MistoBox – An easier way to find your favorite coffee

Each year, when the rains return to the Northwest, Portlanders hunker down, mug in hand, trying to stay dry while dreaming longingly about next year’s sunshine. To lessen the impact of the grayness, we medicate (er, indulge) ourselves with large quantities of coffee. Some people make their coffee at home, while others frequent their favorite café(s).

Fortunately, Portland’s variety of roasters and cafés is unsurpassed, meaning we never have to get bored drinking the same coffee over and over. In fact, we could probably drink a different coffee every day of the year without repeating ourselves.

That said, some people still want to try coffees from other cities or regions. For these coffee adventurers, the question is, where do you start looking? One place to begin your search would be the website of a new company called MistoBox. MistoBox is making it a little easier for you to sample coffees from around the country without ever leaving your city.

If you sign up with Misto Box, a “delightful” box arrives at your door at the beginning of every month, carrying four different samples of whole bean coffees from roasters around the country, from the Pacific Northwest (Portland’s Water Avenue Coffee is one) to as far away as Tennessee (for now—the company is continually adding more roasters to its lineup). The samples are small—1.5oz.-2oz., so you don’t have to worry about getting too much of a coffee that is not your favorite. If you especially enjoy one (or more) of the coffees inside the box, you can order a full-size bag of the beans from the MistoBox website. Customers earn points that can be redeemed for free coffee and other merchandise.

Samantha Meis and Connor Riley founded the company in January 2012 while they were finishing up their education at the University of Arizona. They created a Kickstarter campaign to help fund the company and once they reached their funding goal, took off like a caffeinated wildcat (pun-metaphor intended). I caught up with Samantha and asked her a few questions about the new venture (some answers have been edited for clarity).

Caffeinated PDX: Tell me a little bit about yourself and how you got interested in coffee. 

Samantha Meis: I’m originally from a small city in Iowa where, as you could have guessed it, we didn’t have many options for drinking fresh roasted coffee. Actually, we didn’t have any options. My interest in coffee didn’t really start until I left for college in Tucson, Arizona. As it goes, coffee started out as a necessity for me, pulling me through some long all-nighters. Soon, I was visiting a local roasters’ shops daily, experimenting with different brewing techniques, and learning about coffee quality and evaluation. It was then I started my never-ending hunt for the perfect cup and a true addiction ensued.

Read More

Coffee with a kick(start) - Nossa Familia's new campaign

Kickstarter is a relatively new company that allows small startups to harness the reach of the internet and connect with potential customers. Using Kickstarter, individuals or companies create proposals and seek pledges to support a specific project. In exchange for their “donations,” Kickstarter pledgers receive some sort of product or service from the campaigner. Each campaign has a specific goal and time period to reach that goal. If the funding goal is not met within the time period, the donors are not responsible for their pledge.

Kickstarter is not charity, nor is it an investment website. Kickstarter is a way for people to support a business project through pre-sales, similar to the way a CSA (community supported agriculture) works. You pay up front, then when the product is ready, you get what you paid for.

Why am I telling you about Kickstarter? Because I always advocate for improving the quality of coffee in this city. A local Portaland roaster, Nossa Familia, is currently running a campaign to raise money to put in an espresso bar at its new Pearl District headquarters. The company is looking to raise $15,000 to help purchase the equipment it needs to provide Portlandians with a Brazilian espresso experience.

The Nossa Familia campaign has several levels of support, ranging from the $5 level (an espresso + pão de queijo) to the $5,500 level (a guided trip for two to the Brazilian farms that produce the coffee Nossa Familia sells, not including airfare, a $600 discount from what the trip would normally cost).  

Augusto Carvalho Dias, Nossa Familia’s founder, can tell you more about it (video from Kickstarter website):

Best of luck to Nossa Familia in reaching its funding goal. Boa sorte!

Tales from Bostonia

We spent a few days in Boston last week, and the trip reinforced my belief that Portlanders are very spoiled by the amount of high-quality coffee available to us.

The first thing you notice when you drive around Boston (rather, the first thing I notice) is the presence of Dunkin’ Donuts shops everywhere. There are even more Dunkin’ Donuts than Starbucks. Apparently, Massachusettsans (or their less-polite fellow citizens) like bad coffee. Dunkin’ tried to establish itself in Portland a few years back, but the city’s coffee connoisseurs ignored the company, so it left town.

But Boston is not Portland, and Dunkin’ Donuts has a special place in the hearts of New Englanders. The chain was founded in 1950 in Quincy (pronounced quin-zee), Massachusetts, a few miles south of Boston. From the original shop, the business has grown to approximately 7,000 stores in the US alone (10,000+ around the world). Earlier this year, Dunkin’ announced it wants to double the number of US stores in the next two decades (a sign of the impending apocalypse?). The success of the business is unquestionable. The quality of the coffee, on the other hand…..

Give it a shot

Trying to keep an open mind, I stopped in at a Dunkin’ Donuts one morning and ordered a small coffee. The server asked if I wanted it “regular,” which, in Massachusetts, really means “with milk and sugar.” I said yes.

The coffee, unfortunately, met my expectations. It tasted like lightly-sweetened water. Bleh. It puzzles me that Dunkin’s coffee is so popular, but there is more behind the company’s success than just coffee.

In Boston, drinking DD coffee is almost a badge of honor, a symbol of loyalty toward the place New Englanders call home. People drink Dunkin’ Donuts’ coffee, not because it is high quality, but because it communicates something about their values. They identify with Dunkin’s working class, egalitarian American ideals (“America runs on Dunkin’”). In other words, Dunkin’ serves the common coffee drinker.

