Project Pearl: A Tale of Heritage, Collaboration, and Packaging Innovation

We sit down with Subko Coffee to uncover their newest project and delve into the profound influence of coffee packaging in narrating tales.


Photos courtesy of Subko Coffee

In the world of specialty coffee, collaborations between roasters and estates often lead to remarkable innovations and unique experiences for coffee enthusiasts. One such standout project is Project Pearl, a collaboration between Subko Coffee and Ratnagiri Estate.

I sat down with Subko’s brand manager, Jeff Nelson, to delve deeper into the origins and vision behind Project Pearl. Jeff shed light on the birth of this collaboration, highlighting its significance in the landscape of specialty coffee.

Package design for Project Pearl coffee is a white box with bold lettering and an old photo of Mr. Ashok Patre as a child, wearing a suit and sitting on an armchair.
Project Pearl honors the generational legacy of Ratnagiri Estate by incorporating themes of family, legacy, and history.

Project Pearl: Bridging Continents Through Coffee

Subko is no stranger to revolutionizing the perception of Indian coffee on a global scale. Founded by Rahul Reddy, the brand’s mission goes beyond merely offering a beverage. It’s about redefining the narrative surrounding coffee from the Indian subcontinent. Through a clever play on words, “Subko“ not only signifies inclusivity, suggesting “coffee for everyone,“ but also symbolizes a dedication to showcasing the richness and diversity of the subcontinent’s coffee culture.

Subko takes pride in representing the multifaceted heritage and tradition of the region, and that is evident on their latest project. “The genesis of Project Pearl dates back to early 2020 when Subko Coffee Roasters embarked on a journey with Ratnagiri Estate,“ explains Jeff. “What started as an experimental venture evolved into an exclusive program aimed at offering microlots and nanolots to Subko’s Indian clientele while reserving select batches for international distribution.“

This collaborative effort, led by Mr. Ashok Patre and Mrs. Divya Patre, sought to showcase the diverse processing techniques employed at Ratnagiri Estate. These include natural and honey processes with yeast fermentation. Through Project Pearl, Subko aimed to introduce a global palate of specialty coffee to the Indian market, fostering a deeper appreciation for coffee craftsmanship.

A child looking at coffee flowers in a grainy film medium.
This is a photograph you will find on the packaging of Project Pearl coffee, taken in the summer of 1979, during the coffee blossoming season at Ratnagiri Estate.

Incorporating Nostalgia: The Art of Packaging Design

Jeff shed light on the thought process behind incorporating childhood memorabilia into the packaging design of Project Pearl. “We wanted to encapsulate the essence of Ratnagiri Estate’s heritage in a tangible way,“ he says. “By infusing elements such as family photographs, handwritten lyrics from favorite vinyl records, and a curated Spotify playlist, the packaging design becomes a heartfelt homage to the Patre family’s legacy.“

Subko’s design team meticulously translated these nostalgic elements into a visually compelling packaging design. The designs pay homage to Mr. Ashok Patre’s passion for vinyl records and his family’s cherished memories. Each box serves as a living photo album, inviting consumers to delve into the rich history of Ratnagiri Estate with every cup of coffee.

A view of a coffee estate with mountains looming behind.
Nestled in Karnataka’s Western Ghats, Ratnagiri Estate was established in 1907 by K. Shivappaiah Patre, the grandfather of Mr. Ashok Patre.

The Impact of Storytelling: Enhancing Brand Identity

Beyond serving as a mere vessel for coffee, packaging design plays a pivotal role in enhancing brand identity and storytelling. It serves as a powerful tool for brands to communicate their values, personality, and unique selling points to consumers. By carefully crafting the visual elements, typography, colors, and materials used in packaging, companies can create a memorable and distinctive brand identity that resonates with their target audience.

Jeff emphasizes the importance of storytelling in Subko’s branding strategy. “Storytelling has always been integral to Subko’s design and communication vertical,“ he says. “We believe our audience is interested in deep diving into honest stories, transparency, and traceability.“ Through Project Pearl and other initiatives, Subko continues to weave narratives that celebrate the origins of their products and resonate with consumers on a personal level.

Subko’s in-house design team, known as Studio Substance, played a pivotal role in bringing this project to life. With their creative expertise, they ensured that every aspect of Project Pearl, from the packaging to the branding, reflected authenticity and visual appeal.

Bunches of coffee cherries on a tree, mostly red.
Fully ripe arabica cherries at Ratnagiri Estate.

Crafting Stories, One Cup at a Time

Recently, World of Coffee Dubai served as the perfect platform for the unveiling of Project Pearl. Subko showcased their innovative collaboration with Ratnagiri Estate to the global coffee community and earned a Coffee Design Award.

Project Pearl stands as a shining example of the power of collaboration and storytelling in the world of specialty coffee. “Through innovative packaging design and a commitment to honoring the heritage of Ratnagiri Estate, Subko Coffee Roasters and Ratnagiri Estate have crafted a truly exceptional experience for coffee connoisseurs worldwide,“ Jeff says.

Looking toward the future, Jeff envisions continued exploration of storytelling through packaging design. Upcoming projects are poised to showcase the unique terroir of neighboring subcontinent regions. With each cup of coffee, Project Pearl invites consumers to embark on a journey of discovery. These coffees celebrate the rich tapestry of flavors and narratives that define Indian specialty coffee on a global scale.


Vasileia Fanarioti (she/her) is a senior online correspondent for Barista Magazine and a freelance copywriter and editor with a primary focus on the coffee niche. She has also been a volunteer copywriter for the I’M NOT A BARISTA NPO, providing content to help educate people about baristas and their work.

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