflected in coffee packaging design.

This means the importer’s ethos regarding the ideal beverage style is arguably more important in coffee than in tea.

“Coffee branding can reflect the roasters approach to preparing the coffee for consumption,” Casey says. “This could result in a clean, translucent and modern look similar to that of Metric Coffee. Their packaging reflects their light-roast philosophies and transparency reports.

“On the other hand, it could look like the packaging from Mother Tongue Coffee, who embrace the wide spectrum of roast levels with much skill and eclectic sourcing.”

Close up image of roaster loading coffee hopper with roasted coffee from brown multilayer kraft paper bag.

What can coffee roasters learn from specialty tea packaging?

For both specialty tea and coffee, origin is something worth celebrating, and the packaging should convey the spirit of the producer.

This may be reflected in the level of detail provided about farmers on the packaging, which both industries do well.

Or it may be the precision of brewing instructions, which is perhaps an area where coffee has something to learn from tea in terms of specificity.

That said, paying respectful homage to the producer in a transparent way is key to success for both drinks.

“As a marketer, I appreciate something ‘vocal’. It doesn’t have to be loud or bold, but should be something that feels genuine, exciting,” Casey says. “It should be layered with more than just ‘cartoon vibes’ or ‘white linen lemon verbena chic’”.

Essentially, coffee brands should aim for transparency and authenticity in their business practices, and this should be reflected in, and evident from, their packaging design.

Notably, Casey highlights that roasters have more freedom in packaging choices and encourages them to be daring with their design.

“Think outside the block-bottom bag! Roasters could pack coffee in a tea-friendly bag, but tea cannot always be packaged in the usual tall and narrow coffee bag,” Casey explains.

“This gives the coffee industry so much room to play, since beans are more or less the same size. Try something stout, something in a bottle, similar to Bigface Brand or Daydrink, or try something in a tin. Be bold, be daring!”

Whichever design route roasters and coffee shops opt for, MTPak Coffee can support your needs. Our range of coffee packaging is 100% recyclable, biodegradable, or compostable and made from sustainable materials such as kraft and rice paper, as well as LDPE and PLA-lined bags.

Furthermore, we can use digital printing to customise coffee bags to highlight your exotic offerings. We have a 40-hour turnaround and 24-hour shipping time, allowing us to offer low minimum order quantities (MOQs) of packaging, no matter what size or material.

For more information on sustainable coffee packaging, contact our team.

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