Reconsidering Packaging

We began Coffee Shrub in September 2009, and since that time things have gone in some unanticipated directions. We started off vac packing 15 pound bricks – vac-packing whole lots of coffee and storing them in our warehouse. That worked pretty well, but some of the vac packs became soft over time, and with some coffees that were not selling so well we broke the coffee out of the vac packs and sold it on Sweet Maria’s in smaller quantities. In March 2010, we introduced a larger quantity box on Coffee Shrub, the Grain Pro box, and that has been very popular with customers who are using up the coffee faster, not needing to store it a long time. We started out with a different assumption – that folks would buy coffee and hold it for a few months. But as we understand more of how folks are using Coffee Shrub coffees, we understand that customers are using us basically to order coffee on demand – to store it less at their facility, and more at our facility.

In all of this, we ask ourselves “what is best for the coffee?” and try to consider the big picture. We have to consider that once the coffee is milled and prepped for shipment, the clock starts ticking in terms of how long it will maintain its optimal flavor. Do we still receive coffee in jute bags? Of course. Jute bags remain a very cost effective, renewable and efficient way to move coffee from origin to the US, provided that you do not hold that coffee longer than a few months. If we are going to hold it longer, closer to six months, we transfer it to a GrainPro lined burlap bag.

As the advantages of vacuum packaging and poly-bag storage are communicated back to origin, some producers are more or less able to implement these changes. An exporter at origin might offer to vacuum pack coffee, but if that means a 1.5 month delay, and by that time the rains have come, do you want the coffee vac packed under those conditions? Maybe it is better to have it shipped in Grain Pro if possible, or if not, then just traditional jute so long as the coffee keeps moving and is not delayed in a hot humid environment? Some coffees, like Indonesian wet-hulled or naturals 1) show age less rapidly and can mellow a bit more than a super bright or fruity coffee , and 2) need to breathe more than vac packing or poly-bags allow. If we know we will sell that coffee fairly fast, we may leave it in jute.

You can read more about the issues related to vacuum packing and water activity in this coffee storage in another resource article.

Without being conceited about it, I have to say that Oakland and the Bay Area has nearly ideal weather for coffee storage – relative humidity in the 60s, temperatures in the 70s (it is pretty nice weather for humans too). Obviously – when it is ideal to ship coffee in a protected way, and then depending on our customer’s location, different storage methods might be needed.

For coffees that come to us from origin in a vac pack, we ship that brick as we received it. For coffees shipped or transferred to a poly-bag lined jute bag, we either transfer that coffee to a a poly-bag lined box, or vac pack it. So we can essentially vac pack on demand, when a customer orders it. We are always working to be aware of what is best for the coffee, and that “ticking clock” of coffees’ flavor life. We monitor all of our coffees, cupping them to check for signs of age so we can be sure that the coffee meets your standards and ours.