Bright colors, playful coffee names, and charming characters make Creature Coffee out of Austin, Texas stand out. Creature Coffee started roasting coffee in 2020 and teamed up with designer Aleksandra Apaza after pouring over portfolios, Dieline, and Sprudge's Coffee Design looking for a perfect balance of fun and excitement with enough simplicity to make it approachable.
We talked to Michael Craig to learn more.
Tell us about your company Creature Coffee—when did y'all get started?
Originally from London, I came over to Austin, Tx in 2017 with the American Dream on the horizon, an obsessive passion for coffee, and a bag full of positive energy. After a couple of years of being fueled by the Melbourne coffee scene, I started Creature Coffee as a pop-up coffee bar with a slight $1000 in my back pocket. It turns out the good people of Austin rather enjoy quality coffee when served with a big cheesy smile and a funny accent! One coffee bar quickly became five, and then we opened a coffee bar inside the notorious Native Hostel on Austin’s east side. Fun times were had and then alas, all of a sudden, the pandemic knocked us sideways. During the unpredictable rollercoaster that was 2020, a lot of hard decisions had to be made. Like a lot of the coffee community, it was sink or swim time. That's when I reconnected with a good friend of mine called Ben, who had been urging me to start roasting. I called him up, we sat around a table in my backyard, and we put some ideas on paper. That is when the latest incarnation of Creature Coffee was born.
The concept was pretty simple. We planned to roast the best coffee imaginable, sourced from outstanding farmers the world over, but presented in a simple, fun manner. Ben comes from a long tenure in the craft beer industry and pointed out that there is no reason that the best coffee can't also be approachable—just like many of the best craft beers or even wines in the world. We wanted to focus on quality, but package it all up in something that the average coffee lover could appreciate without needing a PhD in botany or detailed understanding of topography. So, here we are today. The world is coming back, normality is on the horizon, our coffee is flowing once more, and we're roasting our own delightful coffee to boot! We’re excited by all the doors that are opening for us and 2022 looks like it’s going to be one heck of a fun year.
Tell us about your pop-up espresso bars!
Over the years, we’ve mastered the art of setting up a coffee shop in an hour, cranking out a ton of fine-looking drinks, and then disappearing like we were never there. Some days we’re making coffee next to a Ferrari on a Formula 1 track, the next we’re in the canteen of a hospital fueling our wonderful nurses and doctors. Sometimes it’s glamorous, with pictures worthy of any Instagram feed, other times it’s making coffee in cramped offices for the caffeine hungry. Setting up and plumbing in an espresso bar in the 100F heat of the TX summer is no joke, and only a slightly insane person with a bucket load of patience and willpower would enjoy doing this every day – but I love it! Juicy espresso, the best locally sourced milk, and scratch-made syrups are our core components to please any crowd. The best part about our pop-ups is that we regularly get to make coffee for people who’ve never experienced anything other than that cheap grocery store stuff. This means we deliver that ah-ha moment at EVERY event. We like to think we’re crusaders for specialty coffee, introducing the mainstream coffee drinker to how good coffee can taste.
Who designed the packaging?
Aleksandra Apaza is the greatest human being that we know. It took us a whole lot of searching to find the right person to create the brand and design of Creature Coffee. We spent a lot of time digging through portfolios on websites like Dribbble or Behance, looking at award-winning packaging places like The DieLine. We had a dreamlike idea of what we wanted, but needed the right person to focus our thoughts and turn vision into reality. Aleksandra is an artist. She has a style all her own. And we absolutely adore everything that she has ever made for us.
Tell us about the design—we want to know about the colors, the creatures, the names, and the package itself.
There is a lot going on! We wanted things to be fun and exciting—just like the flavor and aroma of our coffees. But at the same time, we wanted simplicity. We wanted to save all the coffee jargon for the website and leave just the basics on the packaging. If you want the elevation and the name of the specific plant varietal, you need to read about it online. For the artwork, we wanted to create something that was easy to follow. The color of our bags refers to the flavors you’ll experience in your cup. Our blue bags are all within what we refer to as our “easy” collection—coffee that, for lack of better terms, pleases everyone and doesn’t offend. At the other end of the flavor spectrum are our pink bags in our “playful” collection—think fruit bombs, floral fairies, and tropical cocktail parties. And then the yellow bags… well, they are somewhere in between.
Ben and I always have a fun time coming up with the names for each coffee. We decided early on that it would be more fun to have catchy names for each of our releases rather than just calling them something based on the variety, origin, or roast. I guess that comes from Ben's time working in the beer industry. It gives us a way to add a bit of character to the coffee, a bit of personality. For instance, we sourced a wild Ugandan naturally processed coffee that was grown in the Moon Mountains and tasted like a berry smoothie—so we called it Moon Fruits. We sold out pretty quickly!
As for the creatures, those are born out of Aleksandra's wacky mind. We give her a basic description of the coffee, the origin background and she gets to work. Not once have we had to go back to her and tell her to try again. She is some sort of evil genius when it comes to this stuff.
What offerings are coming up that y'all are excited about?
We get a little bit excited about all our coffees. We keep rotating our single-origins so it feels like we’ve always got something new popping up on the website. I’m currently blown away by “Papa’s New Bag.” A washed Papua New Guinea coffee that tastes like tropical fruits, think a high-scoring Kenyan coffee with muted acidity—absolutely delish! It’s rare to find a PNG coffee that tastes this good. Our “Cousin Berry” is easily one of our favorite natural coffees ever from the Dumerso Coffee Station in Ethiopia. Equally fruity as it is floral, exquisitely balanced, and exploding with berry sweetness. It’s killer on espresso as it is brewed on filter. Coming soon, we’re excited to release a yellow honey processed Honduran coffee that tastes like a honeycomb, hazelnut cream. And hopefully, by July, we’ll have a super fun washed Ethiopian coffee—on the cupping table it stunned us with sweet lemon sorbet vibes. We’ve got a bunch of fun collaborations coming up too, but we can’t quite talk about them yet!
How should we spend a perfect day in Austin?
Austin’s all about eating, drinking, and live music. In our humble opinion, every perfect day begins with a cup of coffee. We'll have to be biased here, but we'd recommend heading over to Native Hostel for your morning fix. They serve up some of our delightful single-origins on espresso. From there, keep heading east and you’ll find BBQ, tacos, cocktails, breweries, more coffee… and plenty of it!
Before it gets too hot, stroll along the path that straddles the river downtown or if you’re feeling adventurous, jump on a paddleboard. Maybe find your way to South Congress where you can meander amongst the shops, try on a few Stetsons, or take a photo in front of one of the infamous Austin murals. For lunch, you'll want BBQ. Any BBQ joint worth its weight in brisket will be sold out by about 2pm. Some of our faves are La Barbecue, Leroy & Lewis, Micklethwait or Kerlin.
Any good afternoon, particularly one that was preceded by gluttonous amounts of smoked meat will require yet another coffee. We love Try Hard, Fleet, Greater Goods, Figure 8, Flat Track, Houndstooth, Flitch… the list goes on. Fancy a little tipple, maybe a stiff drink or six? Then we’d recommend hitting up Kinda Tropical, Kitty Cohen's, or a brewery like Zilker Brewing or Central Machine Works. Once fully charged, hit up some of that famous Austin live music. If you’re feeling brave head to Dirty 6th St, it’s quite a thing. These days, we're big fans of what's going on in South Austin for local acts. Not much beats a show at Far Out Lounge and then a nightcap at Sagebrush for some true Texas honkytonkin'.