Ready, set, plunge! How graphic design and coffee mix at the World Aeropress Championship

Born in a small room in Oslo, the World Aeropress Championship is now a global phenomenon. Here’s how one Belfast design agency is shaping its welcoming look.

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Whether there’s a half-knackered one in the back of your cupboard an old flatmate left behind, or it’s part of your daily routine at the office, the idea behind the AeroPress is simple: it’s a plastic plunger that brews a cup of coffee. And yet this foolproof little contraption is the nexus on which the hopes and dreams of more than 4,500 people hinge upon each season at the World Aeropress Championship (WAC). Celebrating this niche and fascinating world through its identity for the event, Belfast design agency Angel & Anchor has shaped the visuals for the last two years and is making a name for itself through a unique approach to coffee branding.

But before we get into its design, a word about the AeroPress Championship. The WAC was conceived back in 2008 with one aim: to discover who can brew the best cup of coffee with an AeroPress. “But can’t everyone make a good cup of coffee with an AeroPress?” you may wonder. Perhaps, but that thinking won’t get you far in the Championship. On the WAC website you’ll find dozens of formulas calling for you to stir the coffee “35 times gently” or “use one side of a chopstick and stir for five seconds” which have each secured competitors a winning spot in the past. Unlike other threads of competitive coffee making, where entry fees are sky high and politics often get in the way of a fair judging, all the competitors at the WAC use the same brewer and coffee. Winning relies upon pure technique and a good cup of joe.

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Angel & Anchor: World Aeropress Championship 2023 (Copyright © Angel & Anchor, 2023)

The unfiltered nature of the competition, and its famously inclusive atmosphere, sees a throng of hopefuls do battle at over 120 regional and national events each year. Proceedings are fast-paced and things can get heated with one winning title on the line. Luckily, the design and branding associated with the WAC sends out a friendly atmosphere which keeps the event feeling approachable. Angel & Anchor picks a different theme to guide the graphics each year, based on the location in which the international Championship is set. 2022, based in Canada, was ice hockey and the Olympics. 2023, which just rounded up in Melbourne earlier this month, is the Milk Bar.

“Milk Bars are the Aussie version of the UK’s corner shop or a New York-style bodega,” says Ben Connolly, CD and founder at Angel & Anchor. “Unfortunately, the Milk Bar isn’t as readily found these days and so holds an extra-level of romantic nostalgia.” Ticket stubs, fruit stickers and milkshake-esque aesthetics are all references that were lifted from the history of the Milk Bar and folded into WAC’s visual identity. “It’s unique to Australia but has enough relatable cross-over that it would work for the global context in which the competition is sat,” Ben says.

The design was a smash. To onlookers and competitors attending this year, the WAC felt like a brand dripping with energy and perspective. But most importantly, it was welcoming. Milk Bars are known for their signage and mismatched typography, and Angel & Anchor replicated this signature exterior facade for the event posters, adding a friendly dog. Elsewhere, recipe cards were mocked up in the style of crumbled receipts you might find in your pocket after a trip to pick up some milk – a lovely touch.

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Angel & Anchor: World Aeropress Championship 2022 (Copyright © Angel & Anchor, 2022)

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Angel & Anchor: World Aeropress Championship 2022 (Copyright © Angel & Anchor, 2022)

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Angel & Anchor: World Aeropress Championship 2023 (Copyright © Angel & Anchor, 2023)

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Angel & Anchor: World Aeropress Championship 2023 (Copyright © Angel & Anchor, 2023)

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Angel & Anchor: World Aeropress Championship 2023 (Copyright © Angel & Anchor, 2023)

Of course, all this doesn’t scream coffee – and that’s kind of the point. Angel & Anchor got the gig with WAC after the organisation came across a project the agency completed for a UK roastery. It was here that Angel & Anchor made a name for itself in coffee, with packaging resembling melted VHS tapes, no less. It showed a lightheartedness that many people had not seen before in coffee, and that sits right in line with the WAC.

“Overall, the WAC differs from other competitions in its accessibility, fairness and general attitude of fun and inclusivity,” says Grant Gamble, CD at the Championship. “Many coffee competitions require judges to go through a lengthy certification or calibration process, carry clipboards and dock marks on a complex rubric.” (Things are a bit different at the WAC; three judges taste each coffee and, on the count of three, point to the one they think is the best.) Fun has been a key part of the Championship ever since the first ever event – there was only three competitors in a small room in Oslo and it was called the World Aeropress Championship, despite the size. Perhaps that’s why when WAC and Angel & Anchor met, Grant says it “felt like siblings, separated at birth and reuniting for the first time”.

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Angel & Anchor: World Aeropress Championship 2022 (Copyright © Angel & Anchor, 2022)

Still, this is a competition and despite all the brightly coloured signage, the graphics can’t descend into pure spoof. “The biggest challenges are often around how far we push a concept before it becomes cheap or cliche,” says Ben. “It can be easy then to simply replicate an ice hockey or Milk Bar reference straight-up. What we are shooting for is something new that expresses a certain ‘spirit’ or touchpoint from that era without it looking like a cut and copy version.”

In the 2022 Vancouver identity, for example, subtle references to 80s and 90s Olympic branding were woven in at unexpected points. For the ranking board, Angel & Anchor crafted a profile card for each national winner resembling vintage hockey trading cards, while the pairing between Roc Grotesk and Santa Ana creates a tall contrast which hints back to mid-century sports culture. One of the brand phrases was “No pucks, No glory”, referencing hockey once more, but also the compacted coffee grounds at the bottom of an AeroPress, often called a “puck”.

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Angel & Anchor: World Aeropress Championship 2022 (Copyright © Angel & Anchor, 2022)

Coffee and graphic design has had somewhat of a destructive relationship down the trend cycle since the ‘third-wave coffee’ boom in the 2000s. Shops began to look sleek and built up a name for themselves as being trendy, and a bit unfriendly. That’s why the WAC is a breath of fresh air. While Angel & Anchor are only a few years into their relationship with the organisation, they are bringing some joviality into both industries. When you’re in a room thick with the smell of coffee grounds, cheers and friendly posters screaming phrases like “Plungin’ Down Under”, it’s hard not to feel the allure of their approach.

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Angel & Anchor: World Aeropress Championship 2022 (Copyright © Angel & Anchor, 2022)

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About the Author

Liz Gorny

Liz (she/they) joined It’s Nice That as news writer in December 2021. After graduating from the University of Bristol, they worked freelance, writing for independent publications such as Little White Lies, Indie magazine and design studio Evermade.

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