It takes a pretty perfect artistic pairing to create the kind of high-impact, large-scale visuals that Jessie Unterhalter and Katey Truhn have become known for around the world.
After meeting in art school in 2001, this dynamic duo graduated from their own personal projects to the two-person pursuit of stunning large-scale murals. Their work has now transformed public spaces into playful, powerful experiences everywhere from Hawaii to Washington DC to Russia.
It didn’t take long for them to discover their complementary strengths. Jessie brought the big-picture thinking. Katey the attention to detail. Together, they found a rare artistic chemistry and a bold, bright trademark style that blends colors, patterns and visual textures for maximum impact and delight.
Of course, all of the above made Jessie and Katey a just-right fit for the blending chapter of our Coffee Stories series. So we invited them to Starbucks headquarters in Seattle to explore the art of combining coffee beans from different origins to create one distinctive blend.
Coffee blending is a process that dates back to the eighteenth century, when seafaring traders created the first-known blend they named Mocha Java. It’s a process that goes way back in Starbucks history as well. We developed our tried-and-true Starbucks® House Blend in 1971.
Jessie and Katey were surprised to discover that, like creating a memorable mural, combining coffee origins is more complicated than it seems. The process can involve around three months of measuring, roasting and tasting to balance the flavors, body, acidity and aroma of the different beans.
“You quickly realize after just one round of tasting how the flavor of coffee from different regions is completely unique,” said Katey.
The first step of blending involves separating samples of different origins into baskets organized by characteristics. The Starbucks team then intermigles the beans and fine-tunes various blends until they’re ready to try a concentrated cup of each in a process called cupping.
“Walking into the cupping room … it blew us away!” said Katey. “It was really overwhelming how many cups were on the table. They have to taste them. They have to take notes on them. It was a wild experience.” Sometimes the team will taste hundreds of cups in a single session, smelling each blend and then slurping it to aspirate the coffee and get the full impact in their mouths.
After experiencing various coffee combinations and even creating a custom blend with the Starbucks team, Jessie and Katey channeled their newfound knowledge into a lively original mural at Starbucks headquarters.
“Our artwork has big, bold shapes that are colorful, but then when you look closely, there are a lot of subtle details. That’s what we learned during our blending and tasting experiences. When you really pay attention, there are all these flavors in that coffee you never noticed before,” said Jessie.
The artists were even inspired to play with their technique on the walls of the Starbucks Seattle Support Center. “We quite literally blended our colors together, which is not something we always do. So if two shapes overlapped, we blended the colors to make a new color,” said Katey.
Their final mural combines striking swirls of coffee beans overlapping with vivid shapes of assorted colors and sizes. Jessie and Katey also designed new packaging for the famous Starbucks Pike Place® Roast — a smooth, balanced coffee made for everyday enjoyment. This small, cylindrical format was a bit of a challenge for artists accustomed to working on backdrops the height of a building.
“Murals are so site-specific and therefore not everyone gets to experience our work. The fact that you can go into any Starbucks store and pick up the new Pike Place® Roast in our package is pretty cool,” said Jessie.
Pick up a package for yourself this month and savor a delicious blend of Latin American coffees wrapped up in the breathtaking blend of Jessie and Katey’s artistic expression.