Robert McKeon Aloe

Oct 11, 2019

5 min read

Why 12oz bags of Coffee beans?

I’m not sure when it happened, but at some point in the last decade, maybe earlier, coffee roasters started selling 12oz bags of coffee instead of 1 lb or 16oz bags.

Why is that?

What’s wrong with 1 lb? 12 oz seems like a pittance for coffee especially for someone who drinks three to four espresso shots per day. There are 24 shots worth of coffee in a 12oz bag of beans, which would last me at most 6 days, and I’m not a fan of buying coffee more than once a week.

I first saw this phenomenon in San Francisco. Before long though, I was home roasting coffee beans, so I didn’t worry so much about price. Home roasting has been a third or less of the price roasted beans, and I have figured out what roasts I like. So it has been more fun.

I started looking at the price of a 12oz bag of coffee. $15, $18, $17.50, $14, etc. They were all less than $20. When you calculate the per pound cost of these coffees, they were all over $20. In just a few years, that price has gotten closer to $30. Now, I understand if you are having coffee somewhere, even if it seems overpriced, one could be ignoring the cost of paying the baristas and rent. But when selling coffee, the main cost is roasting.

I’ve previously discussed how artisan coffee is overpriced based on my experience with home roasting. Now, I would like to compare a few coffee roasters because I recently bought roasted coffee for the first time in a few years. While I was in Pittsburgh, I went to the usual coffee place, la Prima, and I bought two pounds of coffee sold 1 lb bags (the nerve!). They were delicious, and I decided after coming back to the Bay, I would order two pounds for my wife because she prefers la Prima over mine often times.

It turns out that having coffee roasted in Pittsburgh and shipped across the country is cheaper than buying coffee in the Bay. What’s amazing is that Oakland is the major shipping port for the majority of coffee beans for the United States. So most likely, those beans were shipped across the country before being roasted. What’s crazy is that la Prima’s coffee is just as good as the coffees of the Bay.

La Prima: The Short History

Sam Patti started La Prima 30 years ago before hipsters were hip and before 3rd wave coffee was a thing. In fact, 2nd wave coffee (i.e. Starbucks) with their burned coffee espresso drinks had just begun to pick up steam. Sam just wanted some espresso found in Italy.

I have an affinity towards La Prima because of living in Pittsburgh, and I learned about roasting for the first time by talking to Sam. When I saw how much coffee shops were charging out in the Bay, I just couldn’t imagine they were doing something much different than he was.

I also like coffee roasted in the Bay. It is delicious, but I think it is too expensive.

Cost Analysis

I compared a few roasters in Bay and some nationwide. I tried to include shipping costs, but many must include those in their base costs. I looked at 1 lb and 2 lbs for their cheapest coffee and their most expensive, and if it was sold as 12 oz bags, I calculated what it would cost if they sold 1 lb bags.

Clearly, they’re just aiming to stay under that $20.

First, I found many sold some overpriced coffees, which in my opinion means over $20/lbs. The difference between decent beans and really good beans is a few dollars per lbs. In the quick analysis below, the top bean is a gesha bean, and it is completely worth more than double the average.

Quick analysis on price/lbs

There are the very best coffees like Kona or Gesha, but at most, they are double the cost. It is good to remember that a coffee roaster buys wholesale so that price difference is even lower. Many buy directly from the farmers, cutting out any middlemen, dropping this price to very little.

The fact that there are some coffee beans which cost effectively $50 or more per pound is ridiculous, and they don’t even come out of a cat’s butt. Cat poop coffee is really the top of the top of over-priced coffees relative to their quality.

Everyone loves the valve, but doesn’t the hipster consider how much plastic that valve uses?

Ultimately, it is marketing, but that has an affect. Aside from trying to get people to pay more for less, this 12oz concept has an effect on the enviroment. You need that many more bags to be made, that many more one-way air-valves for de-gasing, and that much more waste. It may not seem like much, but this stuff adds up.

So, I would like to ask coffee roasters to just sell by the pound or kilo and live up to your environmental duties. If you want to sell sustainable coffee, you’re marketing practices have to follow suit as well. And I don’t appreciate deceptive marketing methods.

If you like, follow me on Twitter and YouTube where I post videos of espresso shots on different machines and espresso related stuff. You can also find me on LinkedIn.

Further readings of mine:

My coffee setup

Staccato Espresso: Leveling Up Espresso

Coffee Data Sheet

Artisan coffee is overprice

The Tale of the Stolen Espresso Machine

Affordable Coffee Grinders: a Comparison

Espresso : Grouphead Temperature Analysis

Espresso filter analysis

Portable Espresso: A Guide

Kruve Sifter: An Analysis