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This week on Coffee Design we visit Onyx Coffee Lab in Arkansas to take a closer look at their new packaging. Onyx is home to the reigning United States Barista Champion—its co-founder Andrea Allen, who will compete on the World stage at some point (currently June 2021 in Athens). For their new packaging, Onyx uses colorful boxes with embossed floral patterns. It's a striking look that commands attention in a world of inventive branding and packaging. We spoke with co-founder Jon Allen via email to find out more.

How are y'all doing here in late September/early October of 2020?

We are doing well all things considered. Our staff and families are well, our cafes are still closed to the public but are staying busy at walk up windows, our roastery is buzzing, and we are beginning to turn towards a beautiful fall season in the Ozarks. We are grateful for all the support we’ve received from our community, both in Arkansas and the coffee community at large throughout the pandemic and the tumultuous time we find ourselves in. We are grateful fo have made it this far and continue the work in all areas of what we believe is the greatest industry in the world- coffee.

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When did Onyx debut the new design?

We released the new packaging as a soft release in our retail shops on July 19th! Our original plan was to release the new branding in early Spring of 2020, but alas, with the pandemic happening everything was delayed. As with all new projects it just generally took way longer than anyone planned. It was in the works for a year and a half total before it was released.

Tell us about the packaging—the colors, the patterns, the shape—it's all truly stunning.

The rebrand and new packaging was a long, arduous project that had very specific goals. It had been ten years since we launched our original branding, which coincided with our founding. During that timeframe maturity and growth accrued. With time we’ve changed personally and corporately as we represent a broader group of people from coffee producers, roasters, baristas, and other industry jobs.

We wanted our point of view in who we are and how we want to look, feel and to be unified within the rebrand. Like our peers, we work hard to justify well produced, highly cultivated coffees. To accomplish this we’ve come to understand the value and importance of packaging. It creates artistic freedom, something our staff and community could take pride in, and most importantly convey a sense of value and expectation to the individual who holds the box.

Another aspect of the new packaging was to focus on real sustainability. Not just as a buzz word to check a box or what is technically deemed “recyclable” but something we could be proud of for years to come. We spent eighteen months researching materials and discussing with many companies, paper mills, plastic producers and plants on what kinds of materials could be easily recycled all over the world. Where we could add compostable components. Strength in packaging was also important, as those in the industry know how many bags rip and come back through the mail or are thrown away during production. This meant leaving traditional foil lined plastic bags behind. We are also excited to see how customers reuse and create with the packaging. We’ve already seen our boxes turned into “clutches”, jewelry boxes, reusable coffee storage, and even lunch boxes.

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From a design aspect it’s been quite complex for us to produce. There are 10 colors of each bag and box showcased that represent a diverse set of flavor profiles. Aesthetically we went for solid color schemes that have a softness to them. Matte finishes with our name taking a debased backseat to the embossed-framed producer’s name. Overall it conflates minimalism in appearance, yet is texturally busy when it comes to touch. Its multi-planes of depth play with shadows and light, causing dramatic movement when the box is stationary and the subject moves.

Finally, we reimagined what kind of volume options we wanted to offer. How coffee was being brewed and who the audience was that was brewing. With this in mind we split the retails sizes into categories based on the brewer. A new 4oz taster box for those looking to explore but not commit, a 10oz retail box which in theory lasts 1 week, for those looking for peak freshness and a new 2lb option allowing those who know what they like and are looking for value.

Who designed it?

Jeremy Teff and Jon Allen. Jon is the co-owner of Onyx and Jeremy Teff is a friend from childhood as well as a designer we’ve worked with off and on for over a decade. He also does freelance under the name Hickory Design.

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What special coffees do you all have lined up this fall?

Ooooo great question, so many, just a few we are looking forward to: Costa Rica SL-28 natural from Las Lajas is truly a one of a kind—mouthwatering, juicy texture and tons of sweetness. Ethiopia Shantawene Anaerboic is a coffee we’ve had the last couple of years and we’re very excited about this new iteration. Should be released in the next couple of weeks. Eugenoides—we purchased a large amount of this from Finca Inmaculada and are big believers in this progenitor of Arabica. Last but not least we’re importing over 20 different special microlots for our third annual Advent Calendar and its shaping up to be spectacular. Very exciting!!

You also have a new line of merch—tell us about the current offerings.

We started as a company of coffee professionals that wanted to create a company for the industry itself. While we love our retail customers, Onyx’s foundation and most of the coffee we originally sold was to other coffee industry professionals. Honestly due to the fact that running a coffee company feels like treading water most of the time we never took a breath to refine our merchandise.

The idea with these collections was to create a style that the hospitably industry can wear with pride while working and wear out after a shift. We ourselves are used to working long days and then having to go home and change before going to hang out with friends. Part of the desire was to produce clothing with breathable material, solid colors, that you can both serve and be served in. We launched what we call a “color wash” collection in all 10 colors. This ranges from tees, to sweatshirts, to hats, bandanas, face masks and more.. The entire collection can be seen in a series of videos we released. We hope for the next decade to add to these collections seasonally but remain in the color spectrum and concept of hospitality first.

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Where can we get your coffee/gear?

All coffees and merchandise can be found on our new website onyxcoffeelab.com and many of our coffees can be found with our great wholesale partners in all 50 states and in 30 countries worldwide. Follow us on Instagram where we feature our partners.

Next time we're in your neck of the woods there in Arkansas and want to really make a day of it what should we explore?

Oh yes so many places to visit. The Crystal Bridges Museum of American art is a fantastic, beautiful facility, both the art, architecture, and grounds. Right now there’s an exhibit called “North Forest Lights” that are works involving light and the exhibit opens after dark. Downtown Rogers is a great spot as well. Our HQ is located there, and there are several breweries, restaurants, a lake, bike trails and parks nearby. There’s also countless outdoor hiking and water spots- Devils Den, The Buffalo River, the Hawksbill Crag- places that show the heart of the Ozarks.

Zachary Carlsen is a co-founder and editor at Sprudge Media Network. Read more Zachary Carlsen on Sprudge. 

Photos by Zac Cadwalader

Disclosure: Onyx Coffee Lab is an advertising partner with the Sprudge Media Network