An interview with Stumptown's Mallory Pilcher where we talk road-trips, Mr. Coffee machines, and heirloom beans.
When I first called Mallory Pilcher, I completely overlooked the PST zone of our call appointment, accidentally ringing three hours too early. Mallory is situated in Portland, OR, the headquarters of long-standing coffee roasters and distributors, Stumptown. They’ve been around for over a decade, supplying cafes and grocers across the country with quality, sustainably sourced beans. It wasn’t until very recently that Mallory found herself as Director of Marketing at Stumptown, spearheading a total rebrand of the company’s packaging as well as conceptualizing and planning fresh, new creative endeavors. Maybe it’s wrong to say that she “found herself” there, considering she pretty much climbed the entire length of the companies ladder to be where she is today. Long story short— she’s a boss. Before I called she was in the middle of tasting, developing new ideas for cold brews. Dreamy!
So, you’re the director of marketing. Is that how you started out at Stumptown?
No, no. I was a part time barista in our retail cafe. Before I even moved to Stumptown proper, I was managing a wholesale account of theirs in Washington state. I moved to Portland to attend grad school and needed to continue working to pay rent, so I was like “If I’m gonna work anywhere, I wanna for for Stumptown because they are the peak of coffee.”
I went through a vigorous process, got a job as a barista, and then eventually managed some cafes. Post-grad school, I was offered to work full time under the premise of managing partnerships, sponsorships and events. We were a very tiny scrappy team back then. It was my first foot in the door. Then I just slowly bumbled around in channel marketing until I got offered the role of managing the department.
Wow! So cool and rare these days to work your way up like that.
How about the new rebrand? What was the idea behind that?
The first thing I did upon getting into this role was re-doing all of our coffee packaging. The impetus for that was wanting to move into a more environmentally friendly bag, and wanting to have our coffee freshness be better for longer. It was an opportunity to do a full re-brand, which is terrifying for a company that has had the exact same bag since the dawn of time. To navigate what the next look and feel for the brand would be was kind of intense.
I’m sure. But, you nailed it! It looks beautiful.
We worked with our friends from Land on the design. From then on it was a matter of realizing how much design informs the customers purchase. A few of our blends had static packaging, and after we launched all of our new packaging, a lot of products just sold out. We ended up having to order stickers and hand label bags during the holidays season. Leadership teams were sitting in the conference room stickering bags. It was all hands on deck.
That sounds familiar. Happens a lot over here, too.
It’s a nice problem to have!
Yeah, totally. It seems like you travel a lot for work, is that true?
Yeah, when I was running events I was on the road for most of the year. I thought that would slow down but it hasn’t [laughs]. It’s great because I love traveling for work. I’m on the road quite a bit across the U.S. and then I get to fold in a couple of trips to source.
Oh, fun. When you source do you go to other countries?
Yes. We primarily source from East Africa, Central America, and Indonesia. My first trip was to Colombia, and that was totally insane and amazing. Next year, I’m traveling to Ethiopia. It’s starting to get more interesting because I’m folding in more creative projects into that.
Oh, wow. Ethiopia seems amazing. I had a friend in college who gave a small group of us a traditional coffee ceremony. It was beautiful.
Oh yea. I’m studying a lot about Ethiopia, because I’m going soon. The majority of Ethiopian varietals are heirloom. They’ve been around since coffee began. The idea that we can be drinking that here in our homes so easily across so many great specialty roasters is kind of wild. Your drinking the product of trees that have been there for hundreds of years.
That is so beautiful. I’m a little emotional? Ok so, being on this journey, and going from barista to marketing director, what is one of the most important things you’ve learned about coffee that you think everyone should know?
I think that when you are in the coffee industry you think that everybody knows where coffee comes from. You think that people understand transparency so much more than they actually do. Theres this whole concept of “I wanna buy local. It's best for consumables.” But coffee is inherently a non-local good. That’s been the most surprising to me. It’s such an obvious thing for roasters, but when you have convos with folks who aren’t in your bubble, theres all of these points of education that still need to happen, and theres all of these great amazing subtle things we can talk about when we talk about different coffees from different regions.
Like, how drastically different an Ethiopian coffee can be from an Indonesian, and why that is. It might seem so specific and minute, and maybe unimportant, but its like wine. The terroir, the way you process it, where you plant it, where it’s coming from— all of that is going to factor into the flavor profile.
Lastly, what is your favorite or best way to drink coffee?
I’m big fan of filtered coffee. Its really funny. I’ve been in speciality coffee for many, many years, and its funny going through the gamut just to end up back to they way that my mom makes coffee. When I’m at home I have a Bonavida drip coffee maker. It’s the same concept as a Mr. Coffee machine.
Thats so comforting to hear. I love that kind of coffee, and now I don’t feel bad about it.
Haha, yeah. I just drink black coffee, and I want to not have to make it. I actually hate brewing coffee for myself. I love brewing coffee for other people, but if its just me, I’m like, “No, I’m lazy. I don’t wanna do this.”
If I have some insane coffee I know I need to enjoy in a better way, I’ll make a Chemex. But, I’ve been drinking my coffee black for a decade.
Me too. I recently started sometimes doing half and half, so rich.
Oh yeah, oh man. I do that when the coffee I’m drinking isn’t the greatest. I add some cream and sugar, holy cow. That is tasty. It’s like desert!
Totally! Very good. Any last words?
I guess just that coffee has a lot of nuance, and lot of cool stories behind every single origin. If you get into it, it's really surprising and impressive.
Thank you Mallory & Stumptown!