It's been a long, busy summer here at Sprudge, and we're far from done. As the 2021 Build-Outs of Coffee season rolls on with daily features on cafes under construction or newly opened around the world, we're taking a moment today to take a closer look at another new project for summer 2021. Fellow—presenting sponsor of the 2021 Build-Outs of Coffee—have been busy as the bee themselves over the last few months, gearing up to roll out a new project in their growing constellation of coffee gear and design lifestyle. In partnership with Fellow, we're taking a closer look at Fellow Drops, a text-to-order subscription service geared towards discovering new roasters and bringing delicious coffee straight to your door.
Fellow Drops is now live and discoverable via the official Fellow website. Early feature roasters include Mother Tongue, Linea Caffe, Little Buffalo and Revel, with more on the way. “Every week we find a new coffee we love and text you about it, just reply if you want a bag: whole bean and roasted to order,” says the Fellow Drops website. The service is a dream for the non-committal, allowing week by week decision making based on how much coffee you want or need at a given moment. “You can lurk forever and leave us at any time,” says Fellow—if only everything in life were that flexible.
To learn more about the project, we spoke with George Sylvain and Hailie Stevens, part of the team at Fellow who are helping oversee Fellow Drops.
Hey George + Hailie! For starters, introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your role with Fellow Drops
George Sylvain: I’m the VP of Marketing and E-Commerce at Fellow. I first had the idea to sell coffee via text and created a beta a year ago to test out the idea, which eventually grew into Fellow Drops.
Hailie Stevens: I am a true-blue coffee geek, working eight-plus years in specialty as a barista/cafe lead and coffee buyer for multi-roasters, and for a little time in roasting/production, before joining Fellow’s team as a member of the Fellow Tasting Panel (for Fellow Drops) and the Store Lead at our only retail location in San Francisco. I really hope to get my Q this fall!
How did this project come about? What is its origin story?
GS: I’ve often thought about how we could sell coffee as a complement to our brewing equipment.
Then during the lockdown in 2020, I started cometogether.coffee, a website listing small roasters struggling during the lockdown. I sent Fellow’s customers there and urged them to support small businesses and buy coffee. During that process I ended up subscribing to many email newsletters from roasters and finding out about amazing new coffees each week. We were discussing them all at Fellow on Slack and tasting them together remotely. I would read comments like “this is the best washed Ethiopian I’ve had in years!” and I started thinking, how can I pass these recommendations on to Fellow’s audience? So I created an elementary reply-to-buy texting platform with the help of a software engineer. By August 2020, we had a working prototype and started inviting customers to try the coffee texting service. I invited 50 friends and family to try it out and was delighted by the response, so I kept building it, kept adding beta testers and it continued to grow and impress people. Eventually we knew we had something special on our hands and decided to go for it 100%. I hired Lindsey Skinner to run it and we went public and opened it up for all to join in July 2021!
How would you describe Fellow Drops to someone just hearing about it for the first time?
HS: Fellow Drops is a coffee subscription service to change the face of coffee subscription services. It’s a non-committal subscription adventure in which our group of coffee experts/fanatics taste and choose mind-blowing coffees to then offer to our “contact list” weekly. We send out a text detailing our selection for the week, you respond with “1” or “2” (or more) for the number of bags you want, and only then will we charge you and ship coffee to you. There are no signup fees, no commitments, and no other hidden fees.
GS: It’s the best way to discover and buy exceptional coffees, commitment-free. Our team sorts through and tastes thousands of different coffees per year, and picks our current favorite each week for you. We’ll text you our weekly recommendation via SMS. Simply reply to the text if you want to buy.
Why SMS (text messaging) — why now? What about this format is exciting to you?
GS: It’s simple, personal, and direct. Since you sign up and put in your shipping and payment information up front, all you have to do is reply “1” to a text message to order one bag of coffee. I can’t think of any easier way to buy something. It’s as easy as a “set it and forget it” subscription, except unlike a subscription, you opt into buying each week with a single text message and it won’t keep charging you if you don’t want the coffee. We know your SMS inbox is a more private and special place than your email inbox. We respect that and keep it simple, with only one coffee offer text per week and we keep our texts to a minimum. If you ever want to stop receiving our coffee recommendations, you can unsubscribe from our texts with zero hassle by replying “STOP”.
Let us in a bit more on the process behind how Fellow selects coffees for Fellow Drops — how do you pick coffees? What is the rest of the tasting panel like?
HS: Fellow’s selection process for coffees to feature in Fellow Drops is pretty particular and unique as we taste and deliberate on every single coffee we choose. There are plenty of hot debates within the Fellow Tasting Panel—as we all have differing palates. We try our hardest to be objective, however, and that objectiveness combined with our different perspectives makes for a very rigorous selection process.
What are you looking for from roasters to be featured in Fellow Drops? Have there been any coffees in the tasting process that have really surprised you?
HS: We are looking for single origins with lighter to medium roast profiles, mainly. We’re looking for delicious coffee with any number of interesting flavor notes/profiles. We’re even looking to do cool and exclusive collaborations, such as the process box we just put together with Brandywine for a drop a few weeks ago!
Recently, there has been a lot of washed green coming from Honduras that has surprised me. The first one I brewed this year tasted straight up like Dole pineapple juice. I almost jumped when I first sipped it! I had to check to make sure it was still a washed Honduras! After that, most washed Honduras coffees this year from a few specific regions have tasted truly like tropical fruit. So wild!
Fellow is a brand well known for its work in coffee equipment—brewers, mugs, grinders. Is Fellow Drops an extension of this, or like a totally new wrinkle for the company?
GS: It’s an extension, we have wanted to offer coffee for sale to our audience of coffee lovers for a long time. We have run a “featured roaster” program in our Valencia Street retail store since it opened in 2018. We select five coffees each month that we really love from five different roasters and rotate the selections every month. We work hard to find coffees that are not readily available in the Bay Area, prioritizing interesting processes and surprising tasting notes.
We believe that having great brewing equipment is only half of making good coffee. The other part is the beans! Fellow Drops is simply an extension, providing customers with the coffee they need and our Fellow equipment to make a superb cup of coffee at home.
How will Fellow Drops move forward as a project over the next six months? What's next? Where do you see the project ultimately going in the coming years?
GS: Fellow Drops is intended to be a fairly high-end offering, primarily focused on single-origin coffees that lean towards light-roast, that you will most enjoy brewed with our Fellow pour-over gear. If we find that people want a different type of service, featuring more developed roasts, decaf, or espresso-focused offerings, we may offer those as an expansion in the future.
I personally hope that as it grows, we can continue to find ways to showcase smaller roasters with exceptional coffees as well as limited-quantity microlots that surprise and delight our customers. Ideally the Fellow Drops platform can be used as a mechanism for small businesses to get their coffees in front of a wider audience. That might mean we can only offer certain limited roasts to subsets of our customer base, since some of these smaller roaster operations can’t support the volume we require. We are very interested in finding creative ways to deal with this challenge so we can continue to amplify smaller roasters as much as possible!
Disclosure: Fellow is an advertising partner on Sprudge Media Network, and the presenting sponsor of the 2021 season of Build-Outs of Coffee.