I want to thank you all for finding us here at Speckled Ax, but I especially want to thank our Matt’s customers who are visiting the new site for the first time. This first blog entry is for you, in particular. I’d like to explain what’s going on with our brand.
When I started roasting in 2007, I chose Matt’s Wood Roasted Organic Coffee for a name because I thought “Matt’s Coffee” would be easy to remember and type into a search engine. Ego probably had something to do with it, too—literally sticking my name on every package that goes out the door? Really?—but mostly it was the simplicity of it. There were a bunch of cooler sounding names that I had considered, but ultimately the five letters won out. And there were a handful of other “guy’s first name” coffee companies out there too, so I figured I was just joining the lineup.
Jump to 2012—I was in the process of opening a retail coffee shop. The specialty coffee landscape had changed a bit, and I was thinking that Matt’s sounded a little hokey and simple, given the kinds of stuff I planned on doing in the shop itself: one of the only full siphon bars in the northeast, multiple espresso options pulled on a Slayer espresso machine, pour over coffee for the majority of our brewed stuff. We were also going to be brewing primarily single origin coffees in the shop, for the most part, and single origin was something that I had gotten away from in the Matt’s lineup. When I started out I had no blends or dark roast, but gradually started adding them, as that was what folks seemed to want. Lightly roasted single origin coffees from difficult to pronounce places were a tough sell when sitting on the shelf next to “french roast,” or approachable (and strong sounding) names like “jet” and “double dark.” Before I knew it, blends made up the majority of what we sold.
Don’t get me wrong, though. I think our blends are delicious. And they are made up of coffees that stand on their own as single origin coffees. I’ve never bought what is known in the business as “blenders”: relatively boring (and sometimes flawed) bargain coffees that mostly just fill space in a bag. Whenever I purchase a coffee, it’s because I think it’s really good, and exhibits attributes that will contribute to the blend it’s going into. And it’s the primary reason our blends are, in my opinion, better than a lot of what you find out there. (I’ve had multiple importers react in a startled way upon finding out that the pricey washed Ethiopia I just purchased from them was going into, say, our “breakfast blend.” “You’re doing what with that coffee?” Etc.)
Still, the opening of the shop provided the opportunity for a bit of a reset of sorts, so I wanted to go with a new name. I ended up with Speckled Ax. I liked that there was an object tie-in to our unique wood roasting process, and I liked the somewhat ambiguous, or ambivalent, anecdote from which the name comes. (It’s in The Autobiography of Ben Franklin. I’m sure I’ll write about it in this blog sooner than later.)
The longer term plan was to keep Matt’s Coffee in place as an organic blend lineup, and start marketing Speckled Ax as an alternative single origin-focused brand, but after a while it became apparent that it was unwieldy to explain, confusing for customers, and really just kind of stupid. The natural tendency for many folks who come into the shop is to think of the Speckled Ax coffees—the ones we are serving—as the “better” or “premium” ones, and the Matt’s line-up that we also sell on our shelf as somehow inferior, but this really isn’t the case. We often serve a coffee on the bar that is a component of one of the blends, and most of the coffees we sell under the Matt’s name cost just as much, or more, than the smaller estate, conventionally grown options we sell in Speckled Ax bags.
To add insult to our self-inflicted injury, a lot of people don’t realize that we are the same business, or that the coffee comes out of the same roaster. They come in and see Matt’s bags on the shelf and say something like “hey,cool, you sell Matt’s!” And I smile at them from behind the counter and say something like “yah, we do.”
So, I’m hoping that the new name will stop the confusion and simply work better across the board. I think that, ultimately, it represents the coffee better. Not just because there is an ax in the name, but because, truthfully, it’s not “my” coffee. For starters, it’s no longer just me in a warehouse roasting, bagging, and delivering the coffee, like it was for the first seven or so years that the business existed. Dan is now doing most of the roasting and delivering, and Megan and Tessa are doing most of the bagging. But even more importantly, the truth is that the coffee is grown and picked and processed by individuals all around the world. They are the ones doing the heavy lifting. It’s their coffee, really. We are just a conduit. And I’m not just bullshitting. It’s the central fact of the coffee industry, and one that I wrestle with every day. How can we get more money into the hands of the people who grow and pick this delicious coffee, while at the same time running a business that functions well enough here in the US, with its very different cost of living and doing business, to pay employees fairly, pay myself something, and keep prices fair for our customers? I’m hoping this new website, and the consolidated brand, will help me to continue getting closer to all these necessary goals.
A note about new pricing and packaging:
–Anyone visiting this site after having been a customer at mattscoffee.com will see that our prices have increased, and relatively substantially, though I believe they are still a good value when compared to comparable coffees you might find out there. I won’t go into too much detail here, in what has become a very long blog entry, but the bottom line is that the coffee I purchase is expensive, and I hadn’t really kept up with pricing on the old website to reflect costs. I’ll talk more about coffee prices very soon, but for now, I hope that you will still find that our coffee is worth what we are charging for it. It’s the best we can do, and still remain in business. Seriously.
–For the next few months, orders placed online will receive two different bags. The blends will come in the familiar Matt’s bags, and the single origins will come with a Speckled Ax label. We have new biodegradable bags on order that we are excited about, and once they arrive, everything will be packed in a Speckled Ax bag. But until then, we’re still doing the dual brand thing. We hope it won’t be too confusing.
Again, thank you very, very much for your business. I appreciate it, and hope to keep it.