Coffee is more than a product. It’s a ritual and a way to cultivate connections with people.
This is the ethos that’s deeply ingrained in Emma Chamberlain’s wildly popular coffee brand, Chamberlain Coffee.
Launched in 2020 by YouTube phenomenon and content creator, Emma Chamberlain (she was named among Forbes 30 Under 30, Class of 2021), Chamberlain Coffee has been making its mark among its Gen Z demo — and beyond.
Amid the sea of lifestyle brands founded by content creators and influencers (primarily in the beauty industry), Chamberlain stays focused on her business, which has always been a passion rather than a passing fad.
“My desire to be involved in the coffee industry existed before I had a career on the Internet, so my passion for the category is thoroughly developed and genuine,” Chamberlain shares. “As much as my heart and soul is present in Chamberlain Coffee, it was a priority for me to create a coffee brand that has an identity of its own, beyond me.”
Primarily a direct-to-consumer brand, it has recently made inroads on the retail front, with distribution in Erewhon Market, digital delivery market GoPuff, and more recently, national grocer Sprouts.
“We launched as a D2C brand,” explains CEO Chris Gallant. “That’s really what allowed us to reach our audience efficiently — especially considering Emma is a creator.”
Chamberlain Coffee boasts a successful subscription program that ships globally, with best-selling products Matcha Green Tea Powder, ‘Careless Cat’ Cold Brew Singles and ‘Fancy Mouse’ Espresso Blend.
“In 2023, retail will be the biggest play for us, as we think about where we go from here and the fact that most coffee is still purchased on the weekly ritual shopping trip,” Gallant continues. “While I think there are a lot of attributes about coffee that lend itself to buying online, as a ritual and as a subscription — because most people ‘set it and forget it’ — the bulk of people still want it on their shopping trip. And so we want the brand to be available where they want to buy it.”
Its biggest recent splash? A new product category, with the launch of tea bags. The brand has expanded its lineup of products with two new teas: Green & Citrus Chamomile. (The two new flavors are available in single-serve packaging.)
Following a $7 million series A in August, Chamberlain Coffee has been focused on developing new products and expanding its retail footprint. And it’s clearly succeeding on this trajectory.
One of the ways Chamberlain Coffee is standing out amid the new wave of coffee and tea brands: its colorful and quirky branding.
“I think we’ve also done a strong job of building a brand alongside Emma, with fun, quirky, interesting personality traits — for example, if you look at the animals and the product names, we take a really playful approach on a category that has been primarily brown, beige and relatively boring.”
But while playful branding attracts people, it’s certainly not enough to keep people coming back for more. That’s where quality is critical.
“Emma and the cool branding will get people to come buy for the first time, but if we don’t deliver a good product, they won’t come back,” adds Gallant.
A goal for brands is mastering this delicate balance and fine line of premium quality and aspiration, while still being attainable. Chamberlain Coffee achieves this mission with flying colors.
“For us, it’s just been instilled since day one, with Emma being very hands-on in the coffee selection process. It’s organic coffee, the beans are rated 82 or higher, so it’s super premium, super high quality,” Gallant continues.
Coffee and tea are about a daily ritual, more than getting a caffeine fix in the morning. With Chamberlain Coffee, it’s also about the lifestyle: most of the online orders have some sort of branded merch attached to them, whether it’s clothing, stainless steel straws or glassware.
“People absolutely want to brand themselves with everything coffee.”
Some advice from Gallant for other brands looking towards a fundraise, semi-fresh off the heels of the brand’s successful raise this past August:
“I don’t want to echo what a lot of VCs have said,” Gallant says. “But make sure you have enough runway to execute your plan — ideally 18 to 24 months. I think VCs are looking at holding back a little bit, so make sure you have runway. And then the second piece is, when you do take funding, make sure you find the right partner to take funding from. To me, that looks like a few things, such as being aligned on the strategy, how you will execute the plan, and how you will go about growing this business. Do you want to exit or do you want to grow this? And if you do want to exit, what does that look like? So make sure there’s strong alignment there. Lastly, really understanding how the investors want to plug in. Some investors want to be totally hands off, and some want to be involved on a daily basis. One isn’t necessarily better than the other, but make sure you fully understand and are ready for how they want to be a part of your brand.”
With Chamberlain’s constant involvement, the brand is poised to stay ahead of the trends. (Currently, a key trend in the coffee space is cold coffee, something the brand has capitalized on in its current portfolio.)
As for the rest of 2023? Stay tuned for even more product launches. Chamberlain adds: “I want Chamberlain Coffee to remain authentic while simultaneously evolving to meet trends and consumer demands, maintaining that balance through heavy involvement on my part.”