I just love good packaging design. Some believe it to be a secondary detail to the coffee, but to me, they’re two sides of the same coin.
You eat with your eyes first, as the saying goes. Packaging design has a tall order standing out from the rest of the competition while ticking off the basics of communication design: the who, what and why. Coffee packaging, whether ground or whole, has a common list of must-have details to get customers involved at a glance. Origin, decaffeination method, roast level, roast date, flavor notes…just to name a few. Some go the extra mile and list off altitude, processing method and the coffee bean variety.
Sparrows Coffee‘s splashy design is a great starting point, but how does the coffee itself stack up? If you want to start trying out specialty decaf coffee (and the occasional wholesale variety) yourself, check out my directory to get started with today’s best American coffee roasters. I recently reviewed the sweet and fruity Ruby Coffee Roasters’ Decaf Cauca, as well as the earthy Kuma Coffee’s Peru San Ignacio Decaf.
Let’s dive in:
This single-origin decaf coffee comes from the town of Pitalito in Huila, Colombia, decaffeinated using the ethyl acetate method. If you’ve ever wondered, “What decaf coffee is chemical free?”, look for sugarcane or Swiss Water. The last bag I had from Huila was from Onyx Coffee Lab, a delicious showcase I still think about, so…to say I was excited to try this is an understatement.
The bean variety is castillo and catacurra. Castillo has a few interesting traits surrounding it, such as its relative resistance to damaging coffee rust, and you can read more about it here.
Sparrows Coffee is a small coffee shop and roaster hailing from Minnesota. Their coffee is sourced from Ethiopia, Colombia, Mexico, Costa Rica and Burundi. That last origin really caught my eye, as that’s a country which often gets buried beneath its more well-known African producers. Their Burundi bag is also brought by a new cooperative of female farmers working through their first harvest, which is just the kind of underdog story I’m here for. Maybe someday I can try their wares!
Alongside coffee they sell organic tea and a slew of whimsical merchandise such as totes, mugs and t-shirts.
Unf! I just love this line-up so much. It makes me want to pick up my acrylics and start painting.
Some coffee brands have a distinctive design they keep consistent throughout their different origins. Others offer completely different illustrations for each bag. Sparrows Coffee hits a wonderful middleground here: all the bags are a splash of brushstrokes and vivid spots, but the color scheme differs. The decaf bag I got is a saturated punch of orange, yellow and blue, while their other bags go for soft gray-blues and golds or more earthy tones.
Their bags offer a picturesque scene of the coffee bean’s journey on the front — with flavor notes and the decaffeination method for the one I got — and an overview of their different coffee series on the back. Their Nostalgia Series, Harmony Series and Adventure Series are dedicated to different moods and sensations while browsing the Internet. That couldn’t be more relevant today.
Not content to end it there, the rest of the bag is brimming with an affectionately cheesy personality. The bottom makes a joke that you tried to open up your purchase the wrong way, while the sides tell you how to properly recycle the bag.
The one mark on this bag is the typo on the front, but if anything, that’s proof the best packaging design can be even better.
Let’s go, single-origin decaf coffee! The whole bean aroma invokes a sweet, almost caramel-esque sensation. It honestly smelled kind of warm, like I was about to bite into a chewy treat. The ground beans, however, are much more earthy and musky, with just a hint of sweetness poking through. A dynamic bean, all in all.
I can’t find the roast level for this bag, but it tastes and feels like a medium roast. This bag stresses the low acidity and ‘banana-like’ mouthfeel, which I got in at least one of the brewing methods.
Molasses, vanilla and citrus are the flavor notes boasted on the bag. A solid combination, especially since it sounds like the ingredients that go into chai tea. As it stands, I’d rather just have chai.
The pourover is very gentle and fruity, with the expected low acidity, and indeed made me think of some of my favorite teas. While the texture wasn’t anything I’d boast about, the faint kick of tart fruit was enough to make it stand out from ye olde average coffee. The French Press proceeds to be very tart, almost sour, while the Moka pot has the silky-soft mouthfeel I was hoping for.
I found myself a little…torn with this bag. Every time I got something I liked in one brewing method, it was followed by something else that was average or a little meh. Around and around I went until I had to begrudgingly crown the pourover as the winner by default.
A pleasant single-origin decaf coffee with a solid enough flavor to stand out. I wasn’t impressed, but I wasn’t quite disappointed, either.
Its most distinctive trait is indeed the mouthfeel, as mellow and soft as biting into a banana, though you’ll feel it most in espresso form. The pourover, though, is fruity enough to hold up to milk and sugar without losing all its flavor. The French Press I didn’t enjoy. It was simply way too sour and needed to be muted with an addition (or two) to be drinkable.
If you’re someone that’s fine with any decaf coffee as long as it’s not bitter, go ahead and give this a try. Otherwise, there are tastier examples of Colombian specialty coffee out there.
You can find Sparrows Coffee at their site here.
If you want to know more about interesting coffee products, check out:
The classic coffee cup is loaded with wasteful additions like sleeves, drink stoppers and lids. This innovative makeover is modeled after the takeout box and is designed to eliminate waste while still keeping your drink hot and tasty.
Kona coffee is a specialty variety hailing from the rich soil of Hawaii. Did you know it’s also one of the most lied about origins in the industry? Check out this growing lawsuit on Kona coffee and why more producers are calling for quality control.