Sttoke, from Australia, aims to elevate your coffee experience at home. Here's how they're doing it

Would a cup change the taste of coffee? We find out from Sam Soong, co-owner of Sttoke.

Sttoke, a premium Australian-based drinkware brand and the pioneer behind the world's first ceramic shatterproof reusable cup in 2018, is introducing their upcoming line, The Swirl Cup, to Singapore on 1 May 2024.

Approved by baristas and leading coffee brands, the Swirl Cup is a masterpiece designed to enhance your at-home coffee indulgence. You may think, "What's special about this cup?" Hold that thought, while we speak to Sttoke’s co-founder, Sam Soong, about what makes this one different from the rest.

L: Samuel, owner of Sttoke R: Sttoke cup (Photo: Sttoke)
L: Samuel, owner of Sttoke R: The newly launched Sttoke Swirl Cup (Photo: Sttoke)

I’d be honest, this is not going to be a story of nobility. It did start as a journey of creating something that we would use personally, from a perspective of sustainability. Aesthetics being an important element for us, we thought the best way for us to start our journey to a sustainability lifestyle was that the product has to be something we like to use, aesthetically and functionally.

Waste has been a huge problem in Australia, even back when we started in 2018, it was reported that at least a billion paper cups were being used and wasted every year without actually being recycled due to limited recycling facilities in Australia. Number of cup waste differs from country to country, but the problem of paper cup wastage is generally rampant worldwide, especially in the typically busy metropolitan locations where coffee is consumed heavily.

Function was a huge factor in creating a product that we personally desired to use. Both my co-founder and I enjoyed drinking coffee, and speciality coffee was becoming topical around the world, with flavour notes being defined in detail.

Getting sucked into the rabbit hole, we appreciated every note that was brewed and delivered, and we thought preserving that flavour should be an important factor. Australia was known as one of the coffee capitals by CNN, and now is still one of the key coffee places to visit as mentioned by Forbes.

We thought that if Australia is the capital of coffee, our product should accurately represent that. We then combined our minds to design a reusable cup that was aesthetically pleasing but, more importantly, functionally sound, and the World’s First Shatterproof Ceramic Reusable Cup was born.

From the market survey we conducted, we realised there were 2 functional gaps: 1. the lack of insulation to maintain heat in a cup of coffee, especially during winter, and 2. a cup that retains flavour. The cups in the market then were mainly plastic and glass—plastic tends to taint the beverage's flavour, glass has the risk of breaking, and they both don't retain heat.

Combining all that thought, we made a sophistically aesthetic cup that we thought Australians needed—one that holds flavour and is meant to deliver every sip of coffee like it’s your first sip.

As we go about our years promoting the simple message of taking your first step toward sustainability with the aesthetic functional STTOKE, we do that by growing with the coffee community, doing our grassroots with every cafe and every barista possible. From that journey, we naturally dwelled deeper into understanding the coffee industry and its progress, and with that—so has our flavour journey.

Over the years, we have enjoyed the journey of sharing flavour a lot more! The complexity of it, the work behind it, and the passion around it are the people that make this industry so comfortable to be around. That drove us to develop our product further by expressing flavours while keeping to our sustainability goals.

From the feedback we have received in the past years, our consumers have loved how our cups preserve the coffee that they buy or make at home. One of them was a barista on his way to being the 2023 World Cup Tasters Champion.

A lot of discussion went behind this idea, and after months of R&D, came the brainchild we call Swirl, meant to express and preserve flavour not just for consumers but also function as a QC tool for industry professionals at the back end of the industry.

Sttoke in three colours, (Photo: Sttoke)
Sttoke in three colours, (Photo: Sttoke)

We have always stuck to our ethos of designing some functional and aesthetic; we strongly believe they both go hand in hand, and they are both as important. Compared to the cups that were available in the market back in 2018, the design process was easy, at least from a functional perspective. We just had to figure out the aesthetic bit, which required a lot of inspiration, but we learnt that the function of the product sometimes would have already determined the design on the cup, eg:

  • Firm grip brought us a nice curve

  • Keeping flavour brought us the idea of ceramic coating

Thinking from consumers' perspective, as we are all consumers ourselves, durability is the utmost priority of our designs. We were lucky to have landed on a material that is both durable and sustainable. Coupled with our ceramic coating application, you cannot shatter the feature of a ceramic function while it’s structured with stainless steel, and at the end of life, it’s recyclable and can be reused again.

