This week on Coffee Design we’re heading to Vermont—and what a perfect time, too. The smell of Autumn in the air, the leaves changing, the red-covered bridges of Washington County! Carrier Roasting Co. is based in Northfield with an outpost in bustling Burlington. They’ve recently changed their look in a fantastic new re-design. We spoke with Carrier Roasting Co. co-owner Ross Evans digitally to learn more.
Tell us about Carrier Roasting here in 2021—how’s the cafe/roasting space in Northfield and the cafe in Burlington?
Like most businesses, 2021 has been a mixed bag for us. We’ve dealt with the ever-changing pandemic environment and also worked through staffing shortages. Thankfully we’ve remained healthy (both physically and as a growing business) and remain optimistic about the future. Our cafe teams are all pretty seasoned at this point and they’ve done a tremendous job navigating everything the year has thrown at us.
This summer we dipped our toe into the wild world of farmers markets with a booth at the Capital City Farmers Market in Montpelier. The market runs from April to October. Our mobile espresso set-up included two Decent Espresso Machines and a Mahlkonig Peak grinder. It’s a really fun set-up and the market has been super busy this summer.
This fall and winter we’ll be moving into a new roastery space just 2/10 of a mile from our Northfield location. Our coffee bar will remain in its current location, but we’re very excited about the new roastery space. The space is in a beautiful red brick building that was originally an engine house for the railroad and has been transformed into a fantastic modern warehouse and office space. It’s a large and flexible space that will serve us very well as our roastery and headquarters for many years of growth.
All in all, we have a lot to be thankful for. Special shout out to our dedicated customers as well as our cafe and roasting teams for all they’ve put into making Carrier what it is.
Tell us about the redesign process.
In 2020 we set out to redesign all of our consumer packaging formats: Whole bean, Snapchilled cans, and Specialty Instant. Beyond simply wanting to redesign into a cohesive look and feel, we were searching for formats that were both sustainable and also would allow us to tell more of a transparency story. It was a long process to be honest. When you dig into the weeds, the packaging is complex. You have to find a happy blend between the sometimes competing worlds of design and production. We didn’t rush the process though and are glad we didn’t. The results landed exactly where we hoped they would.
Who did you work with on the redesign?
We worked alongside Jason Endres on the project. Jason is an incredibly talented nationally recognized designer who happens to live 10 minutes from our roastery. That sort of connection was really important to us. We wanted to work with someone who really understands how our brand fits into the local community. Even though we sell our coffee nationally, our impact on and commitment to Vermont is pretty important to us and something we wanted the designer to understand. And that’s not to say our packaging design needed to scream “VERMONT” (and it doesn’t), but just having someone locally who understands what we’re doing and can see the process up close was important. Jason designed our primary logo mark too, so we’ve had an ongoing relationship with him.
Can you tell us more about the color palette—what do the colors signify?
For the new packaging, we wanted a natural palette that felt organic but also included some vibrant pops of color. The primary colors of the packaging are cream, forest green, and then some subtle metallic gold and burnt orange. The side panel of the bags includes a metallic gold design that visitors to our Northfield roastery and coffee bar will recognize: it’s a swirling repeating pattern that signifies liquid in motion. It’s sort of abstract but also a bit of an IYKYK nod to our roots in Vermont.
The labelling system includes vibrant colors that complement our core color palette really nicely. Though we don’t promote any sort of formal color system with the labels, subtly they hint at the primary flavor profile of each coffee (i.e. a red labeled coffee might have notes of strawberry or watermelon).
What was the intention behind the redesign?
We took inspiration from traditional postal service packaging (a nod to our namesake logo mark the Carrier pigeon) and updated our full line with a modern color palette. The new design and labeling system, which launched this summer, allows us to better communicate each coffee’s unique transparency information, while achieving the goal of sustainability. Each of our consumer packaging formats is recyclable and/or compostable (using Tricorbraun’s Biotre 2.0 material).
