Coffee bags and packaging specialty cacao: What are the similarities?

Antonio Salles
December 13, 2023
coffee bags, cacao, cacao packaging, specialty cacao, custom packaging,

Citric acid, honey, and raisin flavours, along with floral notes, sweetness, and bitterness – all are terms used to describe both coffee and cacao. From flavour notes to how they’re processed, specialty coffee and fine cacao have a lot to learn from one another. 

Beyond this, coffee bags and packaging for specialty cacao share many similarities. As both are susceptible to external environmental factors, their packaging materials must have high barrier properties. 

To learn more about the similarities between coffee and cacao and preserving flavour, I spoke with Luisa Abram, founder of the Amazonian specialty chocolate brand Luisa Abram Chocolates.

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Exploring the specialty cacao industry 

Eating fine chocolate is far more than a simple indulgence. It’s a complex sensory experience. Just like coffee, cacao and chocolate have a wide range of flavours, aromas, and textures. And just like coffee, some are more prized than others.

Notably, the global market value of cocoa – obtained from the cacao tree and one of the main ingredients of chocolate products – is expected to grow to more than $15 billion by 2027. Additionally, recent reports state cocoa prices surged to the highest in 46 years on the Intercontinental Exchange in London in June 2023. 

In both coffee and cacao, several factors affect the flavour and quality of the final product. The variety of plant, the way it is roasted, and other processing choices will have an impact. There are parallels throughout the industries. 

Some say there are between five and eleven basic flavour profiles for cacao. However, these descriptions can be reductive. Therefore, the Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute (FCCI) developed a detailed cacao bean evaluation sheet that lists numerous aromas and tastes, both defective and positive/neutral.

According to the International Cocoa Organization (ICCO), cacao is segmented into “fine or flavour” and “bulk” or “ordinary”. Fine flavour cacao makes up the specialty market while the bulk or ordinary accounts for the commodity market.

The ICCO asserts the main difference between these two types is flavour. Cacao quality is usually assessed based on a set of criteria that includes the genetic origin of the cacao plant, flavour characteristics, and more.

Artisan chocolate makers often prefer speciality cacao to highlight the nuanced flavours. For instance, at Luisa Abraham Chocolate, the Rio Acará chocolate has notes of Brazil nuts, caramel and pineapple, which is unique to that region and microclimate. 

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What to consider when packaging specialty cacao products

Luisa Abram Chocolate is a Brazilian bean-to-bar chocolate maker that produces treats made from wild Amazonian cacao. Luisa showcases the inherent flavour of wild cacao and uses minimal additional ingredients to ensure the authentic taste shines through.

To collect wild cacao, she explains farmers enter dense forests and harvest by hand –

Something Luisa has done herself. “Life has become so much more interesting to me after this sensory experience,” she says. “Going to collect with cacao is like crossing the ocean and entering a new world. But, it’s a well-rewarded mission thanks to the flavour experience it provides.” 

It’s important to remember that once cacao pods and coffee cherries are harvested, they undergo similar processes, namely fermentation, drying, and roasting. While roasting is considered the final step in the transformation of coffee into a consumable product, cacao still has some way to go before it becomes chocolate. 

For example, roasted cacao beans undergo winnowing to remove the brittle outer shell. This leaves us with cacao nibs, which are ground down to form chocolate bars. Sugar and other ingredients are usually added to contribute to sweetness and texture.

Cacao nibs can also be consumed as is. Notably, Million Insights reports that the consumption of cacao nibs is gaining popularity, thanks to their rich, raw chocolate flavour and reported health benefits. In this sense, cacao is quite different from coffee. As such, packaging requirements need to be reassessed. 

For instance, roasted coffee is highly sensitive to external factors like oxygen, light and moisture, which can degrade its flavour and quality. The roasted beans also undergo degassing, so coffee bags are often fitted with resealable zippers and degassing valves to preserve freshness.

Cacao is more susceptible to moisture and demands packaging with a heightened moisture barrier. Additionally, unlike coffee, cacao powder tends to clump when exposed to humidity, compromising its quality. This further emphasises the need for specialised packaging solutions.

Another differentiating factor is fat content. Cacao has a higher fat content, which could lead to oxidation and rancidity, if not adequately protected. More so, excessive contact with oxygen can cause cacao to oxidise and develop an undesirable taste.

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Coffee bags and cacao packaging: Exploring the similarities

Much like coffee, it is essential to preserve the flavour and aroma of cacao products. Therefore, the packaging needs to minimise the absorption of external odours and contaminants. Multilayer packaging combines several barrier materials that will protect cacao against factors such as moisture, oxygen, and light. 

Another thing to consider is the form of the cacao itself. For example, specialty chocolate products are often covered in a protective layer of aluminium foil and a cardboard or paper sleeve. 

However, cacao powder is best suited for resealable bags, while cacao nibs often find themselves in packaging reminiscent of roasted coffee. Stand-up, flat-bottom, and resealable pouches are popular options, often employing multi-layered materials for superior barrier protection. 

This diversity in products underscores the need for tailored packaging solutions to ensure the integrity and quality of specialty cacao. Luisa recognises the vital role that packaging plays in safeguarding the delicate flavours of cacao.  

The brand packages its specialty cacao products in vibrant, custom paper packaging. Each bar bears the unique imprint of the river from where the cocoa was harvested, capturing the essence of its origin in a distinct flavour profile. 

“Your packaging has to stand out on the shelf because you are not going to be there with your product,” Luisa explains. “When consumers are not aware of your brand, packaging will be the first thing that calls their attention.

“We want our packaging to showcase more of our story and the uniqueness of having wild cacao,” she says. “We want to share stories of our producing communities and we want it to scream Brazil and the Amazon.”

Whether it’s for the chocolate or coffee industry, packaging sustainability and design are more important than ever. At MTPak Coffee, we offer a range of sustainable packaging options that can be fully customised to suit your business needs. 

Our team of experts can help you find the best material for your specialty chocolate – whether it needs to be compostable, biodegradable, or recyclable – while our creative team can work with you to design packaging that tells your unique story to the world.

Images courtesy of Luisa Abram Chocolates

For more information on custom packaging, contact our team

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