Coffee Grounded Perceptions

22 coffee bags, acrylic paint, water, fresh espresso grounds, PVC pipes, blank cloth, tapestry, super glue, human subjects.

We all live in a society where coffee is a highly sought-after commodity. Every day, about 2.25 billion cups of coffee are consumed in the world. We are all consumers living in a globalized country that plays an active role in shaping the agendas, livelihoods, and identities of the coffee bean farmers. The global coffee chain has gone through a ‘‘latte revolution,’’ where consumers can choose from (and pay dearly for) hundreds of combinations of coffee variety, origins, brewing and grinding methods, flavoring, packaging, and social ‘‘content’’ (Ponte). U.S. coffee culture is defined as much by the bundle of images and narratives that are used in marketing as they are by actual conditions of production (Lyon). Romano became fascinated by the social factors and interactions between coffee consumers, producers, and marketers, particularly how consumers select the criteria upon which they buy their coffee. What are the sorts of language, images, or brands that consumers trend towards? What do coffee consumers actually know about the livelihoods of the coffee farmers who produced their coffee?

This piece incorporates Romano’s empty coffee bags that she consumed and collected over the past 2 years. The bags position themselves as signifies for the varying content on their packaging, and they all come from a range of places and people and countries. In an attempt to understand what consumers are drawn to, or what they notice, when selecting a bag, Romano asked a range of 10 consumers—coffee drinkers from Stanford University—to walk around the circle’s diameter and carefully analyze each bag before making their choice. Once selected, Romano directed the consumers to dip their feet in a mixture of espresso grounds, paint, and water and walk to their chosen bag while staining the canvas with their footprints. Essentially, the paths that the consumers leave in their wake lead to their chosen bag. This map of footprints reflects consumerism and choice through advertisement and design, which rarely includes the producers. Without the use of words, Coffee Grounding Perceptions exists as a statement that speaks to the preferences of consumers while suggesting the limited knowledge on producers’ livelihoods.

Lyon, Sarah. “Coffee Tourism in Chiapas: Recasting Colonial Narratives for Contemporary Markets.” Culture, Agriculture, Food and Environment, vol. 35, no. 2, 2013, pp. 125–139., doi:10.1111/cuag.12016. d

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