Emma Chamberlain Talks Chamberlain Coffee’s New Look & Products

Emma Chamberlain is good at a lot of things. She doesn't just go thrift shopping, she often seeks out the ugliest items and takes on the challenge of turning them into stylish outfits. She's even good at styling other people. She can edit videos like few can — in fact, she basically invented a whole new genre of YouTube videos. Emma Chamberlain can turn almost anything into a hilarious YouTube video — a day spent in the closet, having nothing to do, a series of unfortunate thrifting choices — nothing is ever a total bust.
She is a 19-year-old with a wildly successful merch brand, a book deal, and over nine million followers on YouTube. She is also famous for her love of coffee. But when she launched Chamberlain Coffee last year, Emma can admit that the endeavor wasn't an instant home run. While a lot of the merchandise available at is sold out and fans regularly check on the website for more product drops, Chamberlain Coffee is returning with a brand new look and a whole new selection of coffee goods. Chamberlain Coffee's signature brew bags will soon be available in five different blends, and those same blends are also available as bags of ground coffee and as whole beans. If you've turned into a home barista after months of quarantine, it's the whole beans that are sure to win you over. With names like Careless Cat, Social Dog, and Night Owl, these roasts are well-considered and carefully crafted just in time for fall.
Refinery29 caught up with Emma Chamberlain to talk about growing a business and all things Chamberlain Coffee.
Refinery29: Before we start, how many cups of coffee have you had today?
Emma Chamberlain: I have had one very, very large cold brew with almond milk and I'm planning on making my second shortly. I absolutely need more ASAP.
Ok, so let's talk about Chamberlain Coffee. What's the story behind the brand? What made you decide you wanted to start a coffee company?
My love for coffee started when I was maybe 10. I used to go to coffee shops with my mom and get, literally, a latte that was just a bunch of foam and that was it. I was also going to cafés throughout my childhood with my dad, and it was just such a great memory. Then in high school, I was using coffee to keep me up so I could do my homework so it's just been there forever. 

My team and I wanted to turn that into something, especially since it was such a big part of my brand on the internet. We were like, "Emma, you're passionate about this, we think this could work. We have the time to create this company, let's do it," and they knew that from day one, that was my dream. It was just a matter of when it made sense to put it into action, and we had a little gap where we didn't have much going on so we did it. It was so natural and it made so much sense. It was such an obvious decision.
And you're from Northern California, right? And that area has a super vibrant coffee culture.
Totally. San Francisco, specifically. There are so many amazing cafés there, and I think it kind of turned me into a coffee snob really young. No regrets, because those are some of my best memories.
How has that coffee snobbery helped you out in developing this new range of roasts and coffee products? Did you love everything the roasters showed you? Did you have a super discerning palate from the jump?
I've definitely always had a very specific taste when it came to coffee. Not saying that I only like one type but I definitely know when I like a coffee and when I don't. It's funny because being somebody that likes coffee so much, sometimes I'll go get a coffee somewhere I haven't been before and just not like it and not drink it and people are like, "Do you even like coffee?" and I'm like, "Yeah, when I like it." I'm a little bit picky about it.

When we did the tasting, it was fun because I got to truly mix and match different origins and stuff like that to make the perfect blend for me. I just continue to do that for every flavor, and it's been fun to branch out and try new things I wouldn't normally choose. Like I'm not a big fan of a fruity blend but when I mix it with something that has a caramel undertone — I don't even know if that word is right — but when it has a caramel flavor with it, that together makes something that I love so much. You know what I'm saying? It broadened my taste as well. But I still am picky.
From tasting all the new Chamberlain Coffee, it's definitely apparent you lean more towards caramel-y, rich, creamy flavors. So what makes the perfect cup of coffee for you?
I'm not super into very acidic coffee, like coffee that makes you feel like you're going to get heartburn after. I like things that go down easy. That doesn't necessarily mean I like it mild — I do like a very strong cup of coffee. I think that there's a balance where it's not too acidic but still packs a punch. It's a very weird balance. I love a nutty, chocolatey, caramel-y, butterscotch kind of sweet coffee like that. That's definitely my favorite. I also love a nice roasted, almost smokey flavor as well. I mean, it kind of depends. I'm all over the map.
Chamberlain Coffee launched last year with tumblers, mugs, and the coffee bags. But Chamberlain Coffee now has an entirely new look and so many more products. What prompted that change and that new direction?
When we launched in December, it was kind of one of those things where it was a baby. It was just us figuring out if it works and gauging what everyone likes. We put a lot of time into the product itself and in making that perfect and a lot less time into the branding and the aesthetic of the brand.