To put it simply, every STTOKE cup, from reusable cups to our new home-range cups, is made from recycled materials and is made to recycle.

This is a good question! One we are very grateful about. We were lucky to be in a country that is already very much aware of the waste that is going on around the world, a country that in itself is taking initiatives and has already declared war upon waste, and they have even made a short series naming it War on Waste.

It was an easy start, honestly, but the goal had always been beyond Australia. The goal was to share what the country has done with our partners in other parts of the world, and what keeps our partners close is our commitment to the cause through our consistent initiatives throughout the six years.

Promoting the idea of sustainability means that we try to run initiatives at every level of our organisation as possible, so we are in the midst of applying for B Corp certification. Most of our sustainability responsibilities lie on the front end of our team, representing the brand, especially sales and marketing, while we work a lot with external parties.

On the brand level, we ensure the product material, the packaging material, and the communication of our intention are clear. We also have a specific initiative where every July, we run a campaign giving back to Australia Marine Conservation Society as an awareness campaign. We had even had one wholesome campaign where we designed our product with marine creations who were facing extinction that glows in the dark on our cups, it was a campaign where 10% of our profit would be donated to AMCS. This specific design had dried up our shelves so quickly that there were requests for reproduction. We believe it was not just the product but also the fact that they contributed to AMCS.

Our running program around trade typically works around cafes that actually promote the use of reusable cups, if not encourage them by subsidizing them from our trade-in transaction. This happens around all the markets we work with. On the distributor level, we do have some distributors who run beach cleaning activities, and many people were involved in that activity.

While these are noble stories and noble initiatives, they are our most difficult decisions to make as they require the business to give. We are still working on getting our business stable on a financial and operational level. It does require a lot of convincing from the distributors and our partners. But we are glad that awareness and initiatives are growing around the world.

I think introducing something new to the market is always a tricky move. You can’t innovate something that is too new, it has to be something familiar yet a little different. However, the most important factor in creating a new product is actually solving a problem of a very familiar challenge that consumers are facing.

Every product has its pros and cons, and it's sometimes designed with different objectives in mind. Plastic is light, affordable, and colourful, but it leeches with hot beverages. Stainless steel is durable and can be more premium, but it’s slightly expensive, and it also leeches with hot beverages. We added just another layer of ceramic coating onto the stainless steel structure, and it was perfect! Better flavour with the ceramic coating, for longer with the double-wall insulated structure!

That said, because it’s new and because of our aesthetic and functional demand, manufacturing was a huge hurdle to cross. Our main challenge is really from a cost perspective. We need to manage R&D and production quality, which all lead to margins and managing costs to consumers.

Fast-forward to where we are right now. Every new product faces new challenges, even with our new swirl, but our manufacturing partners are better at predicting such possible problems, and we are glad that we are better through communication.

One might think that a new product should be about the coolest features like an Apple product: higher speed, better camera, lighter body, more memory, etc. But it was funny because throughout the 6 years in business, no matter what little features we had introduced to the market, everyone just loved the simple fact that we kept flavour good, for longer. It was just as simple as that!

With the new Swirl, it’s essentially the same. But more than that we were seeking to solve a new problem with the help of our ambassador. We wanted to transfer our technology to more relevant parties, and as we dug deeper, we realised it was the higher-up of the industry supply chain that potentially needed what we had to offer.

It’s the cafes and baristas who want to deliver the best cup of coffee they make to their customers every morning, the coffee companies who buy and roast their beans, delivering the best quality to their clients, and even higher up in the chain, to the coffee producers at the farm level who works hard to make every bean count from their crops. And it’s especially on the farm level, they do not want to waste their beans as they showcase their coffee through cupping which is probably generally known as QC.

