Whether your customers prefer whole bean or ground coffee, your focus as a roaster should always be on ensuring maximum quality through freshness. There is nothing more disappointing than pouring time and effort into producing exceptional coffee, only for it to have gone stale by the time it reaches the consumer.
However, packaging designed for whole bean coffee does not necessarily cater to the needs of ground coffee, and vice versa. Specialty coffee roasters must carefully consider the different factors at play before coming to a decision about the materials and features they want for their packaging.
To find out more, I spoke with MTPak Coffee Ambassador Roosa Jalonen to learn more about the science behind freshness, and how roasters can best preserve quality for their consumers, whether supplying ground coffee or whole bean.
See also: What is a degassing valve?
Freshness In Whole Bean & Ground Coffee
Coffee might be more than 500 years old, but the concept of freshness is relatively new. Alfred Peet, founder of Peet’s Coffee & Tea, coined the term in the mid-1960s as part of his philosophy that there should be the shortest distance possible between the roaster and the customer.
At the time, Americans predominantly drank freeze-dried coffee sold in cans. Peet, on the other hand, wanted to improve the quality of coffee, which included serving it as close to the roast date as possible. His revolutionary thinking gradually spread throughout the country, influencing coffee entrepreneurs far and wide, including Starbucks co-founder, Jerry Baldwin.
Since then, the definition of freshness has evolved to cover the full sensory experience. Today, for coffee to be considered fresh, it must have distinct flavour notes, as well as an aroma, that matches its inherent characteristics of origin, terroir, and processing.
The importance of this for roasters cannot be overstated. According to one study, some of the main concerns for specialty coffee consumers are quality, taste, and freshness.
Roosa Jalonen is head of production for The Gentlemen Baristas coffee roasters in London. She is a certified arabica Q grader, and regularly competes in competitions around the world. She tells me how grinding coffee can affect its freshness.
“The most notable difference is in the aroma,” she says. “Ground coffee loses its aroma much faster than whole bean coffee as the structure of the bean has been broken. The little particles create more surface area for the release of gases, including [aromatic] compounds.”
The Importance Of Degassing Valves
When coffee is roasted, the beans absorb large volumes of carbon dioxide (CO2), which is gradually released over the days that follow. While 40% of CO2 typically escapes within the first 24 hours after roasting, the process continues when the coffee is eventually packaged.
If trapped CO2 cannot escape once the coffee is sealed, it can rupture the bag. However, exposing the beans to oxygen will result in the loss of freshness, and cause them to become stale.
To tackle this dilemma, most packaging includes a small one-way vent, known as a degassing valve.
“The valves on coffee bags are designed to let air escape, without letting any in,” Roosa explains. “They’re beneficial for both ground and whole bean coffee, but more so for whole beans, which contain higher levels of CO2.”
Oxidation of coffee speeds up the loss of aromas and flavours, so it’s important to reduce this process as much as possible. MTPak Coffee’s BPA-free and recyclable degassing valves will help you provide customers with fresh coffee, whether it’s whole bean or ground. The valves can be either integrated into the packaging, or added to the bag separately.
Which Materials Best Preserve Freshness?
Within 15 minutes of grinding, coffee loses around 60% of the compounds that make up the coffee’s distinct flavours and aromas. For that reason, it’s essential you choose packaging that preserves the quality of your coffee by minimising contact with the air.
“The ideal packaging for ground coffee should be airtight, with minimal exposure to oxygen, such as vacuum packing,” Roosa explains. “Packaging solutions must also take into account how soon the coffee is to be consumed.”
High-barrier materials used in packaging, such as aluminium foil, are highly effective at preserving flavours and aromas. While using solely biodegradable materials offers a more sustainable approach, if the coffee is not consumed quickly, it is at risk of going stale before it arrives to the consumer.
At MTPak Coffee, we recommend using multi-layered lined packaging, and a degassing valve to retain the delicate aromatic compounds that set your coffee apart.
When deciding which packaging to use for your coffee, it is important to consider a number of variables, whether supplying whole bean or ground coffee.
MTPak Coffee’s kraft and rice paper, and polylactic acid (PLA) materials are all fully compostable and recyclable, while our low-density polyethylene (LDPE) packaging can be easily reused, or recycled. You can tweak each packaging design to fit your needs, as well as including two or more layers to ensure maximum freshness.
To discuss sustainable packaging options designed to maximise the freshness of your coffee, contact our team.
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