While coffee tins are uncommon in the modern specialty scene, they were a staple within the coffee industry for decades.
As consumer expectations and technology advanced, the coffee industry moved away from bulky metal tins toward lighter packaging materials. This allowed roasters and coffee shops to invest in sustainable packaging materials, such as those made from kraft or rice paper.
The most common way for specialty roasters to package coffee is to use resealable bags or pouches. These are not only easier to transport but also more convenient for consumers, who can open and reseal them as the coffee is consumed.
That said, when showcasing a rare or high-scoring coffee, some roasters may choose to package them in customised “limited edition” tins.
This process often includes sourcing tins of the right size that can preserve the coffee’s freshness. Additionally, it means roasters will have to design and custom print several coffee tins – all of which increase packaging costs.
Read on to find out whether using coffee tins is worth the investment.
Why do roasters use coffee tins?
Roasters and cafes can choose to use coffee tins for many reasons.
As the specialty coffee market grows, so do the number of roasters. As a result, ensuring a product stands out from the competition is essential.
An effective way to drive sales and attract consumers is to have unique and eye-catching packaging. A uniquely designed tin is likely to stand out amongst the bags and pouches offered by the majority of roasters.
Additionally, roasters may use tins to highlight a new or limited edition offering. For instance, Blue Bottle Coffee is packing its exceedingly rare Colombia Mauricio Shattah Wush Wush offering in unique, shallow metal tins.
The company decided to offer a limited number of the Wush Wush cultivar, which is relatively new to South America and characterised by its elongated bean shape and intense rose aroma.
This particular product stands out from Blue Bottles usual offerings, which are normally packaged in multilayered white kraft paper bags.
Founder of Dublin’s Sumo Coffee Roasters and 2019 World Cup Tasters Champion, Daniel Horbat chose to use tins to showcase certain offerings, such as its Kule Gesha, which scored 90+ on the SCA scale.
The bags used by Sumo Coffee Roasters certainly stand out, boasting clean lines and intricate, colourful illustrations. The designs are thoughtful and the colour palette often reflects the flavour notes of the coffee inside.
That said, 90+ coffees are rare to come by, and so, Daniel decided a special lot demanded a unique type of packaging.
In order to maximise customer experience and provide a luxury feel, Sumo Roasters packaged its Gesha in custom-made tins that featured one of its iconic designs.
Additionally, Tribe Coffee Roasting based in South Africa is another popular brand that uses coffee tins. Notably, its entire range is only packaged in tins and customers seem to enjoy it.
For limited edition offerings, Tribe often designs a unique tin that is completely different from its usual look.
That said, Tribe Coffee specialises in coffees that appeal to a wider audience and not only to the nice specialty coffee market, unlike Blue Bottle Coffee and Sumo Coffee Roasters.
Are coffee tins worth the investment?
As with most packaging materials, choosing to use coffee tins can have its advantages and downfalls.
One such downfall may be its ability to preserve coffee freshness. One of the main reasons coffee loses freshness is the replacement of carbon dioxide (CO2) with oxygen.
According to a 2017 study, CO2 is a major indicator of freshness, and plays an important role in shelf life and in packaging. Additionally, it can impact the extraction rate and may affect the sensory profile of a coffee.
CO2 builds up in coffee beans during roasting. This CO2 is gradually released during the degassing stage and tends to reach optimal levels within a few days.
However, if the roasted coffee is exposed to oxygen during this time, it will replace the CO2 and affect the compounds in the coffee, resulting in a loss of freshness.
The challenge to preserve coffee freshness has been faced as far back as the 1900s. It is believed that R.W Hills of Hills Brothers Coffee was the first to package coffee in vacuum packed tins.
The process involves filling a tin with coffee and sucking the oxygen out before sealing it to prevent the roasted coffee from being oxidised and going stale.
That said, it was Francesco Illy in 1934 who brought the concept of pressurised packaging containers to the coffee market. This enabled the mass distribution of coffee across countries while keeping the product as fresh as possible.
Coffee tins proved highly effective for long haul deliveries, with Francesco Illy sending coffee from Italy to Sweden using pressurised tins — which are still used by the brand. Notably, the silver and red coffee tins have become iconic.
However, as they are usually made of metal, coffee tins are heavier and take longer to degrade compared to recyclable, biodegradable, and compostable packaging materials. Tin cans can take between 50 and 100 years to decompose, compared to sustainable coffee bags that can degrade within 12 weeks.
As sustainability became a priority within the industry, the majority of roasters moved towards recyclable packaging materials, which have since replaced coffee tins as the most common form of packaging.
What packaging alternatives do coffee roasters have?
While some roasters continue to use tins, there are a number of sustainable options available.
Put simply, sustainable coffee packaging is any type of packaging, whether a flat bottom pouch or a drip coffee bag, that reduces the carbon footprint and environmental impact of a business.
In addition to being made from recyclable materials, these packaging options can often be customised to fit a roaster’s branding needs and preferences.
Furthermore, sustainable packaging appeals to the growing number of eco-conscious consumers. Recent studies have found Millennials are willing to spend more on products from environmentally conscious brands.
This means that specialty roasters could lose out on customers and higher profits if they don’t switch to more sustainable packaging.
Whichever design route roasters and coffee shops opt for, MTPak Coffee can support your needs. We are experts at helping roasters transition from single-use plastic packaging to sustainable alternatives.
Furthermore, we can use digital printing to customise coffee bags to highlight your 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.