Specialty coffee and art have always worked hand in hand; artists of every stripe have long gravitated towards coffee work for the flexible hours, the freedom of expression, and, of course, the free access to their favorite caffeinated beverage. As specialty coffee culture has brewed over time with the artists who populate its coffeehouses and roasteries, it’s become deeply marked by the presence of the arts, a relationship which is visible in every detail of the specialty movement, from the expression of perfect microfoam as a fluid rosetta to the obsession with aesthetically flawless roast graphs that showcase a rainbow of flavors on the cupping table and in the espresso machine. The newest tribute to this is the Coffee People zine, coming out of Denver, Colorado. It’s an ode to coffee people who are artists, as well as coffee as an art in itself.
For creator Kat Melheim, Coffee People was inspired by her friends and coworkers in coffee who are also artists. Melheim, who roasts coffee at Logan House Coffee and baristas at Amethyst, went to an art show featuring the work of fellow Denverite Breezy Sanchez of Crema Coffeehouse and had a *click* moment. “She’s one hell of a barista and everyone knows her behind bar, but lots of folks didn’t know she did rad art, design, and graphics. At her art show I had this a-ha moment of ‘everyone should know about this,’” said Melheim. Inspired, she started thinking about all the other baristas, roasters, and productionistas who work in coffee but also have creative projects on the side, and, with the support of a tight-knit group of Denver coffee friends including Elle Jensen, Emily Orendorff, Johanna Hirschboeck, Kristyn Wade, Melissa Vaiden, and the aforementioned Sanchez, she worked to create a platform where everyone could showcase their art. The first two issues are available for purchase online. Rather than releasing new issues on the fiscal quarter, zine releases align with the two solstices and equinoxes that occur each year, which means issue two dropped June 21.
Content-wise, Coffee People has a lot going on. First off, Melheim donates a portion of each zine sale to charities that benefit coffee people—and, since proceeds from the first issue went to the Coffee Too project, a nonprofit that focuses on fighting harassment and discrimination in the coffee industry, a lot of content in the first issue focuses in that direction. The zine’s inaugural Know Your Rights segment, which will focus on a different workers’ rights topic each issue, breaks down workplace sexual harassment with a digestible infographic, and there’s also a Coffee Too fact sheet, followed by a helpful and hilarious guide to mansplaining.
Peppered throughout are poetry, photography, and graphic art from coffee people, including an exquisite corpse drawing on a hot sleeve and a scratch and sniff with coffee flavor notes (there’s a surprise involved here, but I don’t want to spoil it). The zine also features notable new coffeehouse openings and a locally focused but internationally reaching events calendar, including a section on recurring events—many of which are free.
It includes some Coffee Championship-related content, but doesn’t shy away from substantial critique. It focuses on the inequities in coffee competitions, including interviews and statements from queer competitors on their response to the Specialty Coffee Association’s scheduling of world coffee championships in Dubai, a country where queer identity is heavily criminalized (the event has since been rescheduled). It then delves into an admittedly “informal and unscientific” breakdown of gender demographics at the Coffee Champs Denver preliminary based on local survey results.
In addition to providing a platform for coffee creatives and connecting the community through the events calendar, Melheim wants to advocate for and uplift people who work in coffee, especially baristas, as the specialized and skilled professionals that they are, rather than people who are just working in coffee until they get higher-paying jobs. Melheim was drawn to the zine format to do this work because many artists and coffee people alike enjoy physical materials they can hold and keep. She also wants to maximize accessibility, so she plans to make a lot of content available online as well, including online Know Your Rights pdfs that reinforce the material in the zine.
Issue two benefits Prodigy Coffee, a local shop with an apprenticeship program for youth in the neighborhood. To snag the first two issues, pick up a tee shirt, or submit content (including art, articles, photography, doodles, letters, short stories, comics, and more), visit their official website and follow their progress on instagram @coffeepeoplezine.
Photos courtesy of Andrew Horton.