Innovation takes a process of iteration to discover a solution to a problem. It does not happen in vacuum. To us in Foreword, we were finding a solution to make specialty coffee more accessible to the laymen. Coffee brew bags became our answer.
Foreword Coffee Roasters’ Diversity Blend Coffee Brew Bag
When I was in Yunnan, China, back in the late 2016 learning about specialty coffee from my trip to a coffee farm, I saw that the coffee drip bag was a popular product sold by coffee companies there. Later on I realize, the coffee drip bag is an innovation which was already commonplace in Japan.
It was a simple idea. Pre-ground coffee packed into individual drip bags which act as a filter and a brewing method. The drip bag is hung over a cup and you only need to add hot water to the pre-ground coffee and wait for the water to filter through the coffee grounds.
When I returned to Singapore from my trip, I realized coffee drip bags were not a thing in our local specialty coffee scene. The emphasis for a good cup of coffee was to brew it from freshly ground coffee over a coffee dripper such as the V60 or Kalita Wave. Coffee drip bags were considered inferior to filter coffee and can be found stocked in the supermarket shelves.
That was in 2017.
Have you ever tried coffee from Laos?
Moving forward to 2020. Almost every other specialty coffee roasters have a drip bag version of their coffee. The specialty coffee scene in Singapore has accepted the coffee drip bag as a convenient and accessible option for the mass consumers. Paired with a gooseneck kettle, brewing with the coffee drip bag is akin to a barista brewing a cup of filter coffee with the V60.
Specialty coffee drip bags cost anywhere between $1.88 to $3 per serving. Not all in-house produced drip bags are nitrogen-flushed, which affects the shelf life of these coffee drip bags. But a nitrogen-flushed drip bag is not going to give you any sparkly feeling like you would get from a nitro-coldbrew.
List of coffee drip bags (non-exhaustive) available in Singapore:
- Alchemist El Mirador Drip Bag
- Better Barista’s Bold Heart Blend
- CMCR Drip Bags
- Compound Coffee Drip Bag Pack
- Homeground Drip Bags
- Hook Coffee’s Hook Bags
- Perk Coffee’s Nitro-flushed Drip Bags
- PPP Coffee’s Specialty Coffee Drip Bags
- Tad Coffee Contrast Drip Bags
- The Coffee Roaster’s Infinity Blend
- The Maks’ Coffee Drip Coffee Trio Set
As drip bags became popular, I thought that Foreword could do better and to create something easier than a drip bag. The drip bag calls for water to be dispensed slowly through its narrow opening for the water to pass through the coffee grounds. How can we make it easier? How can we convince instant coffee drinkers to make the switch without changing their habit?
The idea of packing pre-ground coffee into filter pouches is not new. Starbucks have their cold brew pitcher packs which makes easy cold brew by steeping their sachets in cold water. Rickshaw Coffee packed locally roasted Robusta coffee beans into sachets which recreates a cup of local kopi just by adding hot water to their sachet. The resultant cup of coffee is full-bodied, and one can control the intensity of the cup by removing the sachet earlier or later during the steeping stage.
Abroad, Steeped Coffee successfully got their Kickstarter campaign funded in 2018, launching their series of single-serve coffee bags which are also co-branded with renowned coffee roasters in the United States. Mister Coffee, a Malaysian coffee company whose products are also found in Singapore’s supermarkets, have their series of trademarked, BagBrew and EasyBrew coffees. During this time, Foreword had also taken our steps to commercially produce our very own coffee brew bags.
Our Yunnan La Fu brew bag which features chocolaty, nutty notes.
Sustainability at the core of Foreword Coffee Roasters’ brew bags
Foreword’s coffee brew bags contain 3 of our direct-sourced specialty coffee from Asia, namely Yunnan La Fu, Pong’s Honey, and Laos Xam Tai. A 4th variant is the blend of all 3 coffees which we call the Diversity Blend, signifying the diversity of the coffee we can find in Asia, as well as the diversity found within our company comprising of people with and without disabilities, special needs, and mental health conditions.
We took conscious effort to select biodegradable filter sachets for our coffee brew bags, resulting in better flavours as the filter is more porous, but also resulted in having some coffee fines in the cup. These coffee brew bags can also be left steeping in cold water overnight for a cup of cold brew!
Every sachet is nitrogen flushed, thus extending the shelf life of the coffee for up to 2 years. The freshness is retained and a packet opened a year on from now would have little flavours lost from its beginning.
Pong is the name of our producer in Thailand, and we honour his name with our coffee.
The challenge of launching a new product
What is a coffee brew bag? When we first launched the product, no one has a concept of the brew bag and we have customers calling it instant coffee. The label of being an instant coffee may bring with it negative connotation, but it helps to bring across the convenience of this new product: just put into hot water, wait, and enjoy!
It took a lot of marketing effort to help bring across this idea of specialty coffee packed in a tea sachet for easy brewing. It does raise the brows of those who have been enjoying their filter drip bags. What is the difference between the two?
Where is the opportunity for innovation in the specialty coffee market?
Already brewing, a few coffee companies have their roasted coffees in Nespresso-compatible pods. The coffee pods and capsules market is predicted to have a global CAGR of 7.1% between 2019 and 2024. The market is assessed to be highly consolidated, with Nespresso (no surprise) as the top market player. The market is driven by high demand in North American and European regions; not so much in Asia.
Perhaps the next opportunity comes in the ready-to-drink (RTD) coffee market. The industry is projected to grow at a CAGR of 4.5% globally between 2016 and 2025. There is medium demand in the Asian region and the market is assessed to be relatively fragmented — competitive without dominant players. This might present an opportunity for any company to scale and gain prominence in this market in the years to come.