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The Trouble with Supermarket Coffee

Until today, most aussie shoppers rely on their local grocery store for coffee supply. That’s probably quite convenient, as the purchase can be done in bulk, alongside with other groceries. And that’s where the problem lies: Coffee is not like other groceries!

The trouble with supermarkets

Woolies and Coles have quite effective system in place to bring fresh produce into your local store before all the goodness goes away. For example, Woolies requires tomatoes to reach your local shop about four days after harvest in NSW, and the same applies for peaches, carrots, lettuce and all other fresh produce. Why not coffee?

The problem with coffee is that it is not as straightforward as other fresh produce. One carrot is quite similar to another carrot, so Woolies can source the root vegetable so popular amongst bunnies from a large number of local producers. And that number is large - Woolies sells huge amounts of carrots after all. So how about coffee?

Coffee is not like other fresh produce

We already know that quality coffee should be consumed within about 4 weeks after its roast date. After about 4 weeks, all those great aromas start deteriorating, and after about 6 weeks, the coffee starts to taste dull and boring, and reminds us more and more of instant coffee. And we don’t want to blame Woolies - they depend on large quantities and long shelf life. And that is where the problem originates.

Large supermarket chains need volume. Huge quantities of consistent products, where the content of one pack is identical with the content of another one - now, in a week, or a year. And besides that, the product should also last for a year or two. Coffee does not work like this. No coffee farmer on the planet can supply huge volumes of consistent coffee while maintaining quality. Therefore, large roasters depend on blends that can be balanced. Essentially, one supplier can be replaced with another one at any time and still, the coffee will still taste the same. Did you ever wonder why supermarket coffee tastes “generic”? No wonder that it does. It is a blend of potentially hundreds of farms. This leads to a whole range of problems, from freshness over quality control to traceability.

The industry in a nutshell

Coffee farmers supplying large roasters mainly compete on price, which has a dramatic impact on quality and working conditions. On top of that, freshness is a sacrifice made by large roasters in order to cater supermarket giants, who not only require low cost, but also huge quantities and shelf life. Have you ever tried to locate a roast date on one of those golden coffee packs? There is none. The reason is simple: It would look bad! Nobody wants old coffee! One way around it is checking the best-before date and taking a guess. Usually, best before dates are standardised as 12 or 24 month after production. Chances are that you find out that the coffee that is on special is 6-9 months old. Yuck.

On the other hand, specialty roasters work on entirely different terms. Many local Aussie roasters have personal ties and even friendships with farmers across the globe. They know exactly where their coffee comes from, when and under what conditions it was harvested and what quality it has. Every batch is roasted at lots of 5-25kg and is freshly packaged.

How specialty coffee helps

The Coffee Network’s mission is help making coffee better. We believe that coffee should be fresh, roasted by amazing local Aussie roasters, sourced from great farmers around the world who grow coffee because they love it. Say no to big international coffee roasters who provide a generic product and pressure coffee farmers to produce large quantities at a low cost.

By the way - the picture to the right was taken in March 2018. At the time, the coffee was already 6 months old, as suggested by the best-by date (1) Also, no specialty roaster would recommend storing their coffee in the fridge (2). Keeping coffee in the fridge makes it absorb flavours of other food items stored there. Just keep your fresh coffee in an airtight container in a dark and cool plce - your pantry should work just fine.

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