Branding Your Coffee Business with Coffee Cup Art

top pot cup

Yesterday, Someone asked me a couple of interesting questions via the comments on one of my photos on my Flickr photostream. The questions he had basically revolved around the importance of having coffee cup art vs. just having excellent coffee served in plain white cups and how important coffee cup art was to me? Since the importance of having coffee cup art (or logo’d cups) is something that I have always been interested in and thinking about blogging about for a while, I thought rather than simply answer the question on my Flickr page, I share my thoughts with the blogosphere and just write a more detailed blog post about it… so here goes…

My answer to the posted questions were in a nutshell yes. Coffee cup art (logo) is an extremely important (and not just to me) to have if you do own a coffee shop because many a time it is that logo that makes someone (i.e. me) curious about the coffee shop, where it is and how good their coffee is. And yet, regardless of this, you, as the coffee shop owner must always ensure that you serve excellent coffee because getting known for bad coffee can break your business.

Now let me go into a little detail. The most important reason for having coffee cup art is brand recognition and it serves as a relatively cheap marketing strategy for your business. However, this issue is not straightforward because brand recognition and marketing is only one component of a successful coffee business and that is key is that you want your brand to be recognized for excellent espresso and not mediocre coffee.

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But it can be easy to forget that there are other elements that go into any successful [coffee] business. Over the years I have talked to a few baristas and others in the coffee shop business and from everything I have heard, it is pretty clear that simply serving excellent espresso is no guarantee of success in this business. I have known more than a couple of coffeehouses that served excellent coffee and still went out of business. Stickman Coffee comes to mind… and The Fargonian Coffeehouse is another that I was sad to see go.

Being that running a coffee shop is still in essence running a business, to be successful, you have to fulfill the basic elements that any business does i.e. Product, Promotion, Price and Placement. For the purposes of the coffee shop business I want to look at these elements in the form of location, atmosphere, service (product and placement) and promotion. I will ignore price simply because there tends to be relative price parity among most of the coffee shops and coffeehouses that I tend to visit.

So let’s start with product & placement. Now assuming that the coffee shop serves excellent coffee (otherwise they should not be in business in the first place), the location, atmosphere (or ambiance) and service is clearly the biggest factor as to whether you will have repeat business. You want you coffee shop to be in the right location were you get a lot of potential customer traffic. If you coffee shop is out of the way or hidden, if it’s in an area that doesn’t have easy parking and is also in an area where there is not a lot of foot traffic, then that really makes it difficult for people to frequent your coffee shop.

Once you do have people in your shop, great service, including friendly baristas who remember your name and what your favorite drinks, will tend to make your customers want to come back again. Ambiance will encourage your customers to hang out in the shop and enjoy your espresso there…

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Good music, played at reasonable volume level is certainly a must. I can’t remember how many times I have hang out at coffee shops in the evening, working, and having really awesome mellow music playing in the background that is almost relaxing. Some coffeehouses will even go further and have live music at regular times. One good example of this is Faire Gallary Cafe which goes even further by hosting poetry readings and other performances. And now an increasing number of coffeehouses are also turning themselves into art houses and promoting the works of musicians, poets, painters and other local artists. Many will have the works, paintings, photographs and other pieces of art on display (and for sell).

If you have free Wi-Fi which more and more coffee shops are now offering, you will certainly get plenty of folks hanging out there and sometimes this can also present the problem of folks simply taking up space and nursing that one cup of drip they ordered 3 hours ago. I know that Victrola Coffee did have that problem where people with their laptops would take up all the tables and hang out there for hours… so what they did was to turn off the Wi-Fi during the week and turn it on during the weekends.

Once you have these elements in place, only then can should you consider promoting your brand via the coffee cup art (and yes I know that the live art performances can also be considered a form of promotion). Having you coffee shop logo or brand on the cup means that whenever you have people ordering your coffee “to go”, what you have are willing promoters and advertisers for your business. I can’t tell you how many times I have stopped and asked people where they got their coffee from simply based on the coffee cup’s design. I have also had people stop me and ask me the same question and I then directed them to the shop.

