Not My Cup of Tea (or coffee)

I am unfortunate enough to work in a coffee shop that is a global chain on weekends alongside my studying, and have been for around 6 years now.

Because of this, I have witnessed the falsity in what sort of environment the brand aim to portray, and how they attempt to manipulate their customers, and even their staff, into the belief that every decision made is in favour of the customer experience, and not for the economic gain that inevitably comes with the compulsory offering to every customer of the option to try their coffee with a ‘bold’ or ‘smooth’ espresso; the only real noticeable difference to most being the 20 pence extra that the ‘smooth’ espresso will add to the drink price, which of course isn’t mentioned at the till.

Regardless of multiple transparent attempts at manipulating customers into paying premium prices for inferior quality products (drink quality being representative of the amount of drinks to make, which doesn’t correspond to the amount of staff needed to make drinks as staff cost the company money), there are regular customers who surely must be aware of what’s happening yet still persist on giving the company money.

Brand Loyalty

It appears that the loyalty that certain people have to one brand isn’t necessarily connected to the product that the brand sells, but rather the ideals that the company aim to represent. The irony is that the international coffee chain brands aim to give a ‘[brand name] experience) which is consistant among every store yet is an attempt to emulate the vibe of a local, independent coffee shop (only not a one that pays taxes, apparently). With the vast number of options available to those seeking out ‘coffee-shop culture’, it seems bizarre that somebody might choose an industrial environment over an organic one, but because the industrial has the ability to spend money on mass exposure and advertising, trade marking slogans that communicate sentimental ideals over literal descriptions of the products in the effort to create an emotional imprint with the brand, customers believe the brand reflects what  their lifestyle represents (or what they want it to), and so fund it ritualistically.

The phrase then, “not my cup of tea”, can be applied to this concept also. If you consider an elderly person asking for a coffee in a chain cafe, it probably doesn’t come as a surprise that they seem intimidated by the option of a size for a mug or if they are sitting in or taking it away. Equally, if you consider a younger generation ‘hipster’ asking for a popular ice blended drink with a name that begins with an ‘f’, a response of “we only sell tea or coffee”, wouldn’t communicate the lifestyle that the customer is either connected to or hopes to connect to.

Caffeinated Consciousness

In response to this idea of certain people desiring to emulate particular personal qualities through their preference of coffee/coffee shop, I have started to consider who drinks from what cup. Reflecting on my observations, I believe that I have sufficient evidence to suggest that individuals from one walk of life may differ in their preference to another, and I intend to perhaps produce a series of portraits of archetypes that are drawn directly onto the disposable cup that the archetype is represented by.


The above image shows an example of the sort of thing that is being discussed. Perhaps an espresso cup may simply feature a pair of sunglasses, or a polystyrene cup may have a portrait of a construction worker drawn upon it, which will more than likely be tea stained rather than coffee.

If this approach seems to do as intended, then it may be a suitable end outcome for one element of my M.A, which could partly be a series of drinking instruments with portraits illustrated upon them, exhibited in a collection with associated objects such as sugar packets, spoons, wooden stirrers, etc. which could equally each be illustrated upon to correspond.

Although at present this is merely an idea, I feel a sense of confidence in the potential of the possibilities for the outcome, which could equally be utilised in a commercial context by having a portrait of an icon on a disposable cup which could be branded the ‘Beyoncé Latte’ for example, however this prospect is counter-active to the philosophy of the idea in its entirity, so probably unlikely in a sincere context.



  1. Ivy Bowler · · Reply

    When I saw this on Facebook I thought it would be an interesting read since I too worked in a coffee shop for 4 years before I got a real job. It’s perfect! Great read, and so true! Fantastic illustrator and writer! Ivy x

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