Flint, MI — Local artists and entrepreneurs Sean Murray and Jonathan Diener have teamed up to form a coffee company that incorporates their own creative backgrounds, artists of all mediums, and the local community into something fresh for the coffee world.
The result: “A Damn Fine Cup of Coffee” that anyone can enjoy.
“Rootless Coffee Company started out as an idea to make coffee more accessible,” Murray, Rootless Coffee Co’s. CEO and founder, said.
The inspiration came from his mother. “Last year at some point I was talking to my mom, and she was talking about how she just had this coffee that was super acidic and fruity, and she didn’t like it,” he said. “My mom said, ‘I just want a cup of coffee,’ and at that point it had clicked with me.”
That moment sparked the Rootless signature blend, aptly titled “A Damn Fine Cup Of Coffee.” Fans of the TV series Twin Peaks will immediately recognize the name as well as the artwork on the bag itself as an homage to the show.
“This coffee is something I would have in a diner, but it would be high-end diner coffee,” said Diener, Rootless Coffee Co. Chief Creative Officer. “It’s the stuff that my dad would like, stuff I would like, and it’s this perfect middle-ground that brings different groups of coffee lovers to the same place.”
Murray and Diener formed Rootless in the summer of 2020 following conversations about the kinds of jobs they wanted to have. Both have experience in music and playing in bands, and Diener has experience working as a touring musician as well as writing comics (he is also a freelance contributor for Flint Beat). The duo saw potential to mix their creative backgrounds together.
“We look at the name Rootless as something that’s not planted in the ground, but free of parameters” Diener said. “The more we talked about it we realized we should treat this as not only making coffee that is accessible to people, but purposely doing it differently than everyone does.”
The team decided to partner up with artists from other art scenes, such as the music and comic book world, to build their aesthetic. “The artists essentially have this huge input into what this brand is,” Murray said. Artists Craig Horky, Emily Pearson, Kelly Williams, and Matt Emmons have thus far contributed to artwork, some of whom Diener has worked with in the past.
Murray and Diener tell the artists the flavor and the general feeling they want the art on the bag to evoke, and the rest is left up to them.
“We tell them to run with it and have fun,” Murray said, adding that nearly every first-draft comes out exactly what they’re looking for.
The result is a mesh of styles that would look just as fitting on the cover of an album or graphic as a bag of coffee.
The goal of Rootless, Murray and Diener said, is to appreciate the sophistication and complexity of what goes into a cup of coffee while maintaining that accessibility they’re after.
“It can be very polarizing when you try to get an explanation from a barista or you’re reading tasting notes on a bag of coffee,” Diener said. “I’ve literally had someone describe a coffee by saying, ‘It tastes like dirt, but good dirt.’ That’s when I decided I don’t ever want to do that. So we said, ‘let’s just make this fun and accessible.’”
Take the company’s dark roast, simply named, “Dark.” The bag features artwork by horror comic artist Kelly Williams and lists its tasting notes only as “nutty darkness.” By eliminating the often-times confusing information for the average coffee drinker, the team says the customer knows exactly what they’re getting.
“My coffee snob friends actually like our dark roast,” Diener said.
Rootless primarily uses two different companies to import their products: Bellwether and Cafe Imports. Both are focused on the fair trade movement in the world of coffee, which ensures buyers that workers are paid a living wage, and Bellwether is a zero-emissions roaster.
“We’re not going to buy coffee that’s sourced unethically. Just absolutely no way,” Murray said. “Doesn’t matter if you’re going to save me one, two, three dollars a pound, I don’t want it. Because there are real people working on their hands and knees and they have for generations, and they were taken advantage of.”
Since their official launch on September 21, Rootless has already seen exciting progress and growth, Murray and Diener said.
“The launch was insane, in a good way,” Murray said. “It was a huge learning experience on how to do things more efficiently. One thing we learned is that we already need a bigger space, which is awesome. It’s a good problem to have.”
The team has had a number of local businesses reach out already to work together. Soggy Bottom Bar has adopted Rootless as their house coffee, and Penny’s Cafe has been selling their bags in the Flint Farmers Market.
“Our phones have just been blowing up with people hitting asking about collaborations and shipping our products over state lines, and even overseas,” Diener said.
The Rootless team has already begun working on a number of new projects. Each week they’ve been releasing a new video from local artist Bryce Mata to feature a new roast, essentially working as a “trailer” for their coffee. The videos feature music from Nick Diener, the owner of the guitar pedal company Oneder Effects, and brother and former bandmate to Jonathan Diener, who said there are plans to collaborate, making a guitar pedal inspired by the Rootless Dark roast.
“It’s just been this cool immersion of all the different parts of our lives coming together to form the visual identity and sonic identity of Rootless,” Diener said. Other future plans include creating bottled cold brew and getting it into supermarkets, as well as doing limited-quantity batches of coffee for special events, companies, and non-profit organizations.
“There are so many cool creative people in Flint, everyone from photographers to muralists, and we want to work with everyone,” Diener said. “So, if people are interested, just reach out to us.”
You can find Rootless at www.RootlessCoffee.com, as well as on social media @RootlessCoffee.