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Now I know that it is not necessarily cheap to have your own custom logo on your coffee cup. Someone told me it came to about $0.20 per cup, which would be a pretty decent percentage of the cost of the cup. But there are a number of other alternatives of having your coffee cup art done that I have seen in use.

  • The first alternative is to get the stickers with your logo on and place those on the cup. Places that do this include Bauhaus Books and Coffee and Arosa [Coffee] Waffles
  • Next is the sleeve. I have noticed an increasing number of coffee shops will have their logos on the Sleeve rather than the cup. My understanding is that is cheaper than doing it on the cup. Some of the coffeehouses that do this include Caffe Senso Unico and Zeitgeist Coffee.
  • The third option is to get a rubber stamp and stamp your logo on the cup. A large number of coffeehouses seem to prefer this alternative and include heavyweights like Stumptown and Victrola Coffee
  • The fourth alternative that I really don’t see much, but not only is the cheapest but is also refreshing is where the coffeehouse will draw or write the logo on each cup by hand. The coffee shop the immediately comes to mind is Katy*s Cafe
  • A fifth alternative is to use the cups provided by the coffee roaster who supplies you with your beans. Cafe Vita and Fonte are two roasters that provide cups to the coffee chops that sell their coffee
  • And as is true to any business considering a strategy, the final option is to do nothing. There are a number of successful coffee that simply do not logo their coffee cups. One that immediately comes to mind is Zoka Coffee. Yes they do brand their stores and the bags of coffee that they retail but when it comes to the cup, all you get is the plain white cup. But they have excellent coffee and so I still go there… Another is Online Coffee
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In conclusion let me tell you a little story. Arosa is one of my favorite coffee shops. They are pretty famous for their waffles but I go there mainly for the coffee. The way I came to find out about it was that someone at my place of work came in with the cup and I thought that the logo was really interesting. I asked her about cup and she told me about the place and how great both the coffee and the waffles are. So I made it a point to go there, which I did a couple of days later. I really enjoyed the coffee and found out that they have a special blend made exclusively for them by Fonte Coffee Roasters. Now even though I have driven by the place a number of times and I have seen their sign, I never really associated them with espresso until I saw the lady at work with one of their cups. If it wasn’t for the coffee cup art, I may never have found the place even they they have one store down the road from where I live and the other is up the road from there I live and I had been driving by one or the other for years.

Even though it was the logo that attracted me to the place, had their coffee been bad, I would never have returned for more…

Café Dharwin, the Neighborhood Coffeehouse

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Sometimes when I am on my way to the Eastlake/Wallingford/University District area I will take a certain back route that takes me right past Café Dharwin. This place, located at the Extreme North end of Capitol Hill, somewhat in the Roanoke neighborhood initially attracted my attention because of the name, Dharwin… and this being Seattle, that little city that know not God, I wondered if the owner was trying to make a statement about evolution or something to the effect. So I made it a point to drop by sometime for a latte and see if I could chat with them about the place.

So my first impression of the place when I stepped in what that it was really tiny… but cozy. Since the windows face west and I was there in the afternoon, the place felt warm with lots of great lighting. Perfect for a place like Seattle…

My latte was made for me by Dharmindra the owner. Dharmindra has been in the coffee business for at least seven years and has owned this cafe since 2004. He used to have a partner, I forget the partner’s name but now he is the sole owner. Of course I was itching to ask him about the origins of the name of the cafe. Apparently the name Dharwin came about from the combination of his and his former business partner’s last names i.e Dhar + Win so they weren’t trying to put forth a message of any sort… but what he is trying to put forth is great coffee.

