Stumptown just released the latest installment of their video series, which in the past has captured the beauty and the process of hard work that takes place at origin, now highlights the passion for coffee from within Stumptown’s own walls.
The film shares an honest and poetic behind-the-scenes look at Stumptown and serves as a tribute to the coffee loving team who live for the work that they do. It’s a well polished glimpse of the industry for the professional coffee crowd or just the coffee curious, with the kind of aspirational sheen you’d expect from a Levi’s commercial.
Created by Trevor Fife, the filmmaker who’s famous for the opening credits of True Blood and the BMW Unscripted series, does the specialty coffee industry far more justice than the Travel Channel has. Brew a fresh cup and enjoy.
Trevor has been a long-time collaborator with Stumptown: traveling to source with Duane starting in 2006, shooting films on farms like Guatemala Finca El Injerto, and traveling across Colombia, Ethiopia and Kenya, blending clean, pristine digital images with gritty and textural Super 8 and 16mm film. His work is not only easy on the eyes but captures the living, breathing spirit behind the coffee farms and the surrounding communities.
Great video by Stumptown from a recent sourcing trip in Colombia. Enjoy!
Over the last several months, Stumptown has continued filming coffee farmers in their element. The latest in our series of Source Trip Films features Colombian coffee producers and the intense relationship between growers, the coffee and their communities.
Stumptown’s support of indie art and design has always been a big part of their brand, it’s one of the things I really appreciate about it. There isn’t just one logo that’s applied to everything they produce, the look of the brand continually evolves and changes while successfully evoking a consistent voice and feeling of who they are.
The company recently teamed up with New York artist Wes Lang to produce a limited edition set of Stumptown mugs. Last night was the release party and one of many times I really wished I lived in Portland. Not sure how to get my hands on a set—anyone?
Duane Sorenson, founder of Stumptown, has finally spoken more regarding new investment into the company. While he doesn’t answer all the questions many people are asking, as I said before, I take him at his word. Keep supporting farmers and selling great coffee and nothing else matters.
At a time when it’s difficult to find the financing to grow, run and operate a quality driven and sustainable business, I am pleased to announce that Stumptown has found an investor to help us offer opportunities and take care of our employees, farmers and customers like we’ve never been able to do before. I have been lucky enough to find an investor that will let me continue to run Stumptown and focus on the coffee.
After days of rampant internet speculation regarding Stumptowns ownership, a reputable publication did some real journalism to finally uncover some answers. Rumors began after the owner of an east coast coffee roaster, irresponsibly claimed that Stumptown’s owner Duane Sorenson had “sold his life’s work to the highest bidder,” in an “article” for Escquire.com.
Oliver Strand waded through the hysteria, and spoke with Duane to learn more.
“I still own Stumptown,” Mr. Sorenson said in a telephone interview. “I’m still in control of Stumptown, the only thing that’s changed is that I brought in an investor, a buddy of mine, who brought in some money so that I can do the things I want to do.” -NYTimes
While this may not appease all of the doubters calling him a sell-out, there are also people who will never believe President Obama was born in the US. Considering the state of the economy and the costs required to scale from a regional business to a national one, I completely understand the need for investment capital. While they aren’t disclosing the structure of the investment, there’s currently no reason not to take Duane at his word. There seems to be a lot on the horizon for Stumptown, and if they continue supporting farmers and selling great coffee, we should be thanking Alexander Panos and TSG Partners.
[Stumptown] plans to open two coffee bars in Brooklyn, add a bottling facility to its roaster in Red Hook for its cold-brewed coffee and, Duane Sorenson, Stumptown’s founder, says the company will try to open roasters in Chicago and San Francisco. -NYTimes
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.
Last week I visited Portland, Oregon to see friends, speak with design students at PSU, and drink as much coffee as I could. I hadn’t been to Portland in 3 years and the coffee landscape had grown quite a bit. With a list of roasters and cafe’s to visit—which grew with each person I met—I explored, tasted, cupped, and enjoyed some of the best PDX has to offer. I also met a lot of the super friendly, super knowledgeable people behind the regions top coffee scene who continue to experiment and push coffee into new territory.
Sadly I forgot my camera, so the only photos I have come from a lowly iPhone. Enjoy.
I spent an entire day visiting 4 Stumptown locations. Above, the Belmont shop had a new, custom La Marzocco Mistral on the bar. Lovely
Right next door to the Belmont shop is the Stumptown Annex. A brew bar with no espresso machine. Just a great selection of beans and a relaxed environment to learn about coffee brewing, buy some beans, or take part in a complimentary cupping (every day at Noon and 2pm). I took part in the first one with a spread of 4 different Colombian origins and for the second, I just hung around to watch the brew demo. The crew at the Annex were great and up for talking about everything from the export issues in Ethiopia, to their favorite AeroPress techniques.
