Coffee bags. Yeah! That’s right. Like a teabag, but with coffee inside instead.
If you like the sound of it – lucky for you, as coffee bags are one of the biggest trends in the coffee-drinking world right now.
Several market-leading brands are launching new coffee bag products. Coffee supermajor Taylors of Harrogate has even stumped up a cool £2 million for a national TV advert about the little baggies, which asks the nation: “Why didn’t we think of it before?!”. It’s a cute campaign, but one that conveniently ignores the fact that coffee bags have been around in one form or another for decades.
All of the Coffee Bazaar team can remember taking them on camping holidays as wee children, it’s just that back then there was not really a perceived market for them outside obnoxious, caffeine-crazed snob kids on holiday.
So what has changed? Are coffee bags here to stay? Are coffee bags worth it? And which are the best coffee bags?
Our explainer on everything to do with coffee bags is at the bottom of this page, click here to jump there now. If you would rather drink a litre of economy brand instant coffee than read that, and just came to see our recommendations of the best coffee bags available – here you go!
This lot of bags is made from Fairtrade, organic coffee and comes in four different strengths. There’s a light roast from Ethiopia, a Medium roast from Guatemala, a Dark roast from Indonesia and even a decaf option.
It pretty much tastes like straight-up fresh coffee. You can order 100 bags for a cost of 50p a cup, so these are among the more expensive brands out there.
For that, you are getting 10g of single-origin Arabica beans in each cup. Each coffee bag is individually wrapped, which adds freshness but does feel a bit wasteful. The bags themselves are made from biodegradable cornstarch so can be composted and the rest of the packaging is great.
The large box flips up to provide a countertop dispenser which looks very neat. We especially like the fact they are sold with the option of buying just one roast, or a selection box which gives you a lot of variety and keeps things interesting.
The guys at Moreish are offering great coffee bags at a unit cost of just 22p a bag! Unlike the New Kings coffee above, these are made with 8g of coffee and so essentially contain 20% less of the good stuff.
In terms of flavour, the extra two grams does not make a massive difference, especially if you are only brewing a short cup, but it does mean that steeping times here are best out to 4 mins, which some might argue is not really that instant.
They come in a couple of different flavours, but our favourites were the Colombian ones, which are happily also made from Fairtrade beans. I guess most coffee drinkers have “go-to” origins for their coffee, and for our money when it comes to everyday joe, Colombian is our preference.
The bags are not individually wrapped but come in a resealable pouch to keep them fresh. The pouch is plasticky, but cannot be recycled which is a bit of a bummer. Can’t argue with the coffee though. One of our pals uses these bags to make cold brew and swears by them.
We were fairly sceptical of these bags, mainly because the packet makes a big song and dance about the single origin beans within. We like single-origin coffee as much as the next coffee review site – but surely if you want to get the best out of top-end beans, a coffee bag is not the way to do it!
Not so. These are really good and really deliver the interesting berried/chocolatey notes you get with some single origins. The success might be down to the fact that each bag contains a whopping 12g of coffee and opt for the pyramid-shaped teabag, which allows for a better in-fusion.
It’s impressive stuff, but some may baulk at the 69p per teabag unit cost. They do however only come in packs of ten, so if you are new to the coffee-bag game and want to test the waters without ordering an absolute hatful they are a great place to start.
These are a popular choice and come from a well-known brand. They produce fairly bog-standard coffee, billed as an “all day” cup. It is drinkable, unoffensive but not the most full-bodied we have sampled. It hands down beats instant but is unlikely to satisfy serious coffee drinkers.
Lyon’s don’t give much away about the origin of the coffee inside, but do promise that some of the profits from each purchase will support a project to provide access to clean water in developing causes.
They represent good value at 23p a cup if you bulk buy four 18-bag boxes. We have griped about this already ad-nauseum, but the coffee bags are individually sealed in foil wrappers, which from a waste perspective is not ideal.
These bags all contain a blend of ethically sourced Arabica coffee grown at high altitudes in Latin America. The mix makes for a nice, earthy coffee with a fairly nutty and earthy profile. It’s not the strongest stuff, so a good bet for those drinkers that like it mild.
The bags contain a modest 8g of coffee and are compostable. They are infuriatingly packaged in individual foil wrappers, which may deter consumers looking to limit the impact of their coffee drinking on the environment. Anyone looking for a cheaper option should take a serious look at these; they are sold in bags of 50 and work out at around 28p a cup.
Hot Lava Java – an old school legend of the pantry – is the only coffee Taylor’s sells with a strength rating of 6/5.
