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In Memory Of Ginny

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Bagging Your Fresh Roast: Sealing the Deal
I roast far more coffee than my family can drink, so I end up bagging it and giving it away to colleagues, friends, neighbors, and even our local Postal Babe. This article is about my experiences with various coffee bags and sealers over the past four years.

The starting point is with a simple kitchen scale. This one has a five-pound capacity and is accurate to 1/8 ounce or 2 grams. Also shown are two funnels I use. The lower one is a canning funnel and is my regular choice. The other funnel tends to clog up with beans, but is useful in s-l-o-w-l-y filling the smaller bags.
David attached the following image:
Here are some of the kinds of bags that I have used.
I prefer the one-way-valved, stand-up, zip-lock, foil bags with one clear side. These are often called "stand-up pouches" and are available from SweetMarias and other Internet sources.
The light that comes through the clear side is an issue for commercial roasters ? [who need l-o-n-g shelf life]. I like the clear side for the ooh's and aah's that I get when folks see the freshly roasted beans. They pull it to their nose and give it a squeeze. The valve releases the wonderful aroma and the mood of the whole room brightens. I love it.

Shown here on the left are the 4oz, 8oz and 16oz foil bags. They are 5, 6 and 7 inches across the top, respectively. The bottom expands so that the bags can stand up on their own. Actual capacity: I typically fill the 4oz bags with 7oz of coffee; and the 8oz bags can take 10 or 11 oz easily. I haven't actually used the 16oz bag yet, so I don't know its full capacity.

On the right are "gussetted foil bags" that are opaque on both sides. The have a side seam that expands, but they are not designed to stand up on end. Shown are a 2oz and 8oz sizes. The larger ones here have valves, but the small 2oz size does not.
David attached the following image:

Edited by David on 08/10/2008 5:33 PM
I started with a $4 battery-powered "poly bag sealer." It works, but it's really a toy. Don't bother with it.

The sealer that I have used for several years now is an instant-on "impulse sealer" and is shown below. This model has 12" jaws and can be used to seal packages of food for the freezer, if you need an excuse to buy one.
David attached the following image:
An 8" model would be big enough for sealing coffee bags. These can be found on the Internet for around $35-45, including shipping. They are available for less from discount stores like Harbor Freight; but HF only had the larger sizes when I last saw them. McMaster has them at three times the price.
David attached the following image:
The jaws open up and the bag is placed across the Teflon cloth strip. Downward pressure on the handle causes the heating wire (beneath the Teflon cloth) to form a seal by melting a 1/16' strip into the plastic bag.
There is a timing switch on the end that roughly corresponds to the number of seconds that it delivers heat. I found that the stand-up bags took a setting of 4 seconds, but the foil bags took a full 8 seconds on each side!!
David attached the following image:

Edited by David on 08/10/2008 6:05 PM
Foil bags can be a real problem for the impulse sealer. Having to seal twice is a nuisance and some bags just don't get sealed well at all. Shown below is the length-wise seam on the small 2 oz foil bag. The impulse sealer has trouble getting heat through that extra layer to form an adequate seal of the inner layers. As a workaround I regularly trimmed off part of that seam, but that was an annoyance when I cut too close to the side of the bag and it split open. The extra thickness was also a problem with the center-seamed bags.

I really wanted to use the foil bags at times [cheaper], but I realized that they were beyond the actual working capacity of the impulse sealer that I had.
David attached the following image:

Edited by David on 08/10/2008 5:39 PM
The other issue with the impulse sealers is that the Teflon tape wears out; leaving exposed bare wire to touch the bag. It's stinky when it gets that hot. Fortunately, there are repair kits. For about $20, a kit with 8 replacement tapes and 4 replacement wire is available. Some sealers come with the replacement parts. I have used two replacement tapes and one wire in the past three to four years.

The impulse sealer is a good entry-level sealer. They are relatively inexpensive and handle polyethylene and polypropylene without a problem. The repair kit takes care of the inevitable burn through illustrated below.
David attached the following image:

Edited by David on 08/10/2008 5:42 PM
The next step up is Ginny's favorite, the "Hot Jaw" sealer.

Entry level here is around $120. I'm sure they are making a fortune off of these, but I decided to take the plunge. These are also called "crimper" sealers and they come with heaters on one side or on both sides. There are hand-held models as well as foot-operated table mounted models. I sprang for the dual-heat hand-held model. I chose the Teflon-coated model [NOT the PITA Teflon-covered] with a 5/8" seal width. After pricing these at around $170, I found one for $99 at -- plus about $20 for shipping. Hot Dog!!

My new 'KF-150CST 6" Portable Direct Heat Sealer' arrived and it's a beauty.
David attached the following image:
It has a High-Low-Off switch and it takes about five minutes to warm up. I set it to High and waited the l-o-n-g five minutes. I gingerly placed the defenseless silver foil bag into the awaiting jaws and pressed down for three seconds. Voila!
David attached the following image:
Small problem: The 6" width of the Hot Jaw turns out to be a bit too short to use with the 16oz coffee bags. They are about 7" across the top. While about a half-inch is used in a side seam, the seal is incomplete. Two hits with the Hot Jaw would certainly do the trick, but that wouldn't look as nice. OTOH, the incomplete seal might be close enough for some folks, given the zip-lock feature of the bag. Still, it is a limitation worth mentioning.
David attached the following image:

Edited by David on 08/10/2008 5:45 PM
I tried it on the clear-sided bag. I sealed only a bit of the top edge and pressed only two seconds. I guess I could have turned the heat down to the Low setting. Here are bags sealed with the Hot Jaw [left] and the Impulse Sealer [right]. Nice, methinks.
David attached the following image:
So, I'm retiring the Impulse Sealer. It has served well.

I am very happy with the new Hot Jaw. It makes a nicer seal on a wider range of bags and even takes up less space on the top of the fridge. [insert picture of happy spouse]


Thanks for the tip, Ginny!
John Despres
Great article, David! Thanks.

We don't have a postal babe. We have a sports listenin'-plug chewin' carrier. He does get coffee, though.

I've been sealing my clear/foil bags with our Food Saver and it works wonderfully. This appliance had been relegated to the pile in the basement for counter space and forgotten. The width is 11 inches but for some reason it doen't vacuum out the air from these bags. The Food Saver Bags are textured on one side, perhaps allowing enough gaps to draw air through while the foil bags are smooth.

I've also taken to vac sealing my greens in Food Saver bags. Since my roasters are all small capacity machines, I parcel the beans into 1/2 pound batches, vacuum 'em and seal 'em. This is a measure to give me more time to figure out the humidor project which isn't working so good... I've built bins to store the half pounds and finding the bean I want is quite easy now. And it looks cool.

Edited by John Despres on 08/11/2008 8:23 AM
Respect the bean.
John Despres
Fresh Roast 8, Gene Cafe, JYTT 1k, Quest M3, Mazzer Mini, Technivorm, various size presses and many more brewers.
Neat, David! I've never had the need to bag up more than what a couple Freezer Zip-locs could hold, but you have me thinking now. In fact, I didn't even think of using our baggers at work. They both come with a fill funnel, too! This first one does 60 bags per minute.

This second one is slower. We have two of these, but they aren't used much. I could take one home... FYI: The reason I posted this large image was so you could see the sealing portion. The bottom 3" is all sealer. The rest comes off. It has a compressed air cylinder to press the bag against the impulse heater (which has heat controls on the side). If you could find one of these on eBay you'd be set.
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