ST.ALi, one of the newer additions to the London coffee scene, is going through a bit of a change. They announced yesterday that they are parting ways with their sibling in Australia to blaze their own trail in London. I’m excited to have worked with Tim to help create the new face of Workshop Coffee Co., who will continue adding great value to specialty coffee in London at both their Clerkenwell and Marylebone locations.
Yesterday, the following announcement was shared on the ST.ALi website:
Friends, there are some changes a-foot.
In April 2011, we opened our Clerkenwell cafe under the same banner as some friends in Australia. Following shortly after, we opened our Marylebone coffeebar under the same arrangement.
The response from local customers and visitors alike has been wonderful, overwhelming and humbling, due in no small part to our fantastic team, and the guests we take care of everyday.
However, due largely to the constraints of an arrangement stretched across 10,000 miles, the time has come to blaze the trail on our own. On April 16th, the London operations of ‘ST. ALi’ and ‘Sensory Lab’ will undergo a name change, becoming Workshop Coffee Co.
So, aside from the name, what changes? Well, nothing else changes. The same friendly staff and the same dedicated owners continuing to develop, refine and improve what we do. The same great food, and the same delicious coffee.
We look forward to seeing you soon,
I’ve visited both locations in the past year and wrote about one of them last August. Both shops are a must visit when coffee touring though London, and Clerkenwell is great for a meal as well. All my best to the team at Workshop as they begin writing their new story.
There’s a new Nordic coffee roaster to keep your eye on in Ålesund, Norway named Jacu Coffee Roasters. I first met Anne Birte and Gunnar last fall when I attended a coffee and chocolate pairing at their shop, then called Brenneriet.
At the time, Anne Birte told me of their future plans to begin roasting and gave me a sneak peek at their new rebrand, which I loved from first sight. We kept in touch after I left Ålesund and she even used two photos of mine in the re-design of their shop—mounting them like pillars on the sides of their front door.
Jacu’s name refers to the Brazilian Jacu bird, who like the Civet cat in Indonesia, is known to seek out and eat the finest coffee cherries. While Jacu (thankfully) doesn’t sell bird poo coffee, its goal is to be just as discerning when looking for the best coffees to roast and serve to their customers.
The branding, done by Tom Emil Olsen, begins with a beautiful custom wordmark that with a slight modification transforms the letter “J” into a simple icon of a Jacu bird.
The system is very thorough, designed with modular elements and economic methods of branding various pieces of collateral. There are stamps, wax seals, and embosses that all add beautiful hand-touched flare to envelopes, coffee bags and business cards.
The matte black, resealable bags are labeled with printed kraft paper that share taste and aroma notes along with basic origin information. The bags look and feel elegant, while also capturing the warm colors and textures many people associate with coffee and natural foods—a feat that can be difficult to execute well.
The café (and now roastery) has been updated along with the brand, including warm walls of wood, shelves full of coffee and a shiny new roaster. Next time you find yourself in Ålesund, be sure to visit Jacu’s revitalized home for some of the best coffee in town.
So far, the coffees I’ve tried from Jacu have been quite enjoyable (especially the Honduras, Montana Verde). Although none of them were very unique or exciting, for a new roastery, they’re off to a great start. In a country known for its high quality specialty coffee and high coffee consumption, Jacu will have no trouble finding themselves in good company. I look forward to seeing what coffees are sourced and how their offerings develop in the future—maybe something from Nordic Approach.
This is a fun packaging concept by designer Hillary Fisher, who’s aptly blended the latest cycle of zombie trendiness with a brand of coffee called Rise. The colors and illustrations evoke a bit of a candy shop feel and remind me of Plants Vs. Zombies, which is what makes it so interesting in the realm of coffee.
While the stitched closure wouldn’t really keep the beans fresh, I’m sure that with more exploration, a functional solution could be discovered. I really enjoy the blend names, “Flesh Faced French Roast”—also how I’d describe the taste of a French roast—and “Brain Dead Breakfast Blend,” which is just fun to say (ten times fast).
Hillary also developed a line of post-coffee gum to compliment the other offerings and designed a miniature grave site to create a brilliant presentation of the goods.
Two Seasons, a new brand of single origin coffee in Australia, is dressed with all the flair of an eccentric in-law. The new packaging, designed by Sydney based Barker Gray, is an attempt to differentiate from the standard “heritage” look used throughout the coffee industry. The goal was to focus less on gourmet and more on coffee lovers themselves.
I know very little about the coffee itself, but the packaging is definitely unique. The rainbow of color is balanced nicely with a generous amount of white space that really directs your focus on the exuberant illustration. While there are aspects of this I really like, there are others that remind me of unicorn vomit. Either way, it’s a spunky solution that brings new light to an often muted category.
