We were thrilled to talk to a brand new coffee company this week—Tiny Arms Coffee and Ceramics out of Lowell, Massachusetts. Partners Kate Cutlip and John Santos teamed up to create the new company.
Cutlip founded Tiny Arms Ceramics in 2017 as Santos worked for a number of well-known coffee companies in the Boston area. “Up until recently, Tiny Arms Ceramics was operating out of community studios which prevented larger-scale production,” explains Cutlip. Cutlip and Santos moved into a larger studio this year—allowing the company to branch out to coffee and giving Cutlip the opportunity to expand the ceramics business. “We have dreamed of wholesaling cups and mugs to cafes and hope this year to finally have the ability to make it happen!”
The pair worked together on designing the playful coffee packaging and branding. We spoke with both Cutlip and Santos digitally to learn about the new company, the design work, and where that name came from.
Tell us about Tiny Arms and Tiny Arms Coffee!
Tiny Arms started as a dream three years ago when Jon and Kate first met. Jon had always dreamed of opening a coffee shop and Kate decided to tag along on this journey. The name Tiny Arms comes from a silly game that Jon and Kate played on their first trip together. While walking through Kate's old neighborhood in Brooklyn they made up fictional business names based off things they saw on the sidewalk. When they came across a T-rex painted on the wall Kate jokingly said “Tiny Arms”. It stuck! With Jon’s background in coffee, and Kate's degree in Industrial Design and Sustainability, the pairing worked together perfectly to create Tiny Arms Coffee & Ceramics.
Jon Santos, can you tell us about your coffee background?
I have worked in many cafes in the Boston area, George Howell, Intelligentsia, and Blue Bottle. Over the years I have learned many different things based on each cafe's style and culture. At George Howell, I learned the importance of traceability and coffee quality. At Blue Bottle I learned about sustainability in the coffee industry and how to implement it. Both of these shops were very influential in how we hope to run our own business. Since having been a part of the coffee industry I have also been inspired by Little Wolf, Proud Hound, SK Coffee, and lastly Leverpress. All of them have delicious coffee, awesome design, and great culture that has really inspired me to take my passion for coffee to the next level.
What makes a perfect coffee drinking vessel?
Jon – I prefer a small 8oz mug! I like a little texture on the cup body with a smooth handle that fits my fingers comfortably. Mug weight is very important, not too light, not too heavy!
Kate – I also love smaller drinking vessels! I always prefer a handleless cup. This may be because I don’t love making handles but I’ve always gravitated towards tumblers.
Who designed the coffee packaging?
Co-owner Kate Cutlip! Kate went to Pratt Institute for Industrial Design. While she didn’t focus on package or graphic design while there, she has always enjoyed playing around with digital illustration during her free time.
Tell us about the look in your own words.
Over the last few years, we have come to learn how important package design is when it comes to coffee. Jon has developed a love for Wes Anderson movies and wanted to capture that playful nature and bold color scheme in the coffee packaging. Kate has always been a collector of children's books and loves the bold patterns and shapes they often offer. Our goal with our labels was to capture the essence of the iconic shapes and colors from Wes Anderson movies and give them a childlike playfulness. We hope the viewer feels like each box is telling a story.
How does sustainability play into the coffee package?
When looking into coffee packaging there are so many options! We knew that we didn’t want plastic and we wanted something that could be easily and properly disposed of. Many “compostable” bags are in fact only 60% compostable, requiring the customer to cut out valves and zippers before composting. While this isn’t too challenging it didn’t seem realistic that these steps would be done by every customer. We found a bag that is fully compostable and just needs the tin tie ripped off, SO EASY! We chose to put the bag in a box made from 90% post-consumer materials. This box can be recycled or composted. Lastly, for our labels, it was important to us that they were also made sustainably. We found an awesome company called Plant it Green that is based in the US. They focus on using recycled material, tree-free papers, and soy-based inks. Our labels are made with 100% recycled vellum and can be fully recycled! We are hoping this mindful packaging will make it easy for people to properly recycle and compost to keep Tiny Arms out of the landfills.
Where will the coffee and ceramics be available?
As of now Tiny Arms coffee and ceramics will be available on our site tinyarms.co. With our shop opening up at the end of February, coffee and ceramics will be available there (122 Western Ave. Lowell, MA 01851). Once we are open we are excited to wholesale our coffee to other cafes and marketplaces around Massachusetts.
Who are some other inspiring artists/makers at Western Ave?
Western Ave is home to over 300 artists! Since we moved into this community during Covid we haven't had the opportunity to meet many of them. John Brickels’ studio is right next to our cafe and we have loved getting to know him. He creates beautiful brick sculptures out of low fire clay (brickels.com). We have also enjoyed John Welch’s woodworking, he creates functional hand-carved items (johnfrancisdesign.com). Kate has enjoyed partnering with Katie from Soy Much Brighter. Katie makes soy-based candles that pair nicely with Tiny Arms Ceramics (soymuchbrighter.com). We can’t wait to get to know more artists in our community!
Zachary Carlsen is a co-founder and editor at Sprudge Media Network. Read more Zachary Carlsen on Sprudge.