By Mike Pomranz
June 22, 2017

The dark web: It’s your one stop shop for illegal drugs, snuff films, hackers for hire and… coffee. Think of it as a black market with its own Starbucks.

Russian coffee roaster Chernyi Cooperative has decided to promote its Chernyi Black roast by making the beans decidedly difficult to purchase – at least for those who aren’t very tech savvy. The company’s website is the unusual URL “cherniyx23pmfane.onion,” an address that can only be accessed via the encrypted and anonymous browser Tor, meaning that the coffee brand’s online shop is part of what is called the “dark web” – sites that can’t accessed through normal public internet browsers.

Though the dark web is often used to hide illegal activity – the site Silk Road, for instance, became notorious for selling illegal street drugs online thanks to these encrypted networks – Chernyi Cooperative doesn’t have any nefarious reason for selling its beans in the netherworld of the Internet: It’s just marketing. “We faced a difficult challenge—to attract the attention of trendsetters who already have access to plenty of interesting content,” Maxim Fedorov, social media director at the agency Possible Moscow, told Adweek. “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.”


The coffee brand reportedly got word out about the underground site thanks to an old-fashioned flyer campaign in trendy Russian venues, as well as targeted Facebook ads. (Hey, they still gotta sell coffee!) Once customers find the site, hardcore caffeine addicts have to pay the approximately $12 price tag via Bitcoin or the Qiwi payment service. After their top secret payment, purchasers aren’t sent their coffee, but instead given coordinates for where to pick up their beans.

Chernyi Cooperative calls this experiment the “first legal product advertisement on the darknet.” (A statement that Adweek points out, though funny, probably isn’t actually true.) But creative director Vlad Sitnikov thinks the general concept resonates. “People are happy to see that the darknet doesn't only exist to service what some may term undesirables,” he’s quoted as saying. “This project demonstrates it can be used by anyone looking for a secure and private connection.”

And apparently, people are actually using Tor to get their coffee. “10,000 people were reached in the first hour, and product is being bought—and taken from the shop!” Sitnikov said. Who knows, maybe one day buying coffee on the dark web will be as easy as buying illegal drugs and firearms.