Hi, I’m Jonathan with Sagebrush Coffee. I’m Matt’s son and have been working here for Sagebrush doing design and marketing for about 5 years now. I made the original logo back when I was 10 years old and have always been the guy behind all the visuals here at Sagebrush. From the logo to blog graphics to product photos, to even the YouTube videos, I’m the one behind it all. That also makes me the one in charge of the packaging and everything that goes into that, which is primarily what I’m here to talk about today.
Around a year ago, we implemented a brand-new packaging refresh. We streamlined our bag packaging and introduced a new house-printed notecard system that allowed you guys, the customer, to be more interactive with our packaging. Coffee is more than a drink, it’s an experience, so we tried diving into that as much as we could. The problem we faced with that system boiled down to the fact that these notecards were printed ourselves in house. It was the only economically reasonable way to get you guys specified information that allowed you to take notes yourself. But our printer these past couple months, and really throughout its entire life, has been giving us many problems. We’ve literally bought 4 printers since the time we started this notecard system, desperately trying to get something to work. It got to a point where unless we wanted to invest 10’s of thousands of dollars into a legit massive industry-grade printer, we had to find a new system. And that’s when we made the call to phase out printing notecards in house all together. This was a tough decision because it brought about the question: how do we continue to provide our customers with a high-end coffee drinking experience while maximizing a non-in-house printing system?
Turns out getting rid of this system was a blessing in disguise because it made us think. It made us boil down all of our packaging elements and prioritize bits and pieces that maximize the coffee drinking experience for you guys. It also helped us prioritize getting this new system in place ASAP. We’ve had customers reach out to us asking where the notecards went, and thank you for hanging in there, and it’s cool seeing that you guys used them in the first place. But what made getting rid of this system the absolute best decision we could make, was that it spurred on what we think is an incredible new piece of coffee-note-taking.
We’ve always loved the idea of a coffee tasting wheel. We love the interactive element of it, we love the fact that you can dig deeper into the flavor notes of a coffee through it, and we love that it intuitively creates its own sort of tasting wheel consistent system with it. What we don’t love, and honestly, what has caused us to never really utilize it in our branding is: it doesn’t really make sense. You take a look at a flavor wheel, and sure you can kind of deduct elements of it and generally understand it, but it’s not something you can just instantly understand. It takes a coffee snob who uses this system regularly to be able to quickly decipher anything like this. Sure, it looks cool, but is it practical for an everyday drinker? I don’t think so.
This is where things get interesting. For a little background, I’ve been making music for as long as I can remember. It’s my number one hobby, I do it all the time, which means my brain is wired in a way that has me examining sonic elements constantly. Sound in its most foundational definition, is frequencies of waves caused by vibrations in the air. The higher the frequency, the higher the pitch of the sound. Whenever I listen to something, I have the frequency spectrum engrained into my head. Some of you may be familiar with what’s known as “eq,” or equalizer. It’s an extremely common tool used in music and its purpose is to, well, equalize. It examines audio and allows you to dumb down or accentuate certain frequencies on the sound frequency spectrum to keep everything balanced. It’s incredibly useful for mixing purposes and if you have Spotify or Apple Music, there’s actually settings you can use to adjust the EQ of your phone’s playback. If a song doesn’t sound bright enough, EQ is used to boost up those higher frequencies, if you can’t really hear the bass in a song, EQ is used to boost up those lower frequencies. Modern EQ plugins all utilize this frequency system in the form of a linear chart the left representing the lowest frequencies and the right representing the highest frequencies. It’s a system that’s both incredibly user friendly, precise, and easy to visualize.
So, what does this all have to do with coffee tasting? Well, as I was considering how we could draw in the coffee tasting wheel into our new notecard system, something struck me. Why not take that flavor wheel, and flatten it out to a linear chart much like EQ? We can sort flavor notes in order of darkest to brightest and incorporate that EQ system into coffee tasting. The deeper, earthier tones are pushed to the left and the brighter fruitier tones are pushed to the right. Instead of a circle, we have a line, and instead of a convoluted hard to understand circle-based system, we have a simple flavor gauge.
And so, after a very intentional design process, we’re happy to introduce a new chapter of our coffee packaging, and here is what we’ve developed.
The Sagebrush Tasting Curve is a brand new, refreshing take on premium coffee tasting. It presents a 1-5 scale breakdown of foundational flavor notes in the coffee wheel spectrum, with a built-in sorting of said flavor notes in order from darkest to brightest.
I’m really excited to introduce this system because I think it breaks through that barrier between the average coffee consumer and the coffee snob. It’s a bridge between these two worlds that helps anyone who’s interested in getting into coffee to actually have a way to explore flavor profiles. Plus, it makes for instant recognition of general profiles between coffees. A bolder, deeper, darker coffee is going to have a lot more of that curve shifted to the left where a lighter, brighter, and more dynamic bean is going to have a shift to the right.
Now, let’s get into the entirety of the notecard. We’ve got a cool little doodle in the back, and when we flip it over you see a quick rundown on casual coffee tasting criteria. It begins with a miniature info sticker about the specific coffee you’ve ordered, which provides info on the country of origin and the sub text specifying which coffee it is.
You also have a quick list of the flavor notes as well as the roast level indicated by these dots in the corner. And if you want even more quick info about this coffee, there’s now a QR code on each label. All you have to do is open up your phone’s camera and scan the code and you’re brought back to the product page, which has all the information about the coffee’s farm, certifications, recommended brew methods, even links to blogs upon blogs about a plethora of topics in relation to the coffee.
Next on the notecard we have a few lines that are separated out so you can use this card multiple times as you go through a bag of coffee. These are just here to help you record your brew date, what you used to brew, and how you felt about that brew, as well as some freehand notes. You’ve got a line for notes and once you’re all done with that, you can begin formulating your own tasting curve. Go down the line of flavor notes and break down the intensity of each of these, maybe do it as you sip. Get into that coffee tasting experience. The more you pay attention to it, the more equipped you’ll be to try new coffee’s you think you’ll like. If you’re giving 5 stars to cups of coffee with a high emphasis on that bright, left side then you know that a brighter fruitier cup of coffee is what you enjoy and you can buy accordingly.
With this new notecard (which will be included with every purchase), we’ve also seized the opportunity to maximize our label system. Every coffee label now includes a breakdown of the coffee details in the same way our old notecards did. Quick checks on varietal, producer, processing method, and roast level are made even easier through this new layout, and that’s something we’re very excited about, but what we’re most excited about with these new labels it their improved color system.
Each and every country was already designated a specific color, that’s something we added in our redesign about a year ago. But what this new system accomplishes is an intuitive recommendation system. We’ve now sorted each country’s color to be correlated with their region in the world. Now, if a coffee is colored similarly to another, it’s because, well, they probably are similar. Brazil and Colombia are in South America, they both have similar climates and terrains, and therefore both produce bold, earthy coffees. Our new system embraces this idea, as you can see in the graphic above. This does mean that we’ll need to change some colors around, and that may take some getting used to, but in the long run this newly established system will only benefit you in finding new coffee’s you’ll love!
Overall, what turned into a printer failure train wreck resulted in an awesome new step in our coffee packaging journey. We’ve brought back the notecards in a fresh, new way that will keep you engaged in the coffee experience throughout your bag of coffee’s entire life. We’ve begun implementing this whole new system as of today, so give your farewells to the current packaging, and say hello to a new way to love your morning cup!