When I worked for Starbucks in Boston, customers would occasionally come into the store and grumble about the cup sizes, saying something like, “I just want a large. I don’t speak Italian, or whatever that is,” implying that Starbucks’ use of a foreign language was elite West Coast snobbery (I wonder what the customer would think of this post). In the least snarky voice I could summon, I would reply, “That’s okay, we speak English here too.” (Hopefully, they detected some sarcasm, but not too much.)

The marketing/branding lesson in the story is that it takes more than just a quality product to be successful. You have to have something that resonates with your customers’ values.  

Hope for future coffee snobs

Given Dunkin’s history in the Northeast, it would be a challenge to separate New Englanders from their DD coffee, but people are building a better coffee scene in the “Hub of the Universe.”

Thanks to some enterprising Bostonians, it is possible these days to find good coffee with a little effort. One shop providing better beverages is Thinking Cup, a café across from Boston Common that serves Stumptown coffee. The shot of Hair Bender they served me was not quite what you would get from Albina Press (where I’m sitting as I write this), but it was tasty.

Other quality cafés are popping up around the Boston metro area too. Unlike five years ago, when DD or Starbucks was about all you could find (in addition to the Italian coffees in the North End), these days you can find Stumptown, Counter Culture, Intelligentsia and George Howell coffee if you know where to look. That’s a significant improvement, and I expect to see the trend continue in the future. Boston will be hosting the 2013 Specialty Coffee Association of America Event, which means that the pressure will be on for Boston cafés to show off their best stuff. Boston might not be ready to take the title of America’s Best Coffee City from Portland, but it is heading in the right direction.

Pride comes before a...

Whenever you scoff at something, beware. Pride has a funny way of kicking you in the teeth when you aren’t looking.  A healthy sense of self-righteousness can set you up to feel stupid, as I did last week.

I was doing a little shopping at a local Fred Meyer when I came across a couple products I had not seen before.  On first glance, they seemed ridiculous.

Diet tonic water?

Isn’t that sort of like selling “cholesterol-free” peanut butter?

The second thing that caught my eye was the fat-free half and half.

Yes, that’s fat-free half and half.

Half and half gets its name from being half cream and half milk. If something is half cream, it cannot be fat-free. What did they substitute for the cream? Corn syrup and some other chemical agents (er, ingredients).

Obviously, with fat-free half and half, the food companies are catering to the weight-obsessed crowd. They’re trying to pass something off that substitutes corn syrup for cream as healthier for you (“It’s okay, go for it. It’s fat-free”). I scoffed at the idea of drinking fat-free half and half, and grabbed a carton of the real stuff, right next to it.

Or at least that’s what I thought. The part of the story where pride kicks me in the teeth is that when I got home to unload the groceries, I pulled out the carton, only to find that I had grabbed one of the fat-free ones! I had grabbed the name brand without looking too closely at it, assuming it was the real stuff. Ugh.


After mocking the thought of fat-free half and half, I had fallen into its trap (the taste and quality difference was obvious, by the way). I’m not sure whether this was a case of complete absent-mindedness or just a case of “pride cometh before a fall.” Either way, I felt ridiculous. Next time, I’ll be a little less self-righteous and a little more careful about what I pick up off the shelf.

Expensive Water

One of the phrases you hear in the service industry is “the customer is always right.” I disagree. Without a doubt, there are some customers who are wrong. However, retail businesses need to remember they are in the image business and try to build goodwill with both current and future customers whenever they can. Sometimes they succeed, and other times they fail. Here are a couple examples:

Today, I was sitting in a café that I regularly frequent when a woman walked in the front door and asked the barista, “How much is a cup of water?”

Without hesitating, the barista answered, “It’s seventy-five cents for the cup.”

The woman appeared to be hoping the water would be free, so unsurprisingly, she did not buy it. With a curt “thank you,” she turned and walked out the door. As a frugal consumer myself, I don’t blame her. I would balk at paying that much for a cup of water.

Trying to figure out how annoyed the woman was, I watched her as she returned to the parking lot, where her husband was waiting for her with a stroller (and, I assume, a small child).

From my perspective, the barista should have given the woman a cup of water. A woman walking around the neighborhood with her husband and a stroller likely lives nearby and could turn into a repeat customer. The barista’s response was an example of being “penny wise, pound foolish.” The cost of a cup is insignificant compared to what a loyal customer would spend in the future. However, I doubt the woman comes back anytime soon.

Somewhat ironically, a man came in a few minutes later, pleading for help.

“I know that restrooms are only for customers, but could I please use the bathroom?” he politely begged.

The barista nodded in assent and pointed him to the back of the store. This time, she didn’t figure it was necessary to hold the line on the rules.

The stories illustrate what Seth Godin would call  the “scarcity mindset” versus the “abundance mindset.” In the first case, the barista acted as if the cups were scarce and that by giving one away she would hurt the business. She missed an opportunity to help the woman (and maybe create a loyal customer). The second time around, the barista bent the rules to be generous with the customer, even if he did not buy anything. He was careful to thank the barista on the way out, and it appeared he was leaving with a good impression of the café.

Each of the two customers came in asking for essentially the same thing (something for nothing). The barista had the opportunity to build goodwill with both people who came into the cafe, but only did with one. She might think that being successful 50% of the time is good enough, but there are a lot of cafés out there competing for business, and whether or not “customers are always right,” they certainly think they are.  Treat them well—your business will prosper.