When we redesigned our website in 2020, I told our talented graphic designer that I wanted a series of mascots who would represent our global and diverse customer base. What came out of this were five fictional characters who joined my own caricature across the website and our printed materials. The goal? To make The Coffeevine more fun and personal.
As someone who generally stands at the center of all his content, I try to give a face to a company that is basically purely digital until the moment a Coffeevine box lands on your doorstep. Over the past few years and, in particular, during the pandemic, I noticed that many coffee roasters tried to move further away from the more minimalistic approach to their branding and packaging and towards a more relatable and engaging brand identity.
Prior to getting to know Hard Lines from Cardiff, Wales, one of the brands that did this best, in my opinion, was Calendar from Ireland. Their amusing labels have always put a smile on my face and definitely help this brand to stand out against more subdued alternatives.
Turns out, Cadi Lane, the designer behind Calendar, is not just the girlfriend of Hard Lines’ co-founder Matt Jones but also the designer behind their fun and unique branding, which is probably one of my personal favourites out there right now.
Earlier today, I caught up with Matt to get a better sense of who Hard Lines is as a brand and what inspired the company’s soul, which was influenced from the American west coast, Cardiff itself, Barcelona and Prague.
He began saying that it had been a ‘long journey’ from his days as a sound engineer working on theatre productions, live music and the like. One day, he and Sophie, who also worked in the same industry and who shared the same disillusionment with his career, decided to go on holidays to Barcelona and Prague, ‘weirdly enough it was cheaper to fly to both rather than going return to Barcelona,’ he said, and it was at Satan’s Coffee Corner, a Barcelona institution that they had their shared a-ha moment with specialty coffee.
“… [the faces and the Cup Man] really helped to set us apart from other roasters.”
“That’s where Sophie and I started throwing some ideas around and when we came back, it transpired that we wanted to pursue a career in specialty coffee more seriously,” he said.
Before coming Hard Lines, their business was called Outpost Coffee, a name they had to abandon because there was already a different UK roaster with the same name and they were having none of it. Yet, how they got started in coffee is very interesting. They had their beginnings as an AeroPress pop-up bar that would head from place to place, basically wherever there was room for them to make delicious filter coffees.
At first, they worked with a local roaster from Cardiff and as their confidence grew, they began to source coffees from the likes of Five Elephant and Koppi and thereby positioning themselves as THE local coffee bar with the most exotic offerings. What started as a little pop-up bar, eventually became a tiny market stall, which they still have today.
The transition to an actual roastery happened faster than Matt and Sophie imagined but it was the logical step after seeing the business grow and demand for specialty coffee rising. This was also the time when Outpost became Hard Lines as they tried to shed their previous skin and create a unique brand fit for the future.
“We basically sat around a table one night and tried to come up with new names for the comapny,” Matt recalled. “Hard Lines kind of stuck because it sort of means ‘hard luck’ and that’s what we felt we had with the whole name situation but we turned into something positive and Cadi gave the brand a fun, approachable and human face.”
When they started roasting their own coffees, renting someone else’s roaster for a while, they began to develop the characters and the mascot, the Cup Man who is partially the result of some time they spent in and around San Francisco. They wanted to create something that would give the brand a personality and the Cup Man really has done that well. At the same time, they are now looking at ways to refine the brand even further.
“It’s hard to do that because everyone loves the faces so much and they’ve really helped to set us apart from other roasters,” Matt mused. Indeed, moving away from something that works can be tricky.
Ever since beginning their own in-house roasting operations, things have been growing steadily. Their first café, which recreates the American diner experience in a Welsh suburb, used to house the roastery too until they eventually decided to acquire a Loring S15 to take things to the next level. In Matt’s own words, this is the most forgiving and precise roaster out there and one that allows them to really bring out clarity and sweetness in every coffee that they source.
Explaining what the Loring does to a given coffee, Matt said: “It’s like putting on a pair of glasses. This roaster helps you to see the coffee’s true character in sharp focus and that’s just amazing.”
The upcoming May 2022 Coffeevine box that marks Hard Lines’ debut, will see them roasting a really funky and exotic natural-processed Papua New Guinea from the Grass Roots Wet Mill who they’re sourcing from for the second consecutive year. “Definitely more of an afternoon coffee, if you ask me,” Matt joked.
It is one of Hard Lines’ best selling coffees and according to Matt, people love it. It’s not surprising to be honest. It’s so unique and exciting that it will be a delight to drink for anyone who appreciates as bit of funk and flavour.
You can now pre-order or subscribe to our upcoming May 2022 Coffeevine box featuring this beauty of a coffee from Hard Lines as well as two other exotic picks from Drop Coffee and A Matter Of Concrete. Visit our shop to choose your ideal box.