Is Blue Bottle’s collaboration with The Weeknd good for specialty coffee?
Celebrity partnerships are nothing new to the coffee industry. From actors and professional athletes to musicians and social media influencers, celebrity endorsements have been a key part of coffee marketing as far back as the early 1980s.
In recent years, as well as more public figures launching their own coffee brands, we’ve also seen more and more celebrities partner with specialty coffee companies.
Last week, as part of a collaboration with musician The Weeknd, Blue Bottle Coffee announced its new Samra Origins range. In a press release, the company said Samra Origins is “a brand and product line celebrating Ethiopian culture and excellence in coffee”.
Considering Blue Bottle’s reputation as a pioneer in the industry, there’s no doubting the quality of the product. However, at the same time, we do need to ask: do partnerships like this add any value to specialty coffee? Read on to find out more.
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How exclusive are these coffees?
On 9 May 2023, Blue Bottle launched the first coffee in the Samra Origins range – an Exceedingly Rare Ethiopia Wolde Faye Koricha COE #7. Prior to its release, those interested in trying the coffee had to join a waiting list.
The natural processed, light roast micro lot coffee is available to buy for US $65 per 100g tin. For this price, the coffee also comes with a collectible booklet featuring original Samra Origins artwork.
Grown by Ethiopian producer Wolde Faye Koricha in the Oromia region, the 74110 variety ranked seventh at the 2022 Cup of Excellence Ethiopia competition. Blue Bottle identifies flavour notes of rose, tangerine, and strawberry in the coffee, which received 89.78 points at last year’s CoE Ethiopia.
“Ethiopian coffee is truly in a class of its own and the country holds a special place within our Blue Bottle community,” said Karl Strovink, CEO of Blue Bottle Coffee, in a press release. “I’m excited that we’re extending our commitment there with Samra Origins so we can continue to share the best of Ethiopian coffee and support our network of producers in the country.”
To answer the question, the Exceedingly Rare Ethiopia Wolde Faye Koricha COE #7 coffee is certainly exclusive. Blue Bottle describes the first Samra Origins launch as “our most premium coffee offering: a Cup of Excellence microlot with only 1,700 orders available”.
In summer 2023, however, Blue Bottle will launch a Samra Origins blend. The company says the blend was developed during cupping sessions with Benjamin Brewer, Head of Innovation & Quality, as well as The Weeknd and his mother – who is Ethiopian.
With a blend also available in the range, this certainly broadens the scope of consumers interested in these coffees – as well as having a range of price points.
Do celebrity partnerships add value to specialty coffee?
Since famous US baseball player Joe DiMaggio appeared in a TV commercial for the Mr. Coffee brewer in 1983, celebrity endorsements have been prominent in the coffee industry.
Without a doubt, one of the most famous brand partnerships is US actor George Clooney and Nespresso. The Swiss coffee capsule manufacturer hired Clooney to be the face of the brand in the mid-2000s, and the actor starred in his first Nespresso TV advertisement in 2006.
The campaign was an undeniable success. While Clooney has reportedly earned US $40 million from his brand ambassador role, Nespresso sales catapulted in the years since – with an estimated 14 billion capsules produced annually.
Other notable celebrity partnerships in coffee include:
- La Colombe and Leonardo DiCaprio launching LYON coffee to support the actor’s humanitarian and environmental protection foundation
- Coffee machine manufacturer De’Longhi hiring US actor Brad Pitt as a brand ambassador for the Perfetto advertising campaign
- US rap artist Snoop Dogg and Indonesian coffee entrepreneur Michael Riady launching coffee brand INDOxyz
- US National Basketball Association player Jimmy Butler launching his BIGFACE coffee brand – which purchased more than 1,000lbs of the highest-scoring coffees at the 2021 CoE El Salvador auction
The list certainly goes on – including celebrities and brands such as Iggy Pop and Stumptown Coffee Roasters, Taylor Swift and Starbucks, and Hugh Jackman’s Laughing Man Coffee brand.
Helpful or harmful?
Beyond generating value for coffee brands (and the celebrities in question), whether these endorsements are beneficial to the coffee industry or not is a matter of opinion.
On one hand, celebrity endorsements can help more people become interested in specialty coffee – ultimately supporting the industry. Moreover, partnering with coffee brands can help celebrities raise awareness of certain issues and causes that are important to them.
Meanwhile, on the other hand, there’s an argument that these endorsements commercialise specialty coffee – making it lose its “edge” and authenticity. Specialty coffee prides itself on quality, sustainability, transparency, and traceability, but do these partnerships support the same values? It’s a difficult question to answer, and everyone has their own perspective.
A focus on Ethiopia
Going back to Blue Bottle’s Samra Origins range, these coffees are exclusively sourced from Ethiopia. The reason why is down to The Weeknd’s (or Abel Tesfaye) cultural heritage and identity.
“Ethiopian culture is an important part of my identity and I’m proud to work alongside the Blue Bottle Coffee team to shine a light on Ethiopian traditions, values, and of course, coffee,” The Weeknd said in a press release. “Growing up, I watched my mother perform Buna Tetu, a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony. This sensory experience helped shape my understanding of community and taught me to always honour my roots.
“Samra Origins is a true passion project that I hope will inspire curiosity and encourage support for Ethiopia’s people, while also spreading the warmth and friendship so ingrained in Ethiopian culture,” he said.
Because of The Weeknd’s roots in Ethiopia, the Samra Origins range already feels authentic and genuine. It’s up for debate how much involvement the musician had in sourcing and cupping the coffees, but it’s clear that he is invested in supporting Ethiopia and its coffee sector.
Coffee for a cause
Blue Bottle will donate to The Weeknd’s XO Humanitarian Fund, which supports the United Nations World Food Programme. The fund specifically focuses on Ethiopia, where more than 20 million people currently require urgent humanitarian food assistance.
Bringing attention to this cause is undeniably important. And considering that coffee accounts for over 30% of Ethiopia’s exports, promoting the high quality of the country’s coffee can help to support its producers.
Moreover, given that The Weeknd is currently the most listened to artist on Spotify with over 108 million monthly listeners, his capacity to raise awareness and drive specialty coffee consumption is huge.
Coffee-celebrity partnerships aren’t going away anytime soon. For both specialty coffee brands and celebrities, collaborations and endorsements are useful ways to generate revenue and increase consumer interest.
And whether you like them or not, there’s value in these partnerships. Specialty coffee just needs to make sure it retains its integrity – which is sometimes easier said than done.
Editor’s note: This article was edited on 16 May 2023 to clarify that Blue Bottle will release one Samra Origins blend in summer 2023.
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Photo credits: Blue Bottle Coffee
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