Introducing the next generation of Starbucks coffee art
When Starbucks opened its doors in 1971, freshly roasted coffee and loose tea were hand-filled into wax paper bags, the contents of which were marked with the black letters of a rubber stamp—such as Sumatra, House Blend, and Italian Roast.
But when Starbucks transformed from a bean coffee retailer into an Italian-style coffeehouse in 1987, packaging became a vessel for storytelling. First came coffee stamps, illustrated stickers that were little works of art in their own right. Designs can be whimsical, romantic, or bold, much like the coffee itself. Then, in 1995, came Blue Note Blend, the first coffee sold in packaging printed with colorful graphics.
These new “rollstock” packs provided an even bigger canvas to share each coffee’s unique story through images and words. The packages often featured stamp designs reflecting the old-school stickers up until 2011 with the update of the Starbucks logo and brand identity and the introduction of Starbucks® Blonde Roasted coffee.
Designing a new Core coffee pouch can be a daunting task. Unlike seasonal coffees like Starbucks® The core packaging of the Christmas mix (or even Christmas cups!) doesn’t change every year. In fact, the design is said to last at least 10 years. So how does the bag tell the story of the beans inside?
It always starts with the coffee.
Sergio Alvarez, Coffee/Tea Development Lead on the Starbucks Coffee team, has teamed up with the Starbucks Creative Studio to share the stories behind the beans – beginning with tasting notes and descriptive words to highlight the flavors of each unique coffee blend.
“We have a very unique and thoughtful way in which we develop coffee blends at Starbucks, and we wanted to make sure that reflected that in our description,” said Alvarez. “Depending on the blend, depending on the roast and depending on the region, there are different flavors that we associate with each of these special coffees.”
Although the coffee flavor profiles are the same delicious coffees that customers know and love, the new packaging uses more descriptive and culinary terms to describe the flavor notes – like Veranda Blend®updated from “smooth and smooth” to “roasted malt and milk chocolate” and “Italian Roast”, which changed from “roasted and sweet” to “dark cocoa and roasted marshmallow”.
Alvarez and the Coffee team also shared the history of many of Starbucks’ most popular blends to inspire designers. Organic Yukon Blend®, was founded in 1971 after a customer requested a coffee that would help its fishermen keep going during the Bering Sea fishing season. In new packaging, Yukon Blend evokes the same independent spirit of Alaska, with a mountainous backdrop of the Yukon Valley.
Storytelling through art
“Our coffee reminds us of people, moments or experiences, and we’ve been able to explore that in the way we approach our coffee packaging,” Alvarez said.
Translating these stories into art was a fun challenge for the creative studio’s designers and illustrators as they sought to weave past, present and future while unlocking Starbucks’ new creative brand expression.
“Our legacy used handcrafted illustrations to create warmth and brand connection. We wanted to continue to tie a common thread to our new packaging,” said Derek Shimizu, the creative studio’s associate creative director. “We also wanted to make sure we stay modern while still being excited about our brand.”
Strategic color choice is one of the most important elements of the design. In every creative expression of the brand since the 2011 packaging update, and again with the most recent 2013 update, designers have used palettes of gold, copper and purple to signify toasted intensity. The new designs continue to use these visual cues to identify blonde (gold), medium (copper), and dark (purple) roasts.
Draw what now? Illustrators often started with iconography and motifs reminiscent of previous designs. An Italian scooter found its way back to the front of the Italian Roast, as did the roses that adorn Caffè Verona®. And it wouldn’t be Komodo Dragon Blend® without his eponymous lizard. They also worked to incorporate coffee cherries and botanicals into the designs to highlight coffee’s origins.
Disassemble the new bags
Designers also consider what they call the “architecture” of each bag to make it easy to shop for their coffee, whether it’s at Starbucks or the grocery store. They have created a badge system that is consistent across the roast spectrum, with design details that uniquely identify roast and tasting notes. They highlighted Starbucks’ commitment to responsibly grown coffee, bringing the ethical sourcing seal to the forefront and underscoring the company’s commitment to positively impacting the lives and livelihoods of coffee farmers and their communities. There is also a traceability code on the back of bags sold in Starbucks stores that can connect customers in the US and Canada to where the coffee is grown using the Starbucks Digital Traceability tool.
“Our current packaging was ornate and expressive, but each bag had different typography, different placement of symbols, which made it a bit difficult to navigate or find where you were within the roast,” Shimizu said. “We wanted to make all of these elements straightforward and easy for the customer to navigate with this update.”
Find out more about the five new coffee pouch designs and read on to learn about three of them.
Veranda Blend is a smooth and mellow Starbucks® Blonde roasted Latin American coffee and its packaging make you feel like drinking coffee in a lush garden. The bag is primed in golden hues, with delicate hummingbirds darting in and out of the scene, a nod to the lighter roast of the coffee. Accents of dark Starbucks “house green” and periwinkle on the coffee cherries and leaves further underscore this coffee’s history. “With the illustration, I wanted to transport our client to a lively Latin American veranda and then convey a sense of place,” said designer and illustrator Yumi Reid. “I wanted people to feel like they were sipping the amazing coffee that the coffee farmers created there – really feel like they were in Latin America, where that amazing coffee came from.”
Pike Square® roast meat
Named for Starbucks’ first store in Seattle’s Pike Place Market, Starbucks® Pike Square® Roast is served fresh every day at Starbucks locations around the world. A smooth, well-rounded, medium-roasted blend of Latin American beans with subtly rich flavors of cocoa and praline make this the perfect brewed coffee.
Bridget Shilling, illustrator and designer of Pike Place Roast, felt a special bond with the Pike Place store – her husband worked at the market for several years.
“Being commissioned to work on Pike Place was a special moment for me. I just think there’s something magical about going into the Pike Place store and celebrating our history as a brand,” said Shilling.
Inspired to showcase the store’s heritage with a design inspired by vintage luggage labels on a rich copper background, it included the original brown logo, a coffee brand and the iconic sign of Pike Place’s public market center. But her favorite is her tribute to Rachel the Piggy Bank, the life-size bronze sculpture that has served as the market’s mascot since 1986. (There’s also a replica covered in coffee beans standing guard over the front door of the 1912 Pike Starbucks store.)
Single Origin Sumatra
Sumatran coffee has been on the Starbucks menu since 1971, and the Sumatran tiger, which lives on the Indonesian island, has been its symbol since its first coffee brand. To convey its bold and full-bodied flavor, designer and illustrator Abby McCartin used a deep purple color to emphasize Starbucks’ dark roast® Sumatra with accents of green and blue and foil on the tiger stripes and plants.
“I achieved an interesting effect by adjusting the tiger’s scale in relation to the palm trees and jungle landscape and noting the similarities between the shapes of the tiger and the palm leaves. Layering them up adds an element of fun and mystery; You definitely see the tiger stripes at first glance, but if you look closer you’ll find more,” McCartin said.
Leslie Wolford, who joined the company as a barista 30 years ago when coffee was still made in paper bags, is proud of the new whole bean packaging and excited to see it on store shelves.
“Everyone brought their ideas and their own expression and elements to bring our coffees to life in a different way,” said Wolford, who is now the coffee team’s development manager for coffee/tea. “I think it’s just this evolution of people, partnerships and growth within the company and how we’re telling our story and attributing that back to who we are as a company and how we’re moving into the next iteration of what Starbucks is as a brand.” “