A personal project that combines my love of branding, problem solving, product development, and—most importantly—coffee. Special thanks to Priyank Mehta for aiding in prototyping.

Background: In March of 2011, I had the chance to visit Vietnam. While I was exposed to many fantastic aspects of the culture, the one thing that stood out the most for me was the coffee. I absolutely love coffee to start with, so being introduced to a new way of making it was very interesting for me. At the end of the trip—the last night, in fact—I bought some ground coffee and a phin filter, the apparatus used to brew Vietnamese coffee.

Problem: I brewed a few cups of coffee in the first week of arriving home. Through the process, I came to realize that the intimate, individual nature of brewing Vietnamese coffee was sorely let down by the instruments that the process utilized. While there is indeed a certain charm to the “mix-n-match” nature of the stainless steel filter teamed with whatever cup you can find, it felt like the overall experience could use improvement.

Me being me, I immediately began to explore this from a brand-centric perspective. After a bit of research, I came to the conclusion that the spirit of coffee—especially in the Western market—is one that aims to be culturedeclectic, and crafty. With these characteristics in mind, I set out to try and create—from the bottom up—a Vietnamese coffee set that was more unified and would ultimately give the end-user a better experience.

Concept: The biggest complaint I have with the traditional phin filter is that it all feels very hodgepodge. Quaint, yes, but not very appealing aesthetically. In order to create a more harmonious system, then, I felt that all the pieces—the filter and its lid, the cup itself, as well as a saucer to hold them on—should be designed not only just to work together, but to also look good together.

The Product: The result was a culmination of six weeks spent in CAD, carefully considering not only the forms of the pieces, but also their function and user-friendliness. The saucer, as an example, has ample space for accommodating a pastry; this space also serves double-duty as a holding space for the filter itself, allowing you to enjoy your coffee without having to fret about where the filter—what with its wet backside—will live for the time being.

This CAD model was then rapid prototyped to give me an idea of how the object actually lived and felt in physical space. After some troubleshooting and fitment issues, I then did a further revision of the set in CAD and prototyped a second copy.

Packaging: During my time spent in Vietnam, I really was really taken in by how economical and straightforward the production and presentation of goods was; usually a simple brown paper bag or cardboard box was more than enough to suffice. In that vein, I prototyped an example of product packaging that would be both simple and economical. The end result was a series of corrugated cardboard panels that come together without any the use of adhesives—aided by the use of interlocking tabs which secure the panels together—thus being more friendly to those doing assembly, as well as the environment and commercial recyclers.

Future Steps: While the prototype might seem like a satisfactory end to this whole experiment, I would like to see the project taken further. It had always been my intention that these pieces should live and function in ceramic; the rapid prototype is merely a first step.

In aesthetic terms, the pieces could of course be finished very simply in one or two colors, but I am also interested in seeing how other artists might create within the medium; a nice example being painter Chris Lim’s Japan Series.