Zipless Bags and “The VFFS”

Did you receive some of your Sweet Maria’s green coffee in a bag without a zip seal? Here’s the story behind that…

We are 3 years into our project to change the bags our green coffee ships in, and what a slow grind it’s been. 3 years slow!

Our goal has been to put our coffee in a stronger bag than the No. 4 “store-recyclable” plastic zip bags we currently use. Our other goal is to reduce the repetitive labor of filling little bags all day, every day, because it’s not the funnest job on the planet.

To do this we needed to invest in a big bagger called a “vertical form-fill-seal” machine (VFFS) , as a way to allow us to achieve our ultimate goal, home-compostable bags for green coffee. But getting the machine operating consistently has been about as fun as wrestling a bear … and actually getting custom-made material has been no stroll in the park.

Where are we at now?

We are shipping in our printed material now with the blue and white design. In terms of finding a more recyclable material that is strong, won’t break open in transit, and has a high barrier factor to protect the coffee … well, we aren’t there yet.

If you received a sealed bag from us with no zip seal, what you have is a strong multi-layer laminated plastic with a much higher barrier factor than the LDPE zip bags. That means your coffee has been better protected in transit. We can put a checkmark next to that one.

We hope you also received it intact, because we have been increasingly seeing failures in the zip bags we ship, even though we buy them from one of the best makers. (Have you noticed we tape the zip on the 5 Lb bags? That’s why.)

Our goal to find a conveniently recyclable material, or compostable perhaps, has not been so easy. Plastic recycling itself is a conundrum as many of you might know, but we are still looking for a good solution on that.

The Real Inconvenience of No Zip Seal

We realize with the change, it means the bags lack a resealable zipper. We are sorry to lose that feature. There are VFFS machines that can do this, but installing a zipper is technically very difficult. The zippers can fail as well, and open up in transit. Also, the LDPE material of the zip bags is not a good high barrier for long term storage of green coffee.

You probably have your own solutions for other products you buy that aren’t recloseable. We like the idea of transfering your coffee to glass jars, like mason jars. That is a great idea, as green coffee should ideally be stored in a high barrier bag (like the Ecotact bags we sell), in some other barrier container, or good old glass!

Another thing I do is use the storage clasps aka “chip clips” to seal up any tear-open type bags I use. That works pretty well our non-zip coffee bags.

We also think storing various types of green coffee, your whole stash, inside a larger high-barrier bag, is a great idea. We recommend the Ecotact bags, perhaps 5 Kg or our custom 12.5 Kg size, coming soon


20 Responses

  1. Got the new bags, nice explanation for the transition, I think it’s a good change long term. Only suggestion is to put the label near the bottom across the short edge, so as you use the bag and roll it down you can still read the label. I’m using old rubber bands.

  2. Crap! Now we have to re-bag it after opening it. So much for being green. We now have to transfer the unused beans into more Ziploc bags. But I’m glad it’s easier for you. Although I doubt this will lower your prices.

    1. Why not transfer the greens into a reusable container? Or source some Ecotact bags and reuse them? There’s often a price to pay for progress and I’m happy to see SM trying to get a cost effective compostable option going.

    2. Hi David, like Tom said, it’s tricky to get a probe into the Behmor without modification. Being that the wire is quite small in diameter, you can simply run a probe through the front door, but they tend to move around. I suppose you could secure it with some heat resistant tape, but I’ve not tried that myself (I think it’s time I did!).

      I inserted rigid probes through the side panel, just behind the drum, near the burners. The location turned out to be way too close to the burners, with super high readings. It was OK for things like establishing baselines, understanding how airflow affects temp, etc. But I personally did not find the use to be all that practical. Especially given the internal sensor that you can now read on the LED.

      But I understand your desire to log roasts for comparison and learning. I would recommend starting with an inexpensive thermocouple that has a K type connector so you can use something like Phidget as an interface. We sell this rigid stainless option that shouldn’t be too hard to secure on the bottom or side of the roasting chamber with high heat tape, or even this less expensive flexible one. I’m sure there’s a few ways to go about this, but good to keep in mind that your mileage will vary based on placement and approach.

      Here’s a link to a post where I show my thermocouple-modded Behmors if you’re interested. FWIW, I just removed them both because it’s just not a great location!

      Hope this is helpful. Please reply here with any other questions. And please let us know if you get this set up!

