Letterpress culture runs deep in Kansas City, Missouri, so it should come as no surprise that one of KCMO's top indie roasters–Oddly Correct–has a robust letterpress program of its own, printing original artwork on its coffee bags and featuring multiple large pieces throughout the interior of their Main Street cafe. The man behind the ink is Gregory Kolsto, Oddly Correct's owner and founding roaster, a polymath of sorts who brings his love of illustration and individual aesthetic to the Oddly Correct product. We think it's some of the most beautiful packaging in coffee.
2014 is set to be a huge year for Oddly, including an upcoming beer collaboration with Mother's Brewing Company, organic certification, and a retrospective book cataloguing all of Mr. Kolsto's coffee bag prints to date. In just a few weeks, Oddly Correct's own champion barista Tyler Rovenstine will compete at the United States Barista Championship in Seattle, Washington; if the past is any indication, Rovenstine's routine will feature original notes and printed materials for the judges designed by Kolsto.
Sprudge.com contributor Charlie Burt is himself a member of the Kansas City design community, as well as a barista competition photographer here at Sprudge. He sat down with Gregory Kolsto to talk design, printing, and how this might be the year Oddly Correct gets to finally take a day off.
When you first started Oddly Correct you were roasting in your garage, and I remember you were delivering your beans around town by bike. Were you already printing on your bags at that point?
Yes. At that time I had a little 2.5 kilo Ambex roaster, it was like 21 minutes round trip because you couldn't roast and cool at the same time without modifying it. So I was basically just drawing on all the bags. I had it timed out.
I would always draw on coffee bags no matter where I worked and I'd bring them to my favorite bands. I met one in Columbia MO, probably like 7 years ago and I was like, “Hey ‘coffee guy', here's a coffee.” And he was like, “Is this a print?”
And something just broke in my mind and I said, “No, but it should be.” Being an illustrator by nature, reproducing that line is very attractive. So I looked into letterpress. Kansas City being a huge letterpress town, I went to Brady [Vest] at Hammerpress. I was that guy in the front just waiting for eye contact, y'know? He was very patient with me.
Did you study printmaking at all in school?
Never, it came after. I'm self-taught, and I have a local printer here who helped me jump worlds in the analytical part of it, in terms of furniture and picas and all of that measuring stuff.
What kind of gear are you working with in your letter press studio?
My main press for the bags is an early 1900's Chandler & Price tabletop, and for other prints I have an old Linoscribe proof press. I also have a 1901 Platen Press but it's probably on its way out soon.
How long do your linoleum printing blocks last?
We've grown a lot in the last couple years, so it's less and less. The idea is that I just keep making new carvings. Art not being eternal, it just goes away and you've gotta deal with it like a live music performance or a coffee. Hopefully the next one is even better, but the other one is gone. Approaching it that way is probably pretty healthy. But, they probably last 6 to 9 months and we're doing about 100 12 oz. bags a week just locally.
When you set out to make a new print for your coffee bags, what is your ideation process?
For me, I love ridiculous 50's and 60's Americana. I love the naiveté there was back then, this weird hope. I'm attracted to the ridiculous and the whimsical, especially in such a time, in a city that's so tense and in an industry that's so serious. For me, printmaking borrows a lot from the brewing world — if it is a serious label or design, I'm probably not gonna go for it. But if it is some dude with a horn coming out of his head vomiting in a bucket I'm probably gonna buy the beer. I just kinda jump in and unfilter my mind. And that's the beautiful thing about what we want people to experience in our shop: an element of craft and excellence in a whimsical manner.
What kind of feedback have you gotten from customers?
I think a lot of people don't know that we do it! I love that actually.
Have you made any prints that were directly informed and inspired by a particular coffee itself, or has it always been pretty arbitrary?
So far I haven't been inspired so much by a coffee that I've done something like that, but I desire to! I think the desire has always been to make a super limited print with a limited coffee. Like, if we have a 90+ [point score] coffee, we'll sell a half pound of it and there's a print that goes along with it.
How do you relate the two disciplines, coffee and letterpress?
I think there's something about both coffee and print that's really tactile. You use so many of your senses. When you're inking your plate, you're listening for that soft kind of rolling sound…and if it's a little bit tacky or if there's too much ink, you need to roll it off. The clank, the whirring, you can hear when things are broken or a bearing has gone bad because it's squeaking and you need to oil it.
Same with roasting, with all the expansions and cracks, sounds and smells. It's a really exhilarating thing, and if you like to work with your hands, it's a perfect medium either way. Being a part of that process is huge, literally being a cog in that process.
Where do you see Oddly Correct going in the future?
We opened our cafe in December of 2012, and it completely kicked our ass. It changed the entire culture of our company. We had fun but we were tired. We used to go out and chop scones with machetes after the shift, but even staying open 2 more hours really changed it. I feel like I was wearing someone else's pants the whole year. It was a year of not trusting my instincts; it was a year of trying new things.
So we decided this year is the year of going back to our instincts, giving the finger to that status quo that makes us scared of what might happen, and putting the skull and crossbones back into our branding. We want to be more profitable and have more fun this year. For me, that's a HUGE thing. If our culture doesn't stay healthy, we're toast, and we're gonna hate life, and hate you, hate coffee, and none of that stuff works. We want a culture as a company that allows people rest, play, opportunity for growth, and time with family, so we have limited hours, limited menu, everything.
We fight a lot about the expectations of what a coffee shop is. Similar to Magritte's ‘This is not a Pipe', we want to have that on our wall, but as ‘This is not a coffeeshop'. Because it's not! It's a tasting room for a coffee roaster. In this sense, there's a very nice thing about having art in there already, because you expect it to just be a coffee shop, anything above that is beautiful. It's a serendipitous experience. Serendipity is always great in any process, printing or coffee or otherwise.
My mission in life, I think, is to make people feel something. I'm more interested in staff being kind and engaging with people coming through the door than being psyched about coffee. I mean, it has to be both, but because coffee has a tendency to be pretentious on the surface — like you almost expect it to be “hipsters” doing some weird thing with coffee — well, if you can engage people with kindness and information and art beyond that, I think its a beautiful thing. It's totally disarming to both the weird art world and the weird coffee world. I feel like we have a fun opportunity to engage people where they're at.