Business in Shoreditch: Interview with Gideon Botha Founder of BlankBox Coffee

G: Tell us about your business?

BlankBox Coffee is a coffee subscription service sending out two different coffees, from two different roasters, in a single box each month. BlankBox is intended for those individuals who’d like to try a variety of speciality coffees from different UK roasters. We crisscross the country in search of independent roasters pouring their hearts and souls into roasting top class coffees. Once we find them, we send out their coffees in a single BlankBox but not before discovering who these roasters are. Through interviews and photography, subscribers get to discover the story “behind each cup”.

The inspiration is an intersect of a restlessness to start my own business, a not-so-slight addiction to coffee and an idea to build a community where people can learn about and discover coffee in a unique way.

G: What is unique about what you do?

By being 100% open about who our roasters are, we build a platform for UK based roasters, as opposed to just another coffee brand. We also try to separate the branding experience from the taste experience through the way we designed our packaging. A BlankBox contains two identical bags with the different coffees. This initial anonymity offers subscribers the opportunity to do a blind tasting before having a look at the tasting notes online (discoverable through a small identifying insignia on each bag).

So much of our experiences of products are influenced by what we are told it should be or a over simplified rating from a reviewer somewhere. BlankBox aims to move away from this dictating of taste to a route of discovering and deciding for ourselves.

G: What would you say has been your most memorable experience while developing your business?

One of the highlights for me happened at the London Coffee Festival. In between the steady stream of roasters and baristas wanting to know more, a tall German guy came up to the stand. While explaining about BlankBox he started smiling and said “I know those guys” pointing at the picture of Richard and Gerard from Nude Espresso. Suddenly, after reading a bit more, he started laughing. He just realised that one of the featured coffees in BlankBox, the Red Bourbon, is from Sonora, a farm in Costa Rica. “I know the farmer very well, I go surfing with them quite often!” See Sachca sells green coffee, has a roastery in Berlin and recently bought his own coffee farm in Costa Rica. He immediately jotted down the page with the link to Sonora and promised to e-mail the farmer to let him know. It was a moment that will stay with me for a long time as an example of what I am aiming to achieve with BlankBox. A space where people can discover the stories behind the roasters, the coffees and, occasionally, the Sachas of the coffee world.

G: What were the most successful or unique projects?

Our launch at the London Coffee festival completely exceeded our expectations. There were two parts to this. First of all, it gave us an opportunity to talk to roasters and introduce what exactly it is we are aiming to do. Roasters are, and rightly so, very careful with the quality of their produce and how it is delivered to the end user. Having the likes of Nude Espresso and Small Batch Coffee in our inaugural BlankBox helped establish that credibility I needed to approach all the other roasters. Secondly, the response from the public was great. I spent on average 7 minutes talking to each person that visited the stand. Voiceless and absolutely knackered after the festival, I knew that we planted the seeds for a completely different way of subscribing to coffee.

G: Why do you choose Shoreditch to run your business?

BlankBox is an online business but given that East London is the “cradle of coffee culture” we were really fortunate to have Nude Espresso in our 1st box and then a couple of months later, Climpson & Sons from nearby Broadway Market. We’ll definitely be featuring other East London Coffee favourites at a later stage.

G: Who/what are your favorite CEOs/Businesses in Shoreditch?

Richard Moross and his business How they invest in their people, focus on the stories behind their customers and their completely uncompromising approach to quality helped them become the leaders in what used to be a boring and non-descript market (business cards).

G: What are your favorite places in Shoreditch?

I used to go to Richmix quite often for a movie or a gig and don’t mind anything that’s on the canal. The glittering facade of The Shoreditch draws me in for at least one beer each time I pass it.

G: What does the future has in store for your business?

Building a community around the coffees sent out each month is the first priority and we are currently working to get that in place. Bringing some great coffee related products to our client base is also something we’ll be looking to do relatively soon. Then there are some design collaborations where coffee is the topic but can’t say much more than that at this stage

Social Links:

Twitter: @blankboxcoffee