      Happy roasting,
      Dan

      I’m going to look into situating the rigid one in my Behmnor tomorrow.

  3. Hi Clint – ironically, 20 lb bags are going to be zip bags in the future (maybe in about 4 months). For now they are the Ecotact Troiseal bag.

    We have worked with Ecotact on a new reclosable zip bag for 12.5 kgs that uses their 9 layer hermetic / high-barrier material. We know larger amounts of coffee are going to be stored for a lot longer than 1 lbs. So they really need a different approach … reusable, and high barrier value.

  4. I’ve always reused my Sweet Maria’s bags for storing other things. They’re nice and sturdy, so if I’m working on a project I’ll put things in them like screws, nails, or drill bits. I’m had some of my drill bits in one for years and it’s still holding up fine. But moving toward the home-recyclable bags seems like the best thing to do.

  5. Hi Mike – that’s part of the thinking, and the compostable material with the machine makes that possible. We have a significant number of people who seem to want the same, basically a prepackaged Behmor batch, without the issue of additional plastic waste. It also might allow us to offer coffee in any increment in the future, ie. 3 lbs of this, 4 of that, 1 of something else … etc. rather than our current 1, 2 and 5+ lbs.

  6. I’m a fan. Losing the plastic zipper is ok for me. The quality of the coffee is high and materials waste is important. After being in the home roast game long enough people will get creative with how to store/approach this problem. They may have some cool solutions that other home roasters can learn for managing inventory when the zipper goes away. Thank you for thinking of the planet, the home roaster, and for sourcing coffee that speaks for itself.

  7. I’m really glad to hear that you’re making moves towards better packaging. One of the reasons I switched to a different supplier for beans a few years ago was that I really didn’t like all the ziploc bags I accumulated, there were a LOT of them. I’m back to buying from you guys, and I’m really looking forward to the better packaging.

    For closing opened bags, I like using “binder clips” that can be had from Office Depot (or amazon). They’re stronger than chip clips, and come in boxes of a dozen or so, usually pretty cheap.

    Thanks for making these moves, I hope they come to fruition soon.

  8. I’m a little late to the discussion, but have you tried something like a FoodSaver? I’ve had one for almost 10 years and use it to reseal anything plastic. Cut open a sealed part and use some amount of product and then seal it with the FoodSaver. I don’t use the vacuum part of it most of the time because that typically works only on their special FoodSaver bags.

    I used my FoodSaver on my latest 1lb bag of green coffee after pulling out about half of it for my roast. So if you have one, it easily gets the job done. I bet it will work on the future compostable bags too.

    P.S. I mainly use my FoodSaver for resealing original plastic bags, I still have most of the original supply of bags that came with the unit.

    1. This is a great solution. Thanks for sharing Ted!
      I’m a big fan of good old fashioned bag clips too 🙂
      Note that each coffee now has a tab for a “printable review” which includes a formatted label.

      Best,
      Dan

    2. Nice suggestion, I have a FoodSaver for vacuum sealing hops and other food. Never thought to try the seal function on other plastic bags. We’ll see how it goes.

    3. That’s a good idea and I think you will have some success as long as the material makes a good heat seal. The new laminate material we are using can be heat sealed.

  9. Will miss the stick-on labels. I pull them off the bags (sometimes have to heat them over the fresh roast exhaust to get them to peel off) and then stick them on the jars I use to keep the roasted coffee in. Then every time I brew a pot, I get to look at the label and remember all the details about the coffee (and keep them sorted if I have several roasts available at once)… brings me a better connection with the source, type of coffee, and description to learn about how to discern the subtleties in the coffee!

    1. Maybe this my newness to this site, but I’ve got a few bags from a sampler that are no longer in stock. When I try to look for them online, I can’t find them, so I can’t see any of the original details, like cupping notes. It would be neat for new labels to have some alpha-numeric code that lets you look up the archived/hidden data page.

    2. Hi Ted – You should be able to look up any out of stock coffee on the site. if you go to the list of green coffee, look on the column to the left and you should see “Archived Coffee”. Here is a link direct to it: https://www.sweetmarias.com/green-coffee.html?sm_status=2
      I think the site search function should find them too. Agreed that a code etc would be good. Starting very very soon, all the labels will have a QR code pointing to the review, and that will work even if the coffee is out of stock

    3. Each coffee review on our site now has a tab for a “printable review” which includes a formatted label, FYI

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