TOMS Shoe Company Announces Coffee Roasting

03.12

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Yesterday at Austin’s grand technology orgy known as South by Southwest (SXSW), TOMS founder Blake Mycoskie announced the next step for his pioneering “one for one” shoe company—specialty coffee. The plan includes more than just a pop-up cafe in a shoe store, the new category of the TOMS brand will include wholesale roasting, a chain of retail outlets and a subscription club. The coffee, just like the company’s shoes and eyewear, will continue following the company’s model of giving to someone in need for every product sold, in this case water. Fortune has the scoop.

Generally, a celebrity’s foray into coffee isn’t really worth noting. However, Mycoskie specifically mentions specialty coffee pioneers like Intelligentsia, Stumptown and Blue Bottle as their competition and has tapped Angel Orozco, founder of LA’s Cafecito Organico as their new master roaster:

TOMS says it’s not targeting Starbucks so much as “third wave” artisanal roasters like Blue Bottle, Intelligentsia and Stumptown, cult coffee brands that keep cropping up in places like San Francisco and Portland. But TOMS Roasting Co. will have one major distribution channel most of those niche brands don’t: outside of its own cafes and website, the beans will only be available in Whole Foods. -Fortune

It pays to know people, and TOMS brand awareness combined with their existing distribution channels may give them a running start. With over 2 million social media followers and a loyal fan base, those who support the TOMS model of one for one giving may find the coffee attractive, even more so if the product tastes good.

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In an interview with Fortune, Mycoskie talks about wanting their new cafés to feel more like someone’s home that can become community centers where people can bring their dogs, have a coffee (and buy shoes and glasses). Although they see the “third wave” coffee shops as their target market, they admit they will fall somewhere between Starbucks and Stumptown, offering a less intimidating atmosphere.

The TOMS Roasting Co sweet spot is high quality beans (single-origin, free-trade) at a lower price ($12.99 per 12-oz. bag compared with $16 to $18 for cult coffee brands). Rachel Halliburton, the TOMS marketer who led “project burlap,” says the hope is to play somewhere between Starbucks and Stumptown. “I’m intimidated to walk into Intelligentsia,” she says. “We want you to feel okay about walking in and saying, ‘I just want a cup of coffee, and yes, I’m going to put sugar in it.’” –Fortune

I find it curious that TOMS will sell its “high quality” coffee at up to 25% less than other specialty companies. Does this mean they will pay the farmers less only to offset those lower prices by giving water? On a certain level I truly admire TOMS and how they’ve changed the conversation of corporate responsibility, however my primary critique of business models like theirs is that they rely on the “westerner as savior” mentality instead of paying someone the true value of their product, allowing communities to build their own infrastructure. Instead of empowering a community, TOMS comes across more like a foreign hero giving things to those deemed in need.

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I believe this new venture from TOMS has all the potential to be quite successful. With over  a year of planning, it seems like the company has done its research and remains humble about entering a market they have no experience in. If they can provide a quality product that creates a stepping stone between the likes of Starbucks and other specialty coffee companies, I see this as a benefit to the entire industry, further validating the widespread appeal of better coffee. If however, simply adopts the marketing language and design cues of specialty coffee to market a mediocre product, it won’t be much of a surprise. Keep it real Mycoskie.

Read more at Fortune and TOMS Roasting Co.

posted by on 03.12.2014, under Misc., Videos

Colin Harmon: The Story of 3FE in Dublin

02.24

Colin Harmon, the charismatic 4-time Irish Barista Champion, has worked hard to establish his world renown coffee bar, 3FE, in Dublin. The former investment banker decided to leave his suit and tie after being unable to find a consistently good cup of coffee. The story is similar for many who have started their own coffee companies—if you want something done right, do it yourself. Grab a cup of coffee and enjoy the story as told by Colin in the film above.

Six months after getting his first job as a barista, Colin won his first Irish Barista Championship, thus giving him the confidence to keep learning and pushing his ability to make better coffee. Fast forward 4 years and his coffee bar, which began as a pop-up in the lobby of a night club, is now packed 7 days a week serving coffee from their newly opened roastery.

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The whole story is told in all its honesty by Colin and some of his team in this well-made video they released over the weekend. From the lessons of Colin’s first job to the absurdity of being applauded for making cappuccinos, the 3FE story shares great insight into how a well regarded coffee company came into existence. It takes enthusiasm, hard work, and a great team of people to make something special.

