Walk into Tekoa or Two Hands in New York, Seattle's Oddfellows Cafe+Bar, an outpost of Stumptown or any number of the au courant sweet cafés dotting American cities. You know the kind. The beans are well sourced, the baristas know their way around a rosetta's many graceful folds and the light's just right for a stunning Instagram. Finish your beautiful beverage. Now flip your cup upside down.
There's a good chance you will see ACME boldly written in all caps. The New Zealand-based producer, which makes coffee and espresso cups in bold Pantone-esque hues, has taken its hold on the café set of late.
"There was a time when if I was looking at Instagram and I saw that green cup, I knew it was in our shop," Leon Unglik, co-owner of Aussie-inspired café Little Collins in New York, explains. When he opened the shop in 2013, he wanted the cups badly enough that he had his mother pack around 150 of them in her suitcases to get them to New York. These days, when he sees that green cup on Instagram, "It could be anywhere," Unglik says.
Jessica Godfrey, who has worked with the company since 2012, attributes much of that success to the fact that "We're coffee people, who do cups. We don't think of ourselves as manufacturers. We started with how we like to drink coffee and serve coffee." Godfrey formerly judged barista contests, and Acme & Co.'s founders, Jeff Kennedy and Bridget Dunn, have owned cafés in New Zealand since 1990 (Kennedy is often referred to as one of the fathers of New Zealand's coffee culture).
Like many in-demand products, the cups were born out of a frustration with what was on the market. At Kennedy and Dunn's Wellington café, "We used a [now-defunct] cup company called ACF. [But] there were so many things that annoyed us about those cups. The handles were too small to hold," and they were offered only in brown, white and black, Godfrey says.
So when the team developed their first round of cups in 2011, a more comfortable handle was key, as were bright color options (there are eight in total) and a weight to the cup. "Espresso has this ritual," Godfrey says, and the weight of the cup in your hand is key to that. It also helps them last: "They [are] durable and beautiful but have a certain formality and retro elegance," New York-based chef Alex Raij, who uses them at her new café, Tekoa, says.
The cups caught on quickly in New Zealand and Australia, and in London, because of a connection with a friend working in the coffee business there. But they didn't start showing up in the U.S. until a couple of years later. "People were trying to get them any way that they could," Wesley Farnell, who owns Acme's North American distributor, Eight Ounce Coffee Supply, in Calgary, says. But when ACF closed up shop shortly after Little Collins opened, Stumptown needed a new cup supplier and turned to Acme, helping the Kiwi company find its footing in the U.S. A new crop of Aussie café's like Bluestone Lane and Two Hands, using Acme cups, probably didn't hurt matters. The cup quickly spread, adding pops of colors to cafés around the country.
Despite the popularity (the company's sales grew by just shy of 100 percent last year), Acme isn't planning for radical growth. They did, however, make one adjustment for the American market, releasing a larger coffee cup that holds 12 ounces around the New Year. "We had so much demand for them; we were forced by the market," Farnell says.
Now that the cups are shipped within the continent (so long, suitcase), many of the cafés, Stumptown and Little Collins included, are working with Farnell's team to customize the cups. Little Collins' iconic emoji-like faces, once Photoshopped onto photos of their cups for Instagram, are now printed on the cups. In New Zealand, Godfrey says cafés are starting to put cheeky remarks on the bottom of the cups, so that drinkers find a surprise when they finish their cups of coffee.
Lift up the cup at Stumptown and the saucer wishes you "good luck"—something we wouldn't mind seeing with our morning coffee.
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