Friday Morning Coffee Break: Tom’s Coffee and Blue Bottles Cold Brew

TOMS is applying their one-for-one model to ethically traded coffee

Oh the times are a-changing. At least that is what some people think. Or at least what Bob Dylan thinks. I know for me, these last few weeks have been hectic. You see in between all of my family stuff, work stuff, and life stuff, I have been going through my quarter-life crisis. You know, the 20-something equivalent of enlightenment but with a more narcissistic focus. It has made it difficult to want to be open about life and the world and talk about things to make me feel better. Because I am not an adult and it sucks. But enough of my personal griping. Grab your favorite coffee and brew method and let’s delve into a break today to discuss the biggest buzz in coffee right now.

TOMS Coffee Roasting Company

Yes, the man who makes ballet shoes for men and women has decided to up the ante and jump into the world of coffee, the second most traded commodity in the world. Announced during SXSW, owner Blake MyCowskie has ventured into another one for one model of giving. For everyone bag of coffee sold, he will give one week of clean water to a country where the coffee is grown. TOM’s also hired on roaster Angel Orozco to manage the relationships, trade and quality of coffee and they will be (have?) opened a flagship store in California. With the idea to open more shops around the nation in the future. This is legit and real stuff going.

While I applaud Blake for expanding his company with beanies, sunglasses, clothing, and shoes , I am really wondering why the interest in owning coffee? Especially because he is toting that he wants to compete with the likes of Intelligentsia, Stumptown, and Blue Bottle Coffee. There are few major wholesale craft roasters and to want to compete with them requires that you have A. a lot of money, and B. the best damn coffee out there. Those companies also have years of experience, branding, and commitment to craft coffee that has been developed over a long time. To jump in and think you can start to take over their markets is pretty ballsy. I do admire his commitment to quality but to boldly state your competition is these craft coffee landmarks is bold. Also, consider that TOMS does a million things okay  and Blue Bottle does one thing WELL. It makes me think this may not be as lucrative as he thinks.

However, I do believe that his flagship coffee shop will expand and reach more people mostly because it will allow TOMS to develop retail spaces for their one-for-one marketplace. TOMS over the last few years has began to partner with organizations and other people who have applied the one-for-one model and have given them the ability to sell their goods in an online market hosted by TOMS. With the development of the coffee and retail spots, TOM will have actual places for people to go and experience the goods.

As much as I love to talk about coffee and the innerworkings of it and criticize people who are doing it wrong according to my snootiness it is commendable to see someone taking a calculated risk with coffee. Many times people jump into coffee because they think it is a lucrative business (i.e. McDreamy buying Tully’s coffee) and don’t understand that without community and a passion for all the people involved in the coffee process, you lose out. TOMS has been a business I have liked, despised, and been moderately intrigued by because of their practices. Blake has really been trying to listen to the criticisms from others and build a sustainable business practice. Instead of just giving people things, he is giving people jobs and opportunities to develop their communities in displaced or poverty stricken countries.

I think that when we start to criticize and scoff at TOMS for developing a coffee branding and program, we forget that TOM’s understands this idea of community (or at least is trying to) on a very global scale. He is putting the responsibility and power back into people’s hands. I think that as coffee people, either a customer of the 3rd wave movement or industry professionals, it is important to really look at what TOM’s is modeling and how receptive people are to it. Can we start to translate his branding around community development to our own shops? Will TOM’s coffee become a resented or pretentious Wholesale coffee company like others are? Time will tell, but as of now, I think that this new market and model is a very important learning experience for us all.

You can check out his coffee and story here.


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