• QA 140
    Why is the teabag system not used in the coffee sector?
    I am interested in the market for instant coffee and I wonder why in the French coffee industry we do not find the equivalent of the teabag. Do you think an opportunity exists for such a product?
    Asked by:
    Student - France

    We assume that by 'instant' you are referring to 'immediately or easily prepared' brewing methods for roasted coffee. This because soluble or 'instant' coffee of course exists and has the great advantage that it leaves no residue in the cup, unlike a teabag for example…

    The successful brewing of roasted coffee depends on percolation that results in extraction: water flowing though a porous medium, like roasted and ground coffee, extracts soluble substances. The degree of extraction of soluble coffee substances depends on the grind (coarse, medium, fine), water temperature, pressure, and the time for which the coffee is allowed to brew.

    The composition and extractability of tealeaves is different from ground coffee. Extraction of soluble substances from a teabag in a cup is relatively easy and, particularly important, it is also quick. Roasted coffee on the other hand takes much longer to brew to achieve a good taste experience. If water temperature and brewing time are not correct then the taste experience will be disappointing. This is probably why attempts to adapt the teabag concept to roasted coffee have failed to attract much demand, both in terms of quality and of consumer acceptance. After all, soluble coffee provides an easy-to-prepare, immediate brew that, usually, always tastes the same. Some roasters do however offer roasted coffee, sometimes mixed with soluble as in certain US brands, in teabag-like packaging whereas larger teabag-like servings are used in many of the small coffee machines found in hotel rooms.

    But of course the quest to simplify the brewing of good quality, traditional roasted coffee has never ceased, culminating in today's single serve or pod system. Whilst somewhat similar to the teabag concept, the brewing method is mechanical and produces excellent quality (of course depending on what the consumer buys) without the fuss and bother of traditional brewing methods.  Of course the consumer has to buy the equipment and this probably limits the pod system's ability to make sizeable inroads into the mainstream market. After all, for mainstream consumers who prefer a 'no fuss, no bother, instant drink' there is  today's wide range of soluble coffees, ranging from the very basic to excellent quality. *

    We would agree that teabag-type packaging can work if it is properly used, i.e. the bags contains enough coffee and it is correctly brewed. Nevertheless, given the alternatives that are available we have to doubt that the concept could successfully gain market share in today's coffee market…

    * We have not mentioned the 
       Espresso method  here as this is a
       different market segment yet again.

    Related chapter(s):
    Related Q & A:
    Q&A 111, 121, 129