Going Green With Sustainable Coffee Packaging

Many people have questioned our packaging choices since we re-designed them back in 2020, so I thought I would explain some of our choices here.

sustainable coffee packaing

1KG Coffee Bags

In the last 4 years, we have moved away from plastics to fully compostable plant-based bags, even the non return air valves, in order to create more sustainable coffee packaging. Although the bags take a few weeks to break down, the valves can take a considerable amount longer. As with most roasters, we have always used the industry-standard 1-kilo bags with valves, but until now have never questioned why.

It was Francesco Illy in 1934 who brought the concept of pressurised packaging containers to the coffee market. Aimed at preserving freshness by filling the containers with inert gas rather than air, it enabled Illy to export his coffee across Europe during the 1940s. For many coffee companies, it remains the most effective way of preserving freshness during transportation.

However, one of the greatest breakthroughs for coffee packaging in the 20th century was the invention of the degassing valve by Italian company Goglio. Prior to Goglio’s invention, coffee manufacturers would puncture holes in their coffee packaging to let carbon dioxide (CO2) escape. But this would not prevent exposure to oxygen, causing the coffee to become stale.

The degassing valve is a one-way vent that allows CO2 to escape without letting oxygen enter. Small, aesthetic, and easy to fit, it revolutionised coffee packaging and has allowed roasters to opt for multilayer pouches that prevent exposure to harmful externalities.

However this is all based on commercial coffee roasted in large quantities and shipped worldwide. And traditionally very dark roasted coffees which by their nature will produce more Co2.

At Bristol Twenty we roast everything weekly, allow a little time to degass and then package the coffee into sealed kilo bags or airtight containers the same day ready to use. We also do not roast to a beyond a city roast and certainly not to French, Italian or Vienna stages. We allow a few days to rest / settle down before the customers receive it.

So why are we still using the valve? Good question!

One problem with the valves, even when working correctly, is that while they let out CO2, they also let out volatile aromatics. The claim in Espresso Coffee is that there is a direct correlation: lose 50% of the CO2 and you lose 50% of the volatile aromatics. And we at the more discerning end of the spectrum love our volatile aromatics. However, if this prevented the bags from exploding en route to the customer, surely it was an unfortunate, but fair trade-off. Right?

Although CO2 is a by-product of the roasting process, there is not a huge amount of Co2 per kg released. It has been suggested that sealing the bags without using a vacuum results in trapping oxygen that reacts with carbon compounds within the beans producing Co2 gas.

Ie 1kg of roasted coffee may produce 10L of Co2 gas if exposed to oxygen, but this amount of Co2 is not within the beans.

There is a theory that vacuum packing is not really necessary as if 10L of Co2 is produced, a kilogram of coffee packed right after roasting will push out most, if not all, oxygen through the de-gassing valve.

This presumes that there is indeed 10L of Co2 hiding within the cells of the coffee. If it is in fact the oxidisation of carbon compounds that produces the majority of the Co2, then one is better off using a vacuum packer to remove as much of the air as possible without damaging the beans. The bags we’ve packed with a vacuum packer only puff up if the valve is faulty. Bags without valves puff up a small amount, only a fraction of the time.

Therefore we have taken the controversial steps to remove the valves from our kilo bags so that we have more sustainable coffee packaging.

bristol twenty tea
sustainable coffee packaging

250g and 500g Boxes

Our retail boxes are made from 50% recycled materials and are 100% recyclable, even the labels; which are made from rice paper and a biodegradable adhesive. The inner bags are made from a compostable plant-based material that can go into your garden compost (not however food waste collected by the council) or if it does end up at landfill it will break down into non-toxic material again within 90 days.

The same principle from our kilo bags applies to our retail packaging. Everything is roasted weekly and to a medium acidity level, then vacuum packed to keep it fresh and full of aromatics. It is only processed further when ordered, so our retail packs are repackaged as beans or ground to the desired level and resealed as quickly as possible to maintain this freshness. They are always processed and dispatched on the same day, the customer usually receives them within 24 hours, still as fresh as possible.

We haven’t used the one-way valves on our retail packaging for years now, for the main reason that as soon as the end-user opens the bag, the coffee comes into contact with oxygen and will begin to oxidise. Therefore the one-way valve would be expensive and environmentally unsound to transport the coffee for less than 24 hours.

As per our previous blog. Once opened, transfer it to an airtight container, keep it out of direct sunlight and somewhere cool.

sustainable coffee packaging
sustainable coffee packaging

Why don’t we state the roast date?

Again a controversial decision and questioned by some. As we are a small roaster we roast most days. Most of our coffees are roasted at least weekly, as we know what is needed, rested for a few days and then dispatched. With our less popular single origins these can even be roasted to order, packaged and dispatched on the same day if needed. The customer, whether wholesale or retail, will receive their coffee anything from 1 day to 7 days from roasting, still a great timescale for fresh coffee.

We have had people complain that 7 days is too long but 1 day is too quick and the coffee hasn’t had a chance to rest, so by not stating the roast date we allow the customer to choose when to enjoy it most. If a coffee is too volatile when you first brew it, leave it a few days and try it again. Even from 7 days to 3 weeks the taste can improve as it matures. I have some great coffees in my cupboard that are 6 months to a year old and I can still appreciate them.

We could also just lie about our roast date, as I know some roasters do, but we’re just not like that.

If people want to know an exact roast date or want something that has just come out of the roaster, all they have to do is ask.

We are in the process of updating our tea packaging, so watch this space for updates.

We hope this answers some of your questions about our sustainable coffee packaging but if you have any more questions then please do get in touch and we are more than happy to discuss this more.

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