Coffee Bag Design Series explores the specialty coffee brands with unique designs that stand out and fire the imagination. This week, we spoke with Recluse Roasting Project about how their bags help reconnect with nature.
Aimee Biggerstaff and her partner Jack are different to most when it comes to coffee.
For a lot of people, coffee is something that offers a boost in the morning and tops up energy levels after lunch. On weekends, it’s a means of powering through a hangover and on long drives a necessity for staying alert.
Aimee and Jack, on the other hand, see coffee and the experience of drinking it as bordering on the meditative. It’s what Aimee refers to as their “natural state”, providing, among other things, a bridge for connecting with nature.
It’s from this attitude that Recluse Roasting Project was born. Launched in 2018 in Richmond, Virginia, the roastery was the logical next step for the couple, who already had several years experience working in the coffee sector.
They named it Recluse to convey what coffee meant to them: an opportunity to escape.
“Coffee tends to get a perky and enthusiastic energy from people who serve it and make it,” Aimee tells me. “But Jack and I are introverts at heart, so it felt true to us not to fake it. This is who we are. We love hiding in the roastery and roasting amazing coffee.
“We also both grew up surrounded by nature and something we passionately love is camping and brewing coffee. You’re not brewing it to get yourself prepared for work, you’re brewing it and you’re alone and it’s a different side of coffee.
“This approach felt the most representative of what we love and it’s from where we draw our energy.”
From the beginning, the focus at Recluse’s was on direct, ethical sourcing.
According to Aimee, it was the main reason for starting a roastery in the first place. However, over time, it has also been key to differentiating Recluse in a fiercely competitive market.
“Direct sourcing is our focus and it has really established us not only locally, but in the greater coffee community,” she says. “We’re not just pumping out lots of coffee. People have begun to form the expectation that we know the farmers.”
An example is the relationship Recluse has with Honduran producer Bernard. After meeting while Jack worked as a judge at Te Van a Conocer Compa, Bernard soon became close friends with the couple – even going so far as to visit them in Richmond.
This is what Aimee refers to as “intentional growth” and it’s something that’s mutually beneficial.
“This relationship with Bernard means we’ve been able to buy more of his coffee,” she explains. “But he also knows that we’re committed and we’re not going to suddenly cut him off.
“That sustainable relationship makes things stronger. For example, each year we talk to Bernard to discuss how much things have cost and, if it’s more, then we’ll pay him more.”
This approach to sourcing also informs Recluse’s attitude to serving coffee from their coffee bar. Instead of making people feel bad for adding sugar and cream, they believe ethical sourcing should come first – and therefore it doesn’t matter how the coffee is enjoyed.
“People get a little bit intimidated by specialty because they feel as though they’re being judged,” she says. “But Jack and I aren’t the people who will shame you for using cream or sugar in your coffee. We want you to drink the coffee whichever way you like. What’s important to us is that the coffee is sourced the right way.
Aimee and Jack are clear about what they stand for when it comes to coffee. However, the challenge when it came to their coffee bags was how to bring all their values under one design.
Aimee, who designed the bags herself, said the most important thing was that they didn’t become lost among the countless other specialty coffee brands.
“Jack and I talked a lot about how we didn’t want our bags to look like what people thought a coffee bag looked like – we wanted to challenge ourselves,” she explains. “We knew there was something about grabbing attention and giving them that feeling that they were about to have something special.”
As nature-lovers, she says they kept coming back to what inspired them: the great outdoors. To convey this passion, she incorporated designs of plants local to Washington State and Virginia, Aimee and Jack’s respective hometowns.
The result is a wild, chaotic, but also harmonious mix of plants, all stemming from what’s known as a “nurse log”: a fallen tree which, as it decays, facilitates the growth of seedlings.
“We were really interested in that idea of growing out of our experiences,” Aimee says. “With the nurse log at the base [of the bags], it’s almost like a source of life for the rest of the design. We really liked that idea.”
Interestingly, the bags themselves also act as a source of life: they are compostable and, according to feedback from customers of Recluse, double up as a tool for planting garden starts once empty.
As intended, they have also played a crucial role in drawing attention to the brand, whether selling wholesale, online, or from their coffee bar.
Customers would undoubtedly come back for the flavours or the relationships with farmers – or both – but it was the unique designs that grabbed people in the first place.
“It’s hard to be the new kid on the block in the way we were,” Aimee tells me. “People had nothing to go on from experience. The response to our bags was why they gave us a chance.”
Did you enjoy this edition of The Coffee Bag Design Series? Next week, we’ll be speaking with Sumo Coffee Roasters.
Photo credits: Recluse Roasting Project