Branding a Coffee Roaster

By Billy Steele

I must confess: I love coffee. In a way that may border on unhealthy, I meticulously choose the brew that will appear in my cup every morning. I enjoy learning about the roasting process, where the beans come from and the myriad other factors that make a good cup of coffee.

Cup To Cup 1

When James Spano, owner of Cup to Cup Coffee Roasters in Savannah, approached us about redesigning his packaging label, I was thrilled to head up the project. James provides the beans for our morning brew at ThincSavannah (where the Focus Lab headquarters is located), so I was very familiar with his product. I would learn over the span of a couple months that he shares my obsession with coffee, which shows in the beans he sells, and needed to be reflected in the new design.

The Concept/Direction

James brought an open-mind to the redesign and had only a few requirements for the new look. His willingness to explore allowed me to take my preferred approach to the process , which doesn’t work with every client. We started by gathering as many packaging examples as we could find from small, craft coffee roasters. It was important to the process to limit our focus to brands that are as meticulous about their craft as James is with Cup to Cup. We also gathered examples of labels and logos that had the clean, uncluttered look we were going for. After several hours of gathering, we formed our findings into a mood board that we could refer to if we needed to spark some ideas.

The end product we wanted was a new, straightforward design that would communicate the quality of the Cup to Cup Coffee Roasters’ product. We began to sketch out ideas that offered solutions for both the typographical elements and the cup graphic that would comprise the design. Conversations with James early in the process allowed us to get a clear sense of how to tackle the project so once we started, the ideas came pretty quickly. We were able to sketch out ideas for labels and supporting elements shortly after creating the mood boards and then move into the process of fleshing out various treatments within a matter of days.

Photo of initial mark sketches

The Mark

One of James’ requirements for the new look was to keep some semblance of the two cups element in his original logo. What should have been a simple request proved to be a tremendous challenge when we tried to execute on it though. Looking back, we may have tried to reinvent the wheel by trying to create something very different from the old logo, because ultimately we came back to the original mark to find the final solution. We tried to create a new mark using cups as viewed from above, but could never get them to obviously look like coffee cups. Most attempts wound up looking like eyes or two letter Qs. While we really wanted to make this concept work, and likely could have with a few more attempts we decided to go another route after a discussion with the client.

Once we began developing marks based on the original pair of cups, we finally began to gain some momentum. Adding steam and a saucer to each cup gave them the update that was needed. We went back and forth a bit on adding some depth to them, but in the end the simplified look of the flat graphic served James’ purpose the best.

In addition to the cup elements, a series of stamps were developed to indicate which blend of coffee was inside each package. These stamps allowed us to only produce one label that could then be used for each coffee that Cup to Cup offered by stamping each label with the appropriate blend. The use of stamps also added a handcrafted quality to each label application that communicates the care, knowledge and perfection that goes into each bag of coffee Cup to Cup sells. Another important consideration was that stamps like these are relatively inexpensive to produce, which will help keep down overall production costs.

Early vector mark ideasFinal vector mark coffee cupsFinal logo applied to web graphic

The Typefaces

As we progressed, clarity and simplification became the primary focus of this project, so we knew that font choice would be crucial to success. The main typeface for the labels/logo is Gotham. We also used Knockout to serve as a compliment for the main text and to offer a bit of diversity to the information being conveyed. Both fonts were designed by the same type foundry, so they complement each other quite well.

Typeface layout


The second request from James was that the color palette remain similar to what he used in the previous branding. A collection of earth tones made up the color library we had to draw from, so the challenge was figuring out a way to utilize this palette and still make the labels stand out on a craft coffee bag.

We experimented with multiple colors on the bags using mock-ups of the final label art. The maroon/dark red color stood out and offered the most eye-catching choice from the selections we tried. A single-color label fit within our initial design goals, meets James’ current needs and also allows the option for color-coded labels in future. Looking ahead, the design allows for the use of multiple earth tone color variations, perhaps to represent the Geographic origin of the bean or another identifying element of the coffee.

Final Product

In the end, our goals of clarity and simplicity were met in the final packaging, while still effectively telling the Cup to Cup story in a visually compelling way. We were able to draw elements from the original mark and make them fit the new, updated label design per the client’s request. Working with James proved to be a great experience for us, not to mention our coffee cups.

Photo of coffee bag labelsPhoto of coffee bag labelsPhoto of coffee bag labelsPhoto of coffee bag, label & stampPhoto of full view of label stampPhoto of stamps laid out on table

A Happy Customer

“I was extremely pleased with the work done by Focus Lab. From the very beginning I knew that I had made the right decision in trusting them to re-brand my product. Their hard work and pursuit of excellence to the very end shows in a design that I am more than proud to use to represent my company.”  
—James Spano, Owner, Cup to Cup Coffee Roasters

Final logo result