Dennise Yeh, Winnie Yeh, and Sara Morrocchi are the team behind Vuna Coffee Rituals, a new company based in Amsterdam with a focus on transforming mass accessibility to specialty coffee. This story has deep roots, but it's born in part out of the isolation of the pandemic, and a realization that more people than ever are looking to enjoy the flavors of specialty coffee. “Our families love the taste of specialty coffee but don’t want the trouble of brewing it,” the Vuna team tells us in the interview below. “They have no idea about processing, origins, and felt lost when reading labels… So we thought, could there be a simpler way to understand, make, and enjoy specialty coffee?”
It's a question they're answering via a single-use steeped coffee bag, bringing decades of experience to market along the way. Vuna Coffee Rituals launches in the coming days on Kickstarter—for now, consider this an inside advance look at the burgeoning brand.
The interview has been edited and condensed.
Can you introduce yourselves and talk briefly about some of the work you've all done over the years?
Our trio of female leadership brings years of coffee supply chain knowledge an producer relationships (Sara), certified tasting expertise (Winnie), alongside deep understanding of digital business practices from leading brands (Dennise).
Sara started in specialty coffee in 2007 as Supply Chain Manager for Sustainable Harvest in Tanzania, East Africa. During her time as supply chain manager Sara learnt every step of specialty coffee production, from planting coffee seedlings, building washing stations to shipping containers. In 2011 she became the Global Supply Chain Director for Sustainable Harvest and relocated to Portland, OR. After this amazing experience, Sara decided it was time to move back to her roots in Europe to start her own company, Vuna Origin Consulting to carve her own path in the industry.
Winnie started her coffee journey in Shanghai in 2014. Her previous experience includes: assistant trainer, head barista, and the head of coffee academy/R&D manager at Shonda Foods, one of the biggest private label roasters in China. In three years, she has conducted 150+ courses in basic coffee knowledge, sensory, brewing skill, barista skills, and latte art for 2000+ people. She has also created coffee blends an signature beverages for international clients like KFC and Dunkin Donuts with retail outlets in China. Winnie has a master’s degree in Coffee Economics and Science, and she is also a SCA Authorized SCA trainer and CQI Q Arabica Grader.
A journalist by training and encouraged by her entrepreneur drive, Dennise started her digital career in the her early 20s in the field of digital marketplace and media. Since then, Dennise has been specializing in online retail and digital growth for 15+years for both upcoming and house known brands. Her experiences spanned across e-commerce operations, digital analytics, digital marketing, and digital transformation. She has delivered $40M+ in impact across her career.
Before we jump into Vuna Coffee Rituals, can you tell us a bit more about Vuna Origin Consulting?
Vuna Origin Consulting was founded by Sara in 2015 with the mission to make coffee equitable and sustainable. To do so, she felt it was important to design a supply chain model that considers and connects all actors in the chain, from producer organizations to coffee consumers.
This is how the Cherry to Heart ™ model came to life. Today, all of Vuna’s services and products are delivered through the Cherry to Heart model via four coffee journeys: 1. Green coffee production and trading (CJ1); 2. Access to markets (CJ2); 3. Product development (CJ3); and more recently 4. Digital growth and consumer engagement (CJ4).
Currently, Vuna is leading a multitude of projects across the Cherry to Heart model. From price risk management in Uganda and DRC (CJ1), access to markets in Ethiopia & Rwanda (CJ2), roasting and product development in Myanmar (CJ3).
The missing piece of the puzzle had to do with digital growth and consumer engagement. The team knew that without expertise on this, it would impossible to achieve equity and sustainability in the coffee supply chain. This is why in the summer of 2020, the team decided to start its very own direct-to-consumer, digital-only initiative: Vuna Coffee Rituals.
How did Vuna Coffee Rituals get started?
Parallel to wanting to be directly connected to coffee drinkers, it is our personal experience that gave the extra push to the birth of Vuna Coffee Rituals.
In the summer of 2020, we decided to join our families down in Sicily for a 2.5 month stay. This is a family home where we spent our past summers and is already full of equipment (e.g. a Hario scale, Chemex, multiple brewing cones, and electric burr grinder) that we left behind to make the coffee brewing easier.
However, fearing the dark roast coffee that is the staple in Sicily, we ended up traveling with 10+ KG of specialty coffee and spending our mornings curating coffee and brewing multiple batches for 12 people!