Read more at 3FE: Our Story

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posted by on 02.24.2014, under Misc., Videos

Coffee Touring: The Best Coffee in Riga

02.18

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Just last month, Riga, the capital of Latvia and the largest city in the Baltic states, was officially unveiled as the European Capital of Culture for 2014 (along with Umeå, Sweden). What that means exactly for the residents depends on who you ask, most seem unsure about the specifics, but they are excited nonetheless to have a spotlight on their city following all the cultural events planned throughout the year. After returning from a week long trip, I learned first hand that the designation is much deserved. From the city’s budding specialty coffee scene to the amazing architecture down every street, Riga is well worth a visit.

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Riga has a history that dates back longer than my North American mind can wrap itself around, and the architecture alone reflects it. Just walking through the streets you’re treated to a diversity of buildings that I’ve yet to see in one place elsewhere in Europe. Riga has changed hands many times over the centuries, and it has absorbed heavy influences from Germany, the Soviet Union and at one point in the early 1700′s it was the largest city in the Swedish empire.

In the nearly 25 years since gaining its freedom from the USSR, Riga has grown into a city as cosmopolitan and unique as any other in central Europe. The incredibly preserved Art Nouvaeu district (the largest collection in the world) and the old wooden homes from the 19th century are now being joined by contemporary designs like the newly finished National Library and the Citadele and DnB Nord bank buildings. Along with this architectural and cultural modernization, specialty coffee has begun to take hold as well.

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MIIT Coffee & Bikes 
Lāčplēša iela 10, Rīga
Tel: +371 26775490
@miit_tiim

Miit Coffee & Bikes in the heart of the Central District is only a couple blocks from the large Esplenade park. The bright and spacious shop was just around the corner from my hotel and received daily visits during my stay in Riga. There’s a lot of love for bikes and the fixed gear culture, with historic images of track racing on the walls and a framed photo of Eddie Merckx behind the bar. Miit opened 3 years ago and uses coffee roasted by Andrito Coffee Roasting, founded in 2010 by the former Latvian Barista Champion Andris Petkēvičs.

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The café serves a menu full of vegetarian and vegan food, including a delicious spread of pancakes for weekend brunch. The long bar made from stacks of wooden slats plays host to a La Cimbali espresso machine or you can order any coffee available as an Aeropress, V60, French Press or Chemex. During one of my visits, a barista mentioned that it’s not common for customers to order the manual brew methods on their own because they usually don’t know what they are, but after recommendations, some regulars will eventually try them and really enjoy it. Even if they don’t serve manual brew coffee very often, she said they’re proud to offer it.

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When Miit isn’t making coffee or pancakes, they stay busy with other projects like Miit Works, which sells track bike frames and parts. Cycling seemed to be a reoccurring theme throughout my visit, with fixed gear bikes having a presence in some way at every shop I visited. If that wasn’t enough, when the sun goes down, the coffee bar turns into an evening bar with DJs and crowds that rival those found during the day. There’s also WiFi available for those who need to map out their next move and friendly staff who can help you find your way.

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Žanna Cafe
Tomsona iela 2, Rīga
Tel: +371 27002226

The newest coffee shop to visit in Riga is Žanna, which opened just three months ago and already feels like a neighborhood institution. This cozy shop sits on the corner of a quiet residential street off the much busier Valdemars iela. Žanna’s corner location lets light in from both sides, allowing you to enjoy the fresh baked goods alongside your coffee in a warm space that contrasts with the cold Soviet-era exterior.

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Žanna is using coffee roasted in neighboring Estonia by Gourmet Coffee, and just like Miit, they offer brewing on a variety of methods. The centerpiece of the room is a bright red La Marzocco FB/80 that draws your attention from whichever corner you may be sitting in. I had a well made espresso before relaxing with a Chemex of Ethiopian Arichan and a sample of a Colombian brewed with a V60—both very well made by a barista who admitted to have only been making coffee for 3 months.

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As with Miit, Žanna is open later and has a bar stocked with everything needed to transition from caffeine to a nightcap. This café fills up with locals in a place that’s much more removed from the central part of town, but it’s still easy to visit by a short walk along one of Riga’s main roads. If you want to leave the guide book behind and explore something other than the tourist districts, take a walk to Žanna.

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Innocent Café
Blaumaņa ielā 34-1a, Rīga
Tel: +371 29349507
@innocentcafe

A place like Innocent Café normally wouldn’t make it on my list of places to visit, but it was recommended by Ingemars who is now the head barista at Žanna Cafe. While he admitted that he managed Innocent for several years and that they were an Illy cafe, he said it was an important place because it inspired the current trend of specialty coffee shops and the baristas who work at them.

