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Why is supermarket coffee so cheap?

A phrase that I sometimes hear is… “I can buy coffee much cheaper in the supermarket” and my response is always “well yes you can, but you’re not comparing apples with apples (so to speak)”.

So why is supermarket coffee so much cheaper? Firstly, good coffee is expensive, and all coffees are not the same… There’s a big difference between “coffee” and “speciality coffee”.

  • As an independent Roaster, we use beans from small farms and cooperatives that is fully traceable back to the farmer. The farmer is paid a good and fair price for his coffee (better than fairtrade) and their communities are supported through education, welfare and infrastructure improvements. The land used for coffee growing is hugely important for the quality of the coffee, with higher altitudes used for Arabica beans that are hand-picked. Their aim is to produce the best grade coffee that they can.

Large scale coffee farms are often controlled exclusively by a supermarket chain who often dictate the price – which may not always be the best price for the farmer. Large scale farms will utilise mechanical harvesting that can’t be used on the slopes of higher altitude farms and so they are unable to grow the same quality beans. Lower altitudes generally tend to grow Robusta beans – which are a lower quality and have a more bitter taste.

  • Small independent roasters like us, mainly roast by hand in traditional drum roasters in small batches ranging from batches of 5kg to 30kg at a time depending on the size of the roaster. The final roast quality depends upon the art of the roaster in controlling the temperature and time to develop the best aromas. Using all their roasting knowledge and skill to ensure the best possible cup of coffee

Industrial scale roasting used by the supermarkets is a completely different beast. Using Rapid or Flash roasting methods that are automated, they are able to roast up to 4000kg per hour with each roast taking up to around 6 minutes – half the time it takes a typical small-scale independent roaster to roast 5 kg.

These methods allow poor quality coffee to be roasted at high temperatures, but in these volumes and at this speed, the beans can’t be roasted evenly or develop their aromas. These beans are destined for instant coffee and many bags of ‘real’ coffee found in the supermarkets.

  • As an independent roaster, we adapt our production according to demand and are committed to freshly roasted coffee – usually roasted to order. Each bag will show the roast date, so you know how fresh it is, and give you up to 6 weeks to consume it at its best. Coffee flavours will deteriorate after this time although still ok to drink, it might be a bit bland. Our focus is always on the quality of the roasted bean and the way it tastes.

Supermarket coffee has no stated roast date and often have a shelf life of more than year. There is no traceability back to farmer and their focus is on price/volume. Their business model means that they need to get it on the shelf and sold at a profit as quickly as possible. It’s not all about the quality of the product, or the welfare of the farmer; it’s about turning a quick profit.

So, although an independent coffee roaster’s coffee appears to be more expensive, we can give you the following assurances:

  • All of our coffee is ethically sourced with clear traceability back to the farmer. Each of our coffees listed in our website shop have a section included in the details called ‘Meet the Farmer’. Here you can read up about the farmer or cooperative and the area of the bean’s origin. Alternatively, scan the QR code found on all of our bags to be taken to that page.
  • Better quality beans carefully roasted to develop the best aromas. All of our coffee beans are Speciality Grade. This means that they have all been assessed by the SCA (Speciality Coffee Association) and awarded a quality grade of 80 or above.
  • Freshly roasted to order with a clear ‘Roasting date’ (coffee freshness assured).
  • Ultimately a better taste. What more could you ask for?