Blue State Coffee, a locally sourced coffee company that identifies itself with the Democratic Party, is slated to open its first location at 300 Thayer St. in May or early June.
With the motto “Drink Liberally,” Blue State, which currently only sells ground coffee online, intends to add a political twist to the regular college coffee joint. The company donates half of its profits after taxes to causes that “reflect Democratic values,” according to the company’s Web site, and pledges to continue to do that for its coffee shops.
“We’re pretty unapologetically liberal,” said co-founder Bridie Clark. She said the company has two missions. “One is to serve really great, fairly traded organic coffee, and the other is to fund important, progressive causes. It’s kind of a unique business model in that we are overtly political,” Clark said.
Blue State determines where their donations go by customer preference. After every online purchase, customers can vote for one of four “Democratic” organizations. Blue State will then distribute portions of its donation based on the percentages of customers who vote for each organization.
At present the National Even Start Association, a family literacy program whose funding was completely cut in President Bush’s 2007 budget proposal, leads with almost 40 percent of the vote this quarter. It is followed by a general fund for Democratic candidates and organizations, Disabled American Veterans and the World Resources Institute.
Blue State’s organic, fair-trade coffee comes directly from New Harvest Coffee Roasters in Rumford – just 3.3 miles away from the Thayer Street location. They will serve Rhody Fresh milk, a variety of cheeses from New England farms and baked goods and bread from Seven Stars Bakery.
Blue State’s cocoa will come from Omanhene Cocoa Bean Company of Ghana, which guarantees “slave-free” chocolate by using cocoa grown on local family-owned cocoa farms, according to the company’s Web site.
“When we can source it locally, we do,” wrote Alex Payson ’03.5, general manager of Blue State, in an e-mail to The Herald. “If we can’t buy it from a local producer (cocoa for example), we look for the best socially and environmentally conscious producer we can. That way, we pay respect to local business and also expose people to some of the most progressive and quality products from around the world.”
Blue State is a “father-son, father-daughter team,” Clark said, referring to herself and her father, Tom Clark, and longtime family friend Drew Ruben and his father, Marshall Ruben. The Rubens came up with the concept on a morning coffee-and-donut run, she said – they thought profits from such overpriced coffee should be donated to important causes, such as the environment, education and civil rights.
The founders chose to open their first coffee shop near Brown’s campus because of the “sympathetic student body,” Clark said. “We like Brown.”
“It’s a fun customer base,” she added. The company’s previous partnership, with Rhode Island-based New Harvest Coffee Roasters, also worked to draw it to Rhode Island.
Blue State will serve coffee in cups with a biodegradable corn-plastic lining and plans to compost their food scraps at a commercial composting site in Rhode Island.
The founders also plan to hold “some sort of a speaker series, where we bring in nonprofit leaders, politicians – people who have a very educated point of view,” Clark said.
“I think Brown students will be genuinely enthusiastic about having a locally and politically conscious alternative to corporate institutions like Starbucks,” said Hannah Sheldon-Dean ’10.
“Right off the bat we just want to serve great coffee, a light menu of breakfast foods and snacks,” Clark said. Once the Thayer Street location is running smoothly, Blue State hopes to open stores on other college campuses such as New Haven, Hartford and Cambridge.