It’s a high-caffeine coffee with a nice smoky vibe, good for when you need something to give you an extra kick in the morning. The bags work out a 22p each which is good, and they do produce a full-bodied cuppa.
Fans of the original ground coffee will probably be disappointed as each bag contains under 8g of coffee so it is nowhere near as strong as when brewed not from a bag.
These bags contain around 9g of coffee and have a unit cost of 23p if you are prepared to get 100 in at once. They make a strong and smooth cup of Joe, even if it is not as aromatic as the others on this list. This could be a consequence of the bags using a blend of Brazilia Arabica cut with cheap and high-caffeine Nicuraguan Robusta beans.
It still makes a nice, if unspectacular, cup with a nice acidity to it. The bags are not individually packaged, but they do come in a yucky plastic pouch.
The DIY option
If you are still convinced there is not a coffee bag out there for you, you can always snap up some fillable empty drawstring bags for about 2p each.
We have not tried this, but you could grind a bunch of your favourite beans, fill each bag with 10-12g and put them in a sealed box in the fridge near your workspace as a go-to when you need to grab something quickly.
It would be a lot of faff – and presumably create an unholy mess in the kitchen – but it would be interesting to see how the flavour and cost of home-made bags compares to the store-bought variety. We plan to give this a go at some point!
Why are coffee bags a big thing right now?
It’s a good question. As mentioned, the idea is nothing new but the spike in interest has a lot to do with changing tastes.
In a very short space of time coffee has gone from being something which we all used to make from a jar of freeze-dried granules we kept in the back of the cupboard, to something we brew using weird and wonderful looking gizmos from the best single-origin cultivars we can track down.
Coffee companies have made noble attempts have to improve the flavour of instant coffee and market-leading outfits have repeatedly launched bigger and better premium brands, but consumers just aren’t so turned on by instant anymore.
Sure, it is convenient – but so is coffee from the now ubiquitous and cheap pod machine, which actually contains fresh coffee…
Enter the humble coffee bag. A product designed to appeal to people with a sophisticated taste for coffee who want a quick fix, or drinkers of instant that don’t know how to make fresh coffee, have no desire to learn but can probably already make a cup of tea.
That should give them a broad appeal and we think these things are going to be big!
Our tastes haven’t changed that much have they?
There will be other factors behind the inexorable rise of coffee bags, for sure. But Taylor’s aforementioned ‘Why didn’t we think of it before?’ advert sums up the industry pitch to consumers for the time being.
Compare that with Nescafe’s pitch for its Gold Blend brand in the below adverts from 30 years ago starring Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Remember him?
The quaintness of the adverts is pretty funny, because literally nobody still thinks of instant coffee as a premium product.
So coffee bags are here to stay?
More than likely, yes. Get on board with the coffee bags already.
Are they worth spending money on?
Compared with just buying coffee, they are eye-wateringly expensive. But that shouldn’t put you off.
The mark-up on coffee bags is quite funny though. For example, a kilo of lose leaf black tea would cost you around £35, whereas kilo of teabags would cost you £40. Largely the same price for loose and bag.
On the other hand, a kilo of unspectacular ground coffee comes in around the £18 mark, whereas a kilo of bog-standard coffee bags costs upwards £60.
It’s not really clear what is driving this difference. It could just be because coffee bags are new to market and the price of them may fall as the production volume coffee of coffee houses increases.
However, even when sold with this kind of mark-up coffee bags are still super-affordable.
Bags are priced at 20-30p per coffee bag right now, which is still much cheaper than your morning americano-to-go from the artisanal coffee wagon at the entrance to the Tube station.
This level of pricing is also very similar per-cup cost of some of the leading coffee pod brands out there, so it could be argued that they are already priced at a fair and competitive rate that consumers have shown they are willing to pay for a cup of joe.
Okay then, but is the coffee any good?
We thought you would never ask! We got a few in at The Coffee Bazaar Towers the other week to see what all the fuss was about and were genuinely impressed.
They make coffee that tastes like fresh filter coffee, if perhaps lacking some of the body and mouthfeel of a cuppa made in a French press, say.
On the nose, the aromas are strong and tantalizing. As seasoned coffee savants it was a genuine pleasure to make coffee so simply for once. No gadgets, gizmos, LCD screens, spilt coffee grounds, accidentally burnt coffee or lengthy clean-up processes.
They really are a great cupboard option for the times when you just need a cuppa, no fuss.
What are your favourite coffee bags? Do you love or loathe this new trend? Has anyone ever tried making their own? Have we missed anything in our consideration of coffee in bag form?!
Please let us know your thoughts in the comment box below and as ever – Happy Sipping!