We are proud to have created a cup that serves the professional audience, but more interestingly, the same features can also be translated to everyday home coffee drinkers.

We have added a few new details to the Swirl, on top of the people’s favourite—insulation. To save space in cafes, we have made the cup stackable—and interestingly, this convenience allows for easy storage for home use as well in any kitchen or cupboard space. While this feature appeals to cafes that are typically limited in operation space, it also works for smaller homeowners who value space efficiency in their homes.

The lips of the cups are also intentional in this case; typically, ceramic cups are made with a thick rim, but that design is created out of the struggle of keeping the cup of coffee insulated and not having users burn their mouths. Rims that are too thick often cause a little discomfort drinking from it, most times worrying about overflow of beverage that results in staining your clothes because the rims of the cup are unable to rest enough on your lips. We were able to create a thinner rim without worrying about typical ceramic cup concerns.

The one thing that differentiates the swirl between home use and professional usage falls vitally in applying colours. We had intentionally picked pastel colours for 2 reasons - 1. It represents the main popular colours on the coffee wheel and most people love flavours in the pink and green spectrum of the wheel which are sweet and slightly acidic. 2.It seamlessly integrates into any interior aesthetic, complementing a wide range of decor styles with its sleek and sophisticated design. Whether placed in a modern minimalist kitchen, a cosy farmhouse-inspired living room, or a chic urban apartment. We love that the Swirl Cup adds a touch of elegance to any setting, enhancing the overall ambience of the space.

All that said, we are excited to be launching these cups scheduled this May 2nd, in partnership with Interior furnished by Ochre Home & Hello Home Bodies, promising to immerse attendees in an exclusive experience. Set in the ambience of a luxurious home setup, we will showcase the STTOKE Swirl Cup's versatility within various settings. Attendees can anticipate a curated presentation featuring different coffee varieties and musical performances, all thoughtfully designed to elevate the sensory experience. With an emphasis on style, taste, and sound, we aim to redefine the art of coffee enjoyment while highlighting the Swirl Cup as the ultimate blend of functionality and elegance.

We get a lot of those comments online! But hey, we cannot please everybody. I would probably say the same if it was me, 10 years ago.

I think it’s a question of identity, integrity, and belief. One can say the same about phones, shoes, cars, computers, jackets, or even burgers! But I think the value of the product lies in different individuals. I think the term “first world problem” is true because different generations face different problems as the social and economic landscape changes in their environment.

As a Gen Y co-founder of our business, we are here to solve a problem that a Gen Y person would understand. We are in a generation that pays things just a little better. We learn from our parent’s generation what quality is, we evolve then to spending just a little bit more for better “delivery” of the product purchased, better outsole, better memory, better comfort, more durable, etc.

In our case, we have been very clear about our value proposition in terms of aesthetics and function. We appreciate flavour and believe it brings people together.

We see ourselves as a vessel, not just from a product perspective, but from a brand perspective, bringing people together. We are in the business of creating a community and, in the long term, working together with the community to give back substantially to the community as we are already doing with our reusable cups.

We do hope to be able to share more of what we know, of what we learn from different cultures and share it to our friends and the community we build together.

This is an exciting topic! We have done a few artist collaboration projects, and they have always been our favourite things to do. If we had a wishlist, Marimekko would definitely be on the top of our list!

We have always liked their expression, their design philosophy is rooted in an optimistic lifestyle, full of good energy. Now that our products are entering the home category, we do hope we could appeal to working with them one day!

As we approach launching our Swirl series, the function, the colours, and the little features are designed to help you enjoy your coffee slowly, in the comfort of your own home. And it’s not just functionally but the feeling behind enjoying it through the aesthetic appeal of the cup, and we hope our design ethos will one day appeal to Marimekko’s!

Sttoke's Swirl Cup will be available online and through participating distributors, The Planet Traveller and Boarding Gate.