Custom coffee sleeves (like the ones produced by Sleeve a Message) are an essential component of our modern day, on-the-go, coffee-driven lifestyles—but have you ever stopped and wondered who invented coffee cup sleeves? While it might seem like every coffee shop and convenience store has been shelling them out with delicious hot coffee forever, the coffee cup sleeve as we know it is a relatively new invention. And we have one person to thank for that. His name: Jay Sorensen.
Who is Jay Sorensen
Once a manager of a family-owned gas station in Portland, Jay Sorensen left the family business for a career as a realtor. But it would be embossed cardboard, and not Beaver State real estate through which Sorensen would leave his most lasting impression. He first came up with the concept for what we now know as coffee cup sleeves in 1989 after purchasing a cup of coffee from a local drive thru. A minor spill caused him to burn his fingers, lose grip of the cup, and spill the cup’s remaining contents onto his lap. While painful, this unfortunate occurrence would spark the idea that would one day revolutionize the on-the-go coffee industry.
Eager to develop a way to hold paper coffee cups safely and comfortably, Sorensen first tinkered with the idea of a double-layered cup that would ultimately prove to be quite expensive and not very environmentally friendly. In 1991, he developed the sleeker, more compact, and eventually iconic design we’re familiar with today. He called his creation the “Java Jacket”.
The Rise of the Coffee Sleeve
Sorensen went full time with his concept in 1993 with an initial investment of $20,000. And after a few early start-up frustrations and obstacles, it was clear he had a hit on his hands. In fact, one of Sorensen’s first sales, perhaps serendipitously, was that very same cafe at which he had his initial (and uncomfortable) inspiration. Through various trade shows (most notably the 1995 Seattle Coffeefest), Sorensen found more and more avenues for his now high demand invention.
And speaking of Seattle coffee, as you’re probably well aware, the 1990s saw the astronomical rise of a certain Seattle-based coffee shop. And sure enough, Sorensen wisely pitched his coffee sleeve concept to the Starbucks brass. And they liked it! However, the deal Starbucks proposed was less than favorable for Sorensen and crew and, unable to come to a mutual agreement, the two parties went their separate ways. Sorensen was granted a patent for his Java Jacket…and LBP Manufacturing was granted one of their own for a similar product they’d call the “Coffee Clutch”. LBP became Starbucks main supplier of coffee sleeves.
Coffee Sleeves Today
Even though the Starbucks thing didn’t pan out, Sorensen probably isn’t losing much sleep over it as his company sells approximately 1 billion of his sleeves annually. In the United States, more than 400 million cups of coffee are sold every single day with more than 250 million served up on the go. And it’s a safe bet that the vast majority of these are wrapped safely in some variation of Sorensen’s original 1991 design. That equates to billions of consumer fingers spared from scalding hot liquids every morning.
Here at Sleeve a Message, we hold our own patented design for a “seamless” printed coffee sleeves with custom messaging and print more than 50,000,000 impressions on our own custom sleeves annually for foodservice and hospitality clients as well as anyone wanting to commemorate a special occasion in a unique and fun fashion. The aim in the Sleeve a Message design was to reduce the turn-around time and minimum order needed to produce a custom sleeve; thus allowing for more relevant messages to be printed on the sleeve. Sleeve a Message also boasts a variable printing feature which as described by founder David Dresner, “creates a fortune cookie-esque effect so customers are curious what will be on their sleeve next.”
At Sleeve a Message, we LOVE coffee sleeves and believe they are one of the best ways to brand your business, commemorate your special event, or simply get your message across effectively. We carry a wide variety of sleeve options and styles and our team is ready to help you design the sleeve that gets your message across. And the next time you pick up your sleeve order, or swing by your local coffee shop, raise a wrapped cup to the coffee cup sleeve inventor who made it all possible.