The coffee sleeve – as well as its cleverly coined counterpart, the java jacket – dates back to 1991.
It was a simpler time for those who can remember it. The USSR came to a formal end, the Terminator franchise released its first sequel, and C+C Music Factory’s Everybody Dance Now was on a near-endless playback loop on the radio. Also, millions of coffee drinkers were burning their fingers on hot styrofoam or paper cups when trying to enjoy an on-the-go cup of joe.
“There can be only one” – this adage is as true for highlanders as it is for inventors. However, giving proper credit to ‘The One’ is not always a simple, cut-and-dry operation, as the history of the coffee sleeve can attest to.
As it pertains to the invention of the coffee sleeve, it is most widely attributed to Jay Sorenson, who patented the concept in 1995 under the trademark name JavaJacket.
But the coffee sleeve – just like with the theory of general relativity – was conceived concurrently by two different men working on the concept independently from each other. While Jay Sorenson may be the Einstein of the coffee sleeve, there is another mind, Jim Chelossi, the Henri Poincaré of the coffee sleeve, who also makes a claim to its invention.
Back in the late 1980s, Jim Chelossi ran a coffee shop in Belmont, California named the Coffee Club. Customers frequently requested their coffee be served in two cups so that they could hold it without being burned (fair request). As the price of cups was about 8 cents a cup, Jim brainstormed for another alternative to the two-cup request in an effort to reduce costs.
He literally scribbled some ideas down on a napkin and designed a sleeve that would cost him about 3 cents. He then decided he would sell advertising space on the sleeve, turning a cost-saver into a money-maker.
He patented the invention in October of 1995.
A former gas station manager from Portland, Oregon, Jay Sorenson came up with the idea for coffee sleeves in 1989. He pulled out of a coffee shop drive-through, spilled his coffee, and burned his fingers, which caused him to drop the scalding cup of coffee right onto his lap. As he futilely wiped the spilled coffee from his pants, he said to himself, “There has to be a better way to drink coffee on the go.”
For his coffee cup sleeve, Sorenson first experimented with corrugated paper to design a cover that would fit snuggly around a paper cup. It proved to be too costly, so he switched to dimpled embossed linerboard (thin cardboard used for the flat facings of corrugated containerboard), which costs less and helps to improve insulation.
Sorenson filed for a patent in 1993.
Though Sorenson is now synonymous with the coffee sleeve, he was not the first person to patent a protective sleeve for beverages. Similar inventions date as far back as the 1920s. James A. Pipkin designed a sleeve for cold glass bottles in 1925, and twenty-two years later, Edward R. Egger patented a “portable coaster” that fit around a cup.
Jay Sorensen made his first sales out of the trunk of his car. A few weeks later, he sold a hundred cases to coffee shops at a Seatle trade show. Over the course of his first year in business, he gained over 500 coffee shops as clients. Today, estimates suggest that approximately 1 billion Java Jackets are sold each year.
In 2005, New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) displayed a coffee sleeve as part of its collection titled “Humble Masterpieces” alongside other branded items such as Post-It notes, Bic pens, and Band-Aids.
In 2008, the romantic comedy Made of Honor featured a leading man who was a millionaire inventor of the fictional ‘Coffee Collar’, a near-identical device to the coffee sleeve. The character is not based on either Jim Chelossi or Jay Sorenson but is rather a completely fictional person.
These aren’t your grandfather’s coffee sleeves!
While originally, the coffee sleeve was invented to address only one problem, that of fingers being burned from trying to hold a paper or styrofoam cup filled with hot coffee, today’s coffee sleeve is more ambitious.
Today’s coffee sleeves are environmentally friendly, made of 100% recycled fiber and recycled newsprint. It is also more ergonomic. A checkerboard pattern is embossed into the paper, which allows for a more secure grip and provides further protection against heat.
The outer layer of the coffee sleeve is finished with a semi-gloss or matte coating. This allows for vivid colors and sharp definitions to the design or branding printed on it. After all, today’s coffee sleeve isn’t only about protecting your fingers. It’s also about projecting your brand.
Today’s coffee sleeve is a sleek eco-friendly cup accessory that stylishly displays company logos or motos. It is a staple of the American consumer – on-the-go, smart, environmentally conscious, and modern.