The next day I stopped by one of Portland’s newest roasters, Water Avenue Coffee. It’s a nice clean shop not far from Spirit of 77 (the best sports bar I’ve ever been to). I really loved the custom concrete pour over bar and the blue neon coffee sign. Joe from Reno let me hang out a bit while he closed up and talked about the barista school they run in the back of the shop and brewed up a nice sweet cup of El Salvador for me.
Next up was Coava (koh-va), which isn’t far from Water Avenue, and home of the K-One Kone filter they designed for the Chemex. Also open for less than a year, this shop is absolutely beautiful, my photos don’t do it justice, so be sure to check out the gallery on their website. The entire space is huge with the coffee bar tucked into one corner. A wood shop studio shares the space and there’s a collection of amazing tables on display throughout it. At first I wasn’t sure if I was in a furniture showroom, a workshop, or a cafe and hesitated to sit down.
I had a cup of Costa Rican Helsar brewed up with the Kone. I really enjoy how well the Kone retains the bright flavors and a bit of sediment, but not as much silt as a French press. Matt then pulled me a fantastic shot of their Honduras El Limon while we talked about the Kone. He quickly began to speak more like an engineer than a barista. Keith was busy roasting, so I didn’t have a chance to meet him, but I’m sure they’ll still be there next time I’m in town.
I also stopped into Barista for a shot from Sightglass roasters in SF. I always appreciate cafes that serve a variety of beans. There are too many good roasters out there to stick with one. These are friendly guys worth visiting in a nice shopping district of Portland called the Pearl.
On the morning I left, I met some friends at Crema, a nice cafe and bakery that serves Coava and Stumptown. The barista, Skip, made me a delightful cappuccino with Stumptown’s Hairbender and then brought over a shot of Coava’s El Salvador Santa Sofia to send me off to the airport on a good note.
I know there are a lot of great places I never made it too, but it would take more than 4 days to visit them all. I really wanted to stop by Heart Roasters before I left, but I ran out of time. They just turned a year old and I’ve heard many good things about them. Feel free to share any other cafe’s or roasters in Portland in the comments. I’d love to know about the gems I missed, so I’ll have more reason to go back soon!
Last May during my NYC coffee tour, I attempted to visit Stumptown’s roastery in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Sadly they were closed for the day. But Now I’ve got even more of a reason to go back. Last Friday they opened a new coffee bar in their Red Hook location, but without the most common centerpiece of coffee shops—the espresso machine. In response to the seemingly odd decision to exclude espresso from the menu, Stumptown told the New York Times:
“We’re going all-brew because that’s how most people make coffee,” said Duane Sorenson, the owner of Stumptown. “At our coffee bar in Red Hook we’re putting the focus on the bag of coffee and showing our customers how to brew that coffee correctly,” he added. –NYTimes
Instead of focusing on pulled shots and latte art, the new brew bar will offer coffee in 6 different ways: French press, Chemex, Hario V60 pour over, Melitta fliters, AeroPress, and the Clever Coffee Dripper. By making each cup of coffee individually, and by using methods that can be a cathartic spectacle, it allows the barista time to educate the customer while selling them coffee and the means they need to brew it right.
This is another great example of Stumptown doing what they know best and executing it really well. I find it interesting, just returning from Europe where most places don’t offer drip coffee—the closest you can get is an Americano—that Stumptown creates the complete opposite environment. It’s definitely a great strategy and shows they know their market well. I know way more people who own a French press than an espresso machine. The guys at Kickstand and Jim Seven at Penny University didn’t seem to have a problem keeping busy without espresso, so I doubt Stumptown will either.
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.
I stopped by McCarren park this weekend to meet the guys behind Kickstand Coffee, Brooklyn’s newest—and only—bike powered, mobile coffee bar. The founders Peter Castelein, Neal Olson and Aaron Davis—who have all worked with Gimme! Coffee—just finished their third weekend in business, but have already created quite the buzz.
Their open air coffee theatrics have been providing delicious Chemex brewed coffee, from local roasters, to the sun soaking folks in McCarren Park and local craft fairs. However, once Kickstand get’s cleared for a vendor license, there’s a good chance you’ll see their mobile, transforming bar—which was brilliantly engineered by Neal’s roommate Ben Schleif—showing up in other places around the city.
The idea combines the founders’ passion for bikes with their passion for coffee and has created a unique and intimate experience that allows the customer the opportunity to fully engage with the person making your coffee. It also give’s Kickstand a chance to educate customers about the differences in quality coffees and the brewing process while it takes place right in front of them. Good luck guys, you’ve got a successful summer ahead of you.