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Freshness: a quality essential.

Freshness: A Quality Essential

The trick to packaging coffee is to, as best as possible, maintain the bean in a freshness (quality) state as close to that which exists in nature just as the beans emerge from the roaster. A major difficulty has always been that the release of carbon dioxide by coffee after roasting made the gas tight packaging of fresh coffee impossible. There is one way out, and that was introduced to us a decade ago by Schapira Coffee & Tea Co., Pine Plains, New York, utilizing a technology by Goglio Luigi SpA, Milan, Italy. By using a packaging material that provides barrier protection such that gasses can not pass through the package wall, and applying a one-way valve to the material, [CO.sub.2] is permitted to escape from the package without permitting air (harmful stuff) to reach the coffee.

The valve opens as the [CO.sub.2] pressure inside the package exceeds the pressure of the ambient air surrounding the package. The [CO.sub.2] leaves the package. The valve remains open so long as the internal gas pressure requires, and closes as the pressures equalize. Later, as accumulated gasses require, this action is repeated again and again.

Initially valve packages were hard vacuumed. The packaging material clung to the irregular surface of the beans within. The uneven surface was vulnerable to package material damage. The beans within were also vulnerable to breakage. There was the additional disadvantage of less eye appeal. There was a large empty space in the package above the coffee. This space must fill with the coffee's escaping gasses in order to establish the pressure necessary for the valve to open. For these reasons some authorities believe it is best to flush the package with an inert gas (nitrogen or carbon dioxide) as it is sealed. This guarantees that the valve will open with the first release of natural carbon dioxide from the beans.

During the period since brickpack coffee has been in use in the U.S., consumers have been taught that a hard surface coffee package is fresh; a soft package, having lost its vacuum should be avoided. Consumer education is needed. There are substancial differences between degassed ground coffee which has been bricked to maintain residual freshness and literally roaster fresh valve packaged coffee which is degassing, in a controlled environment, within its bag. For freshness sake the valve package should be soft. A hard surface valve bag indicates improper bean handling (degassing) prior to packing.

The basic disadvantage of the valve packaging is that the soft packages are not stackable on the market shelf. This coupled with repeated consumer handling gives them an early shop-worn appearance. Some European roasters pack the valve bag inside an attractive display box to overcome these inadequacies. The soft valve does invite aroma testing by consumers who pick up the package, squeeze, and enjoy the aroma of the coffee within. This handling while reducing the gas in the package also reduces the residual oxygen (staling agent) content of the bag as well which in turn extends shelf life. Alas, nothing is perfect and the valve does compromise, to a degree, the need for aroma tightness.

A soft, sloppy brick is easily recognizable as being a consumer package to avoid. All valve packages should be soft. There is no warning sign to look for should there be a fault in the packaging material seams or the valve application. Vacuum cans, of course, remain rigid and unblemished when vacuum has been lost.

There are several valves in use today. The "Fres-co" system employed by Goglio consists of a perforated plastic cap with a diameter of 13mm. which protrudes about 7mm. above the surface of the packaging material. Under the material is a plastic bottom plate in which are several vent holes. A rubber disk acts as a door to permit gas to escape through the perforated vent cap.

The SIG valve is of similar design principal but is applied to the inside of the package material. The valve is flatter than the Goglio item and does not break the line of the package surface to act as vents. Two small vent slits are cut into the bag surface. The SIG valve has separating grooves in the valve housing making it unlikely that coffee particles could cause a leak by preventing the valve from closing. A low release pressure insures only a slight pillowing of the package curing degassing.

The valves manufactured by Hesser and Bosch are fundamentally different from those of SIG and Goglio. These ultra thin (.5mm) pressure sensitive valves are applied over the prepunctured wall of the packaging material. The valve itself is a series of plastic layers; a transparent firm plastic base about 20mm. across and containing a center hole about 7mm. In diameter, a thin flexible film (same measurements as the base but without the center hole) is affixed to the top surface of the base by lateral bands of adhesive (one across the top and one across the bottom). Above the thin film are two pieces of transparent firm plastic securing the adhesive points.

In the Hesser and Bosch technology the excess gas within the valved bag escapes through the package perforation up through the hole in the base and passes laterally through the space between the base and the thin film. When gas is not escaping the outside air pressure holds the thin film firmly against the base naturally preventing air from entering the bag. These transparent thin valves are inexpensive and unobtrusive to use. The exterior surface application may lead to the loss of some valves in rough or abusive handling.

The most economical form of valve packaging is an automated machine which applies the valves to rolled stock prior to automatically forming and filling and sealing the package. Because automated form-and-fill packing equipment with valve application capability are priced to start in the $150,000.00 range, most specialty roasters are buying preformed laminated bags with valves already applied. These bags are filled individually or with the use of semi-automatic net weighing scales. The packages may simply be heat sealed, permitting the natural release of [CO.sub.2] to drive the trapped oxygen out of the bag during the action of degassing They may be vacuum sealed, or flushed with inert gas, or vacuumed and flushed. Heat sealing alone does not provide all the aspects that one would hope for in freshness packaging. Still, it is a vast improvement over packing in paper or burlap (please note here the proverb about half a loaf).

There is an important difference in general coffee knowledge between roasting retailers and those retailers who buy already roasted beans. The roasting retailer has a more highly developed understanding of and practical experience with the coffee bean than does his non-roasting brethren. This points up vividly the great importance that the non-roasting merchant must place on the resources of his roaster. In a business where fanaticism is looked upon as a positive ideal roasting on premises in small batches or having roaster fresh coffee delivered in reasonably small valve packed units (say 5lb bags) satisfies even the zealots of quality as measured by freshness. Here are some pointers for insuring freshness to your clientele:

1. Store back-up stock at freezing temperatures.

2. Have in "Open Stock" only what you can sell in one week.

3. Keep beans dry

4. Keep beans away from heat and sunlight.

5. Beans on display should be covered to prevent contamination.

6. Rotate your stock, always using first in/first out principles.

7. Gravity feed dispensers rotate open stock effectively.

8. Keep display bins spotlessly clean inside and out.

9. Roast your own or choose a local roaster who can deliver fresh several times a week, or choose a roaster who offers small unit valve packaging.

10. Taste the products for freshness every day.
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Title Annotation:part 4; coffee freshness and packaging
Author:Schoenholt, Donald N.
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Dec 1, 1990
Previous Article:The goose that once laid golden eggs....
Next Article:The golden cups of Finland.

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