- 18-year-old YouTube star Emma Chamberlain has started selling instant coffee bags and mugs through Chamberlain Coffee, her new coffee brand.
- I got the Chamberlain Coffee mug and a 10-pack of the coffee bags for $35, and while I loved the mug, I wasn't as impressed with the coffee itself.
- The coffee tastes good, and the cold brew tastes great, but the effort you have to put in to get there – as well as the price of the bags – makes Chamberlain Coffee a little too unrealistic for a daily drinker.
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As someone who's a big fan of both Emma Chamberlain and coffee, it just made sense to try out the 18-year-old YouTuber's latest merchandising attempt, Chamberlain Coffee. If you've watched any of her YouTube videos, you've probably noticed that coffee is a staple of Chamberlain's life and her content – with viral videos like "TRYING EVERY COFFEE SHOP IN LA" and "EMMA'S LEGENDARY COFFEE RECIPE," it's a built-in branding opportunity.
Chamberlain first floated the coffee brand back in December when it launched an Instagram account advertising its products, which as of right now include two types of mugs and "nitro-sealed" steeped coffee bags. For several days of coffee-drinking, I substituted my usual Starbucks and office brews for Chamberlain Coffee.
I ordered the standard Chamberlain Coffee mug and a 10-pack bundle of coffee bags.
I bought the $35 coffee mug and 10-pack bundle for $35. Since a 5-pack of coffee costs $10, I got about $20 worth of coffee, and a mug priced at around $15 – a pretty great price for a branded influence product, and a reasonable price for a mug in general.
I ordered the combo shortly after the collection launched, but it took more than a month for it to get shipped. According to emails from Chamberlain Coffee's customer service team – some that were sent to me unprompted, and some that were responses to inquiries I sent – the company had trouble fulfilling orders at first, because they got way more mug orders than expected. Nevertheless, my package was delivered eventually.
A new Chamberlain Coffee item, a "limited edition" travel mug, is also available on the company's website for $45 with a 10-pack, so it's priced at about $25. I didn't get a chance to try this out, but I like the aesthetic of the flip-top lid (it's a small travel mug at just 13 oz).
I really like the design of Chamberlain's coffee mug, and it's a unique YouTuber collector item that looks great on my desk.
If you're a YouTube fan, you're probably used to buy your favorite YouTuber's merchandise. The value in merchandise is split between wanting to support the creator and wanting something you'll actually wear or use in your daily life.
Most YouTubers and influencers gravitate toward apparel for this reason. T-shirts are easy to manufacture, ship, and provide value to the consumer. In recent years, entire lines of clothing and accessories have become more popular. Makeup is also a huge (and growing) avenue for both YouTubers and traditional celebrities.
But Chamberlain – who already experimented in apparel with her High Key clothing line in 2018 – isn't a makeup guru. She does, however, love coffee.
I think this business venture makes a lot of sense for the 18-year-old, since some of her greatest YouTube hits (and personality) revolve around her love of coffee. It's refreshing to buy something a YouTuber made that isn't a clothing item. She's not the first – YouTuber Connor Franta had a now-defunct coffee line – but the product is particularly suited for Chamberlain.
When I ripped open the packaging, I was greeted with the scent of delicious coffee.
I'm not a coffee expert, but I really enjoy drinking it, and I drink it quite a lot. I love the smell of coffee, and the bags delivered with a strong, pleasant scent. It's convenient and somewhat innovative to keep the coffee in little tea bags, and my first thought is that I could easily take these on the road.
I actually did experiment with carrying the bags around in my backpack and even my suitcase, and they're durable. They're also made from "compostable and renewable materials," according to the product's website.
For my first cup of Chamberlain Coffee, I followed the package instructions.
I poured hot water from the tap on our office coffee maker over the bag and let it steep for just 15 seconds, per the back of the package. Then I tossed the rest of that bag, waited for the coffee to cool down a little, and took a sip of it, black.
My first thought is that, while it wasn't unpleasant, it wasn't coffee. It was coffee-flavored tea. It tasted very much like hot water with a little bit of a coffee flavor. I definitely wouldn't follow the package instructions if you're looking for something that actually resembles coffee.
I added some half-and-half to it, and the two tablespoons that normally slightly lighten my coffee turned the drink incredibly pale, but it tasted more like something I'm used to drinking every day once I added the familiar flavor.
Chamberlain Coffee is supposed to have notes of "chocolate, cherry, and nuts." My palate isn't refined enough to seek those flavors out, but the coffee seemed pretty normal. Nothing special, nothing gross.
Once I veered away from what the package said and followed Chamberlain's advice, my experience improved greatly.
Thirty minutes or so after I finished my first cup, I felt just a slight caffeine buzz. I normally just drink one cup a day, but I was also feeling a little more sleep-deprived than normal, so I was ready for round two. This time, I followed Chamberlain's instructions for hot coffee in her video, and steeped it for a little over 10 minutes.
Once I actually let the coffee steep, it was like an entirely different product. It tasted richer, it had a better texture, and it was definitely caffeinated enough – to the point where you should definitely pace yourself.
That being said, I still wasn't blown away by the quality of Chamberlain Coffee. For $2 a bag, you can get a very similar coffee-drinking experience at a convenience store or drive-thru, for less work than having to steep it yourself.
The only true benefit to Chamberlain's bagged coffee was being able to control the intensity of the caffeine, but you can also just buy ground coffee from numerous brands at all levels of intensity for much, much cheaper.
