Espresso Brew Luggage: Handy, However How Good Are They?

Simon Hsieh’s Bull Demon King is a darker-roasted mix that works nicely as a steepable brew bag. Courtesy of Simon Hsieh.


Among the many many paradoxes within the vast world of espresso, one ongoing query regards ritual versus comfort. Some individuals just like the sluggish, meditative pour-over brewing methodology, and others choose to pre-program a batch brew and have it ready for them after they get up. After which there are the instances if you don’t have numerous choices — tenting, air journey, resort stays — when nearly any espresso tastes good if it’s scorching and caffeinated. Latest years have seen a rise within the high quality of specialty on the spot espresso, however let’s face it, it nonetheless doesn’t replicate the expertise of freshly floor whole-bean.

Kakalove Cafe makes use of brew baggage on the cupping desk to evaluate new inexperienced coffees. Courtesy of Kakalove

The brand new child on the block is brew baggage: floor espresso packaged in steepable baggage that resemble tea baggage. Designed for comfort, brew baggage require solely scorching water and a cup, and they’re rising quickly in recognition, each within the U.S. and in Asia. We tasted 32 brew baggage submitted by roasters within the U.S. and Taiwan, of which we evaluation 12 right here that scored between 89 and 92. (The rating vary for all the pool of 32 was 76 to 92.) Really useful brewing instances vary from 5 to eight minutes, relying on the producer.

What was maybe most stunning was the wide range of espresso kinds out there on this format, from straight-ahead home blends to experimentally processed single-origin microlots. Consequently, cupping for this report was a reasonably nuanced expertise. However ultimately, how good are brew baggage, actually? Do they resemble their whole-bean counterparts? Or are they only a step ahead within the quest for comfort?

A Marriage Made in Purgatory

Regardless of the wide range of espresso kinds, every roaster who makes the foray into brew baggage has to determine what to place in that bag, and there are principally two faculties of thought. One argument is that darker-roasted coffees carry out higher with immersion strategies, and this concept lends itself to blends that roasters really feel comfy taking a bit darker than the typical single-origin espresso, blends they’ll replicate yr in and yr out. The counter-argument is that single origins show extra varietal character and extra clear terroir, so why not package deal a espresso that aligns extra with what specialty espresso lovers wish to drink — sometimes mild to medium roasts of traceable single origins. What coffees work finest as brew baggage is an attention-grabbing query, and each solutions are satisfying — till you get into tasting these coffees, the place each strains of reasoning reveal their flaws.

Purple Rooster’s Ethiopia Worka Sakaro anaerobic pure carried out nicely in brew bag format. Courtesy of Tony Greatorex

The three top-scoring coffees, all rated at 92 — Mostra Colombia Geisha Spirits, Purple Bay Motherland Burundi, and Purple Rooster Ethiopia Worka Sakaro Anaerobic — are all single origins, so, it may appear that this camp’s considering is superior. However given the potential value differential for roasters to supply sure single-origin baggage, the calculation just isn’t so clear. Mostra’s Geisha Spirits brew bag prices $6.80 per serving, because of the price of the inexperienced espresso. Even the least costly U.S. brew bag reviewed right here, the Purple Bay Motherland Burundi, prices $1.86 per serving (not counting the Roadmap Highway Much less Traveled, which was on sale at press time for $1.50 per serving), so it’s not like brew baggage are a price range proposition (in contrast with brewing a cup of whole-bean espresso at residence).

Purple Bay Espresso’s Motherland single-origin Burundi interprets properly to the transportable brew bag. Courtesy of Purple Bay.


Be aware: For causes not solely clear, packaging prices in Taiwan are considerably decrease. Two of the Taiwanese brew baggage reviewed right here value roughly $1 per serving; the third prices $3.28 per serving solely due to the price of the inexperienced espresso. The typical retail worth of single brew baggage within the U.S. is someplace round $2.50.

Moreover, in our tasting, we discovered that the lighter-roasted coffees wanted extra steeping time than the darker roasts, inflicting important warmth loss throughout brewing. (We didn’t have sufficient of every pattern to check the roast stage by instrument on these coffees, so our feedback are based mostly on sensory perceptions.) One resolution to the warmth loss drawback is to brew in a journey mug or another transportable cup with a lid — which is probably going what you’ll have available, anyway, when you’re not at residence. However this modifications the aesthetic expertise considerably, basically blocking the aroma.

