Why do good roasters sell stale coffee?

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Postby Intrepid510 » Jun 11, 2012, 1:27 am

I have noticed this before, but you can find some very good roasters at places like Williams and Sonoma, however months old. I am confused why roasters would allow their coffee to be sold this way when clearly on their web sites they state the importance of fresh coffee. It just makes no sense to me at all.

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Postby Alan Frew » Jun 11, 2012, 5:21 am

They don't. They wholesale fresh coffees to retailers who will then do everything possible to ensure that the coffees end up as stale as possible prior to sale. Wholesale roasters have no, none, zero, zip, nada control over how and when their coffees are sold.


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Postby Intrepid510 » Jun 11, 2012, 12:46 pm

I would argue that when you sell to Amazon or Williams and Sonoma you know that your coffee is going to end up being sold old. You do have control over who you sell to, and if you know that a coffee is going to be roasted in December and stuck with a best by date on it, you know what's going on.

Of course there are instances of selling to a wholesale coffee shop or grocery store, where the coffee is sitting there for a while and perhaps it sits there for up to a month, there is not much to do about that and you are hoping it's going to sell out before then. That I understand. It also goes into a different question if coffee roasters should sell their coffee like bread or other goods where the seller takes it off the shelf after a while if it doesnt sell within a certain amount of time. I've never seen moldy bread at the grocery store, it probably happens sometimes but not often. Why shouldn't coffee be treated any differently by roasters that supposedly care about making sure consumers get fresh coffee?

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Postby TomC » Jun 11, 2012, 2:22 pm

There's a great little organic farmers market type store here near me where I buy most of my food from. They have a pretty big selection of coffee for sell from roasters I've never heard from, and none of them put the roasted on date on any of their bags, so I've always completely ignored them.

But I did take note when I saw three 1 lb bags of 100% Hawaiian Kona (non-blended) roasted beans, selling for $30/lb and wondered if someone was really willing to pay that much for stale coffee. The bags were well hidden at the bottom of the shelf, and had a bit of dust on the surface of the bags too, I'm sure most people would have glanced right over them. Every week or so that I go back in there for stuff I glance to see what's still there. Two days ago, they were down to one bag. It would be interesting to know if it's still from the same batch. I doubt many people around here are snapping up $30/lb Kona coffee from a Hawaiian roaster they've never heard of.

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Postby Ben Z. » Jun 11, 2012, 2:38 pm

B/C there is nothing to lose. Somebody buying stale coffee won't know what stale tastes like, so will not think poorly of it. People here would think it tastes bad, but we wouldn't buy it in the first place.

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Postby entropyembrace » Jun 11, 2012, 4:20 pm

Moldy bread gets taken off grocery store shelves because everyone knows moldy bread is bad. The bakery doesn't need to inform the grocery store to do this.

Most customers will never complain about stale coffee, and most grocery store employees are not aware that coffee is a perishable product. It seems to me most people think that coffee is shelf stable for years, or even decades.

Putting best before dates on coffee sold to grocery stores might help...coffee roasters talking to grocery managers about the importance of fresh coffee could help too.

I think the coffee goes bad on grocery store shelves because of ignorance, not bad intentions. Grocery stores put lots of effort in keeping products on the shelves fresh...except the coffee (and tea for that matter)

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Postby Intrepid510 » Jun 11, 2012, 4:42 pm

My quibble isn't really with grocery store coffee, because if you sell to a grocery store it's probably at least once a month so there is a possibilty that the coffee will be fresh, and a month if in a good storage the coffee will at least be okay.

When I was in W&S they were carrying a roaster that is hard for me to get ahold of in my location and has a fairly large shipping fee compared to other roasters out there. So to see it sitting on a shelf of coffee that if fresh I would buy was very frustrating.

Personally, I think they have something to lose because people are not going to think their coffee is any good or at least not wow'ing, I would say it hurts all roasters and undermines their reputation, at least in my book.

I understand that selling to a large business is great for the roaster, gets their name out there and obviously the benefit of a large order from them a few times a year.

With all of that said I did contact the said roaster in question just asking how long they felt their coffee was good for on the shelf, and if it was within that time period I would give it a shot. I was told three weeks, and they were very nice even took a look to see if they had any accounts in my area. Unforunately, they didn't, but they did not address their coffee being in Williams and Sonoma.

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Postby dkny3939 » Jun 11, 2012, 5:08 pm

Not everyone pull espresso shots with their coffee. It will be hard to pull a good shot with 2 month old beans, but in milk drinks or some other brewing methods, the coffee will still taste reasonable. And, of course, not everyone give a crap about the taste/flavor of their coffee.

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Postby earlgrey_44 » Jun 11, 2012, 5:23 pm

There were roasters I used to see that encouraged retailers to consider their bulk roasted beans as having a three month or more "shelf life". There probably still are, though the one I'm mainly thinking about went out of business a long time ago (I wonder why).

Other roasters were happy to meet a retailer who was freshness oriented - if that described you, then you were their kind of customer. They would certainly try to educate you if you were open to it, but they wouldn't refuse your money just because you didn't order every week.

Intrepid510 wrote:Personally, I think they have something to lose because people are not going to think their coffee is any good or at least not wow'ing, I would say it hurts all roasters and undermines their reputation, at least in my book.

I can't agree with this emphasis on the roasters role - it doesn't align with my experience with specialty roasters. People who know coffee won't blame the roaster, and people who don't won't blame anybody because they don't know anythings wrong.

To bring about what you admire, there needs to be a conscious partnership that establishes the "chain of quality". See my last post here: Mountain Grown Beans, anyone used them before?

The specialty retailer is usually at fault far more often than the specialty roaster. I doubt if a "Coffee Nazi" approach is a workable business model for a specialty roaster. (You no sell beans fresh? No beans for you!)
Trust your taste. Don't trust your perception.

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Postby jptvelo » Jun 11, 2012, 10:20 pm

Re: grocery stores and their awareness of the importance of coffee freshness (or lack thereof), that may be starting to change. Here in Ottawa we have a local chain of small grocery stores that emphasize good produce at decent prices (Farm Boy). For at least a year, they've been selling bulk beans from a local roaster with roast dates on the bin, and the coffee is never older than a week. Hopefully with time, more and more people will "get it" (and demand it).

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