Why? Because our families love the taste of specialty coffee but don’t want the trouble of brewing it. They have no idea about processing, origins, and felt lost when reading labels. That means they need to consult us to get a sense of which coffee they would prefer. Last but not least, this created a lot of left-over coffee that we ended up throwing away.
So we thought, could there be a simpler way to understand, make, and enjoy specialty coffee? That’s when we started working on Vuna Coffee Rituals in the heat of the Sicilian summer.
Can steeped single-serve coffee bags reach new coffee drinkers who may have not experienced carefully sourced specialty coffee?
To be candid, the steeped single-serve coffee bags alone are not going to do the magic.
We started Vuna Coffee Rituals with one thing in mind. How can we make specialty coffee more approachable in order to reach new coffee drinkers? We first think of ourselves: what do we like about the specialty coffee? What do we wish could be different? To save us from our own blind spots, we interviewed 10+ friends and family members, most of whom are not specialty coffee drinkers. These reflections and learnings lead us to ask the following questions:
Does specialty coffee always require specialized equipment/skills?
How can we break away from the specialty coffee lingo (e.g. origin focus, processing focus, etc) while keeping transparent and sustainable sourcing?
How can we talk about specialty coffee in a fun and engaging way to consumers who are new to this?
Vuna Coffee Rituals is our response to the questions above. We are inspired to create a specialty coffee product that is:
Easy to brew, with minimum effort and investment (e.g. equipment, skills, etc)
Focused on the different moods/setting that make coffee drinkers craving for their coffee (e.g. morning breakfast coffee, afternoon coffee date with friends, etc)
Fun and approachable, easy to understand and remember, while upholding sustainable sourcing principles.
Tell us about the design! Who designed your packaging?
The design inspiration is taken from two concepts above: how can we make the brand/product fun and approachable, and connect the color and design with different mood/setting?
The outcome of Vuna Coffee Rituals logo as well as the packaging design are carefully following these principles. We are very lucky to work our designer Aki Chen, who is a personal friend based in Taiwan with experience working with a local coffee brand.
Believe it or not, the design iteration only took one round to achieve the final version. Aki captured the brand spirit very well.
In addition to the design, we strongly believe in sustainable packaging. To our surprise, it was not as easily available as traditional plastic/nylon packaging. Through our own R&D efforts and coffee network in East Asia, we were able to identify certified biodegradable manufacturers. While it took an incredible amount of efforts and additional costs to us, we are very happy to offer a 100% biodegradable packaging to our customers.
Tell us about the blend names—and can you tell us about some of the coffees used for the offerings?
We want our coffee blends to connect with different moods/setting. So we thought of four different moods that capture the rituals of enjoying coffee:
Rise & Shine: This is our morning coffee to jump-start the day.
Flavor profile: nuts, chocolate, caramel and honey, medium body
Blend composition: Brazil (Cruz Alta Farm), Guatemala (Rio Azul Cooperative), Honduras (Comsa Cooperative)
Fruit Splash: This is the coffee one enjoys with a sweet treat, perhaps with friends on a coffee date.
Flavor profile: blueberries, strawberries, chocolate & cherries, medium-light body
Blend composition: Guatemala (Rio Azul Cooperative), Ethiopia (Guji Hambella Dikitu & Gediyo Yirgacheffe Gedeb Banko), Brazil (Cruz Alta Farm)
Tangy Pop: When we are in the mood for something funky and different, Tangy does the trick. We imagine this coffee to be enjoyed as a taste adventure.
Flavor profile: orange, mango, honey, and lemon, medium-light body
Blend composition: Ethiopia (Guji Hambella Dikitu)
Mellow Bello: Can a decaf be delicious and smooth? We think it can and want to make sure this option is available for those who like the coffee taste but not necessarily the caffeine.
Flavor profile: Milk chocolate, cacao nibs, sugar can and raisin, medium body
Blend composition: Water decaf Indonesia (Sumatra Mandheling)
What's the plan for the roll-out?
With Dennise’s experience in digital commerce, we decided to approach the innovator/early adopter market via a crowdfunding campaign. To successfully activate the campaign, we also built a multi-channel roll-out plan that includes: website, Instagram, Tiktok, Youtube, Email, and Facebook.
We have been active on all channels with various degree of maturity and is planned to officially launch on the 28th of April.
Where in the world will this product be available?
On the 28th of April, Vuna Coffee Rituals will be officially available for purchase on Kickstarter (our chosen platform of crowdfunding).
We will be shipping globally, directly from our lab in Taiwan. Note that given the COVID restriction, there are going to be some countries that we are not able to reach for shipping for the time being.
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