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Should you buy coffee beans online?

November 28, 2019

As online retailers and roasters of coffee, we are often asked by people we meet about the benefits of buying coffee online. So we decided to dedicate a blog to answering this question, since many of you visiting our website might be considering whether or not to make your first online coffee purchase.

However, we thought it worth noting upfront that many of the benefits of buying coffee online that we list below, also apply to buying coffee directly from a specialist artisan coffee roaster near where you live or work. And, if you do have one of those on your doorstep, we would certainly recommend you give them a try and avoid the packaging and postage costs associated with buying online. However, most people in the UK struggle to find an artisan coffee roaster locally, which is why online coffee bean sales continue to grow at a rapid rate in the UK.

 

Freshness

In our view, this is the most important point and probably a good enough reason in itself to buy your coffee beans online. Coffee, whether beans or ground, is a perishable product and many people are surprised by just how quickly that happens. There are differing opinions on how quickly coffee does perish, but there is certainly consensus in the industry that the fresher the coffee, the better the taste.

Various factors including the roast level, packaging and whether the coffee is whole bean or ground, will affect the perish timeline. But, most roasters agree that coffee beans tend to "peak" (i.e. be at their absolute best flavour) seven to fourteen days after roasting. Some recommend using coffee beans within that two week window, but many suggest up to four weeks is perfectly fine, or even six weeks. We find that plenty of coffees still taste great after four weeks - only a few do after six weeks.

Every roaster has their own ideal window during which they want their coffee to be consumed. At Spiller & Tait, we time our roasting and dispatch so that a Resting Period of about seven days occurs before brewing to achieve optimal flavour. We recommend our coffees are consumed within four weeks

When you buy your coffee online, you will be getting coffee at the same level of freshness that you would if you visited a roaster yourself, as long as the online roaster is actually roasting to order, or in small batches on a weekly basis, like us. Unfortunately that's not often true when you buy coffee beans off-the-shelf from a mass retailer, including supermarkets and the large coffee chains. Because their coffee is roasted in very large batches, it can end up sitting in a warehouse, or shop shelf, for months and it’s this delay which can cause the coffee to taste bitter, or even sour.

 

Support of Local Roasters

You might be surprised we are making a point about supporting local roasters in a post about shopping online. But, it also might surprise you to learn that much of the supermarket and coffee shop coffee bought in the UK is not even roasted in this country. There are many large roasters based in continental Europe and they supply a high percentage of our mass market coffee in the UK.

One of the beauties of buying coffee online is all the information offered about the roaster, and their coffee, on their website. You will be able to make an informed decision. If supporting small, UK-based producers is important to you, then you’ll be able to achieve peace of mind in your decision making.

 

Variety

Some people like to drink the same coffee, day in and day out, and there's certainly nothing wrong with that. A high percentage of Spiller & Tait coffee sales come from just one blend of coffee beans, Signature Blend, which is bought repeatedly by many of our customers. But, part of the fun of drinking coffee for other people is in exploring all the different flavours that the coffee world has to offer.

Some online roasters offer a wide range of coffees to try and others, like us, have a more select range. But, the beauty of shopping online lies in the variety of roasters available to choose from and the opportunity to try coffee from different countries, whether as a Single Origin coffee or as a Blend, as well as experimenting with different roast levels, bean types and even seasonally available coffees.

 

Convenience

Perhaps it’s stating the obvious to highlight the convenience of online shopping when it has become so prevalent in most UK retail sectors. But, to illustrate the importance of online convenience, a high proportion of our own online coffee sales occur early in the morning and in the evenings, when most bricks and mortar roasters and retailers are closed. It’s clear to us that the convenience of “out of hours” shopping at home has been a major factor in the growth of on-line coffee sales, as well as other grocery items.

An additional facet to the convenience of buying online is all the information roasters now provide on their websites to help inform each buying decision. The majority of artisan roasters describe where their beans have come from, what they taste like and how to brew the coffee for best results. This is information that goes well beyond what can be conveyed on a single coffee packet. For example, our Brew Guides are some of the busiest pages on our website. Coffee connoisseurs really do appreciate the ease with which they can access information on roasters’ sites to help inform their buying decisions.

 

Value for Money

Much of our argument for online coffee buying so far has focused on the benefits of accessing the coffee of small artisan roasters. However, fresh coffee from these roasters will often be significantly more expensive than coffee from other mainstream sources. In our view, the high quality of the beans used by small roasters, coupled with their freshness, flavour and the convenience of the buying process all make buying from roasters like us a value for money experience.

But, for those on a tight budget, where cost is the most important consideration in achieving their coffee fix, then online shopping can be the answer for this too. There are now many retail coffee sites which sell beans and ground coffee at very low rates, even when factoring in postage costs. Many of these offer coffee in bulk quantities, above 1Kg per order, to achieve economies of scale. Type “bulk coffee beans online uk” into Google to see what’s available. But, our recommendation for the price sensitive is to try Amazon, especially for Amazon Prime members who receive free postage.


Amazon has become one of the largest retailers of fresh coffee in the UK and there is now a phenomenal amount of choice at very good prices. We sell some of our own coffee on Amazon at slightly lower prices because we can’t guarantee the freshness of the coffee like we can when it’s bought through our own site.

 


All in all, there are several benefits to buying coffee online and not many downsides. Some will be deterred by the relatively high postage costs for quite a low value item, and others won’t like the environmental impact of the delivery vehicles. Both of these concerns are addressed by buying larger quantities of coffee at a time to reduce the frequency of orders. Which is why we now sell far more 1Kg bags than any other quantity. As long as that 1Kg of coffee can be consumed within four weeks of roasting to maintain the fresh flavour, we believe this is a very sensible choice!





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