Innocent is the Latvian distributor of Illy coffee, and during my visit I lost count of how many Illy logos there were to remind me. The café was branded like none I’d ever seen before. There were shelves lined with Illy cups, Illy logos on the walls, paintings on the walls of the Illy logos on the walls and sofas upholstered in Illy red leather. It was a bit of an Illy overload.

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On the front counter was a white La Marzocco GB5 adorned with subculture stickers that contrasted irreverently with the sheen of Illy’s corporate mark left on every available surface. The café was quite large, with the middle room being devoted to the sale of home machines and coffee products. The back section was dimly lit and reserved more for the laptop crowd, while the front was bustling with customers who all seemed to know each other quite well. From greeting each others kids to saddling up beside neighbors when open tables were readily available.

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The coffee was as I expected, but a much better option than most of the places I passed on my way here. I had a well pulled and balanced shot of espresso followed by my first Illy cappuccino with milk that wasn’t bone dry. It felt as if Innocent had formed some kind of hybrid between what I’ve always expected from an Illy café and a modern specialty coffee shop. With a bike on the wall and booze on the shelves, it seemed to fill the requirements of the other specialty coffee shops in town and was filled with happy, coffee loving customers.

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While Riga’s specialty coffee scene may still be small, it has ample potential for a city the size of Riga. One thing I noticed every shop in Riga had in common was the vibrancy of a culture on the move. While navigating to each destination, I’d pass local boutiques alongside Bulgari showrooms and centuries old wooden homes beside storefronts displaying the work of Eames and Kartell. Not to mention the free wifi everywhere, even in Taxis and liquor stores.

There are so many rich layers of history in Latvia and so much potential in its modern day growth, it’s inevitable that the current generation will add even more unique layers to this city in the years to come. Places like Miit, Žanna and Innocent have created the kind of atmosphere in Riga where this future can take shape.

posted by on 02.18.2014, under Coffee Touring

Intelligentsia’s Beautifully Rare Café Inmaculada

02.05

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This Friday, you have a unique opportunity from Intelligentsia to order a selection of three rare coffees they’re offering from Colombia. The project, called Café Inmaculada (immaculate coffee), is a collaboration between coffee producers Camilo Merizalde and his childhood friends Andres and Julian Holguin. Camilo himself has been experimenting with coffee cultivars for over a decade at Finca Santuario, his farm outside Popayán, which Intelligentsia has exclusively offered since 2006.

This newest project, Café Inmaculada, began in 2011 on a plot of land owned by the Holguins with the goal to “produce the most extraordinary coffees possible, regardless of risks or costs.” Five exotic, but low-yielding cultivars were planted on an 8 hectre parcel of land with ideal growing conditions in Pichinde, west of Cali, Colombia and are now ready for you to enjoy. Intelligentsia has selected three of the five cultivars to offer in a very limited and very beautiful package called the Café Inmaculada Collection ($50) to be roasted this Friday only—February 7th.

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The limited edition box set includes a 50 gram bag of three cultivars: Sudan Rume, Laurina and Maragesha—a wild crossbreed of Maragogype and the famed Geisha variety of coffee. Each of the cultivars has its own unique stories and characteristics as told by Intelligentsia below:

Sudan Rume: A legendary coffee variety that originated on the Boma Plateau, located in southeastern Sudan near to the Ethiopian border. This area belongs to a region considered to be the birthplace of the Arabica species. Sudan Rume has long been used by plant breeders as a source of ‘quality’ genes, but is rarely planted because it doesn’t produce large yields.

Laurina: This cultivar, a.k.a. Bourbon Pointu, comes from Réunion Island just off the coast of Madagascar. It is the direct descendent of the trees responsible for seeding most of Latin America, and was all but forgotten for most of the 20th century. Laurina is thought to be an early mutation from the Typica variety and is now considered the ‘original’ Bourbon. It has the distinction of being extremely low in caffeine.

Maragesha: This is a spontaneous wild cross of Maragogype and Geisha that occurred in the Santuario farm outside of Popayán, where trees of the two varieties were growing next to one another. It does not exist anywhere else, and this lot is the first to have ever been harvested.

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The packaging itself is just as immaculate as the coffee claims to be, with its delicate geometric details printed by Chicago’s Rohner Letterpress and a metal box for stylishly storing future coffees or your overflowing collection of filters and accessories. Intelligentsia’s designer Andy Wickstrom said of the package design:

The geometric patterning was a nod to Camilo and the Holguins regarding the specificity of their plots—the sub-dividing of a special farm and its fruits. The design was meant to reflect that hyper-specific parcelling of land. The concept of the farm is pretty futuristic, so I felt a minimalist pattern structure fit pretty well.