Dharmindra uses Cafe Vita beans… as do a lot of the other places that use Cafe Vita, he brews his espressos using the Cafe Del Sol blend of Cafe Vita coffee beans. He told me that he has been a customer of Cafe Vita for years and he really likes their beans. The latte he made me was pretty decent. It was a good strong cup and good flavor… I really would have liked to have sat down and taken my time to enjoy the sun, the patrons and the cozy atmosphere but I was on my way back from the client site to the office. But my verdict is I would certainly go back and get a latte from there is I was in the area… and relax a bit at the cafe…

The TASTE Café at SAAM

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The Seattle Asian Art Museum (SAAM) up on Capital Hill by Volunteer Park runs a little ‘cafe’ that includes a little espresso cart that reminds me of the days when I first got into the latte habit. It reminds me of the time some years back when my friend was a barista working also at an espresso cart and made me a free latte… and got me forever hooked! Thanks Penny! 🙂 Oh and here’s a little trivia for those of you into martial arts, you will recognize the name Volunteer Park as the place where the martial art legend Bruce Lee was buried.

This little cafe, known as The TASTE Café straddles the North and South wings of the museum… and as one would expect, does have some interesting stone art pieces sitting on the shelves and one can admire while drinking their espresso and enjoying their treats.

It has actually taken me quite a while to actually find myself at SAAM when the TASTE Café was open because they have really short operating hours, from 11:00 AM to 3:00 PM, Wednesday to Sunday. I often like to head on out to Volunteer Park to do some photography but most of the times I would go there this past summer, the cafe was already closed. So imagine my delight when I just happened to be there at the right time and I could finally sample the coffee there.

The barista was really nice and let me take a photo of the espresso cart. She too enjoys photography and so we chatted a bit about that and of course coffee. As it turns out, TASTE Café use Torrefazione Italia Coffee beans. They use the Perugia Blend, Perugia being the name of an Italian city, which is their medium roast, full body, rich and smooth blend for espresso. The coffee was actually pretty nice… She made me a nice strong latte that was pretty smooth and despite my hangups about Starbucks, I enjoyed my latte.

I always find it interesting when I find a place that actually uses Torrefazione beans, not because I don’t like the beans (I actually do like them) but because of the whole Starbucks debacle when they bought out Seattle’s Best and proceeded to shut down the Torrefazione coffee shops even though they still sell the beans. You can read my thoughts about that here and also here.

Oh and I forgot to mention, you can also get beer and sake at the cafe too…

Tony’s Coffee at Madison Market

The first time I drank a latte that I knew had been brewed with Tony’s Coffee beans, I was rather disappointed. I ordered the drink from a latte stand called Buzz Stop which is just down the street from Madison Market. The second time I ordered a latte with Tony’s Coffee, again I was disappointed and I started thinking that Tony’s Coffee must be not so great coffee.

But the funny thing about this is that I actually all this time I have been drinking Tony’s Coffee for quite a while… and really enjoying it… I just didn’t know that I was drinking Tony’s Coffee. Not until I started blogging about coffee on a regular basis, did I actually find out that Madison Market, a place that I enjoy getting a latte every so often, serves Tony’s Coffee. The irony here being that the coffee stand that served me my bad latte is just down the hill from Madison Market.

This experience, in addition to that I had in Victoria BC where I wasn’t really happy with my latte that happened to have been made with Intelligentsia Coffee beans really made to think more closely about the additional elements of a good latte.. that being not just the beans, but the process, the ingredients (i.e. milk) and also the barista who puts it all together to a hopefully unbelievable experience.

I just happened to have gone shopping at Madison today and I stopped by the espresso counter to chat with the baristas and find out a little more about the blends of Tony’s Coffee that they use for their espresso. What the barista told me was that over the summer they had been using the French Royale blend but they later switched to the Café Carmelita blend which is a medium roast. I guess the French Royale was a little too dark for some of the folks out there.

I plan to venture back to the Buzz Stop and Monkey Grind Espresso Bar, try out their coffee again and see if there has been any improvement… and also what blend they use. I really do suspect that the baristas who served me at the time I happened to place my order were not really good baristas. Hopefully my experience this time will be much better…

Coffee Options in the Corporate World

Best Practice

Sometimes when a consultant is at the client site, he (or she) may need their afternoon coffee fix. And since you don’t want to take off looking for the nearest coffee shop, because your client is paying for you by the hour, you have no choice but to head on over to the kitchen area to forage for a cup of drip.