The opposite single origins that made our high 12 are Evans Brothers Steep ‘N Deep (91), which is one hundred pc Guatemala; Kakalove Cafe’s washed Ethiopia (91); Euphora Espresso’s Ethiopia pure (89); and Wildland Espresso’s Restricted Version Mild Roast Truthful Commerce Brew Bag (89), which is a Colombia Pacamara.

Mostra’s Ryan Sullivan makes the case for utilizing a costlier inexperienced espresso in brew bag format: “Geisha is a extremely sought-after, costly, scrumptious espresso. So, why not see if we will take all these nice attributes of Geisha and mix it with the convenience of use, handy espresso tea bag? One thing like a espresso tea bag or on the spot espresso doesn’t should be cheaper espresso for individuals on the go. We predict there’s a market of higher-end espresso drinkers who respect nice high quality espresso for these moments when you possibly can’t cease at your favourite cafe to get a pour-over.”

The draw back? Along with the longer steeping time and consequent warmth loss talked about above, typically talking, we discover the brew bag format mutes aroma, so a few of the drama of those particular single-origin coffees is blunted a bit. (See under for a direct comparability of three of those coffees with their whole-bean counterparts.)

Blends, then again, are sometimes day by day drinkers that don’t at all times throw off fireworks, coffees that may be replicated annually in excessive quantity and could be designed to point out finest as darker-roasted profiles. These are generalizations, in fact, however the roasters we spoke with who selected blends did so for these causes. Oliver Stormshak of Olympia Espresso, whose Massive Truck Mix scored 90, says, “We selected Massive Truck Mix as a result of it’s slightly darker roast profile and we discovered that, for solubility, a darker roast tended to extract simpler on this format.” Massive Creek Espresso’s Rise Mix, which additionally scored 90, is one other standard home mix, about which proprietor and roaster Randy Lint says, “We went with our signature mix as a result of it appeals to the broadest vary of tastes. Clients benefit from the average acidity introduced out by a barely longer roast therapy, and the medium to medium-dark roast stage works for most individuals.”

Simon Hsieh, whose Bull Demon King Mix scored 91, says, “The rationale I select this mix for this model is that it’s simpler to get a greater outcome utilizing the immersion methodology with a darker-roasted espresso. As the new water is poured within the mug, the temperature retains dropping in the course of the course of. The darker the espresso is, the better and sooner the flavors are popping out from the grounds. Contemplate this as the identical logic because the French Press methodology; it’s higher to make use of a darker-roasted espresso quite than a lighter one.”  We discovered this to be true, as nicely, and our resolution to the prolonged brew instances needed for all of those coffees was to brew in a transportable journey mug (a Fellow Carter, on this case), with the lid on to retain warmth in the course of the brew time, which labored nicely when it comes to getting the right extraction.

On the flipside, most blends are already accessible sensory experiences with mass enchantment of their whole-bean format, so the muting that occurs with brew baggage places these sorts of coffees at an obstacle. However they do, with their accessibility and playful names, supply an amazing advertising alternative to pitch this fashion of ingesting espresso to vacationers, campers and adventurous spirits of all types.

Different examples within the mix camp are Nostalgia Espresso’s Reminiscence Lane (91) and Roadmap CoffeeWorks’ Highway Much less Traveled (90).

Concerning the Manufacturing Strategies

Of the 12 brew baggage reviewed right here, six have been packaged by Steeped Espresso, an organization based mostly in Santa Cruz, California, that raised $5 million in 2022 via crowdfunding and continues to develop like gangbusters. Nostalgia Espresso Roasters manufactures in-house and controls each facet of manufacturing, from espresso choice and roasting to grinding and packaging, as does Wildland Espresso (the latter packaged Mostra’s pattern as nicely). Of the three Taiwan samples, Euphora packages in-house, whereas Kakalove and Simon Hsieh outsource packaging to licensed native firms.