One element of the experience I didn't love was the grainy quality.
The unique coffee delivery system has its issues – since the coffee is ground so finely, but the bag needs to allow water to seep through it, a coffee byproduct that looks like little specks of dust coats the exterior of the bag and shows up around the liquid rim.
It's not a huge issue for the overall quality of the product, but there's a slight grainy texture, especially once you get to the bottom of your cup, where the grounds collect. It's also noticeable when you take the bag out of the package and can feel the tiny little grains on the outside of the bag.
One of the pros of Chamberlain Coffee is that you don't need any kind of coffee-maker to use it, and it's easy to take the packets on-the-go if you don't know what type of coffee-making set-up you're in for. But the innovative package may need to be tweaked a little for a smoother result.
I also tried re-using the bags, to make them more cost-effective.
At $2 a bag, you're paying more than you would for coffee at a McDonald's or a convenience store for bagged Chamberlain Coffee. Now, I don't know how Chamberlain herself feels about cheap coffee, but I personally think it's great. Even with my unrefined palette, I can tell there's more depth of flavor to Chamberlain Coffee, but McDonald's coffee does the trick, too.
That being said, I figured if you can reuse the Chamberlain Coffee bags for multiple cups, you could make them more economical. I used a hot bag twice and I reused my cold brew bags for hot coffee, and I didn't hate the experience, but it was definitely downgraded. If I were going to buy this product again, I'd reuse the bags to get the most out of my buck – especially since I usually drink multiple cups back-to-back.
For my next attempt, I decided to make Chamberlain's cold brew.
Everyone likes their coffee differently. I love iced coffee and cold brew. With cold brew, you're exhausting more effort (and usually money, if you're buying it), so I expect a better product. That's why I followed Chamberlain's own steps in her YouTube explanation.
Here's how Chamberlain makes her cold brew:
- First, she puts three bags in around 20 oz of water.
- Then, she lets the bags soak overnight.
- Next, she pours the cold brew over ice.
- Finally, she adds milk and/or creamer.
It's a pretty standard cold brew recipe, though I should note that three bags is a whopping $6 for a 20 oz drink, which obviously doesn't include the cost of labor of supplies that you're contributing to when you buy cold brew in a store. At Starbucks, for comparison, the average price for a 16 oz grande cold brew is $3.25.
Chamberlain's cold brew recipe video is a solid entry into her channel, but it's also a sign of how little she's marketed this product on her own.
One major thing I couldn't put aside while trying out Chamberlain Coffee is how little effort the YouTuber herself seemed to be putting into the marketing for the product. Chamberlain Coffee has its own Instagram (it's not incredibly active), and Chamberlain made the recipe video for her channel, but aside from some infrequent social media posts, she hasn't been particularly proactive in advocating for her new brand.
On one hand, I understand this mentality. Influencers are often dragged for overselling their own products, and Chamberlain is still a teenager, so she's not an experienced or particularly willful product shiller. At the same time, from the website to Chamberlain Coffee's social media presence to the product itself, it doesn't really feel like Chamberlain had much input.
In a lot of ways, it sort of feels more like a brand's doing. And it is, as it so often is with YouTubers and influencers. I wouldn't expect Chamberlain to learn how to run a business while she's making content full-time, and I certainly wouldn't expect her to learn how to make commercialized coffee.
But I would expect a little more effort if she wanted the brand to truly take off and become something her fans bought over and over, like a coffee line lends itself to. She's not really doing that, which makes the whole effort look more like a cash grab.
Marketing aside, I tried Chamberlain's cold brew – and I loved it.
I should also add that I've never made cold brew by myself before. One night before bed, I put three of the bags into a large glass (probably a little more than 20 oz), and filled it up with cold water. Like Chamberlain instructed, I left it in the fridge overnight and took the cold brew out about eight hours later.
Then I added some ice cubes and some coffee creamer. Normally I would use half-and-half, not hazelnut creamer, but this stage of my trying process came during the time of the coronavirus, and I wasn't about to head out to the packed grocery store near me to try and get almond creamer or half-and-half. So what I had in the fridge had to suffice.
And I'm pleased to report that this cold brew was fantastic. It beats Starbucks (and several boutique coffee shops I've visited) by miles. The flavor is luxurious, I didn't experience the same textural issues I had with the single-bag hot coffee, and even the creamer tasted better than I thought it would with the cold brew.
I also tried a few sips black, and I really liked that as well. Chamberlain, however, puts a lot of creamer and almond milk in her coffee, so I wanted to imitate her experience. I would drink this every day if it didn't cost me $6 and overnight prep.
Overall, I enjoyed drinking Chamberlain Coffee – especially the cold brew – but I won't be re-purchasing it any time soon.
Between the price and the wait I encountered for my package to ship, I definitely wouldn't recommend Chamberlain Coffee for regular coffee-drinking. It's more of a collector's item and a way to support Chamberlain if she's a YouTuber whose merchandise you want.
Since you have to get a 10-pack to get the mug, I'd say it's a worthwhile bundle, but not something I would stock up on in the future. Even as a semi-frequent traveler, I don't think the versatility of the bags outweighs the convenience of buying coffee, especially since you're paying a comparable amount.
I also wouldn't reach for the bags if I'm making hot coffee. I really enjoyed the cold brew I concocted and might feel myself waver in the summertime, but between the price of shipping and the wait to get Chamberlain Coffee, I'll probably head toward Starbucks instead.
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