Having this piece printed by Chicago’s letterpress icon, Rohner Letterpress, added a really nice touch, too. I don’t think it would have worked as well printed any other way, to be honest. The tactile quality it gives print is still cherished by a lot of people. It gives these types of projects the presence that not many other printing processes can. –Andy Wickstrom

There’s a lot of beautiful things going on inside and outside of this box gong all the way back the experimentation on the farm itself. So be sure to get your order in by Friday to have one of these unique coffee sets shipped, or pick one up at one of Intelligentsia’s cafés. There will also be tastings of these coffees held every Friday for the next three weeks at the Intelligentsia store on Broadway in Chicago and in Venice, California.

More about Café Inmaculada at Intelligentsia

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posted by on 02.05.2014, under Design

San Francisco’s Workhorse Rye & Coffee Bitters

01.25

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After returning to Sweden following four months in the US, it’s very clear that specialty coffee is still on the rise. That is great news in its own right, but with all the crafted coffee and nuanced flavors being consumed, you may need a nightcap or two to help come down from your caffeine high. So I find it no coincidence that the US is also seeing growth in distilleries. Fantastic new bourbons, ryes, and gins are being refined in every region and often with their own twist.

One of these new distillers in San Francisco, Workhorse Rye, understands the overlap of the two beverages and is working with local roaster Four Barrel Coffee to infuse coffee into their product line, beginning with coffee rye bitters. The first batch of bitters takes advantage of the sweetness found in Four Barrel’s Colombia Andino to compliment the fruit flavors found in the whiskey. However, the coffee used will change according to Four Barrel’s offerings. It sounds like it will make a hell of twist on a signature Old Fashion.

We got a little wild and ended up with a bitters that uses rye whiskey and brandy to extract flavors from coffee, grapefruit peel, chiltepin, quassia bark, and clove. We added some Carignan wine from Sutton Cellars for sweetness, body, and color. -Workhorse Rye

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Workhorse Rye was founded by Rob Easter & David Gordon in 2011 in the Mission. A few years later, following Rob’s education with Maker Mark’s David Pickerell and working at King’s County Distillery in New York and the team still doesn’t have a distillery of their own, instead calling themselves “gypsy distillers.” Rob and David are taking an approach similar to famous beer brewers like Mikkeller in Denmark or even start-up coffee roasters who lease space at an existing facility, which help keeps overhead their overhead low.

Workhorse Rye currently makes their brew at Thirsty Bear Brewery in downtown SF, and distills in an old Navy jailhouse on Treasure Island. This spring you’ll be able to find their bounty in places like Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc restaurant in Napa (who serves Equator Coffee), Rye in the Tenderloin and The Lion’s Share down in San Diego.

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Along with using all organic grains (70% rye, 20% barley, 10% wheat) to distill their products, and collaborating with Four Barrel Coffee (where Rob once worked in coffee) on bitters, they also source the French Oak red wine barrels used for aging their Darkhorse Rye from local winery Sutton Cellars (Carl Sutton and Rob Easter above). So when it comes to regional representation, the guys at Workhorse Rye are keeping as much of their product as they can in the neighborhood.

I’ve yet to taste any of the Workhorse Rye or their bitters, but hopefully some generous San Francisco baristas can smuggle some up to Seattle for the USBC.

Keep an eye out for Darkhorse Rye in the San Francisco area and their Kickstarter campaign where you can pre-order your own suite of coffee bitters.

Workhorse Rye

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posted by on 01.25.2014, under Misc.

Video: Koppi Anne & Kalle Freese

01.08

 

Enjoy this short, but sweet video interview with Anne Lunell from Koppi Coffee in Helsingborg, Sweden. Anne talks with Kalle Freese, the current Finnish Barista Champion and owner of Freese Coffee Co. about her and partner Charles Nystrand’s approach to sourcing, selecting and roasting the coffee they serve.

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posted by on 01.08.2014, under Recommended Roasters, Videos

Ingenious: Coffee Cherry Quality Bracelets

12.20

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Michael Sheriden, of CRS Coffeelands, just shared the story of a really awesome project spearheaded by Portland Roasting to help improve the quality of the coffee cherries being picked. The idea is a simple slap bracelet the color of a perfectly ripe cherry. Since picking coffee cherries at peak ripeness is an important part of producing better coffee (and coffee cherries on the same tree ripen at different rates), this is an ingenious device for helping farmers improve quality.

