By FRAN RYAN
Daily Hampshire Gazette
WILLIAMSBURG, Mass. – The coffee might not be gay, and the consumers are likely coffee lovers of every persuasion, but the message of this campy new brand is clear: Gay culture and gay history are splashing onto the coffee scene.
Five fledgling blends make up the new brand. There are dark roasts such as “Red Hanky Roast” and “Second Date,” dark and medium blends like “Weekend Pass” and “Good Morning Mary” and a medium roast called “Stone Butch Breakfast Blend.”
From the young blonde sailor on “Weekend Pass” to the woman carrying moving boxes on “Second Date,” each blend sports humorously crafted artwork on the front to reflect its catchy moniker.
This kitschy concept comes from Elbow Room Coffee owner Melissa Krueger. Together with a handful of friends, Krueger says Gay Coffee started as a casual conversation over a cup of you-know-what. The discussion centered around how gay and lesbian culture has seemingly entered the mainstream in many areas.
“The ‘aha’ moment came when we were talking about same-sex marriage and a friend commented on how gay culture is now seen everywhere. She said, ‘Why I bet this coffee is even gay.’ It was a joke of course, but it got me thinking,” she said.
Krueger thought it would be interesting to market a line of coffee with a gay theme, poking fun at stereotypes and cliches within the gay and lesbian community. She worried, however, that some people “wouldn’t get it” and that is where friend Daniel Rivers came in.
Rivers, a visiting lecturer in the Study of Women and Gender at Smith College, encouraged Krueger to keep the camp on the front while putting cultural and historical facts on the back.
“And that was it. That took it from being just funny, to putting information into places where it normally wouldn’t be,” Krueger said.
Rivers did a little research and penned the educational bits on each blend. A longtime advocate of social justice and civil rights, Krueger said she had always wanted to market a product that had the potential to “make a difference.”
“It’s fun, it’s educational and 1 percent of our profits are donated to the National Lesbian Gay Bisexual Task Force,” she said. The task force helps to organize broad-based campaigns to defeat anti-LGBT legislation.
But it’s not only about history, humor and social justice. Once consumers are drawn in by the marketing, Krueger hopes they will stay for the most important part, the taste.
“I roast everything here,” she said of her Williamsburg shop, located a few feet off Route 9. “I have a 25-pound barrel roaster but I only roast eight to 12 pounds at a time. I could do more, but think that ratio of heat and air makes the coffee taste better,” she said.
After debuting Gay Coffee at the Castro Street Fair in San Francisco on Oct. 2, she returned home and scrambled to put together an online store before the holidays. Gay Coffee took off.
“Initially I saw it as a small niche product, but the turnover has been quicker than I expected,” Krueger said. So quick in fact, that Gay Coffee has already gone international. Krueger is not only sending orders throughout the U.S., but is shipping to Canada, Iceland and countries in Europe.
“I have to say I was pretty surprised when an order came in from Reykjavik!”
Locally, the brand can be purchased at Broadside Books in Northampton and Cup and Top in Florence, as well as directly from Elbow Room Coffee in Williamsburg. According to Krueger, she may add a few more blends to her repertoire.
“I would like to include some more multicultural labels and some that include the trans community. There are two or three more planned and we are always open to ideas from people,” she said.
“This industry takes itself so seriously, that it is fun do a little play on branding. Obviously, coffee can’t be gay, and you don’t have to be gay to drink it. But I think there is a lot of room to put Gay Coffee on the shelves with other fair trade, organic artisan coffees,” Krueger said.