The Aesthetic Union Goes to Town for Andytown Coffee
Lifting the Fog in San Francisco
Creative collaborations usually have a bit of a backstory, and this one comes with a twist. A couple of years ago, letterpress printer James Tucker of Aesthetic Union was living on his boat in San Francisco Bay. He met a designer, Nathan Sharp, who really wanted it. Nathan got his boat, and James got to work with Nathan and partner Jamie Lee on the packaging they were designing for Andytown Coffee.
At the time, Andytown Coffee was an artisanal start-up, the vision of Lauren Crabbe and Michael McCrory. The business has grown beautifully, and so has the creative collaboration. We chatted with Lauren and James about Andytown’s latest packaging innovation: bag tags with a sense of place.
What inspired you to originally invest in the letterpress wave pattern on the backs of the bags?
LC: I’ve always loved the way that letterpress feels in your hand. Food packaging has a tendency to feel mass-produced and sterile, even if the product inside is artisanal. We wanted the packaging to reflect the coffee inside—small-batch, locally-made, and meticulously crafted. Our graphic design team knew James from previous jobs and the Aesthetic Union was a new, local business just like us. So it was a perfect fit.
JT: We aren’t letterpress printing the bags any longer, as the volume has become too large. The white wave pattern on the back is now printed offset, and letterpress has moved to be front-and-center.
What do you hope your tag and bag convey about Andytown, both in the shop and once someone gets a bag home?
LC: Our packaging was designed to reflect the landscape of the Outer Sunset District—pastel homes with the waves crashing on the horizon. At home, the tag gets removed to reveal a cheeky snowy plover message, then as you roll down your bag and make your way through the coffee, the waves get smaller.
JT: The halftone gradient on the tags gives the colors a “looking through the fog” feel. The fade effect is built into the art, and letterpress inks are somewhat transparent.
From a business point of view, your tags, and your bags, are quite an investment, compared to, say, rubber-stamping….
LC: So often, businesses approach packaging purely from a cost perspective: What is the cheapest way we can put our brand on our product? I find that when a business takes this approach, you end up with either bad DIY packaging or a mass-produced feeling.
JT: Nathan and I worked together to make the design and production as economical as possible. I created the gradient printing plate, and I can print “masters” for the gradients. I run the tags 6-up.
LC: Our brand isn’t just our logo, it’s a total approach to business. Part of our goal is to use our business to lift up other small businesses, artists, and producers. It seemed dishonest for us to bag and tag our coffee in something that is mass-produced in who-knows-where.
Is it tricky to wedge the tag into the bag?
LC: It’s quite easy. First, we roll down the tin-tie to the correct height. Then, we wedge the bottom third of the tag into the marsupial-like pocket at the front of the bag and tuck the top into the tin tie. It’s really a perfect fit. The bags are compostable, ordered for us by our large-scale printer. And the tags feel so great. They really pop on the shelf at the grocery store.
JT: The tag is sturdy but pliable. It arcs nicely around the contents.
Which paper did you choose for this project?
LC: It’s Neenah Classic Crest, suggested by James.
JT: The first run was for 20,000 tags, which took four cartons of 80 lb. Cover stock. There are six different versions. On the black tag, which is for decaf, the type reverses out of the stock. All of the tags are printed on Avon Brilliant White, and I’ll let Lauren tell you why she and Michael chose that shade.
LC: It reminds us of the color of milk… which seems perfect for us!
Andytown Coffee celebrates its third anniversary on March 22. Share the love.
Beverages and shop, Peter Cochrane (www.instagram.com/pecoch/)
Tags and pressroom, James Tucker