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This Coffee Is So Black, It's Being Marketed and Sold Through the Darknet


Need a fix? The darknet's got whatever you need. Even coffee.

The Chernyi Cooperative is claiming the dubious title of "first legal product advertisement on the darknet." It's selling its Chernyi Black roast via Tor, which lets you trawl the web anonymously and access sites not available on mainstream browsers. 

"We faced a difficult challenge—to attract the attention of trendsetters who already have access to plenty of interesting content," says social media director Maxim Fedorov of agency Possible Moscow. "That is why we chose Tor. The target audience of 'Black' is familiar with anonymous marketplaces. They know how the purchase process is organized and are aware of the subtleties in attaining what they desire." 

Tor is probably best known for its association with Silk Road, the secret market that made nefarious purchases as easy (and customer-friendly) as Airbnb or eBay. The site launched in 2011 and was shut down by the FBI in 2013. 

But while Silk Road drifted out of media salience, Tor remains. It's a reminder that we're always being watched, and a nagging token of things we can't see, either because we don't realize it ... or because we'd rather not. Notably, it's home to .onion sites, which let creators and users communicate anonymously, share sensitive data and purchase things they'd rather other people not know about.

Chernyi's coffee is now one of those things. The shop operates at cherniyx23pmfane.onion, and can only be accessed by downloading Tor.

"There is a generally held perception in Russia that coffee is harmful and shouldn't be consumed on a daily basis," explains Chernyi Cooperative co-owner Artem Temirov. "We love flipping stereotypes upside down and decided to confront this stereotype, about coffee being a drug, with the stereotype about Tor as a platform that exists solely for drug trafficking." 

The site was promoted via fliers in trendy venues and Facebook ads that targeted users linked to the Solyanka Club, a (now-defunct) nightclub for savvy Moscovites. The video includes "real characters" from Moscow's underbelly, and looks like a grainy documentary about the urban drug hustle. It could easily be about something like, say, krokodil.

"We had to understand how the darknet worked, so we needed to immerse ourselves in the Moscow underworld," says Vlad Sitnikov, Possible's creative director. "We also consulted with an ex-cop who specialized in the darknet." 

The site is just as vague about its product, which is described only by its molecular formula: C8H10N4O2 (caffeine). Clicking on "Buy" gives you the big reveal: A warm, Starbucksian explanation about coffee beans that almost feels comical in this cloak-and-dagger context. 

Chernyi Black costs 700 rubles, or about $12, per pack. Users can buy it using Bitcoin or the Qiwi payment system, after which they're given coordinates for the stash (a coffee shop!). 

"General buzz has been excellent," Sitnikov beams. "10,000 people were reached in the first hour, and product is being bought—and taken from the shop!" 

While selling coffee—and overturning the notion of it as harmful—might be the primary goals, Sitnikov also thinks ideas about the darknet are changing. "People are happy to see that the darknet doesn't only exist to service what some may term undesirables," he says. "This project demonstrates it can be used by anyone looking for a secure and private connection."

Below, check out pack shots and more coffee-shop photos. We like the added touch of the creepy staircase.

Client: Chernyi Cooperative
Brand: Moscow Black
Agency: Possible Moscow
Creative Director: Vlad Sitnikov
Idea: Maxim Fedorov
Copywriter: Maxim Fedorov, Artem Trofimov
Art Director: Anton Vodogreev
Illustrator: Anton Vodogreev, Stas Vasiliev
Digital producer: Ivan Bormotov, Kirill Nikitin
Film Director: Artur Miroshnichenko
Music: Sounds Like A Plan, Bad Zu, Filipp Alexandrov

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