We have been to be taught as a lot as doable about brew bag know-how, however due to the proprietary — and aggressive — nature of this rising espresso sector, we have been solely capable of be taught the fundamentals of the method. Primarily, roasted whole-bean espresso is floor, de-gassed and packed into steepable, compostable food-grade brew baggage after which packaged and, normally, nitrogen-flushed for freshness. There are variations on this theme, in fact, with some firms making guarantees concerning the particulars of the method, akin to how lengthy it takes from receipt of roasted espresso to packaging, and the way lengthy it takes to get floor espresso into the brew baggage and packaged and sealed.

We have been capable of be taught essentially the most concerning the strategies utilized by Steeped, Nostalgia and Wildland, the three U.S. firms that manufacture these merchandise in-house. Taylor Fields, founding father of San Diego’s Nostalgia Espresso Roasters, says that the brew bag format aligns along with her firm’s mission to make use of espresso as a automobile for systemic change, to assist the trade grow to be extra various, equitable, sustainable and inclusive. She says, “Brew baggage tie into that as a result of they convey an entire new market, a brand new subset of the coffee-drinking inhabitants. Brew baggage make specialty espresso extra accessible to those that really feel intimidated in third-wave retailers. The format can be sustainable as a result of it eliminates the necessity for pods and is doubtlessly totally compostable.” (The outer packaging into which the compostable brew baggage are sealed could be made from compostable materials, though some roasters select foil to increase shelf life.)  Fields provides that as her manufacturing quantity will increase, she is ready to ignore the commodity market to work with producers to get them extra for his or her inexperienced espresso. Nostalgia has a strategic collaborative partnership with NuZee, additionally a San Diego-based firm, for the ultimate packaging stage.

All three U.S. producers we spoke to described the same fundamental course of: Freshly roasted espresso is floor to what every considers an optimum micron particle distribution, allowed to de-gas for a pre-determined time period that varies per firm, and flushed with nitrogen when packaged with the aim of making an oxygen-free setting contained in the packet. There’s some specific divergence the place dose is worried. Steeped makes use of 14 grams of espresso per bag, whereas Nostalgia makes use of 12 and Wildland makes use of 16. Nostalgia’s reasoning is that 12 grams leaves extra room within the bag for water to hit the espresso, and Fields says that agitation is essential to good extraction. Zach Frantz, founding father of Wildland Espresso, which focuses virtually solely on brew baggage, affords a better dose for a stronger (or bigger) cup.

Steeped does have its personal line of coffees, however its enterprise mannequin depends closely on manufacturing brew baggage for different roasters. It has a system of “discovery” for potential new roasters, who ship in three totally different coffees or roast profiles to see which fares finest on this format. As soon as the roaster comes to a decision, Steeped packages the ultimate product in co-branded baggage.

Nostalgia Espresso’s Reminiscence Lane Mix was designed expressly to be used in brew baggage. Courtesy of Nostalgia.

Steeped makes use of a compostable bag for its outer packaging, and ensures freshness for one yr, whereas Nostalgia goes with foil, citing that it supplies a greater oxygen barrier. Our personal small testing revealed that 13 out of 26 coffees packaged in compostable outer layers had oxygen ranges between 6.5 and 19 p.c, indicating that compostable packaging may not present as efficient an oxygen barrier as steered by the 12-month freshness declare (extra about our oxygen testing under).

Entire Bean vs. Brew Bag Head-to-Head

As a result of we cup hundreds of coffees annually, it’s maybe not stunning that we’ve been capable of style a number of of those coffees in whole-bean format. Purple Rooster’s Worka Sakaro Ethiopia Anaerobic scored 95 final yr for its extravagant complexity. The 92-scoring brew bag model isn’t an altogether totally different animal; it’s only a bit sleepier and extra mellow.

Nostalgia’s Reminiscence Lane scored 93 final yr, and our whole-bean evaluation cited the espresso’s balanced fruit and florals, and undercurrents of baking spices all through. The brew bag model, at 91, is balanced, however all the sensory classes are turned down a small notch, particularly aroma. (Be aware that this roaster indicated she modified the mix ratio for the brew bag format, so this comparability is a unfastened one.)

