Roasting coffee to reveal its unique flavours and aromas is a process of trial and error. Once you get there, however, you need to ensure customers are able to enjoy the coffee at home or in cafes, regardless of the time it takes to reach them. This is where your choice of coffee packaging comes into play.
Investing in the right coffee bag structure, packaging materials, and additional features allows you to preserve the freshness and aroma of the coffee for longer periods.
We spoke to two specialty coffee roasters about what they consider when investing in coffee packaging to ensure their product is fresh upon arrival.
What factors affect the shelf life of roasted coffee?
It is paramount to maintain the freshness and quality of green coffee. If your green coffee is stored in optimal conditions, its innate characteristics are preserved. This means that once it is roasted, customers can experience the full spectrum of a coffee’s flavours.
Generally, green coffee can stay fresh for between six months and one year after harvest. Roasted coffee, on the other hand, is much less stable and can lose its freshness in a matter of weeks.
Roasted coffee has four age-old enemies: oxygen, moisture, heat, and light. Notably, coffee beans should be given some time to “breathe” or degas after roasting. However, long-term exposure to any one of these external factors will quickly cause them to lose freshness and become stale.
Exposure to oxygen (or oxidation) occurs as a result of the degassing process. This is when oxygen replaces CO2 that has escaped and causes the compounds in the coffee to change. Research shows that for every 1% increase in a coffee’s oxygen levels, there is a 10% increase in degradation rate.
If the coffee packaging is damaged or too thin to provide an effective barrier against external factors, the coffee’s shelf life will be significantly reduced. This is particularly true of dark roasted coffee, which tends to degas considerably faster than lighter roasts.
Another factor affecting the shelf life and freshness of coffee is whether it is ground or whole-bean. When coffee is ground, the surface area increases. This causes a quicker release of CO2 and speeds up the process of oxidation.
According to Java Presse, it can take just 30 minutes for ground coffee to reach the point where freshness noticeably declines. This is why baristas tend to grind only small batches of coffee at a time.
Innovative ways specialty coffee roasters are retaining product quality
In recent years, sustainable packaging materials such as kraft paper, polylactic acid (PLA), and low-density polyethylene (LDPE) have become increasingly popular. But how effective are they at retaining the quality and freshness of coffee?
Traditionally, recyclable and compostable materials by themselves aren’t the most reliable in preventing exposure to external factors, such as oxygen. This could lead to a “steeper curve of oxidation”. However, when reinforced with laminates or extra layers, their barrier properties improve significantly.
“We used aluminium foil bags when we inherited the company in 2018, but they were not environmentally friendly. So, we switched to kraft paper coffee bags that were reinforced with up to four layers of aluminium foil & plastic film laminates to improve the barrier properties. However, we discovered it was extremely difficult to separate the layers for proper disposal.”
Spring Valley Coffee has trailed multi-layer plastic coffee bags and compostable pouches made from PLA before settling on packaging made from LDPE-4. “LDPE coffee bags are the right solution for Spring Valley Coffee and our primary market of Kenya,” Ritesh says.
“We believe that the future of coffee packaging is in mono-materials: coffee bags which are made from a single material. This makes them easier to collect, sort, and recycle in several emerging markets.”
Instead of opting for traditional, flexible coffee bags, Silverskin Coffee Roasters in Dublin, Ireland decided to invest in sturdy, recyclable paper tubes with a fresh seal. The brand’s logo runs along the side of the tube from top to bottom, with the silver colour standing out on the black background.
“The coffee cylinders are a labour of love,” explains owner Brian Kenny. “They’re 3 to 4 times the cost of coffee bags, but we wanted to do something completely different to our competitors. Bags tend to look fantastic on the internet and on Instagram, but when you get them in your hand, they never look as good in real life.”
Silverskin offers recyclable packaging that features peel-fresh technology. This means when consumers open the canister, they still get that experiential whiff of freshly roasted coffee. “The cylinders are rigid, which means customers can put a scoop in with ease. Plus, the cylinders can be stored in the consumer’s kitchen without fuss, as they look like groceries. It improves the whole coffee experience.”
Could multilayer coffee packaging be a solution?
Multilayer packaging was first designed in the 1950s by Procter & Gamble who used it to make collapsible tubes of toothpaste. Since then, it has been adopted for use in a range of goods, from drinks to pharmaceuticals. According to recent figures, more than 100 million tons of multilayer thermoplastics are produced globally each year.
Multilayer packaging comprises composite materials that provide additional barrier properties, strength, and storage stability. It’s formed by coextrusion, lamination, or other coating technologies that enhance the protective qualities of materials and extend the shelf life of coffee.
For specialty roasters, multilayer packaging offers a flexible and versatile option for containing their coffee. It enables them to choose eye-catching designs using kraft paper or rice paper, while ensuring their coffee is well protected.
Multilayer structures are more effective at protecting coffee beans than single-layer structures, as a single layer of material doesn’t usually provide the necessary strength. To effectively protect and preserve coffee, packaging tends to have two layers as a minimum.
At MTPak Coffee, we understand the importance of delivering fresh coffee to your clients. We offer a range of sustainable multilayer packaging options that will protect your coffee from moisture, light, oxygen, and other factors that affect quality while showcasing your brand.
Specialty roasters can choose from a range of materials, including kraft paper and rice paper reinforced with multiple layers that can be easily separated and recycled.