Innovations in technology have blessed the specialty coffee industry with a unique experience: air-roasted coffee. This roasting method uses hot air and lower temperatures to roast the beans more evenly, giving the final cup a clean and distinct taste.
Air roasting uses a recirculation system to reuse heat. Therefore, it is often considered one of the more sustainable roasting methods. Beyond this, the roasting method tends to align with a growing number of eco-conscious consumers who demand sustainable packaging and business practices.
A recent survey found that 83% of consumers believe it’s important for companies to design environmentally friendly products. Notably, sustainable packaging can be a unique selling point (USP) for many customers.
So, are there sustainable coffee packaging materials that are best suited to protect the unique characteristics of air-roasted coffee? I spoke to Dayne Larke, the founder of Banhoek Coffee Co. in South Africa’s Western Cape.
What are the benefits of air-roasting coffee?
The method of air-roasting coffee was first introduced in the early 1900s to help reduce smoke production during the roasting process. The process relies solely on convection to roast the beans.
The column or “bed” of air keeps the beans elevated and ensures the heat is evenly distributed. This often results in a cleaner, more consistent roast, as opposed to the traditional drum roasting method, which may result in uneven flavour profiles and smoke damage.
A typical air roaster, or fluid bed roaster, contains multiple sensors that help measure and control the real-time temperature of the beans. Additionally, fluid bed roasters allow for the manipulation of variables such as temperature and airflow to achieve the desired roast.
The roast’s temperature plays a pivotal role in attaining the perfect flavour profile. Most drum roasters reach temperatures from between 205°C and 230°C (400°F and 450°F). When air-roasting coffee, it is common to use a lower temperature. This low temperature allows for a more gradual roasting process, helping to safeguard the unique flavours and aromas.
The duration of the roast also affects the resulting flavour profile. In air roasting, the process typically spans between 6 and 12 minutes. Specific times are chosen based on the desired level of roast, whereas drum roasting typically spans 10 to 20 minutes.
Another essential element in the process of air roasting is airflow. Hot air circulates uniformly around the coffee beans to ensure consistency. This variable can be adjusted during the roasting process to achieve the desired profile.
One of the more distinct differences between air-roasted coffee and drum-roasted is the absence of the smokey or burnt flavours that drum roasters typically present. This is, for the most part, because of the lower temperatures and reduced exposure time during air roasting. It spares the coffee beans from being exposed to high temperatures that could trigger the development of unwanted smokey or burnt notes.
Beyond this, fluid bed roasters can conserve and recycle energy, reducing the time required to reheat the drum between batches. This results in a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions of an average of 25%. Moreover, an air roaster does not require the use of an afterburner, unlike traditional drum roasters, saving even more energy.
When compared to traditional drum roasters, air roasting stands out as a swifter method that often results in higher-quality flavour profiles and overall uniquity.
Which coffee packaging is best for air-roasted coffee?
According to a recent study, 74% of customers are more likely to buy a product if it’s packaged and made sustainably. Therefore, specialty coffee roasters who choose to offer air-roasted coffee appeal to a sustainably conscious audience on a much wider scale.
Packaging accounts for around 3% of the coffee supply chain’s total carbon footprint. If coffee packaging isn’t properly sourced, produced, transported, and discarded, it can be detrimental to the environment. Compostable, biodegradable, or recyclable coffee bags seem to be the most popular choice for brands wanting to offer sustainable coffee packaging.
Banhoek Coffee Co. has invested in 100% recyclable coffee pouches to package its air-roasted coffee. The brand’s flat-bottom coffee bags were inspired by the natural beauty of the Banhoek Valley situated over the Helshoogte Pass just outside of Stellenbosch, South Africa. It is one of the most historical routes in the country and was once home to many free-roaming lions and leopards.
The coffee packaging is army green, making the brand’s geometric line-art logo of a leopard stand out in contrast. “Our decision on 100% recyclable coffee packaging and the efficient method of air-roasting aligns with our mission to reduce our carbon footprint and support sustainability,” Dayne explains. “Furthermore, we are also actively involved with conservation through support of Cape Leopard Trust.”
Banhoek Coffee Co.’s packaging is made from low-density polyethylene (LDPE): a popular option among roasters thanks to its affordability and high barrier properties. LDPE is flexible, durable, lightweight, and can be easily reused and recycled (#4).
The production of LDPE coffee bags uses less energy and raw materials, making it easier for coffee consumers to dispose of them correctly. Furthermore, LDPE offers a good balance for roasters who want to shift away from traditional plastics without the necessity of completely rethinking their business models.
It has similar characteristics to traditional plastics, including a long shelf life, but it is fully recyclable and easy to reuse. Specialty coffee roasters who switch to LDPE packaging recognise it as a good way of maintaining the quality of the coffee, while demonstrating a tangible move towards more sustainable practices.
When asked if air-roasted coffee requires specific packaging materials, Dayne’s answer was a simple “no”. He explains the materials used to package drum-roasted coffee can also be used for beans that are air-roasted. “There is no difference in benefits. The decision on packaging comes down to the drive and ethos of the brand and what it stands for. It’s like serving coffee in a generic or recyclable takeaway coffee cup,” he says.
At MTPak Coffee, all of our packaging solutions are designed to minimise waste and contribute to a circular economy. We offer our roasters a range of 100% recyclable coffee packaging options made from renewable materials such as kraft paper, rice paper, or multilayer LDPE packaging with an environmentally friendly PLA lining.
Beyond this, we can customise your coffee packaging to your specifications – ensuring your brand stands out. We also offer low minimum order quantities (MOQs) to micro-roasters who are looking to remain agile while showcasing brand identity and a commitment to the environment.
Images courtesy of Banhoek Coffee Co.
For more information on recyclable coffee packaging, contact our team.