I stumbled upon Coffee People last year and I decided to buy an edition I believe coffee is an excellent conduit for creativity and I was curious about what Coffee People was doing. I was greeted with visual art, poetry, articles, and many other creative pieces which all got me thinking that coffee is more than just a drink.
I recently emailed Kat, the owner of Coffee People, because I had a few questions about the Coffee People publication and how it is produced. Kat took some time to respond to me and shared some excellent insights into how Coffee People is produced. Our interview is below.
For my audience, could you tell me a bit about what the Coffee People Zine is?
Coffee People Zine is an art/coffee magazine that celebrates the creativity of the coffee community. It’s submission-based, so coffee people artists from around the world send in drawings, poetry, photography, articles, paintings, music, and their other creative work. We compile it into a beautiful physical publication four times a year.
Zines are known for their playful approach to sharing content and designs. Could you tell me why you opted for a zine format? To what extent has the zine format influenced the content you include?
I chose to use the term “zine” because I wanted it to be flexible, playful, and not too serious. To be honest, it has developed from a small stapled booklet (Issues 01 & 02) into a full-blown art journal. The publication is full color, high-resolution, bound, bookshelf-quality, archive-worthy, and really substantial (100+pages).
But I’ve maintained the word “zine” because it allows me to do anything I want with it. I don’t have to have a set format or structure like a magazine would. I don’t need sections or chapters, but I could do that if I wanted to. I also think “zine” evokes a feeling of independence, maybe even rebelliousness, against the expectations of established media types. The purpose of Coffee People Zine is to validate and celebrate the contributions of everyone and anything within the coffee industry – not just those that place top in competition or who pour really great latte art or whatever. It’s a way to challenge the value structure and showcase the other things that coffee people do – our art, music, writing, and creating.
Walk me through the first steps you take to plan out a new edition. How do you come up with a theme? How do you facilitate submissions?
Each issue is a bit different (again, why I love it being a “zine” - I can choose how to do it each time!), but usually we open submissions and see what comes in! We use Submittable - an online platform where people can upload their work, which makes managing incoming submissions really simple. Sometimes I’ll choose a theme and ask for submissions based on that, but other times I’ll see what types of submissions come in and almost decipher a theme based on what everyone submitted. It depends on how much control/influence I want to have (or how much time I’ve spent thinking about each issue beforehand). Also, a few months before each publication I sit down with my Editorial Team (there are 3 of us now!) and we decide what shops/companies we want to feature, if there are any interesting articles we want to write up, and if there’s anything special we want to do with the upcoming issue. It’s kind of whatever is present in our minds/lives at the time, or trends we’re seeing, or things we want to put in front of our audience. It’s really open, which makes each issue exciting and different.
Your editions have themes around which a lot of the content in the magazine is based. How do you curate the content in your magazine around your target theme?
The last few issues have been more curated than previous issues. That started with Issue 09, which was comprised of content created exclusively during quarantine/the early days of COVID (March-June 2020). At the time we didn’t know how long this pandemic would last, how bad it would get, how we would all be affected in the short- and long-term. All I knew was that there was so much uncertainty, and the coffee industry was hit hard. Everyone was looking for hope, for a way to express themselves, for a way to connect with others as we all isolated at home.
That’s why I decided to make Issue 09 entirely quarantine-created work. With Issue 10, I decided to make it work exclusively by Black creators in coffee. I’d been thinking about doing that for a while, but it never felt quite right as I - a white person - was the only editor (and thus gatekeeper) of the zine at the time. But with the murder of George Floyd just a few miles away from where I lived, I realized I needed to take immediate action so I hired another person to be the editor of that issue.
I decided to make $0 from the sales of Issue 10, instead giving the money to the artists and two charities that support Black communities instead. It was important for Coffee People to give all our pages to Black creators in coffee, as well as compensate them financially, because our industry/country/world has ignored, disrespected, and exploited people for far too long.
