It's been a massive year for the growing family of businesses co-owned and managed by Angel Medina, a Portland entrepreneur with an impressive footprint and sphere of influence. From coffee bar La Perlita (co-owned with Axel Villa) to restaurant Republica (co-owned with chef Lauro Romero) to roastery Reforma Roasters, Medina and Co. have transformed the sleepy EcoTrust Building in Portland's Pearl District into an essential new hub of culinary invention, with coffee at its core. For much more on this work, listen to our in-depth interview with Angel Medina on a recent episode of Seed To Cup, presented by the Sprudge Podcast Network.
To keep pace with all this precipitous growth, Medina recently commissioned eye-catching new packaging to anchor the Reforma Roasters brand, with help from the artists of Blasfemia Estudio. Blasfemia Estudio is an all-female creative agency in Mexico City and created several unique designs for the Portland-based roasting company. The new package is vivid, evocative, and stunningly detailed, revealing new facets of artistic intent upon repeat glimpses. We just had to learn more; Sprudge spoke with Medina digitally for this latest installment of Coffee Design.
Hey Angel, thanks for speaking with us. Tell us about the new packaging—how long has it been in the works?
I started working on this idea at the start of 2020, right before the pandemic.
Tell us more about teaming up with Blasfemia Estudio.
I was a big fan of Alejandra Ballesteros, a young up-and-coming Mexican artist who was putting out beautiful imagery on her social media. We set up a time to chat and I told her all about the concept I had in mind. At the time I was living in Mexico City and had stopped roasting altogether. I still had partial ownership of a coffee shop here in Portland (La Perlita) but wasn't sure if I was going to come back to Portland for roasting or set up shop somewhere else like SoCal, Arizona, or even Mexico City.
She introduced me to her team, a group of incredibly talented Women, all who were based in Mexico City, their agency is called “Blasfemia Estudio”, and they are fantastic.
So, when the pandemic hit I did the opposite of stopping, I turned around and asked the team to create 4 more designs and eventually we would transition to “Reforma”, which I launched in April of 2020, in the middle of all of the chaos. They finished the other 4 designs by June, and then we just waited for the right time to make the transition, which took almost a year of sitting on these beautiful designs.
Does every design tell a different story?
It does. For us they are very specific, themed around “Danza de la Tierra”. From the Abuela on the red color bag to the beautiful couple dancing Folcrorico on the green bags… even the Huichol Abuelo on the Smalltime Blend, they all have a meaning.
You won't find an explanation for these unless you come into our shop and have those conversations with us. We kept them as open for interpretation as possible. This is why we didn't add labels to them, the roast date and style of coffee is labeled away from everything under the bag. They are all beautiful canvases that deserve to be talked about on their own, you tell us how they make you feel!
Tell us about the depiction of the Dance of the 41 on your coffee.
If you know anything about us and our operation you know that we celebrate our culture daily. We focus on all of its beauty, from our food, our language, our history… there is so much that we are proud of.
But we also acknowledge our flaws, in that food, and that language, and that history. The Dance of the 41 is a piece of history that as of recently has resurfaced because of this moment or reckoning that we are experiencing. The story dates back to 1901, when the local authorities of Mexico City, performed an illegal raid in someone's private home, and found 41 men, who had gathered for a dance. 19 of those men were dressed as women, something that even now, nearly 120 years after, still holds a stigma, not just in Mexico but throughout the world.
Most of those men were arrested, some were able to use their power and connections to walk away from the situation. 12 of them however weren't as fortunate. There is so much that we can share about this incident, from the stories behind the political connections to the age-old stigma with the number 41 in Mexico.
When I turned 41 last year, I decided to pay homage to it. I wanted to bring attention to it by creating a bag that would spark conversation. That would make you want to google the entire incident and send you down a rabbit hole the way it did with me and the way it has with my own team here. Like I said, we pay homage to our culture daily, but we also acknowledge its years and years of wrongs, and so we are grateful for this moment and for all of this growth.
How is the coffee information shared on the packaging?
As of right now, I think of it as a social experiment based on trust. For me, the packaging is finally catching up with our coffee and message, meaning we've been one of the best roasters in the country but you would not know it because our bags did not reflect that. For us to intentionally tell you that we are going a different direction than everyone else in “Specialty Coffee” without actually having to tell you that we are going a different direction than everyone else in coffee is the goal by design.
Don't buy it because of the coffee, buy it because of the beautiful stories behind the design. Then after you try it, you can keep buying it because of the coffee, it doesn't matter what we put in them because when we tell you it's “Sweet Fruits” or “Citric Fruits” it will actually be that.
Where is it available?
Online or at La Perlita, here in Portland. We don't mess with wholesale, we like our coffee and we like to be the ones telling the stories.