Lifestyle: Coffee and Tattoos

Monday, 21 October, 2019

From Bean to Ink 

The subculture of coffee

Words by JP Blignaut, The Neighbourhood Barista. Published in Issue 28 of The Coffee Magazine

PS. If you're fan of both these things, Equipment Cafe is hosting an awesome event on 3rd November that you might be interested in!

The history of body marking dates back to our ancestral period, when various tribes and cultures used needles and specialised equipment to permanently mark their bodies. Jump forward a couple of thousand years, and we see how the field of "tattoo artistry" has become recognised as a full-time profession. Our human capability to wave traditional and conservative norms has opened a chapter in our own history which allows us more freedom of thought and expression. The modern age has made it easier for us to find a socially acceptable balance to perceive and understand various race, gender, sex, cultures, and subcultures. Today we stand in front of our history, marked with needle and ink, as a testament of human possibilities. For years, many have thought of tattoos as "worthless", "unacceptable", "blasphemous", or "tacky" - but generalisation of these thoughts shifted out the door, and tattoos have crawled onto our skin. 

In a recent conversation with an old friend, I felt dumbstruck with an answer after being asked, "why did you get an AeroPress tattoo?". Without an answer and thinking of all those people with a "Live. Laugh. Love" quote or blue butterfly tattoo on their ankle - I'm fine with constantly explaining to people that it's not a lighthouse, or syringe or even a lightsaber from Star Wars! Although getting a  coffee tattoo was never on my bucket list, (not that I have one taped against my bedroom wall), my coffee tattoo has become a symbolic piece of art which I carry with me each day. After long shifts and making coffee the whole day, and sometimes forgetting I have an AeroPress permanently stamped on my arm, I enjoy the natural conversation starter this piece of ink has become during those awkward encounters. 

"You must really love coffee if you got a tattoo of it?" - the question so many of us, myself included have encountered on a regular basis. With the many social media accounts and internet pages dedicated to millions of different coffee tattoo ideas, your selection is endless. From minimalistic coffee equipment, simple little coffee cups, coffee brewers, coffee plants and flowers to the outrageous designs of coffee being extracted into a cup, and flowing over to form a coffee farm somewhere in South America with an amazing coffee quote to finish it off. The coffee industry and its niche following, has opened the doors to a whole new subculture of expression, art, and creativity. Although the decision to get a coffee tattoo or any type of tattoo isn't really easy (it never comes off, I'm just saying), the support and enthusiasm this industry has received from the community and coffee drinkers is a testament of modern evolution. 

Why should you get it? For me this was quite easy, I got a permanent reminder of the one thing that inspired me to make a career out of! Today I have this image on the back of my arm, or rather a piece of my own history which I carry with me every day I serve hundreds of different customers. Come young and old, the tannies and ooms love it! It's strange because after tasting hundreds of different coffees, my AeroPress tattoo has kept me humble and grounded. Keeping me routed from where I started and inspiring me on my journey forward. 

When should you get it? Well, why haven't you gotten it already? Life is short and if you love something, get it permanently stamped onto your body. This is a lifelong commitment, not like your previous relationship, and if you're only getting a coffee tattoo because of some lame influencer on Instagram or Pinterest, then don't get it! Rather stick to taking pictures of your latt art! If you're working in the coffee industry, then you would understand when I say how our freedom of self-expression as baristas, roasters, café owners, etc. have become part of our daily profession. If customers see that rad V60 pourover tattoo black and shiny on your forearm, and your coffee tastes good, why would it change their perception of you in any way? Coffee tattoos are awesome, and fun to design. It's a great way for tattoo artists to design something new and so interesting, then the regular "dreamcatcher" every 25-year old has these days!

In the end, if you're pro coffee tattoos or against it, the regular coffee drinker, sitting at their desk in the corporate world, won't ever get something so different or outrageous. The avid coffee junkies, the pierced barista or bearded roaster would probably feel different. "Social construct" around strange looking coffee tattoos won't always be easy to explain to our friends, family, and customers. It's our crazy obsession with something exclaimed as "simple" or "ridiculously overpriced" that brought us to the forefront of always finding new ways to innovate, adapt, change and invent! Today, more than ever, the art and freedom of self-expression through tattoos, written word, language or whatever has become more important and fundamental than 50 years ago! Coffee tattoos won't always be what we thought it would be, but in some way, it's a mark left by an ever-changing industry, an industry that never fails to deliver - from bean to ink!

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