Storyville is a small coffee company in Seattle, Washington doing big things. Their mission is simple, “the best beans, artfully roasted, and rushed to your door while they’re still fresh.” They only offer one coffee, a regular blend called Prologue and its decaf counterpart, aptly named Epilogue. The goal at Storyville is not to offer the newest or largest selection of blends and origins, but instead provide the fresh and consistent cup of everyday coffee that their costumers enjoy. They also make an effort to educate new customers about the crimes of “Big Coffee” and their bitter, over-roasted beans.
Storyville knows that in order to best enjoy fresh coffee, you need to have a few essentials—a good grinder and a press pot. That’s where their newest, soon to be released, offering comes into play. Introducing Storyville Hardware—or as I call it, “the mind-blowing home coffee transformation kit.” It provides you with the elements needed to grant you freedom from bad coffee.
When I first discovered Storyville a few years ago, the high quality of their design made a lasting first impression. It’s obvious that design shapes every aspect of the company, even though none of the owners are formally trained in the arts. From their identity, packaging, and website—to their roasting studio, which looks more like a Maserati showroom than a roastery. There is an attention to detail you don’t often find in the coffee industry and the design and experience of opening the Hardware package is no exception. If Apple started a coffee company, it would look like Storyville.
When brewing at home, the most important thing you need after fresh roasted coffee, is a solid burr grinder. The consistency of the grind will make all the difference in the extraction, while excess powder from a poor grind can add unwanted sediment and bitterness. So Storyville built a custom grinder to provide this vital piece of equipment.
I spoke with Chad Turnbull, Co-President of Storyville and he told me that they collaborated with a German designer, think BMW and Porsche, to help develop their grinder. The construction is solid, and the body design is more streamlined than similar grinders on the market, while reflecting the essence of the Storyville brand. The internal components are on par with those of a Baratza Virtuoso. It includes a timed on switch, but no pulse button. The polished finish and laser-etched logos are a beautiful touch that almost make you want to cherish it more than use it.
After you grind the beans, you need a proper way to brew. There really isn’t an easier way than with a press pot. It’s one of the most basic and transparent brewing methods, that’s difficult to mess up. No paper filters to impair the taste, and nowhere for bad beans to hide. The oils that aren’t filtered out by the mesh, provide full flavor in the cup while a bit of sediment adds a pleasant texture to the body.
While you can pick up a basic press for about $20, Storyville wanted something that would look nice on the counter next to their grinder. So they partnered with Bodum to offer a custom, 12-cup Columbia press pot. The stainless steel matches the accents on the grinder, and it makes enough coffee to serve everyone at your dinner party.
The design and consideration doesn’t stop at the packaging and the products, but continues through the literature as well. The instruction guides are nicely illustrated with pleasant typography to guide you through using, cleaning and maintaining each piece of hardware. When an instruction guide is so beautiful that you actually want to read it all the way through, it says something for the power of design.
On Monday, I’ll talk more about some unique things Storyville is doing as a company, as well as review the coffee itself. Until then, check out their website to watch a video tour of their amazing roasting studio and a fun parody about ex-employees of “Big Coffee.”
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.
The Dieline discovered this amazing set of vintage coffee cans from the 19th century in the virtual aisles of Z&K Antiques. While I can only imagine how terrible the coffee was, the eclectic spirit of the typography and design is fantastic. Enjoy!
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.
Project 7 changed the way people perceive bottled water and the impact is can on lives around the world. Now they are hoping to do the same with coffee. The company realized mass consumption isn’t going away, so they’ve embraced it, and turned it into an engine for good. They are a for-profit company who use their profits to fund charities around the world. Project 7 continues to use great design and marketing to further their mission, while also giving the consumer the power to choose which cause they support. They focus on seven areas of need:
Quench – provides a year of clean water for a person in need
Heal – provides medicine for a person suffering from malaria
Hope – provides a day of counseling for a child of war
House – provides food, education & healthcare for a day for an orphan
Feed – provides 7 meals for the hungry in the United States
Teach – provides schooling for a week for a child in Africa
Each product is named after a respective cause, so you choose which one you support with your product selection. The coffee is only offered through a subscription program, but you can start with just 3 months. You can allow for a new coffee (and cause) to be sent each month or you can select a specific blend yourself. The coffee is all organic and Fair Trade certified, and they mention buying direct when possible.
The video, illustrated by Darren Dunham, fits well in the Project 7 vernacular, but also distinguishes itself as something new. From the beginning, Project 7 knew that design would be a valuable component of success and invested early. It’s paid off. There are many coffee companies who donate to many causes, but Project 7 has an established brand and a successful model in place that’s driven by a well communicated story. Their new video is engaging, informative, and well executed. I’m excited about their new venture and look forward to trying the coffee.
They are currently offering the first month free. Enter “CATALYST” when checking out.
Able recently sent me photos of the new packaging they worked on for One Village Coffee. While I plan on tasting this coffee as soon as I settle down from my summer travels (the reason for a lack of recent updates), I couldn’t wait to post their beautiful coffee bags. They’ve already made the rounds on The Dieline, Lovely Package, and even Swiss Miss (a huge honor) and all for good reason.
The colors work great together and set a much more welcoming tone than the dark earthy colors normally used by coffee companies. The information draws you in to really engage and educate the customer about the company. The hand drawings carry over well into the website—although a little overwhelming at times—it maintains enough hierarchy to easily navigate through all the information on the site. Can’t wait to taste what’s inside!
Our hope is that the bag provides multiple touch points for customers who want to learn more about the company and get more involved. We are currently working on manifesting the “village” experience online, on university campuses, in grocery stores, and farmer’s markets. –via Lovely Package
A colorful package design project from Texas Tech design student, Cari Cadwell. While I’m not a fan of blends, the bird theme and the onomatopoeias used for the blend names create a unique conceptual brand within the realm of coffee. There’s also no such thing as an “espresso roast,” (one of my pet peeves of coffee packaging/marketing). Espresso is a method of brewing, but I’ll forgo that rant. On to the work:
The concept for my packaging is a retro feeling coffee. It is a series of coffee that uses the onomatopoeias for the various blends of coffee, such as Cock-a-doodle-doo for breakfast blend. The brand name I made up was Java Nest Coffee because of the bird theme. This was an open project for my student portfolio, and was awarded ‘Best Packaging’ in Texas Tech’s senior portfolio show for Communication Design.
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.
Norwegians drinks the most coffee in the world at 10.7kg per person (in the US it’s only 3kg!), which may be why I’ve always wanted to live there. Recently, one of the oldest coffee houses in Norway underwent an incredible rebrand. Solberg & Hansen was established in 1879, so preserving their legacy, while also illuminating the premium quality of the product, led to an impressive luxury coffee brand that remains warm and approachable.
The designers, Fredrik Melby & Martin Stousland in Oslo, did an incredible job making this unique in the world of coffee. I wonder how the taste compares to their design. Now I’ve got another reason to visit Norway.