If your client happens to be a big technology firm who shall remain anonymous for certain reasons, then you’re in luck since they have some halfway decent machines that grind and brew your coffee as you wait. And they also have real milk, a bait, 2% but that’s better than nothing. They also have plenty of latte options in the various cafeterias scattered across their various campuses and buildings. But if you have your ordinary everyday client, then you sort of cross your fingers when you come to the kitchen during the first day site tour. As the client ‘proudly’ shows you around the kitchen. There will usually be the coffee pot and some no name brand of coffee grounds… or even worse, instant coffee…

One thing you find pretty commonly at many offices are the creamers. You have your liquid creamers that try to be gourmet with names and flavors like Irish Cream (for those of you who want some alcoholic flavored coffee), almond and French Vanilla. I’m sorry, who on earth came up with this idea of adding such contaminates to coffee?

Yet in the consulting world, the use of these signal desperate times. You know, those times when you have not other options other than what is available in the kitchen

What I have learned is if I will be working out of a certain office for a while, I will buy whole milk and leave that in the fridge. The added benefit of using whole milk is that most of the folk in the office most likely will not drink whole milk due to the ‘high’ fat content. I tell you, they don’t know what the are missing…

Moka’s Cafe, the Good Times Cafe

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Every so often I will drive by Moka’s Cafe on Fairview Avenue North in the South Lake Union area of Seattle. There are a couple of reasons why I have not tried the place till very recently. One thing that immediately stands out as you drive by is the huge and pretty cool looking sign with the round polka dot coffee mug. I have been wanting to take a picture of the sign but I just haven’t been there at the right time with the right weather to take the kind of shot that I want too… but I digress…

The main reason why I had not actually tried the place was because very time I passed by, the place always seemed like it was closed. for the longest time I actually thought that the place had closed down but the sign was still up. And why did I think the place was closed? It seemed to me that the place always looked rather dark inside so it was really hard to tell that indeed the place was open. And more often than not I would drive by the place on a Sunday and indeed, they are closed on Sundays.

The other reason I was hesitant to check out the place was because when I finally went into the shop some months ago, I noticed that they used Vashon Coffee, a roaster I had never heard of before and I was a little reluctant to to try it. But after I decided to get serious with this blog, and also have tried the same coffee at 5ive Cafe, I was now interested in seeing what Moka’s Vashon coffee tasted like.

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The baristas were really nice. I asked them about their coffee and their shop. Yes they do use Vashon Coffee. The blend that they use for their lattes and other espresson drinks is the Espresso Artisano blend. She made for me a strong latte and I really liked the fact that they also asked me for my milk preference. The latte wasn’t too bad actually but nothing super memorable… I could go back and get another…

What I thought was most interesting is that according to the barista, the owner of Moka’s Cafe, is also the owner of Vashon Coffee… so she actually roasts the coffee that is served in her Cafe. Vashon supplies coffee to a few places around Seattle including 5ive Cafe which I checked out a few weeks back. Since I was in a hurry, I didn’t have much time to really chat with the barista and get more details, but that will probably be another conversation topic the next time I visit Moka’s Cafe…

Wallowing in Mediocrity

The weekend’s is here… after a near disastrous yesterday where I dropped my camera onto the concrete pavement and about 30 minutes later, spilled coffee onto my laptop keyboard and screen I am glad the weekend is at hand. I seemed to have dodged a bullet though. Even though my laptop reeks of coffee, and a couple of the buttons were stuck, everything else seems to be fine. And my camera? Well, the UV filter that I have on my lens shattered but the lens itself and the camera seem to be fine…

But then I started thinking about my attitude of complaining… and I had to step back and remember, that in the bigger scheme of things, this was nothing compared to the trials and tribulations that millions around the world are facing.

