Like James Hoffmann recently wrote, we’re going to assume you follow Dear Coffee, I Love You. If you don’t, you’re seriously missing out. Behind the groundbreaking blog is Brian Jones, a graphic designer and international man of mystery with a portfolio as impressive as his beard. In our exclusive interview we ask Brian how he got started, what inspires him, and, of course, what’s in his mug.
You’re the editor of one of the most prominent specialty coffee websites. What motivated you to start Dear Coffee I Love You (DCILY)?
I started DCILY (Dear Coffee I Love You) with the intention of sharing cool coffee related stuff that I began discovering more frequently online and in my travels around the world. It was also an outlet for me to share info about coffee with friends and family who had thought I was going crazy over coffee quality and trying to find increasingly better coffee. When I launched the site, I also noticed a lack of design on many of the other coffee sites I had come across. So being a designer myself, I made that a prominent focus of my content. In the last 4 years, the quality of design in the specialty coffee industry has improved dramatically, not just in branding but even products and café design. It’s a big win for everyone.
One of the many reasons your blog is so memorable is the clever title. How did you land on “Dear Coffee, I love You”? Were there other working titles you almost used?
Before the website was launched, I planned on designing and writing a small book filled with love notes to coffee. It was going to be a writing exercise that took place each morning, with my deadline being an empty mug. The book was only meant to be a personal design study using a subject I was interested in, but when that idea evolved into a website, the name followed. I never had any other names in mind. This one was unique, fun to say and it made me smile—which are all important characteristics in a good name.
With a few notable exceptions, it seems most craft coffee companies care a lot about branding. You’ve written about the intersection of craft coffee and good design. Why do they go together?
I mentioned earlier, I think the high quality of design in specialty coffee is a fairly recent development. Stumptown, Intelligentsia and Blue Bottle are some of the earliest examples I can think of who really developed iconic brands and a refined sense of design that reflected throughout the whole company. I think a lot of this could be attributed to Starbucks and the need to compete with them. I’ve never been a fan of their coffee—but for a long time, Starbucks had little competition in the realm of coffee branding. Even today, their flagship cafés and special edition packaging is top notch.
I knew that creative people were heavy coffee drinkers, so I published content that would be interesting to an audience of designers, musicians, writers, etc who sip coffee all day at their office or sit in coffee shops all day that they use for an office. Many of the people I’ve met in the specialty coffee industry used to have other careers, or went to school for something creative. I don’t know exactly why there’s such a strong correlation between creative industries and coffee, I just know it’s there and it has a really positive influence on the industry as a whole.
Your work on DCILY has led to some high profile opportunities in the specialty coffee industry (Coffee Common, Nordic Barista Cup, etc). Has there been a favorite experience that stands out?
Coffee Common is definitely one of the best experiences I’ve had in coffee. Some of my closest friends and my best clients came from the relationships I made during that time. I also really enjoyed visiting Colombia and learning more about the coffee process from seed to sea port, once I got there I realized just how much more there is to learn about coffee. It was completely humbling. The Nordic Barista Cup is consistently my favorite coffee event and it’s definitely been a pleasure working with them the last few years.
One of our favorite projects you did is the rebranding for St. Ali London when they became Workshop Coffee. What inspired that logo?
That’s still one of my favorite projects as well and for one of my favorite roasters in Europe. One of the goals to achieve with the rebrand was to develop something that wasn’t coffee specific since Workshop is not only a coffee roaster, but also a popular restaurant and bar. So I needed to create something that would represent all three. Without being literal, I wanted to create an icon that symbolized the companies effort towards quality and refining their craft—whether it’s in coffee, food or cocktails. A diamond is such a strong symbol for refinement, quality and value and it’s something I hadn’t really seen used in coffee, so I started basing a lot of my sketches around it. Once I realized I could draw the diamond with a “WS” in it for Workshop, I knew it was right and Tim agreed.
Who are some of your favorite designers? Is there a coffee logo you wish you designed?
The designers who inspire me most are the ones who work without constraints. They are designers, period. Ray and Charles Eames, Buckminster Fuller, Dieter Rams are all classic examples. They designed products, furniture, films, buildings, the project didn’t matter because the principles of good design are universal. The modern designers who inspire me are similar in their ability to design across disciplines. My good friends at The Office of PlayLab are brilliant and they always make me want to work harder and create something more awesome.
My favorite coffee logo that I wish were in my portfolio is definitely “3FE” in Dublin.
Do you have an all time favorite blog post?
There are several ways to answer this—I have posts that I really liked for different reasons. But this French animation, Le Cafe, is still one of my favorite coffee videos of all time. It’s so dark and twisted, but really captures the insanity of people’s addiction to coffee. I never get tired of watching it. I also really liked the articles sharing my experience in Colombia. It gave a lot of readers, who aren’t very familiar with the coffee process, a better understanding of where their coffee comes from and all the effort that goes into delivering them a fresh cup.
We know from your twitter account you’ve been spending some time on the West Coast. Where do you like to drink coffee in California?
Yes, I’ve been in the San Francisco area since September and will be until January for a couple projects I’ve been working on. San Francisco has a so many beautiful shops I’d love to sit in all day long and drink coffee, it’s a really tough question to answer. But I will say that I’ve found myself continually going back to The Mill, which is part Four Barrel Coffee and part Josey Baker Bread. The space, the people, the neighborhood, the toast and the coffee are all consistently great. The shop is busy pretty much all day, but that’s part of the appeal—it’s energizing.
Images from Dear Coffee I Love You and Firm Anchor Photography