Penstock Coffee is one of thousands of coffee roasters #StillRoasting during the coronavirus pandemic. The folks at this Highland Park, New Jersey-based company are on hand roasting, fulfilling online and to-go orders, and offer weekly grocery boxes to the community.
Penstock started in 2009 and in mid-December of 2018 did a brand refresh that we think looks spectacular. The redesign “took the better part of a year,” says co-owner Jessica Schellack, “as we obsessed over the details of trying to rightly portray all that we intended from the start.” We sat down with Schellack digitally to talk about Penstock, coffee design,
Zachary Carlsen: Tell us more about Penstock Coffee!
Jessica Schellack: Ben and I started Penstock Coffee (hitherto, “OQ Coffee”) out of a love for people and coffee. We started out just as a roastery with the goal of delivering directly sourced or carefully curated coffees to existing cafes or direct to customers. We're pretty brainy people and learned all that we could about coffee, and we wanted to share that with coffee drinkers, who we believed would also want to learn. Having studied architecture and then urban planning, one thing I knew I wanted to pursue: creating spaces and opportunities for people to connect and engage intellectually. This manifested itself in the form of a small, ~900-square-foot coffee bar, where we introduced the (what was for NJ in 2013) novel idea of freshly roasted—and even freshly brewed!—coffee, along with, then, less known facts such as coffee being the seed of a cherry. The element of education and learning is a hallmark to who we are as Penstock Coffee, from coffee as a high-altitude, tropical (ideally shade) crop, to understanding TDS and grind size as it impacts the flavor of a cup. This is one of the things that we love about the coffee industry!
Our sourcing philosophy follows that of the very first two coffee we ever offered! Direct. We know there are a lot of phrases going around these days regarding the way in which roasters—or even cafes—obtain coffee, but one of our goals is to increase the percentage of coffee we buy to as direct as possible. For now, that looks like communicating directly with producers, determining on a lot with them, and negotiating the price directly; then engaging an importer and exporter to handle just those pieces of the supply chain; and continuing the conversation through feedback on quality. We recognize we are not agronomists, but we can offer the knowledge we've gained from roasting and brewing over and over again. I wholly see and recognize the value of importers and exporters (we need them!) However, the closer we can get our customers to their cup of coffee, the greater is our understanding of and ability to respond to economic and environmental factors.
Who designed the package?
Peck and Co. (now “PDA”) helped us with the rebranding helping us sharpen the focus on our identity. In some ways it was like seeing a therapist who asks all the right questions to guide you toward self-discovery. Happy the idea behind “Penstock Coffee” is the ever-present flowing of things: coffee, people, conversations, knowledge…
Visually, what that looks like is the connected nature of fluid forms (i.e., our wordmark). It also channels the idea of handwriting and mail, which we value as one of the oldest forms of communication, which we hope to encourage to the end of building relationships, and thus, community. On the coffee bags, the design carries this idea of fluidity and letter-writing all around.
We categorized the coffees we offer into four “origins”: Africa, Latin America, Islands, and Blends. While the reality is much more complex, we sought to communicate “flavors” more simply, but keep the details (that we believe are so important to flavor and brewing). Thus, one can more quickly recognize a coffee's origin by the distinct colors of the labels atop the coffee bags. For the coffee enthusiast or connoisseur, we include as much information as we can from cupping notes, to processing, varietal, and altitude. My favorite part of the bag is the real signatures of the coffee-growing producers with whom we've partnered! Our hope is that when people purchase this coffee, they not only will enjoy drinking the coffee, but on those coffees we are able to provide through longstanding relationships, they will more readily recognize a person, just like themselves, on the other end.
Where is the coffee available?
If you can't visit us in person in New Jersey, we'll happily ship coffee to you! We also sell wholesale across the US (at least, in more normal times).
Any coffees you're especially excited about right now—and any coming soon we should be on the lookout for?
That's a hard question because there are so many! I’m currently really enjoying coffee from Malacara B Farm (El Salvador) and can drink it day after day. If I need an extra-good start to my day, the folks at La Palma y El Tucan Mill in Colombia have really refined their processing and their most recent lot is a treat. Totally different—I always look forward to EcoCafé Mill (Haiti), which is really unlike most coffee out there these days. They were our first growing partner and are such an incredible group of people who are working so hard to build up their community and economy in an otherwise challenging environment, both social and economic.
Zachary Carlsen is a co-founder and editor at Sprudge Media Network. Read more Zachary Carlsen on Sprudge.