Later that Friday, I was listening to Day to Day on KUOW, which is my local NPR affiliate station and Madeleine Brand was interviewing the British comedian Ricky Gervais on his upcoming comedy show. It was interesting to note one of the comments that Ricky made to the effect that the West has essentially become pretty mediocre and self centered. So for example, we don’t get worked up when there are wars, famines, disasters and tragedies going on around the world, yet we get really, really upset when the milkman doesn’t deliver the yogurt. Or here in the US we get upset because the store run out of our favorite brand of milk. We would later call the manager to complain about our milk while in the background on TV there is a news report about some war and civilian casualties or refugees fleeing the war zone.

I think that we in the west have become accustomed to wallowing in mediocrity… we spend excessive amounts of time worrying and complaining about things that in the bigger scheme of things, trivial and irrelevant. So what if we missed our favorite show because we were stuck in traffic and couldn’t make it home on time? That is nothing compared to what these folks in the DR of Congo are going through

It is these kinds of things that make me realize that I really need to be thankful for the blessings that my family and I already have and not trivialize the little things. Yet, I am really distressed and disheartened that the world round us just seems to get worse and worse and I really feel for the women and children who as always tend to bare the brunt of these sorts of events… I pray that the Lord will show his favor on these people…

Ink Online Coffeehouse Experince

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Ink Online Coffeehouse, is a tiny place on 1st Avenue that I have in the past, simply walked by without venturing in. This has been for no other reason than the place, which until recently was known as Caffe Lieto, just didn’t seem to stand out as a coffee shop worth visiting. But all this changed Friday a week ago. I just happened to be driving by looking for a place to stop and get a quick latte before going to work and since I was in a hurry, I decided to pop into the place… especially after I found great parking just round the corner from the shop.

The new owner Rena Poppell was behind the counter. She took my order and made my latte. She was great to chat with and didn’t mind me taking a couple of pictures of her coffeehouse. She also gave me a bit of background on Ink Online Coffehouse and the cafe formerly known as Caffe Lieto. She has been in the coffee business for over seven years and decided to go into business for herself. She is currently re-branding and remodelling cafe Lieto into Ink Online Coffeehouse. It is interesting that she decided to change the name of the old cafe because she did not feel that the name Cafe Lieto really signified what she was trying to do and that is build a coffeehouse known for excellence.

Personally, I think she is getting there. The coffee she served me was pretty good actually. She gets her coffee beans from Borogove Coffee, a great coffee roaster up in Everett. Of the different coffee roasters she’s familiar with, she thinks that Borogove is the most flavorful and also reliably freshest roasted (is that even proper grammar?). The blend of Borogove Coffee beans, that she uses the lattes and other espressos is the Espresso Cremona blend.

I later did a little digging up on Borogove Coffee and found out that one of the partners, Dismas Smith used to be a master roaster at Zoka Coffee Roasters and Tea Company. Dismas also founded Stickman Coffee which just closed this past weekend.

But going back to Ink Online Coffee, I must say that I think the place holds a promise for being a great coffeehouse down by the Pike Place Market. I certainly look forward to frequenting the place more often and sampling the wonderful espresso Rena pulls…

On the Way with Lemongrass

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As the weekend winds down, and I start thinking about the up coming work week, here I sit on the computer, listening to various tracks by Lemongrass. Now in my opinion, Lemongrass is simply one of the most amazing groups that you’ll never hear of in the main media. Thanks to iTunes, I discovered with amazement, Lemongrass’ music sometime last year… and I’ve never looked back.

There are a number of things I love about Lemongrass… the biggest being that their music style is diverse with so many styles. They have released quite a number of albums some of which are ambient to fast mellow and eclectic sounding tracks. To be honest I don’t really know how I can describe their music since they don’t have one particular style, but I would suggest that you check them out on iTunes to listen to some sample tracks… oh by the way, while you are on iTunes, also check out the band called Shrift… another super awesome band.

Lemongrass is actually made up of just one guy, the producer Roland Voss. He lives in the countryside of Northern Germany and has produced over ten albums. Lemongrass also releases music under the name, Jasmon. Based on what he has done as Lemongrass, I am now curious to check out the stuff he has released under the monikor Jasmon…

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