And so it begins. After almost a year of researching, thinking, asking and tinkering, BlankBox Coffee will be launching at the London Coffee festival 2013.
Introducing an idea you have spent so much time and energy on is a mix of excitement and anxiety . Excitement about the challenge of turning my idea into a business that will help people experience a variety of coffees from top UK roasters, whilst also offering a glimpse into how extremely passionate these “coffee people” are. At the same time, one can’t help but feel a bit anxious about all the practicalities of running the stand and more importantly, about how the public will react to the concept of BlankBox Coffee.
To anyone that says “business is not personal”, well, maybe I’m doing it wrong because it feels pretty personal from where I’m sitting. [Small violin playing]
So what is BlankBox Coffee exactly? The concept behind it all is simple, but let me tell you the story like every story should be told – from the beginning.
There are around 80-120 small, independent coffee roasters operating in the UK. They source their green beans from all over the world then roast it how they see fit, stamping a little part of their own identity onto each batch. If you spend any time in the company of roasters, you will soon realise it’s somewhere between an obsession and a love affair. They have stories to tell and strong opinions of what makes a good coffee.
They are also unique in that they all seem to support each other. “Support each other? Should they not be competing viciously?” I hear you ask. In any other business I guess they would be, but the coffee scene seems to operate a bit differently. You’ll have roasters helping each other set up “rival” roasteries, roasters recommending each other to customers and a general sense of cooperation between them that is refreshing. This perplexed me somewhat and during my research I put the question to everyone that’s been in the trade for a while. The reason is simple, they say. In general, the roasting community understands that their competition is not against each other, but against the major chains dominating our High streets with “so-so” coffee. By promoting and helping each other, they are building a culture where coffee lovers will seek out great coffee and talk about great coffee and in doing so, benefit the collective.
BlankBox will be about introducing you into this cosmos of coffees through taste, personal interviews and some fine photography. Meet our roasters and browse through their pictures (Nude Espresso and Small Batch captured by friend and food photographer, Vanya Du Toit. The rest by yours truly)
Now, a large proportion of roasters sell directly to the public online and some even offer subscriptions to their produce. Many people ask how I’lI prevent my subscribers from leaving and buying straight from the roasters directly. The answer is simply, I don’t. If someone finds their favourite roaster through BlankBox and wants to subscribe with them for a while (or in addition to their BlankBox subscription – nudge nudge wink wink), that is fine. They will most probably tell friends HOW they found their favourite roaster and BlankBox Coffee will surely be mentioned. It all swings in roundabouts.
So if anyone thinks it’s only about buying coffee, putting it in a nice box and posting it out to a subscriber base, then they really have it wrong. It’s about telling a story and offering readers access to this community of people that make it their life’s work to deliver quality coffee to their customers. And if running BlankBox is half as much fun as it was setting it up, I’ll be a very happy man.