Two Seasons breaks all convention and is purposefully everything we don’t know ‘origin’ based coffees to be…joyful, colourful and fun…the promise of a great experience to come, which for those who love their coffee, it delivers. -Barker Gray
Seattles Best Coffee, a subsidiary of Starbucks, has released a new packaging system for their coffee. A system of levels was created to allow customers to define themselves—and their taste preference—with a simple number. This numerical system is apparently the first of it’s kind in the industry and is designed to help customers navigate through the overwhelming selections of a grocery store coffee aisle.
The packaging itself is quite beautiful. In fact, everything I’ve seen since their rebrand is of an extremely high caliber, thanks to the talented people at Creature. Back in May, when I wrote about the new Seattles Best identity, I felt like the only person on the planet who wasn’t comparing it to “the local blood bank.” Honestly, how often do people visit their local blood bank? The Apple logo doesn’t remind me of the grocery store, nor does the Nike logo remind me of a checklist. In time, I’m sure people will equate the big red uvula exposing smile, with a drop of coffee in a happy mouth.
The numbers of the system (1-5) represent the roast level, beginning with 1, “mild, light, crisp” up through 5, “bold, dark, intense.” Neither of which descriptions actually say anything about the flavor of the coffee. I participated in a Live Facebook chat with Seattles Best reps last week to try and get some more specifics. However, the best I could get—after first just repeating what was on the bag—was that “Level 2 will have more acidity and less body.” It’s sad that the complexities of a coffee’s flavor profile have been simplified to improve convenience, not understanding.
The once modest brand, existing mainly in Border’s bookstores, has expanded rapidly after recently securing deals to provide coffee at 300 AMC movie theaters, 20,000 Subway and 7,500 Burger King restaurants. The new market strategy will make the brand visible to a very large audience, very quickly.
The new Seattles Best website is also quite innovative compared with other major coffee companies—actually when compared to major companies in general. It’s very design centric, using refined typography and clean illustration to create a vibrant environment that is a joy to explore. It may be on of my favorite corporate websites of all time. It actually outshines the rest of the brand in some ways.
Clicking on one box will walk you through the process of the new level system, while clicking on another will take you to a stunning interactive photo essay of their “10-Day coffee break,” where 1000 coffees were shared with strangers in Canada. Don’t miss the video of Pete the chainsaw wizard!
While I’m a sucker for a strong brand, the company has to back up their image with a product of equal quality. Since my sample is still in the mail, I won’t comment on the quality of their new blends just yet. However, based on past experience I hope the new look is more than just that—because it would be a beautiful waste.
I’ll leave you with one last promotion that made me smile, the Big Red Fridge. Enjoy.
During my trip to Portland last week, I got a few goodies from Stumptown. While sitting at The Annex, I picked up this nice collection of booklets and started reading through them. It was a set of beautifully designed and illustrated home brewing guides that included five books: Chemex, press pot, moka pot, cone filter (Melitta/Hario v60), and vacuum pot. My first thought was how smart it was for Stumptown to produce such an obvious product. After asking how much they cost—free—I thought how awesome it is for Stumptown to treat their customers this way.
Last spring when writing about Stumptown’s brand, I hadn’t seen these, but they are another great example of the company sparing little expense to produce cool stuff for customers. Aside from roasting great coffee, that’s who Stumptown is—the first guy in school with a Nirvana bootleg willing to share it with everyone before anyone knew what grunge was. I’ve never met Duane Sorenson, the founder of Stumptown, but I imagine everything I’ve experienced with the company is in some form a reflection of him personally. From the high attention of detail spent on the coffee and the cafes, to the tattoos on the baristas reflected in the artwork on t-shirts and storefront windows.
Stumptown embodies a love for coffee of the highest quality united with the cool-as-fuck attitude expected from the leader of a burgeoning music scene. In many ways, that’s exactly what they are—leaders (along with a handful of other great roasters) in a growing new coffee scene that our parents will scoff at while they continue drinking their Sanka.
Kids these days.
The books were designed and printed by the awesome people at Pinball Publishing, who also made Stumptown these cupping journals to showcase Scout Books, one of their customizable printed products.
Of the major coffee chains, I’ve always found Peet’s to have the least appealing brand. Even though their coffee is usually better than the other large chains, I tend avoid it for this reason. I’ve never felt completely comfortable in their stores, which always seem more fitting to a grandmother than your typical urban dwelling coffee drinker. And their attempt to feel like an Old World trader on the Silk Road, falls short of authentic. With Caribou and Seattle’s Best freshening up their brand, is Peet’s next? A couple design students have recently taken the liberty to do so for them.
The first, and nicer of the two, is by Tomoko Ogino who is a student at Art Center College of Design. This direction is modern, but remains soft and inviting to those who would normally be turned off by such a thing. Tomoko uses a high-tech clear bag, normally unused for quality reasons, that supposedly protects the beans from harmful UV light. This immediately makes the packaging unique from the competition and allows the product to speak for itself. The bag tags also allows for an efficient and flexible system to replace the old one that required different bags to be printed for each bean.
