Coffee is a food product that’s at a crossroads between the traditional and the digital: should you buy coffee online or just pick it up from the grocery store like you always have?
You probably wouldn’t order an eggplant or soup online (that’d be weird), but coffee—well, we think it’s something you may want to consider.
Let’s take a quick look at the pros and cons of buying coffee online compared to the usual grocery store run. We’ll cover things like…
- Why most supermarkets aren’t selling great coffee beans
- The ways giant coffee companies trick us into buying old and stale beans
- Whether or not the store is better for freshness, selection, convenience, and price
By the end of this blog, you’ll be an expert on where you should buy your beans if you want high-quality flavor—your taste buds will thank you.
Why Supermarkets Struggle to Carry Good Coffee
Most stores tend to focus their energy on their fresh produce section and ignore another aisle that’s highly dependent on freshness: the coffee aisle.
And here’s the thing…
Coffee beans are only at peak freshness for 3-4 weeks past roast. After this period, the flavors start to slowly decay. By a few weeks later, the coffee’s only a shadow of its former self (sad).
Most grocery stores don’t have the systems (or sales) in place to trade out coffee beans every 3-4 weeks with fresh bags. And this is why big coffee companies started putting “best by” dates on their bags that are… months in the future. We believe this is just plain deceptive.
Very few grocery stores have adapted to keep their coffee beans fresh (shout-out to our friends at Tim & Tom’s and Whole Foods who are doing a great job in this area!), so most of those beans on the shelves are at least somewhat stale by the time you buy them.
But what if you do have a great, quality-focused grocery store around you that carries fresh beans? Is it worth buying those beans there? Yes and no—let’s take a deeper look.
A Battle of Beans: Online vs Fresh-Focused Grocery Store
Let’s pit online stores and high-quality grocery stores against each other for a moment. You can buy fresh beans at both places, but which one should you buy from?
Well, honestly, that’s going to depend entirely on your lifestyle and preferences, so we’ll break down the differences so you can decide which is better for you.
Freshness and Flavor
When it comes to the average grocery store, we’ve already established that they generally ignore coffee freshness altogether, which means buying online is basically 100% guaranteed to taste better.
But what about those supermarkets that are organized and intentional enough to keep fresh beans on the shelves? Well, the answers not so clear-cut now.
- High-quality supermarkets keep fresh coffee, but it’s not always super fresh. By the time a bag of coffee’s on the shelf, it’s maybe been 10 days since the roast date. Buying bean within 2-3 weeks of roast is still going to give you amazing coffee, but it may mean the ‘peak freshness window’ is shorter since the beans are slightly older.
- Coffee bought online is generally roasted and shipped in under 48 hours (at least, that’s how we do it). This means you get the beans just 3-4 days after it’s roasted, which gives you a slightly longer ‘peak freshness window’. Those extra-fresh beans will be at their best for a few days longer than the beans you bought at the store.
If you have a great grocery store nearby, you can surely find some fresh beans there—but buying online tends to give you a few extra days of peak freshness and flavor.
Some grocery stores have giant coffee aisles with many roasters, but rarely are all those bags of beans freshly roasted. A huge selection isn’t always a good selection.
Even at freshness-focused stores, you have to accept whatever they have in stock. If they don’t have your favorite bean, you get to try a new one (whether you want to or not). When you buy coffee online, you typically have access to the entire range of available coffees.
Of course, coffee’s come in and out of season multiple times per year, so not even a roaster’s online store will stay fully stocked all the time. That being said, a roaster’s online store is still the best place to see the full range of in-season coffees.
Everyone’s idea of convenience is slightly different, so this one’s not very clear-cut either.
- Prefer to buy coffee while you buy other groceries? If you head over to the store pretty often, it might be more convenient to just get your beans there than to order online and have to wait a couple days.
- Like to have things delivered so you don’t have to go to the store so much? Especially if you’re a particularly busy person, you may prefer to have some things delivered by mail so that you don’t have to worry about going to the store as often.
If you find yourself at the supermarket often, buying online may not actually be more convenient. But if you enjoy having things shipped your way because it shortens your physical shopping list, buying online will be another small burden lifted.
When you buy coffee beans from a supermarket, you don’t have to pay anything extra for shipping because the store takes on that cost (sometimes in exchange for adding a few cents to the final price). But for the purposes of this comparison, we’ll just say that grocery store beans are generally the same price as online store beans.
Many online stores, however, charge a shipping fee for coffee—usually a $5 flat rate. This extra fee is often the breaking point (because why pay extra for something you can get from the nearby store?).
That’s why we ship all our online coffee orders for free. So while it may be more cost-effective to buy in-person compared to some roasters, the extra cost is the exact same for us (hint: none).
Experience Fresh Roasted Coffee at Home
To experience the freshness, complete selection, convenience, and free shipping of buying coffee beans online for yourself, check out our lineup of specialty coffee beans.
Alternatively, if you’re a grocery retailer and would like to offer fresh roasted craft coffee to your shoppers, send us a note through our wholesale coffee page to request more information.