Coffee Bag Design Series explores the specialty coffee brands with unique designs that stand out and fire the imagination. This week, we spoke with Sumo Coffee Roasters about how they use imagery to transport their customers to origin.
When Daniel Horbat won the World Cup Tasters Championship in 2019, he’d have been forgiven for wanting to put his feet up for a few weeks.
Reaching world-champion status had involved more than six gruelling months of training, which included a strict diet that saw him give up salt, pepper, fizzy drinks, and alcohol.
But rather than slowing down, he decided the time was right to launch his own coffee roastery in his home city of Dublin. Despite having relatively little roasting experience, Daniel knew he could rely on his sensory skills to make Sumo Coffee Roasters a success.
“Starting Sumo was a little bit of a gamble,” he says. “But I was really lucky because I had a strong background in the sensory side of coffee so I knew how roasting affected flavours.
“The main challenge was understanding the machine itself. If you can master those two things, you can achieve amazing results with your coffees.”
From the start, the focus was to be on sourcing only the highest quality coffees – 87 points and above on the SCA scale. However, this meant designing packaging that not only preserved the freshness of the coffees but also reflected their full cup quality.
Coffee bag branding
Sumo Coffee Roasters may still be in its infancy – but for Daniel the concept goes way back.
“Sumo came from my childhood growing up in Romania straight after the revolution,” he explains. “I remember the first time we had a TV, I was watching WWE and I saw this guy called Akebono.
“Akebono was a sumo wrestler. Despite his size, he was agile and pushed people all over the place. This led me to discover the art of sumo wrestling, with all its hard work, rituals and preparation.
“When it came to thinking of a concept for my roastery, I thought of how I’d trained for the cup tasters championship. ‘Sumo’ felt right because it tied in my love for martial arts with my respect for the dedication they put into their craft.”
With a concept in place, the next challenge was how to approach the branding. Luckily for Daniel, his partner is a videographer by trade and was willing to try her hand at graphic design.
After some initial designs, it was clear she had the ability to not only capture Daniel’s ideas and make them visually striking, but also tell a story about the coffee.
“Coffee brings people together so we try to highlight that and what it does for people,” he says. “Every design has a meaning and importance – to me, it’s a journey.”
A good example is their coffee from Huila, Colombia, which recently sold out. Its packaging features a bright yellow car typical of the region, with a backdrop that includes pieces of fruit and a hot air balloon floating towards a bright orange sun.
This is intended to reflect both the coffee’s origin and its characteristics in the cup. Even before the consumer has ground and brewed it, they’re able to get a “sense” of the coffee thanks to the vibrancy of the design. This is only furthered by being placed on a white bag.
Daniel explains that this approach to branding stems from his background as a barista and latte art champion.
“I want to be visible, very loud,” he says. “I started with latte art because it’s visual. When you go to a meeting, it’s very important how you look. It’s like a barista who makes a bad shot but does latte art well: they get away with it. The only difference is that I believe you also have to follow up with a very strong product.”
Moving Sumo forward
If winning the World Cup Tasters Championship wasn’t evidence enough for Daniel’s ambition, then the calibre of Sumo’s coffees certainly is.
In few cities around the world are there roasters offering such high-scoring coffees, let alone in Dublin. Sumo’s Kule Geisha, for example, is 90+ on the SCA scale – with a price to match.
Although the coffee bags are striking and stand out against even the most eye-catching of designs, special lots demand a special type of packaging.
For the Geisha, Daniel ordered custom-made tins, again, featuring his partner’s designs. This one includes a slice of watermelon (one of the coffee’s flavour notes) with a Panamanian sunset and a sailing boat floating in the distance.
Similar to the Huila Pacamara, each colour has a dual meaning, conveying both characteristics (the yellow is candied lemon) and the region in which the coffee was grown.
However, the purpose isn’t to over influence. While hinting at some flavour notes, Daniel tells me it’s always better to suggest than to tell.
“I don’t like to put flavours on the bags,” he explains. “For me, as a sensory person, flavours are subjective. It’s just our way of showing a starting point for the consumers.”
As for the future, Daniel has big plans. He’s working on a new packaging design intended to create a luxury feel while maximising the customer experience.
This all goes back to the reason for starting Sumo in the first place: to focus on quality and help the industry move forward. Although it may still be finding its feet, there’s no doubt it will be fighting its way to the front in no time.
Did you enjoy this edition of The Coffee Bag Design Series? Next week we’ll be speaking to Rave Coffee about how they use typography to convey their message. For the full archive of articles and more coffee packaging content, visit MTPak Coffee’s Education Centre.