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A History of Coffee Bags

Kelle Vandenberg


The original coffee package, predating even the coffee can, was the paper coffee bag. Paper Tin-Tie bags are still used today for taking away coffee from your local coffee shop or retail store.  Flexible, oxygen protecting barrier bags, i.e. “foil bags,” made of laminated plastic layers and possibly a thin sheet of aluminum foil were introduced in the early 1970s supported by several other developments. 

The Growth of Coffee Drinking = Bag Developments

The evolution of the coffee bag followed the growth in popularity of coffee drinking in Europe and the U.S.  In the United States, this popularity began with tea shortages that occurred during the Revolutionary War and The War of 1812. Prior to 1865, purchasing green coffee beans and roasting them at home was the norm. They were sold by the scoopful from open barrels in drug and mercantile stores. The beans would then be roasted at home on a wood stove or in a skillet over the campfire. In 1868, John Arbuckle patented an egg sugar glaze that preserved roasted coffee and extended its shelf life.  He packaged the coffee in paper wrappers and distributed the bags in wooden shipping crates. The extended shelf life allowed the roast coffee to be transported distant places and Arbuckle’s Ariosa Coffee found a niche with ranchers and farmers who lived outside the cities. Today, the coffee is marketed with its trademark peppermint stick to cowboys as the coffee that “won the west.”

In 1900, R.W. Hills, of Hills Bros. fame, discovered a method to preserve coffee that removes air from coffee packaging.  The method known as ‘vacuum-packing’ resulted in the delivery of fresher tasting coffee and led to the first coffee stored in a can. 

Arbuckle’s egg sugar glaze method of coffee preservation was eclipsed by the vacuum packed can. 

At the same time the paper bag, was improved and production methods enhanced.  This was aided by the invention of bag making equipment made by H.G. Weber & Co. The S.O.S.  (Self-Opening Square-Bottom) bag is still commonly called a “weber bag” within the bag industry. 

One Word: Plastics

In the 1967 movie The Graduate, Mr. Maguire told Benjamin Braddock, “I just want to say one word to you…plastics.”  He was right about one thing – the development of plastics was integral to flexible packaging for coffee bags.  Other supporting developments were:

  • The understanding among coffee roasters that protecting coffee from oxygen was the best method to preserve it, and
  • A method to vent off the gases that emanate from coffee for several hours or days after roasting

The invention of methods to react (or polymerize) hydrocarbon gasses to create compounds such as polyethylene, polypropylene and polyester and subsequent methods to turn these into thin films less than 0.001 inch thick allowed foil coffee bags to be created.  Laminating various polymer films together with thin layers of aluminum foil and forming these into bags allowed a package to be created that could be sealed with heat to make it completely air tight. The bag original bag style was called the side gusseted bag. 

The laminated film layers prevent oxygen and moisture from penetrating the bag.  The term “high barrier” refers to this function of a high barrier flexible package coffee bag. 

Allowing coffee to release the off-gasses which it gives off for up to seven days after roasting without allowing air to penetrate back in to the package was accomplished with the invention of the ingenious yet simple, economical plastic molded “one way coffee degassing valve.”  The first one way valve for coffee was developed by the Goglio Luigi Company in Italy in the late 1960s.  The first U.S patent was issue to Goglio Luigi in 1971 for the valve (Patent number 3595467) . 

Coffee bags grew in popularity in Europe during the 1970s, while the coffee can continued to dominate the U.S. market. When the U.S.  Specialty Coffee market began to catch up in the 1980s, it emulated the European market and the flexible coffee bags.Beginning in the early 1980s and then accelerating quickly in the late 1980s the coffee bag became the package of choice to contain both whole bean and ground roasted coffee.

PBi and Coffee Bags

In 1985, Pacific Bag, Inc. developed an improved, more efficient style of one-way degassing valve for coffee and began to sell coffee bags into the U.S. In the 1990’s another bag format, the Stand Up Pouch with one way degassing valve became popular and was patented by Kapak Corporation (later purchased by Ampac) under patent 5,147,272. Pacific Bag, Inc. entered into a license agreement with Ampac to sell the Stand Up pouch with their patented one way degassing valves.  Pacific Bag coffee bags have since become the standard in the specialty coffee market.


http://www.sharlot.org/archives/history/dayspast/text/2008_05_04.shtml.  Retrieved June 28, 2011
http://www.arbucklecoffee.com/. Retrieved June 29, 2011.
http://www.hillsbros.com/history.aspx.  Retrieved June 29, 2011. 
SOS is alternatively said to abbreviate “self opening style,” “self opening sacks,” and even “self opening square-bottomed. http://www.swalter.com/blog/featured/packaging-guide-grocery-bags-sos-bags/ retrieved June
28, 2011.
http://www.hgweber.com/about.htm.  Retrieved June 28, 2011.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Specialty_coffee.  Retrieved June 29, 2011.