When Starbucks opened in 1971, freshly roasted coffee and loose leaf tea were hand-packed in waxed paper bags, with the black-inked letters from a rubber stamp declaring its contents — like Sumatra , House Blend and Italian Roast.
But when Starbucks transitioned from a coffee bean retailer to an Italian-style cafe in 1987, the packaging became a vehicle for storytelling. First came the coffee stamps, picture stickers that were themselves little works of art. Designs can be playful, romantic or bold, just like the coffee itself. Then, in 1995, came Blue Note Blend, the first coffee sold in packaging printed with colorful graphics.
These new ‘rollstock’ packaging offered an even bigger canvas to share each coffee’s unique story through images and words. Packaging often incorporated stamp designs that echoed old-school stickers until 2011 with the update of the Starbucks logo and brand identity and the launch of Starbucks® Blonde Roasted coffees.
Designing a new basic coffee bag can be a daunting task. Unlike seasonal cafes like Starbucks® The basic packaging of Christmas mix (or even holiday mugs!) doesn’t change every year. In fact, the design is meant to last at least 10 years. So how does the bag tell the story of the beans inside?
It always starts with coffee.
Sergio Alvarez, Coffee/Tea Development Manager on the Starbucks Coffee team, has partnered with Starbucks Creative Studio to share the stories behind the beans – starting with tasting notes and descriptive words to highlight the flavors of each unique coffee blend.
“We have a very unique and thoughtful way of developing coffee blends at Starbucks and we wanted to make sure that came across in how we portray them,” Alvarez said. “Depending on the blend, depending on the roast, and depending on the region, there are different flavors that we associate with each of these specialty coffees.”
Although the coffee flavor profiles are the same delicious coffees customers know and love, the new packaging uses more descriptive and culinary terms to describe the flavor notes – like Veranda Blend®which was updated from “mellow and sweet” to “malt chocolate and toasted milk” and Italian, which changed from “roasted and sweet” to “dark cocoa and toasted marshmallow”.
Alvarez and the Coffee team also shared the stories of many of Starbucks’ most beloved blends to inspire designers. Organic Yukon Blend®, for example, was created in 1971 after a customer requested a coffee that would help his fishermen keep going during the fishing season in the Bering Sea. In the new packaging, Yukon Blend evokes that same independent Alaskan spirit with a mountainous scene set in the Yukon Valley.
Telling stories through art
“Our coffee reminds us of people, times or experiences, and we were able to explore that in how we approach our coffee packaging,” Alvarez said.
Translating these stories into art was a fun challenge for the designers and illustrators at Creative Studio as they sought to weave past, present and future together while tapping into the new creative expression of the Starbucks brand.
“Our legacy used handmade illustrations to bring warmth and connection to the brand. We wanted to continue to tie a thread to our new packaging,” said Derek Shimizu, Associate Creative Director of Creative Studio. We also wanted to make sure we stayed modern while leaning towards our brand.”
Strategic color selection is one of the most important elements of design. With every creative expression of the brand since the 2011 packaging refresh, and again with the most recent update in 2013, designers have used palettes of gold, copper and purple to signify the roasting intensity. New designs continue to use these visual cues to identify Blonde (gold), Medium (copper), and Dark (purple) roasts.
Now, what to draw? Illustrators often started with iconography and patterns that recall past designs. An Italian scooter has found its way back to the front of the Italian Roast, as have the roses that adorn Caffè Verona®. And it wouldn’t be Komodo Dragon Blend® without its eponymous lizard. They also worked to incorporate coffee cherries and plants into the designs to highlight the origins of coffee.
Deconstruct the new bags
The designers also take into account what they call the “architecture” of each bag to make it easier to buy their coffees, whether in Starbucks stores or in the grocery aisle. They have created a consistent badge system across the roast spectrum with design details that clearly identify roast and tasting notes. They highlighted Starbucks’ commitment to responsibly grown coffee by highlighting the ethical sourcing stamp, highlighting the company’s commitment to positively impacting the lives and livelihoods of coffee producers. coffee and their communities. There is also a traceability code on the back of bags sold in Starbucks stores that can link customers in the United States and Canada to where the coffee is grown using the Starbucks Digital Traceability Tool.
“Our current packaging was smart and expressive, but each bag had different typography, different icon placement, which made it a bit difficult to navigate or find where you were in the roast,” Shimizu said. “We wanted to make all of these elements simple and easy to navigate for the customer with this refresh.”
Learn more about the five new coffee bag designs and read on to learn more about three of them.
Veranda Blend is a smooth and chewy Starbucks® Blond roast coffee from Latin America, and its packaging makes you feel like you’re sipping coffee in a lush garden. The bag is grounded in golden hues, with delicate hummingbirds moving in and out of the scene, a nod to the lighter roast of coffee. Accents of a dark Starbucks “green house” and periwinkle on the coffee cherries and foliage further highlight the history of this coffee. “With the illustration, I wanted to transport our client to a bustling Latin American veranda and then provide a sense of place,” said designer and illustrator Yumi Reid. “I wanted people to feel like sipping amazing coffee that the coffee farmers have created there – really feel like they’re there in Latin America, where this amazing coffee is from.”
Pike Square® To roast
Named after the first Starbucks store, in Seattle’s Pike Place Market, Starbucks® Pike Square® The roast is served fresh daily at Starbucks stores around the world. A smooth, well-rounded blend of medium roast Latin American beans with subtly rich flavors of cocoa and praline, makes this the perfect brewed coffee.
Bridget Shilling, illustrator and designer of Pike Place Roast, felt a special connection to the Pike Place store – her husband worked at the market for several years.
“Being assigned to Pike Place was a special moment for me. I just think there’s something magical about going to the Pike Place store and celebrating our history as a brand,” Shilling said.
It was inspired to showcase the store’s heritage with a design inspired by old-fashioned luggage stickers on a rich copper background, and included the original brown logo, a coffee stamp and the iconic Public Market sign. Pike Place Center. But his favorite is his homage 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 that stands sentry above the door of 1912 Pike Starbucks store entrance.)
Single Origin Sumatra
Sumatran coffee has been on the Starbucks menu since 1971, and the Sumatran tiger that lives on the Indonesian island has been its symbol since its first coffee stamp. To convey its bold, full-bodied flavor, designer and illustrator Abby McCartin used a dark purple color to emphasize Starbucks dark roast.® Sumatra with touches of greens and blues as well as foil over tiger stripes and plants.
“I created an interesting effect by adjusting the scale of the tiger against the palm trees and the jungle landscape, noting the similarities between the shapes of the tiger and the palm fronds. Layering them adds an element of fun and mystery; you definitely see the tiger stripes at first glance, but once you look closer, you find more,” McCartin said.
Leslie Wolford, who joined the company as a barista 30 years ago when coffee was still put in paper bags, is proud of the new whole bean packaging and can’t wait to see it on shelves.
“Everyone brought their ideas, their own expression and elements to bring our coffees to life in a different way,” said Wolford, who is now head of coffee/tea development for the Coffee team. “I think it’s just this evolution of people and partnerships and growing the business and how we tell our story, and bring that back to who we are as a business and how we move towards next iteration of what Starbucks is as a brand.”