Auckland: Acme & Co’s cups are favoured by the hippest coffee roasters and cafes around the world, including Dubai’s own RAW Coffee Company, Tom & Serge and The Sum of Us. With a focus on design and the belief that the perfect balance of form and function in a cup enhances the coffee experience, Acme & Co, a small team of coffee and design aficionados from New Zealand, are taking the cafe world by storm.

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 Good design is when everything’s exactly as it should be

Acme & Co was founded in 2011 by Jeff Kennedy and partner Bridget Dunn, based on Jeff’s longstanding ambition to create the cups he had always wanted. Today, Made. Journal talks to Jessica Godfrey from Jeff’s close-knit team about Dubai’s favourite coffee cup and how a love of design has catapulted Acme & Co on to the international stage.

Please tell us a little about Acme & Co

I guess the most unique thing about Acme & Co is that we’re coffee people. All of us. We approach the cups as people who love to drink, serve and share coffee. Our owners had a very successful coffee roasting company with a very busy flagship cafe, which they sold to a multinational. The key people in Acme & Co have come from that business. It means that our starting point is the cafe and coffee experience and what’s happening in coffee.

How important is design in a coffee cup?

Very! Good design is when you almost don’t even notice the design. Good design is when everything’s exactly as it should be. Our first range of cups was the espresso range. The shape and size defines the beverage and proportions of coffee to milk. The design refinements we made were to make the experience easier and more attractive for everyone involved – from the customer who was now able to hold the cup more easily, to the baristas and cafe owners who could now rely upon one saucer size to match three cups sizes. We were also very determined to have a thick ceramic that could withstand the thrashing cups get in a busy cafe environment.

The design refinements we made were to make the experience easier and more attractive for everyone involved

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The Sum of Us. Photography Sandra Tinari

Why cups?

A couple of reasons. The practical one is that the owners had a restraint of trade after selling their roasting company and they’re not the types to sit idle. The first thing they invested in was an espresso manufacturing company (Rocket Espresso Milano) and then ACME cups. They wanted to retain their connection to coffee in the years they weren’t allowed to roast or have a cafe. The cup opportunity was made clear from our years of importing coffee cups from Italy at the former business. We provided the Italian cup manufacturer with a lot of feedback – that we wanted more colours, that we wanted the handles to be easier to hold, that cafes always had an excess of saucers… basically every idea they weren’t receptive to we put into place at Acme.

Where & how do you do your design & product research?

The number one place we do our R and D is our flagship cafe. The ACME office is within our building that also houses Prefab cafe and Prefab Hall. Prefab is a 180 seater cafe that Jeff and Bridget opened in February 2013. It’s the busiest cafe in Wellington and it’s a test lab for Acme. We serve hundreds of cups of espresso and filter each day. We also roast on premises and cup coffees for quality and flavour preferences. Just about anything new on the market is ordered in and we try it out, whether it’s a new coffee scale, pour over method or even espresso machine. If there are different ways people are preparing coffee we want to see how our cups fit within those methods. We’re also often to be found drinking out of differently shaped cups that have come out of the 3D printer. Some shapes are a little wacky and experimental but we like to see how this affects the sensory experience – aroma, flow, touch.

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You sell internationally, do different markets have different tastes when it comes to the design of their coffee cups?

We do mostly sell to specialty coffee roasters and cafes so there’s more similarity than you might expect. The specialty coffee market transcends geography a little. But some obvious differences are larger sized cups in North America. And the bright colours are a big hit in Asian countries.

Dubai’s big seller?

Cappuccino and flat white sizes – 190ml and 150ml respectively. Dubai isn’t into the large cups perhaps because of the weather. There’s no need to warm up with a big coffee. Green and grey seem to be the hot colours!

Finally, what’s inspiring you at the moment in design?

We’re inspired by the vessels that come with wine and how glassware is evolving. And by the traditional ceramics used by the great tea cultures. Recently there have been business trips to different parts of Asia and we have been taking team members to tea ceremonies. Looking at other beverages helps us think more objectively about the relationship between coffee preparation and vessel.

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