The second direction was designed by Chul Lee, also from the Art Center College of Design. While I understand that school is a place for exploration and I appreciate Chul’s work for pushing what’s expected of coffee packaging, I don’t think it’s very realistic. Unlike Tomoko’s modern redesign, which makes the brand approachable by a broad demographic—this direction polarizes the brand too much for Peet’s market. Cardboard packaging also wouldn’t be ideal to retain the freshness of the coffee—unless it were lined—adding to the cost and complexity of production.
Both redesigns are better than Peet’s current brand and either would entice me to actually stop in their stores more often. It’s nice to see students capable of showing large companies how much better they could be, if only they would invest in design.
I came across this branding for Wintergreen, a Russian coffee and tea supplier. The work, designed by the firm Plenum, is elegant and minimal, but still very warm. I’m a big fan. It makes me sad that this beautiful work was done merely for wholesale use. I’d love to see it applied to a cafe environment and retail packaging. Maybe someone within the company will be inspired to do so. Any Russian readers familiar with Wintergreen?
In this ongoing series about coffee branding, I’ve decided to begin with one of the best roasters in the US, Stumptown Coffee. Portland, Oregon based Stumptown was founded in 1999 by Duane Sorenson, who cares deeply about his coffee. The brand itself has been built on his passion for quality. No logo, aesthetic, packaging, or marketing can capture the word-of-mouth buzz that transcends the taste of their product.
Packaging: There is no universal style to the Stumptown brand. Instead, an understated, but eclectic voice weaves itself through the various elements—beginning with their bags. For a company once credited with having the most valuable stock of coffee beans, you’d think more money would be spent dressing them. However, Stumptown choose a simple brown bag with a slight modification, a pocket. The slit in the front of the bag allows a color-coded card to be slipped in, displaying the type of bean, while the rest of the card contains information on the bean’s origin, elevation, and flavors. This modest, but functional packaging is a humble proclamation of the companies confidence in its product.
One thing I really appreciate about Stumptown’s branding, is that they’ve avoided the largest cliché in coffee branding, what I call the “origin aesthetic.” Coffee only grows in countries within the “coffee belt” roughly bordered by the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn, so every company selling coffee gets it from similar cultural regions. It’s difficult to “own” tribal patterns, native color palettes, or photos of the locals, when any of your competitors can do the same. It’s an overused and therefore meaningless way to tell your customers who you are—think bottled water and images of mountain springs.
Company Responsibility: When companies do use origin images, it often seems like it’s only purpose is to exploit the perception of the local population to increase coffee sales, instead of genuinely helping them. Stumptown however, has gone above and beyond most in the industry to establish relationships and pay above fair trade prices for coffee. They also work intensively with farmers to improve the quality, and thus the value of their crop. In 2006, Duane also helped create a non-profit organization in Rwanda that builds and maintains cargo bikes to help coffee farmers deliver their crop. Yet, they’ve chosen not to exploit any of this in their branding or marketing, they just do it because it’s right.
Cafés: I’ve only been to a couple Stumptown cafés, but I found them both to have a similar ambiance, even though they were quite different. The atmosphere captures a slight steampunk vibe, with dark wood contrasting against the shine of La Marzocco espresso machines. The barista’s were casually dressed like members of an indie band, except at the Ace Hotel in NYC where the baristas resemble the cast of the Newsies. While the environment will quickly be dubbed “hipster” by some, I think the latter is a fun and sophisticated twist on a bygone era. It makes visiting the café as much of an experience as drinking Stumptown coffee. If you want commodity comfort, look elsewhere.
Collateral: What I find most successful about the Stumptown brand, is the freedom and flexability it has established. All of the collateral has a unique aesthetic, designed with the brand in mind, but not dependent on anything designed previously. Each item is considered and fits comfortably into an invisible aura that Stumptown has created for itself. This characteristic has successfully allowed the brand to be placed within various lifestyles instead of trying to create one itself.
Coffee is a huge industry—the second largest commodity in the world after oil—and Stumptown is one company treating it differently. While I know there have been others in the past, most have let their concern for the quality in the cup slip. Stumptown meanwhile, has been a master of making that their greatest concern, which is more valuable than anything good branding can do.
The recent Seattle’s Best re-branding uproar has encouraged me to begin a series of posts I’ve had brewing for a while now. I plan to look at the leading coffee roasters and discuss their brand, packaging, and why I think they are or are not successful.
Coffee is a huge commodity, and for many people, buying coffee is as overwhelming as picking out a bottle of wine. When a customer can’t distinguish the subtleties in taste, they are left to rely on their remaining senses to help make decisions.
The way a brand of coffee represents itself in a cafe or on the supermarket shelf will determine how its perceived before you even have a chance to taste it. In the coming weeks I’ll discuss a variety of ways different coffee companies have positioned themselves to stand out in such a saturated market.