August 27, 2015

3 Steps to Crafting a Successful Specialty Coffee Brand


Are you dreaming of a café or coffee roastery of your own, but find the idea of running a business daunting? Or are you already burning out your body and mind running your business, and can’t understand why your brand won’t grow?

The answer is simple. You can be the best barista in the world, winning prizes at barista competitions with ease, but winning over daily consumers requires a completely different skill: marketing.

One of the key aspects of marketing is branding, so today, we’re asking: “How do you build your brand?”

To answer that question, I sat down with Mike Murphy to hear his story of brand building. Mike is the Managing Director and brain behind Kokako Organic Coffee Roasters in Auckland, New Zealand. Over the years, Kokako has become a household name for its organic, fairtrade coffee and sustainability, as well as for its quality products and design. It is a trusted brand renowned for ethical values.

ee este artículo en español  Tres Pasos Para Crear Una Marca de Café Especial Exitosa

coffee shop interior design

 Kokako Cafe in Auckland, New Zealand.

A brand is a story, and a good story takes years to build. Mike’s been building his brand since 2007. When he took it over, eight years ago, it was a food and beverage brand.

But wait—didn’t I tell you that Kokako is a coffee roastery? How does that fit into the same story as a food and beverages company? Well, as Mike said to me many times, “brands evolve all the time”. The year after Mike acquired it, the company became organic and fairtrade certified. Over the years since then, the brand has evolved with market needs and business capability. At the moment, it’s an organic coffee roastery focusing on specialty coffee, but it also has a flagship vegetarian cafe offering espresso and soft brew drinks.

Yet just because brands change, that doesn’t mean you can pick a brand with the same care that goes into picking a sandwich filling. There are some key rules you need to remember about branding.

SEE ALSO: How a Barista Grew, Processed & Roasted Coffee in Australia

3 Rules of Coffee Branding

1. Your Brand Should Resonate with Your Personal Values

While Mike shied away from my camera, saying he wanted the focus to be on the brand, his personality and values are integral to Kokako. His company inherits his belief in being respectful, considerate, generous, a perfectionist, and part of a community—and that is why it thrives.

Kokako is part of a coffee community. One example of this is Mike’s work with the Highlands Organic Agriculture Cooperative in Papua New Guinea to improve coffee quality. Kokako is also verified by third parties, such as Fairtrade and BioGro, New Zealand’s largest certifier of organic products, reflecting a dedication to respecting coffee farmers and the environment. Yet Kokako doesn’t just support, or be supported by, others in its community: it also learns from them. Mike told me that “Kokako is a quiet achiever, quietly learning more about coffee”. This ability to learn and grow from others is symptomatic of Kokako’s values of respect and community, and it is also how this brand continues to grow.

mike murphy specialty coffee

Mike Murphy.

2.  The Point of Difference

It’s all about finding your market niche. Identify a market need that’s not being met to set yourself apart from the other companies and dominate that niche.

Mike saw a market need for organic coffee and sustainability, and so a crucial element of the Kokako brand is being organic and fair-trade. In the flagship café, which is accredited with Conscious Consumers (a Wellington-based registered charity who creates a global marketplace for sustainable products and services), there is a focus on compostable and recyclable packaging.

coloring crayons in bowel

Even the pencils are biodegradable and compostable.

3.  Tell a Story

Does your product have a story behind it? What about your company? Stories are what make consumers feel connected with your organisation. By telling one, a company becomes more relatable, more meaningful, and more genuine.

A brand’s value is not in the consumption of its products; rather, it’s in the communication of its logo, name, and story. 

kokako bird in pipe

Kokako: an endangered native forest bird endemic to New Zealand. This bird is everywhere in the flagship cafe.

Business Growth vs. Quality Control Is The Wrong Message

It’s not business growth vs. quality control; it’s business growth and quality control. If quality products are part of your brand image (as it should be, for third wave coffee companies) then the two are linked—but maintaining that reputation for good quality as your business expands is harder than it seems.


 The Kokako mark: a symbol of ethically produced, high-quality coffee.

Many coffee roasteries expand their brand through selling to wholesale accounts, but without careful selection and tight control, your brand may become diluted. Doing business with these wholesale accounts is an endorsement of them; they then become a representative of the brand itself. In order to remain true to the Kokako brand, Mike’s policy is to only focus on the people who value quality. They need to have the same focus on organic, fairtrade, high-quality coffee as Kokako does. To ensure this, the team at Kokako does an operations review and a design review for each client to determine best practice. This means that when customers see that black, blue, grey, and white Kokako logo, they can trust that their expectations are being met.

chairs and table inside coffee shop

The Kokako trademark mix of black, blue, grey, and white is carefully mixed into the café’s interior design.

What does “Specialty Coffee” Mean to Mike?

Every time I interview someone, I always finish by asking: “What does specialty coffee mean to you?” Well, to Mike, specialty coffee is more than a cupping score. Specialty coffee is also about how it affects consumption. There’s a fine line between “what consumers should be drinking” and “what they want to drink”; specialty coffee is finding the balance in between.

coffee shop brew bar

   The brew bar at Kokako.

Conclusion: Be a Specialist, Not a Generalist

For success in business, your brand must be the master of your company. For your brand to be a successful master, it must be born out of your principles. Discover your values, create your vision, and tell your story—then stick to it.

Custom-painted La Marzocco PB espresso machine

Custom-painted La Marzocco PB. The colours used reflect the Kokako logo.

 Edited by T. Newton.

Perfect Daily Grind.