Elizabeth Chai is a Portland and Seattle based graphic designer and illustrator with a focus on brand identity. She has over fifteen years of experience...hold up! This is starting to sound like a freakin’ LinkedIn profile.
If you know Liz, you know that she’s a fantastic person that rocks at what she does. Which in turn, has led her to work with some of the biggest names in coffee. She’s now on staff with the crazy cool folks at La Marzocco USA. (recent work below)
Let’s back up a bit though because I love the journey that Liz took to get to where she is now, both in her career and in her love for coffee. And if you’re a coffee nerd like me, you’ll find parallels for how she went from being the ‘regular’ at the cafe - to the enthusiast to the person asking the about grind settings and brew methods. (ok, maybe that was just me)
Liz states, “All of that came from me going to Counter Culture for their ‘Tasting at 10’ on Fridays. That’s where I learned how to cup. I started collecting pour over methods. I started trying to learn how to brew at home with an Aeropress, and I found a Chemex in an antique store. And slowly started getting nerdy about coffee stuff.”
It was also around this time that she was brought on as the design director for Octane Coffee in Atlanta, Georgia. Which not only deepened her interest in coffee but the competitions that take place on both the national and international levels.“ I was traveling a lot at that time..and all I wanted to do when I got to that place was to go and find the coffee shops. And I became like a coffee traveler…I was fully immersed in the coffee industry and also learning so much about it. At some point, I started realizing how much I care about coffee and how there’s so much more than what we see stateside in a fancy coffee shop.”
Feeling like she was maxing out on her potential in Atlanta, Liz set her sights on Portland, Oregon. Both a coffee and design haven, Portland holds itself to a very high standard in terms of craft. “I wanted to be in a place that challenged me. I was so comfortable in Atlanta because I was so well established there…and I could see the potential of becoming very stagnant in the time in my life when I wanted to be doing my best work.”
With that goal in mind - to join the coffee and design community in Portland - both her and her Italian Greyhound, Mister B packed up their bags and embarked on a 21-day road trip, aptly named #crosscountrycampercoffeecrawl. Along the way, she was stopping at multiple coffee shops and roadside locations to visit friends. Oh, and did I mention that her teardrop trailer not only housed her belongings but was also custom fit with a fully-functioning La Marzocco Linea Mini. (my dream machine)
What I love most about Liz's story, is that not only did she move across the country to further push herself as an artist - she decided to approach coffee based clients solely. A decision that can be a challenge when you're living that freelance life. As I freelancer myself - I respect that even more since I’ve always been one to specialize vs. generalize. Liz just took it to a whole other level.
So where do we end? There’s so much more to Liz’s story - she’s gone on to push her skills in photography, writing and podcasting at both the regional, national and International coffee events/competitions for the cool cats at Sprudge. She co-organizes coffee competitions, speaking events, and even a coffee book club for the Portland Coffee Social Club. (I want to join - sad face)
For me, a fellow coffee nerd /non-coffee professional, a person like Elizabeth Chai is a reminder that we can choose our path. Screw that - create our path. And in doing so, find community and fulfillment in both life and one’s art.