Lastly, we rated Simon Hsieh’s Bull Demon King whole-bean mix at 96 in espresso format in 2021. The brew bag model scored 91. Whereas the 2 brewing strategies are very totally different from each other, it’s nonetheless truthful to say that this mix’s decadence, taste saturation and viscosity when tasted as a brew bag are shadows of the whole-bean authentic.

These are all exceptionally good inexperienced coffees, so it’s not stunning that they carried out within the high of their class on this tasting, however understanding the place they began in whole-bean phrases is an eye-opening gauge when evaluating brew baggage as an entire.

The Query of Oxygen

We examined the oxygen current in every of the 32 brew baggage we tasted. Regardless of elaborate efforts by all producers to maintain staling oxygen out of the baggage — and supply a shelf-life of as much as one yr — we discovered combined outcomes.

That is necessary, in fact, due to the freshness issue. What’s clear is how a lot the presence or absence of oxygen affected sensory outcomes. Ten out of the 12 brew baggage that earned the best scores contained no oxygen; two contained 12 p.c. Brew baggage that scored under 89 contained percentages of oxygen starting from zero to 19. We all know that oxidation is unhealthy for espresso over time, nevertheless it isn’t doable to succeed in any blanket generalization  from these restricted outcomes provided that that is our first foray into the brew-bag section.

Roasters Weigh In on the Style

How do roasters really feel about this new(ish) espresso format?

Melissa Scholl of Roadmap CoffeeWorks says, “We debated including a quick-brew choice for months. We began roasting 32 years in the past and have been one of many first to roast solely to order, date every roast, and ship the identical day. So, this was an enormous change. However after exploring the choices, we needed to admit that know-how had certainly progressed over the past three many years, and we felt this was now one thing we might do with integrity that our clients would discover useful and luxuriate in. The one destructive has been some worth resistance because the packets are costlier than conventional on the spot espresso. Our clients readily purchase $35-a-pound espresso beans, however a $2.50 cup of ‘on the spot’ espresso is a brand new thought. We promote single packets so that folk can attempt it simply.”

Highway Much less Traveled is a well-liked mix at Lexington, Virginia’s Roadmap CoffeeWorks. Courtesy of Roadmap.

Hsieh says, “I wish to increase my buyer base and likewise to increase my market to abroad. Not everybody desires to purchase numerous devices to carry out ceremonial brewing steps to get a very good cup of espresso, however many nonetheless want to get a very good cup of espresso in a a lot simpler method.”

Caesar Tu, of Kakalove Cafe, doesn’t love the brew bag format — he thinks it waters down the flavour of any espresso, and he additionally finds it troublesome to showcase the light-roast single origins he loves on this method — however he is aware of that many individuals just like the comfort, so he shares them. It prices him solely about 30 cents USD per bag to fabricate them, so it’s not an enormous monetary threat. And his single-origin washed Ethiopia, which isn’t fancy or flashy however is true to its gently vivid, floral Ethiopia type, scored 91.

Higher Than Instantaneous, Not as Good as Entire Bean

Our expertise of those 12 coffees was clear: They’re higher than the moment style, typically talking, with a way more vigorous and viscous physique and extra taste saturation within the cup. However they don’t supply the total sensory expertise of whole-bean coffees. Our comparability with the whole-bean variations of three of those inexperienced coffees, whereas restricted, leads us to suppose the rating differential between the 2 codecs could common round two to a few factors. This is smart provided that the ultimate product is floor espresso. Regardless that makes an attempt to cut back oxidation via nitrogen flushing and impermeable packaging are partly efficient, the decrease scores for brew bag variations of some coffees means there’s extra work to be accomplished on this space.

We additionally discovered aromas — one of many nice pleasures of grinding recent beans and interesting within the pour-over ritual — to be pretty muted throughout the board. However when you dial in your steeping time for the sort of extraction you like, the flavour in these brew baggage is pleasant, rather more than you’d count on from a “comfort” espresso. So, subsequent time you end up waking up within the woods, on a red-eye flight, or in a resort with solely a pod machine within the room, attempt one among these brew baggage and see what you suppose.

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