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ABC Coffee Club

overview

Japan’s first specialty coffee subscription service. Making third-wave coffee easy, accessible, and convenient for everyone. I co-founded the company and led the design and development of the coffee subscription service.

the challenge

Designing a service that can lower the barriers of entry for casual coffee drinkers into the complex world of Japanese third-wave specialty coffee.

the outcome

A coffee subscription service that helps its users develop confidence through an education program and a simplified coffee categorizing system.

role & contribution

• Service and Product Design
• Creative Direction

# Making Coffee Accessible
“I want to learn more about coffee, but I don’t know where to start”. This was the message that we kept hearing from our friends and community as third-wave coffee was beginning to boom in Japan. There were a lot of new and fantastic coffee roasters showing up, but most were perceived as too snobby, and too intimidating for the average person to step into. Specialty coffee felt like a closed community that was impossible to break into without the fear of being ridiculed for only drinking Starbucks.

When we interviewed more people on their experiences visiting these new coffee shops, we found that the biggest point of stress was the barista asking “What do you like?”. Not only was it intimidating to be put on the spot with a question they couldn’t answer, the barista would often follow up with even more detailed questions making things worse. After negative experiences like this, the people we interviewed often felt reluctant to visit another specialty coffee shop even though they were still curious about learning more.

Seeing an opportunity to help make third-wave coffee more accessible to the mainstream, we set out to create a service that would be educational, inviting, and help support the then nascent independent specialty coffee roasting community. Our bet was that if we could reduce feelings of uncertainty and failure, those users who were scared before, can confidently step into the new world of third-wave coffee.

# Coffee Subscription
To make specialty coffee as easy and inviting as possible, I designed a service that would not punish you for making mistakes, but instead turn each moment into a learning experience.

First we lowered the bar by pre-selecting 24 of the best domestic and independent third-wave coffee roasters across Japan. Sourcing only the beans and roasting that met our tasting teams’ level of quality, we could ensure that the coffee that we shipped was excellent. If you found that the coffee wasn’t to your taste, you would know that it was because you didn’t like that certain bean, not that it was of poor quality. In doing so we were able to help our customers develop their palate and discern their own likes and dislikes.

Secondly, I created the A,B,C coffee categorizing system. We knew from user interviews that the naming and categorizing of coffee beans was extremely hard to understand. Specialty coffee of our service grade is normally named down to the smallest known detail, sometimes that could mean a single farm, sometimes that could mean a specific plot. Combine this with different kinds of processing and varietals, it’s close to impossible to remember exactly what coffee it is that you liked when you found it.

By shipping three coffees every month, with the labeling simply being A, B, or C and the month and year, we made it easy for our customers to recall exactly which coffee they liked, and how to find more in the future. Users could simply check the back of the packaging for the information, or check their email and our website for the catalog of all previous roasts.

Lastly, I tied all the experiences together into a 12 month coffee program that took users through brewing methods, third-wave coffee roasting and grading, and most importantly knowledge and connection to Japan’s then growing coffee scene.

Our coffee program was a success, with many users thanking us after a year, and moving on to buy directly from their local or favorite coffee roaster. We have since been able to evolve the model into a brick and mortar experience and now franchise of coffee shops.

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