Coffee from the Grocery Store

in Buying Coffee

Question: “Hey you said not to buy whole coffee beans from grocery stores but what if they sell starbucks whole coffee beans would that be ok? or should I go to starbucks and buy from them?” - Isaac Shrader

Answer:
This is an excellent question, and as Isaac will attest, it took me a little while to properly answer it.  In fact each time I tried, the scope of answering the question got more and more out of hand.  Like any of us, I used to buy all of my coffee pre-ground from the grocery store.  I’ll answer this question with another question: what makes coffee taste good?

Like anything perishable, coffee tastes best when it’s fresh.  Wherever you buy coffee, it’s at the end of a supply chain that started in a coffee growing country, and ends where you buy it.  The care shown at each stage throughout the supply chain will determine how fresh the coffee, and how good it will taste in your cup.

Before Fire Roasted Coffee Company started selling their coffee through the local grocery chain Loblaws, I would have never suggested that you buy coffee from any grocery store.  Better that you find a local roaster who is roasting small batches and very recently before you buy it – this is as fresh (and delicious) as it gets.  However, by making local supply arrangements, Fire Roasted was able to ensure freshness for customers and the continuation of its strong name and reputation.  They did it by their proximity and agreement with the grocery store.

I took a trip to my own local grocery store to see if whole bean coffee sold there provides any indication of how recently the coffee was roasted.  Starbucks coffee sold in either grocery stores or through their retail outlets does not indicate when exactly it was roasted.  That means you should be able to do better, either by buying from a local roaster or buying coffee from a grocery store where the same care has gone into freshness as Fire Roasted Coffee arranged with its wholesale customer.

This image is of a coffee mass-roasted locally in Portland, Oregon and distributed to grocery stores in the general area.  It’s considered fresh for the same reason that Fire Roasted could ensure the same with Loblaws.  I took this picture in January 2012 and the label indicates that it’s best sold nine months later.  The coffee is vacuum-sealed so I assume it doesn’t get any more stale that it was when sealed, provided you don’t open the packaging and let air in.  I’ve heard some criticism of vacuum-sealing affecting coffee freshness, and you won’t find local roasters sealing their fresh-roasted coffee in any way before it’s sold. 

I found this one even more interesting.  I’m a fan of Peets coffee, and here, they are clearly trying to ensure a quality standard to the coffee they sell in grocery stores.  They want to ensure that coffee is not sold any later than 90 days after it was roasted, but the same label shows it was roasted on September 19, 2011.  I also took this picture in January 2012, past the 90-day mark.  In other words, Peets has set a standard, but its grocery store partner isn’t monitoring or following it!

Isaac, a long-winded answer to your question.  Coffee flavor comes from coffee freshness.  Coffee starts to go stale as soon as it’s been roasted from it’s original green form.  Don’t buy coffee if you don’t know when it was roasted.  And, don’t buy coffee that wasn’t roasted recently.  I wish I could point you to a grocery store that handles coffee properly.  Coffee sold at a Starbucks outlet is a better option than the grocery store because it at least came direct from some centralized Starbucks roasting facility.  But you will find even this is no substitute for coffee purchased from your local roaster, or any other source that can show you that it was recently roasted.

2 Comments

  1. Hey Marc,

    Another good post.. Do most cities have local roasters.
    Was there one in London? Do they sell to the general public or do they just roast for commercial clients?

    Stuart

    Comment by Stuart Trier — February 1, 2012 @ 9:28 am

  2. Hi Stuart, in London Ontario, the roaster to see is the Fire Roasted Coffee Company at the Western Fair Farmer’s Market. The entire Market is only open on weekends to accommodate fresh produce, but the roastery upstairs is open throughout the week. Check out their site at http://fireroastedcoffee.com, and pay them a visit. The entire operation is completely transparent so you not only get your coffee there, you watch the entire process in action. Let me know what you think.

    Comment by Marc Wortman — February 2, 2012 @ 8:47 pm

Add your comment