During the SCAA Strategic Leadership Summit in Seattle back in September, I noticed that Mark Stell of Portland Roasting was wearing a red plastic slap bracelet … The best 60-cent investment I have seen in coffee quality.  Mark bought them and distributed them to the workers who harvest the coffee on his estate in Tanzania as a quality-control measure.  The bracelet’s “Red 22″ color was carefully selected to match the red of optimally ripe cherry, so each time they reached for cherry the bracelet provided an instant quality check.  I have heard of lots of worker training initiatives and color-coded quality-control cards for use in the field, but they seemed expensive and clumsy in comparison with this elegant solution. – Coffeelands.

Even more awesome than the bracelet itself is that Mark Stell, from Portland Roasting, donated 10,000 bracelets for Michael to distribute among coffee farmers in Colombia who are participating in his Borderlands Coffee Project.

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posted by on 12.20.2013, under Design, Misc.

Video: Slo-mo Espresso

12.18

 

Mute the video above and play this simultaneously:
 
Do you need a reason to stop whatever you’re doing for a few minutes of procrastination? Here’s a hypnotizing viral video break from your daily routine. This great slow motion video of a shot of espresso was filmed by a barista working at Spyhouse Coffee in Minneapolis—the limited details are as follows. Enjoy.

A shot of Spyhouse Orion espresso being extracted from a La Marzocco FB80 @120 frames per second. Enjoy. Drink coffee. Mute the sound and put on your own music.

The track recommended above is:
The Adventures of Alvin & Lance by Explosions in the Sky & David Wingo

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posted by on 12.18.2013, under Misc., Videos

Tonx Talk: Making Do With A Blade Grinder

12.09

 
Tonx Coffee is a roaster based in LA who distributes their coffee through subscriptions delivered to your door. Their approach is a no fuss, no judgement, just enjoy great coffee kind of attitude. With little face-to-face interaction, they create nice illustrations and videos to help people get the best from their coffee.

One tip for getting the best from your coffee is purchasing a good burr grinder. It’s the most important tool for brewing better coffee, but good ones aren’t cheap. In the latest video from Tonx, they tackle the blade grinder—loathed by most coffee aficionados—it’s often the first grinder people buy because of their low cost.

I wouldn’t recommend one, however if you find yourself stuck with one, it’s a better option than stale, pre-ground coffee. With these tips from Tonx you might be able to make the best with what you have, while saving up for something better.

Tonx Coffee

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posted by on 12.09.2013, under Coffee 101, Videos

Epic New Coffee Dome To Open in Siberia

12.07

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Traveler’s Coffee is an international chain of specialty coffee shops from Russia with an impressive 76 locations in 5 countries (Russia, China, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan). They are headquartered in Novosibirsk, the third largest city in Russia, in southwestern Siberia. The company is currently working with designer Anna Burles to renovate their flagship store inside of a three story geodesic dome—and it looks nothing short of amazing.

Set across three floors, the unique venue we are designing will feature a 3rd Wave Genius Bar, Espresso ToGo, retail shop and Sky Lounge which nestles underneath the building’s glass-domed roof.  The restaurant has 200+ covers and is the flagship venue of Travelers Coffee. -Anna Burles

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Anna and another designer John Barnett are based in London and have been collaborating on a lovely portfolio of projects in the coffee world, designing holistic brand and architectural experiences in the UK, Russia and China. They recently authored a great article in the Specialty Coffee Chronicle called, “Creating the Coffee Shop Brand Experience: a Designer’s View” that I highly suggest reading.

Designing a coffee shop isn’t just about getting the right look. Or serving the best coffee. It’s about creating an experience which not only shouts about the amazingness of your coffee, and how that makes people feel good, but also an experience which gives a double-shot boost to your brand…

It’s a crowded marketplace for sure, with an ever-growing breed of artisan coffee brands opening up shop in our towns and cities. So what makes us (or you) choose one brand’s coffee shop over another? And how can we as designers use our professional and personal insight to help you as a client stand out in a way which makes consumers stay loyal to you? –SCAA Chronicle

As a designer who does a lot of work in the coffee industry, it’s always great to hear the perspectives of others who face the same challenges and are doing great work to elevate specialty coffee experiences around the world. This new Traveler’s Coffee location, when it opens, will be high on the list of places to visit.

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posted by on 12.07.2013, under Design