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5 Things You Didn’t Know About the Evolution of Coffee Packaging

Jun 13, 2022 | Coffee

Coffee packaging is designed to protect against external elements such as heat and moisture while preserving freshness and flavor. Over the centuries, however, coffee packaging has progressed to serve other purposes, such as marketing – with today’s vacuum-sealed bags often being artful enticements that draw coffee lovers ever closer. The journey, stretching back to the earliest days when an Ethiopian shepherd first stumbled upon some stimulating berries and introduced them to a group of cantankerous and fire-happy monks, has been a strange and significant one.

Here are just five things you probably didn’t know about the evolution of coffee packaging:

  1. All of Yore Beeswax: In the early 18th century, French roasters packaged coffee in greased leather sacks featuring beeswax coverings to preserve the beans’ flavor. Over the next 100 years, jute – a plant-based material used to craft burlap sacks – would take its place as its durability and waterproof nature made it ideal for withstanding long journeys. It is still used in many applications today.
  2. Can-do Attitude: In the 1800s, coffee moved to cans, thanks to Englishmen Bryan Donkin and John Hall who opened the first commercial factory in London. Having previously canned various foods for sailors, they soon turned their attention to ground coffee. The notion took hold. “Osborn’s Celebrated Prepared Java Coffee,” one of the earliest examples of ground and packaged coffee marketed to consumers, debuted in New York in 1863. Sealed cans wouldn’t make an appearance until 15 years later, with Boston-based Chase and Sanborn using labels for smaller cans – and sealing the larger containers with lead.
  3. Marketing Begins: By 1865, Arbuckle Ariosa, a coffee creation from entrepreneurs turned marketers John and Charles Arbuckle, took the U.S. by storm. Packages featured coupons for various goods, from handkerchiefs to wedding rings. Each bag also included a stick of peppermint to attract younger consumers – and later, trading cards. Other companies took note, and Maxwell House began printing bags with their everlasting slogan: “Good to the Last Drop.”
  4. The Hills Have Eyes: It was the year 1900 when Hills Brothers coffee came up with the concept of removing air from inside coffee packaging to preserve freshness. Spearheaded by R.W. Hills, vacuum tins prevented the beans from being oxidized and reduced the risk of staleness. It wasn’t until 1960, though, that the Italian company Goglio pioneered the degassing valve which changed the face of coffee packaging This one-way vent permits CO2 to escape while preventing oxygen from entering the bag.
  5. Instant Gratification: We’re all used to the convenience and speed of the Keurig cup, but the idea of “instant coffee” was first made famous in 1906 when the first mass-produced example arrived in tins. Washington’s Coffee – a.k.a. Red E Coffee (devised by inventor – not the president – George Washington) was a hit with the fighting men of World War I. Seventy years later, Nespresso debuted the original coffee pod, and 16 years after that, the aforementioned Keurig K-Cup took the stage.

Pages upon pages could be written about the generations-long journey of coffee packaging, and yet still barely scratch the surface. Landmarks abound, from the creation of the first paper bag factory in 1862, which provided a more convenient and sanitary option and soon became the primary packaging choice, to the more recent movement of sustainable packaging, which arrived on the scene in the early 2000s in conjunction with Folgers replacing its legacy cans with plastic containers.

At Orinoco, we take pride in our coffee’s trademark packaging, using one-way valve foil bags that are filled immediately after roasting to guarantee the freshest cup possible. Come and see what we have to offer.