Coffee is a wonderfully popular beverage that dates back centuries to its origins in Ethiopia. Today, global coffee consumption is estimated at 153.3 million bags a year according to the United States Department of Agriculture.
Roasting of coffee began in the 13th century. Roasting is a heat process that causes chemical changes in the beans, bringing out the aroma, color and flavor. Once roasted, the coffee beans can become stale and flavorless if exposed to air for too long. With the goal of increased shelf life, the modern coffee packaging and manufacturing process adopted inert nitrogen atmospheres in the late 20th century. Here, we will explore the benefits of coffee packaging with nitrogen and the benefits of on-site nitrogen generation.
Extending shelf life is a primary goal in the food and beverage industry. Coffee packagers and processors are continually seeking ways to extend shelf life and ensure a fresh, flavorful product. Whether it is bagged coffee or k-cups, packaging with nitrogen improves the freshness and aroma of ground coffee. Consumers, cafés and roasters benefit from coffee packaged with nitrogen.
Coffee is filled with aromatic oils that impart the fresh taste, rich crema and delightful scents to the pour. It is the grinding of the beans that exposes the oil throughout the bean. These oils continuously emit gases that over time diminish the flavor of the final brew. Oils, however, are susceptible to oxidation and therefore it is a typical practice to package the ground beans in nitrogen just prior to sealing the bag. Nitrogen displaces the oxygen in the bag and extends shelf life.
By eliminating oxygen and moisture in the package, bacterial growth is also prevented. It is important that the supplied nitrogen pass through a sterile gas filter so the nitrogen does not introduce contamination in the form of yeasts, molds and bacteria. Since coffee is a natural product, nitrogen prevents the possibility of insect infestation.
Roasters want their retail customers to have the freshest possible coffee for a café-like experience in their own homes. To achieve this, packaging with nitrogen is key. Coffee is packaged using a vertical form and fill system. The ground coffee is fed into an overhead hopper. Bags are fed into the dispenser where they are flushed with nitrogen as the bag is filled with coffee from the overhead dispenser. Finally, nitrogen is flushed until the bag is sealed, assuring that the coffee will remain fresh for months.
In addition to ensuring freshness and quality, nitrogen packaging allows a roaster to expand his business by extending his geographic reach. Since the coffee is preserved with nitrogen, the longer shelf life allows it to be transported far and wide via truck. Roasters can also package for hotels and vending machines which typically need a longer shelf life than with retail packaging.
Nitrogen can be obtained from outside suppliers in the form of high pressure cylinders or liquid dewars. Nitrogen can also be produced on-site with a nitrogen generator. A nitrogen generator works by separating nitrogen and oxygen from the air.
Depending on the size of the roaster, on-site nitrogen generation can be an ideal alternative to delivered nitrogen. Generated nitrogen can simplify the operation, improve safety, and is also environmentally friendly. A Parker nitrogen generator, for example, produces an unlimited supply of pure nitrogen from compressed air. In the case of nitrogen generation for a coffee packaging operation, the compressed air is connected to the nitrogen generator and fed to the nitrogen supply port on the vertical form and fill system. The only maintenance required is filter changes every six months. There is no need to move heavy, dangerous gas cylinders or liquid dewars in your facility. A nitrogen gas generator is a green alternative to delivered nitrogen because it eliminates the need for diesel truck deliveries.