We realized down the line that there was a lack of personality in the brand. The product was great but we just said, "Let's start over. We have a great product to back it up. Let's make it the coffee brand of my dreams." We spent so much time turning it into that. We also didn't define ourselves based on what we were before. People loved the coffee and if we change the whole branding, that shouldn't change things for people who are already fans. It will just make them bigger fans if we do it right. So that was kind of our headspace. It really is like we're launching a new company in a sense. 
Which Chamberlain Coffee product is your favorite?
I'm really into the whole beans, of any of the blends. Right now, I have the Night Owl in my machine. I really like all of them, but the reason I've been into the whole beans is, I've been putting them in my espresso machine and just doing that whole strategy. I used to do just cold brew, mainly because we didn't have whole beans. Now we do and it's been really fun doing that and putting them in the espresso machine. But then again, I'm very much a cold brew drinker so it's very hard to choose.
We're used to knowing you as a very good YouTuber, editor, entertainer, stylist even, and those are all things you do really well. But with Chamberlain Coffee, it seems like there was a learning curve? Was there a lot of learning involved for you?
For sure. I mean, God! It's been a huge learning curve because even though I've always been an avid coffee drinker, there's so much behind-the-scenes stuff I didn't know about. For example, how where the beans are grown affects the flavor, and how where they're harvested also affects the flavor. And the difference between light roast and dark roast and truly, what that means. Seeing the whole process, there is so much to learn. It's so cool. Also just running a business in general. How to grow a loyal fanbase for a product rather than a person, it's a very different thing. I learned a lot of that within the first six months of having the company. It all became so clear to me very fast, and it was time to apply that and make this fifty times better.

I took a blow to my ego a little bit when I had to say, 'Okay there is a lot I want to change. There is a lot about this that is not the way I wanted it to be.' To realize that a rebrand needs to happen and that we might've done a few things wrong, to admit that to yourself is tough. But when you do, and you fix those problems, everything comes so easily. It's putting your ego aside and just doing it.

I’m sure being a young woman with a business is not without its challenges. Tell us more about that transition into being a businesswoman.
I've been really fortunate to have such a supportive group of people around me that remind me that it doesn't matter what anyone says. If I'm passionate about it then I should just do it and that really helped me ignore any outside opinions. I'm also really fortunate that people who know me from my work on the internet were all so supportive.

On the other hand, there were a lot of elements behind the scenes that were tough, like when things go wrong. Not everything's going to go right, like when there are shipping delays. It's hard not to take that personally when people are like, "Where is it? What happened?" Even when it's completely out of my control or my company's control, people come to you and they attack you when you're the face of it all. That was tough because I was like, "Oh my God, people are mad at me because one of their packages was late." You just have to learn how to remove yourself from that and keep moving forward. Nothing's going to be perfect. Nothing's always completely smooth. There's always going to be little issues here and there. You might make a bazillion mistakes. 

The other thing is — this is probably the best advice I have — when I started Chamberlain Coffee, it was a very different company from what it is today. It's a fully different company now. I took a blow to my ego a little bit when I had to say, "Okay there is a lot I want to change. There is a lot about this that is not the way I wanted it to be." To realize that a rebrand needs to happen and that we might've done a few things wrong, to admit that to yourself is tough. But when you do, and you fix those problems, everything comes so easily. It's putting your ego aside and just doing it.
Do you see Chamberlain Coffee being a part of your future? Maybe after YouTube? Where does it fit in your life plan, if you have one?
I'm somebody that really likes to live day to day. I might be a Youtuber until I'm 50 and I also might not. I used to make five-year plans, ten-year plans for myself but they just never come true. I realized, tomorrow isn’t promised. I have no idea what's going to happen. This company could do incredibly well and I believe that it should. I'm so proud of it. But you never know and I don't know. My YouTube, one day everyone could wake up and say "Eh, I don't want to watch her anymore." Nothing is promised in any of my endeavors so it's all going to be about finding that medley of what I'm passionate about and what's working at that moment and putting my love and time into that.

With Chamberlain Coffee though, I can see that hopefully growing and growing and growing and becoming something that could be my main source of income and potentially become, not necessarily my full-time job, but a bigger part of my job. It's definitely a big part of my job now but when you start a new company, you don't make money from it. It's a passion project right now and we're just doing what we can and putting everything back into the business. 
I mean it honestly sounds like a dream — and maybe it's because it's starting to turn into fall here in NYC — but like, who wouldn't want to be 65 and have their job be to make coffee and run a coffee business?
I mean, one of my goals is to open a shop one day, retire, and be a barista at the coffee shop. That is absolutely my goal.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity. 

More from Food & Drinks

R29 Original Series