NEW YORK — If celebrities can design a dress (Gwen Stefani), create perfume (Jennifer Lopez), open a hotel (Giorgio Armani) and crush grapes (Francis Ford Coppola), why not brew a cup of coffee?
Coffee companies and blends with some sort of celebrity attached to them started appearing around 2010, and their numbers are growing full steam. Hugh Jackman, Leonardo DiCaprio, Joey Kramer of Aerosmith, Bob Marley’s son Rohan, the philanthropist and performer Grace Hightower and Ralph Lauren have all introduced their own coffee.
For some, investing in coffee is a way of doing good. Ms. Hightower started Coffees of Rwanda after learning that trade, not aid, was sought to help the country rebound after a civil war and genocide.
“I researched what their resources were and found that coffee is its biggest cash crop,” she said. “I didn’t even know Rwanda had coffee.”
An exploratory trip in 2011 proved “eye opening,” Ms. Hightower said, adding: “I visited the farms. I did some cupping and found that the coffee was incredible.”
She was determined to support small farmers, buying beans directly from them and eliminating any middleman. Part of her motivation was personal.
“My parents were farmers in Mississippi,” said Ms. Hightower, who is married to Robert DeNiro, the actor.
In 2012, she started her coffee brand, with 4,500 Rwanda farmers having benefited so far, she said.
“I’m in talks with coffee farmers in Costa Rica, in Panama,” Ms. Hightower said. “My vision is to source coffee from around the world.”
Rohan Marley started his coffee business with a similar vision, inspired by his late father. After buying “50 acres of luscious green in Jamaica,” the younger Marley discovered that the surrounding community used to sustain itself on the coffee that once had grown there.
“I’m Bob’s son,” Rohan Marley said. “He’s my inspiration. What can I give back to the community?”
After years of stops and starts, Marley Coffee was born to “bring jobs back to the community,” he said. “With my brother Ziggy, we built a school,” he said. “It’s greater than just coffee. It’s a vehicle for love and peace and sustainability and creating a better life.”
Other coffee philanthropists include Mr. DiCaprio, who teamed up with La Colombe to produce Lyon Blend coffee; part of the profits go to support the environmental causes of his foundation.
Mr. Jackman, a partner in Laughing Man coffee products and shops, believes that funding new businesses in challenged areas around the world through coffee sales will help achieve the motto imprinted on their products: All Be Happy.
Do consumers even care there’s a celebrity name and a worthwhile cause attached to their cup of coffee? If two customers enjoying fresh cups on a brisk autumn day outside the Laughing Man shop in the New York neighborhood of Tribeca were any indication, not really. They were there for practical reasons: “It’s close to our office, and it’s a good cup of coffee,” said Cole Reynolds, an architectural designer. His co-worker Nick Scalone added, “And it’s not Starbucks.”
Mr. Lauren is now providing an alternative to the chains in New York City. He opened a coffee shop in his new Fifth Avenue Polo store so that customers could have a place to come together, and on a recent Sunday afternoon there was a steady stream of shoppers lining up to order cappuccinos and lattes. The shop, as well as a Ralph’s Coffee truck, sells blends he designed with La Colombe. For the two weekends prior to Christmas, the coffee will be served to customers at the designer’s Paris stores in the St.-Germain-des-Prés and Madeleine districts.
One of the most passionate coffee brewers is the Aerosmith drummer Joey Kramer. “After 40 years on the road what I missed most was getting a good cup of coffee,” he said.
So, during a break in touring, he started seeing what he could do about it, leading to Rockin’ & Roastin’ coffee.
“I love to make people happy,” he said, “and part of that is bringing good coffee to the table without gouging customers. Most gourmet coffees sell for up to $15 for 12 ounces. Rockin’ & Roastin’ is $9.99.”