For Issue 11, I decided on the theme “The Longest Night,” because the release date was the winter solstice - the longest night of the year. It was also a recognition that so many of us are struggling with anxiety, depression, and other mental health concerns that have been made worse by the isolation and uncertainty brought on by COVID. Issue 12 (release date of March 20) was themed “Bloom,” as this date is the first day of Spring, and I wanted to evoke a feeling of coming out of the long winter, of hopeful change. It’s also a call to a coffee bloom while brewing, where you allow the grinds to open, to release the gasses they’ve been holding onto, and to take the first step toward brewing a beautiful cup. Will I continue doing themed issues? Maybe. I like a loose theme because it gives each issue some direction, but I also don’t want to restrict artists in what they’re able to submit. We’ll just have to see ;)
Like Standart, your magazine comes in print. Why do you think it is important to offer physical copies of your zine?
I started Coffee People as a print publication because I wanted to give people an excuse to disconnect from their devices, to stop the scroll, to be physically present with themselves and the work they were consuming. In a world that is continually pushing us more and more online, I think it’s important to be able to take a step back from that and really BE in the physical world. There’s also more of a connection that happens in person. It takes more time to flip a page than to scroll a feed. As a reader, you’re encouraged to spend more time with each artist. I also wanted it to be something that people passed around, that they read and then share with someone else. Sure, you can share things on social media, but it’s so much more impactful when it’s IRL.
Do submissions go through an editorial process before you start to format them in your zine? If so, how do you ensure the quality of each submission?
Coffee People is comprised of open submissions and articles/features written by our Editorial Team. For the art submissions that come in (whether visual or written), we are very hands-off as far as editing. This is intentional, because I want each artist to be able to express themselves fully for who THEY are, rather than for who I as an editor see them to be. That being said, we get a lot more submissions than we can print - last issue we had over 100 submissions!
These days, the way we pick which submissions is: each member of our Editorial Team individually goes through all the submissions and ranks it “yes / maybe / no.” Then we place everything that we all said “yes” to. Then we see how many pages are left and fill in with whatever else fits, depending on how many “yes / maybes” it got and how it fits with the flow.
As for ensuring the quality… I don’t. Haha! I try not to judge by pure quality (because I believe that is subjective - especially in art) but rather focus on what will resonate with the zine’s audience. Sometimes that means publishing poems I don’t understand or latte art that isn’t objectively perfect, or photos that were obviously shot with a phone camera. It isn’t always about the best quality, but about what reflects the mood of the time, the vibe of the publication itself, the sum of the submissions - my interpretation of the collective consciousness.
Your magazines include poems, drawings, photos, essays, and other types of content. Why do you allow so many unique forms of media in your publication?
People are varied and complex and brilliant and unique in so many ways. I want to allow people to contribute in ways that showcases who THEY are. The reason I started Coffee People was to change up the value structure, to question why we hold some coffee people in great esteem when they can pour pretty latte art or talk well to a panel of judges, yet we disregard other people who may be talented in a huge array of other ways. I don’t “get” all forms of art/media, but why should MY perception of value inhibit someone espressing who they are, as they are? It’s open because people are so talented in so many ways.
What coffee(s) are you drinking at the moment?
Currently drinking some unique samples I roasted when I was living/working on a coffee farm (Kona Farm Direct in Hawai’i).
If you had to sum up why you like coffee culture in one (or a few) words, what word(s) would you use?
The people, the travel, the always-something-new-to-learn/experience.
What is your favourite method of preparing coffee at home?
Lately I’ve been using a small Origami brewer with Kalita Wave flat-bottom filters.
Issues of Coffee People are available both in print and in a PDF format at coffeepeople.org. Coffee People has also started distributing with Rabbit Hole in Canada, meaning Canadian deliveries are cheaper than normal. You can also find out more about Coffee People on their Instagram page @coffeepeoplezine.