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Opinion: Coffee bags - the pros and cons

In the back of beyond, any coffee is good coffee.

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I’ll get this out of the way first. I usually buy coffee beans in bulk from the local roaster. I grind them the day I use them and brew with either a manual espresso machine or some type of pour-over device. I enjoy the ritual and process of making good coffee as much as the drink itself. I’m not a coffee-snob, but I have high standards.

Last week I rode my bicycle through the back blocks of the North Island for four days. I relied on motel coffee-making facilities for my daily brew. I knew to expect the worst – cheap motels don’t tend to excel at coffee-making facilities. So on day one of the trip I visited New World in Taihape. Among the pods and bags of ground coffee I spotted Jed’s Bean Bags: ground coffee in a bag, individually packaged and needing just a jug and cup. At $6.99 for 10 bags they weren’t particularly cheap, but finding a convenient way to access half-decent coffee was the priority.

The bags come in five strengths: extra strong, very strong, strong, medium and smooth (I guess they wouldn’t sell many if they described them as weak). I chose the extra strong variety, hoping to avoid the bland middle-ground.

Each biodegradable bag containing eight grams of ground coffee was individually sealed in a hybrid foil/plastic pouch (not recyclable), with 10 of these held in a box the size of which could hold 50 tea bags. The packaging footprint leans heavily towards convenience. Do we really need this waste?

The Bean Bags certainly were convenient – no different to using a teabag. But how do they taste? Ripping open the pouch released the smell of ground coffee – an essential part of the experience. It wasn’t the rich smell of freshly ground boutique coffee, but it was ground coffee nevertheless. After following the instructions (squeeze-brew-squeeze), the resulting liquid smelt like coffee. It tasted like coffee too – not as strong as I’d expected from their strongest blend, and it had an unpleasantly rough bitter edge. It wasn’t great, but it was drinkable and on a par with making a cuppa with a plunger and supermarket grounds. I should have expected that. After all, this is just supermarket coffee re-packaged into a convenient bag.

So, would I use it again on a lightweight bike trip to the back of beyond? Probably yes – when convenience is top priority the Bean Bags are a good option. Would I choose to drink it at any other time? Definitely no – on taste alone it falls flat. Convenience is all well and good, but when I have time I don’t see why I’d settle for anything but a really good cup of coffee.

I’m off to grind, tamp and brew some locally roasted single origin Guatemalan beans…

Paul Smith

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