Beyond that, understanding the role transparency plays in coffee and finding ways to communicate that to the customer was really important to us. When it came time to design the details on each coffee’s label, we spent a lot of time really dialing in those words and that messaging. The information we share on each coffee includes basic traceability information such as where the coffee came from and how it was produced, and transparency details like who we worked with to get the coffee to us (including producers and sourcing partners), the amount of time we’ve been working with them, and the price we paid. That may seem like information overload, but we spent a lot of time thinking about how to phrase it as a concise story rather than a dry list of specs, and we find that our customer generally cares about these details. It provides the right context for them at the point of sale so they can make an informed buying decision and better contextualize the impact their purchases will have. This is information we’ve been sharing with customers for years, but the redesign process allowed us a chance to better organize the info without the constraints of our previous packaging formats.
Another key piece of information that we re-thought during this process was the roast scale. One of the classic methods roasters have used for talking about flavor is a scale from light to dark. That approach doesn’t account for the fact that roast level is subjective. One roaster’s dark could be another roaster’s medium. On the other hand, if we just told you an objective measurement of color it would be even more confusing – does saying a coffee is “55 Colortrack” tell the consumer anything about how much they will like the coffee? Roast scales don’t do a great job at communicating what the coffee drinker really wants to know: what is this coffee’s taste balance like? So we opted to adopt a taste-first approach and forgo the roast scale for one that ranges from “bright” to “deep”. A coffee’s brightness or depth is correlated with roast to a certain extent, but it’s also heavily influenced by its intrinsic qualities of variety, terroir, and process. We believe this is a more effective way to communicate what matters most: the final flavor in your cup.
What coffees are you all currently excited about?
We’re coming to the tail end of a lovely coffee from Ture Waji of Sookoo Coffee. We are pretty critical of defects in dry-processed coffees, typically only buying one from Ethiopia a year and it’s always from Sookoo. This year we bought a lot called Birbissa, and it’s really become a darling among our team. Sookoo’s dry coffees are always so clean and expressive without any fermenty or earthy qualities. Birbissa is a sparklingly clean cup with refreshing notes of strawberry, lemon candy, and rose. We’re prepping for the cold winter months here in Vermont, but will savor this coffee’s flavors of summer for as long as we have it available!
We’re also loving a juicy washed Caturra from producer Jorge Ramires in Huila, Colombia. Clean and sweet washed coffees from smallholding producers are our bread and butter, and this coffee is a great example of how traditional techniques and varieties combined with excellent terroir and an incredibly skilled producer can seemingly add up to more than the sum of their parts.
Where is your coffee available?
You can get our coffee roasted to order and shipped directly to you from our website or at our coffee bars in Northfield and Burlington. We also have a wholesale partner network of more than 50 markets, cafes, and restaurants. Our wholesale partners are primarily in Vermont, but we have a few partners on the west coast as well. On our website, click “Stockists” and there’s an interactive store locator including all of our wholesale partners.
We desperately want to visit. Say we come in for coffee and a nice pastry in the morning as a launching-off point—how should we spend a perfect day in Burlington (and/or Northfield!)?
Come hang! We’d love to have you. We love Burlington, and it (rightfully) gets a lot of attention so we’ll recommend a visit to Northfield and central Vermont. After grabbing a coffee and pastry from our coffee bar in Northfield, head north to visit a super cute general store called Falls General for some very Vermont-y goods. You can cruise through some of Northfield’s famous red-covered bridges while you’re there. Then head to Barre to see our friends at Morse Block Deli for lunch. Barre is known for being the granite capital of the US, but Morse Block’s sandwiches are making a run at serious notoriety. From there, you can easily jump over to Montpelier – Vermont’s capital – for some sightseeing. Montpelier’s downtown is walkable with lots of great shops. Say hi to our buds at the Buch Spieler record store, and if you’re there at the right time you can have an eye-opening (and eye-watering) Thai food experience at Wilaiwan’s Kitchen, as long as they’re not sold out. While there you can also stop by the farmers market in Montpelier for locally grown produce and an espresso pick-up from yours truly. Then we recommend heading back to Northfield. No visit to Vermont is complete without a hike. There are great trails in town (maintained by Norwich University) that take you up Paine Mountain and offer a chance for some fantastic views. After your hike, stop by our sister business Good Measure Brewing Co. for a post-hike beer and hang on East Street. If we’re not roasting, cupping, or packaging we’ll join you for a beer!