Ray: I’m Ray.

Kandace: I’m Kandace.

Ray: Welcome to Unpacking Coffee. This week …

Kandace: Coffee Supreme.

Ray: They are in residence at La Marzocco Café in Seattle right now, which is cool.

Kandace: We’re going to drink this coffee right up.

Meet Al & Doug

Ray: Who did we interview, Kandace?

Kandace: Al Keating and Doug Johns.

Al Keating: I’m Al, and I’ve had a few roles at Supreme. I started out with the title Aukland Guy and I’ve never really shaken it. My role now is Creative Director.

Doug Johns: I do Doug stuff. Around the company it’s often referred to as that. Graphic Design, Marketing Direction.

Al Keating: Doug stuff. His formal title would be Art Director.

Kandace: They flew all the way here, in their studio. Live. Recorded live.

Ray: Flew in here all the way from New Zealand just to be on the show.

Kandace: Just to be on the show. That kind of next leveled the whole show bit.

Ray: Next Level!

Where it All Began

Ray: So, Coffee Supreme has an interesting founding story. They actually started out as a Café Reds in like ’93 or so.

Doug Johns: Chris Dillon and Maggie Wells started a small café in Wellington called Reds which was a very popular little spot right when café culture was kicking off in New Zealand. And they quickly outgrew their current coffee supplier. Through a course of events, ended up purchasing the coffee roaster at the time. Overnight, they became a coffee roaster. They were doing such a good thing that people wanted a piece of it too, and it kind of grew from there.

Tall Poppies

Kandace: Their motto is, “Becoming the greatest little coffee company in the world.” They spoke to us a little bit about … I learned something new. Tall poppy syndrome.

Ray: What is that?

Kandace: That in New Zealand culture there’s this idea … you know what, let’s let Al tell us.

Al Keating: There’s a culture in our country of keeping people grounded and quotes like “be humble,” and basically we tell each other, “Get back down here. You’re getting a big head.” And so that’s very kiwi to do that. Whereas in your culture, you praise and celebrate promotion and success.

Not only does the company have its own multi-person design team, they also freely look outward for design inspiration and working partnerships — a process that led to their gorgeous current packaging, including a nifty Venn diagram to communicate flavor attributes. This collaborative spirit is perhaps a testament to the often humble nature of New Zealanders (ignoring, for a moment, the name “Supreme”). – Nick Brown, Daily Coffee News

Kandace: So interestingly, they have a few cafes. New Zealand, Australia. Am I allowed to say where the next one is going to be?

Ray: Well they said in your conversation with them, so I think the answer is yes.

Kandace: Tokyo! Pretty excited about that.


Kandace: They have an in-house design team, but they’re incredibly open to working with people outside of the company also, and I think that’s how they get so much of their really unique designs. But also, even within that group, they have a really strong foundation of roles. So they talked to us quite a bit about how they run their three person studio, and how they pull each others’ strengths. It sounded a lot like how we would run a successful design agency-

Ray: In theory.

Kandace: In theory. We try.

Ray: We actually reached out to a friend of ours, a guy called Ryan Marks, who we’ve known for years, who’s a really clever designer, but he specializes in packaging. We have struggled, Doug and I, in our department. We’ve struggled to go from 2D to 3D. We found 3D quite difficult, especially when it comes to packaging, so we went to Ryan and his team and they did an awesome job of helping us get our brand translated into a package.

Doug Johns: They had a really good process-

Al Keating: Yeah, fantastic process.

Doug Johns: … for leading us along the path to end up where we wanted to be. It was good.

Al Keating: Yeah, actually their process was … we took a lot from their process that they took us through. They almost helped us rewrite our brief. They asked us a series of yes/no questions where they described it as being tour guides, walking us through our own thinking. They said, “Are you left or right? Are you black or white? Are you this or that?”

And we were like, “Oh, this is awesome.” So we answered their series of questions, and they led us to a place.

We Love the Packaging

Ray: I wanted to talk about the packaging…

Kandace: Alright.

Ray: … because I really like the simplicity of their identity, which is just straight up all caps supreme.

Kandace: They’re pretty on the bottom.

Ray: Yes.

(awkward silence)

Doug Johns: It’s five years?

Al Keating: Four or five years old. Four years old. Yeah, the new white packaging. Before that we had … our packaging has been a bit of a dog’s breakfast over the years. We’ve never really aced it. We sort of paid attention to lots of other things, and then just tucked it into a brown kraft tin tie bag, like lots of other roasters. Which is great, if that’s what’s within your budget, then that’s fine. Kraft tin tie bags don’t really look after coffee. And it seems a shame that you go through all the trouble of meeting these amazing people who grow coffee, and they put all of this work into it, and then you pay all this money to get it half way around the world, literally, in our case. Coffee on the planet travels no further than it does to New Zealand. You put all this love into it, and then you stick it in a brown paper bag and it dies. So that was why we thought, “Yeah, we probably ought to do something about our packaging.”

Ray: Love the info cards.

Kandace: I love the flavor Venn diagram.

Ray: Yeah. The intersection of tangerine, blood orange and cocoa.

Kandace: Yeah. You’re pretty geeked out about the design here.

Ray: Yeah.

Doug Johns: I guess the current brand direction actually came from a trip Al took, and I think a light bulb went off when you were here in Portland.

Al Keating: Yeah, years ago I was here, and I saw some really fun things. I guess the Portland sort of design culture and language, and thought yeah … It was very inspiring being here and … this is maybe five or six years ago … so it was definitely quite a…

Ray: And they even included a red and white pencil roasting in the sun. Coffee Supreme.

Kandace: Okay, did they do that on purpose? It’s like the red pencil has a white eraser, and the white pencil has a red eraser? They are deep. There’s been some coffee on this one, seriously-

Ray: Well I was drinking this really good coffee. I was literally drinking their coffee. We eat coffee for breakfast.

And That’s a Wrap

Kandace: I really enjoyed having them in the studio. I think I would like that to happen more. They told us a little bit about what they’re going to be doing at the La Marzocco Café, and there’s still going to be at least a week of them at the café when this episode comes out. So go get it.

Ray: They also talked a little about their project to open in Tokyo. Coffee Supreme of New Zealand.

Kandace: Do you know what? They say Australasia here. That’s how they say it. I’m just trying to be …

Ray: Okay. Coffee Supreme of Australasia. That sounds like a Rush album or something.

Kandace: I learned that New Zealanders refer to themselves as kiwis.

Ray: You know, I neglected to ask why they’re called kiwis. Do they grow a lot of kiwis there? Or do they mean the animal? The little kiwi animal? Kiwi bird? Okay. So they’re like little birds. Anyway.

Watch the Show