Birds of Unusual Vitality: Portraits in Coffee


Despite what the recent Samsung commercial would have you think, baristas and so many others in the coffee industry tend to be a highly creative group of individuals. I’m not sure where the correlation stems from exactly, but DCILY was founded on the principle that coffee inspires creativity and each day I’m more convinced of that.

Eileen P. Kenny is one of the latest artist/barista (or is it barista/artist?) who I’ve discovered creating great coffee inspired art. She is a twenty-two year old photographer who’s been making coffee since she was sixteen. Part-way through getting a Masters in Advertising, she decided to leave school to pursue what she already knew she was passionate about and began working with Seven Seeds Coffee (and soon Market Lane).

The project, aptly titled “Birds of Unusual Vitality,” is a collection of portraits & essays about passionate and unique individuals in specialty coffee, beginning with Melbourne’s Angus Gibbs, Jason Scheltus, Talor Browne and Mark Free.

Specialty coffee is an industry filled with fascinating people from every corner of the world and every background you can imagine.

The aim of Birds of Unusual Vitality is to shine a light on these baristas, roasters, farmers, pickers, workers, and everyone involved the process of coffee production, from start to finish. I want the passion for great coffee and the pursuit of quality and sustainability to spread beyond those who work in coffee—I think that getting insight into the people who have that passion is a great place to start.

The project has no expected end date and Kenny’s growing list of desired subjects expands well beyond Melbourne to include such coffee notables as Susie Spindler, Ben Kaminsky and Brent Fortune. Kenny shared her project ambitions with DCILY:

In the long term, I’d also like to go to origin and interview farmers, tracing the coffee’s journey in reverse; essentially, starting at where I am now (making coffee and tasting it), all the way back to those who are harvesting and processing and basing their livelihoods on the quality of their next crop.

This is such a great project that can capture the true diversity of backgrounds within the industry. If there ever were a specialty coffee related project fit for Kickstarter (or IndieGoGo)—turning these photos and stories into a lovely book is one I think would garner a fair bit of support from around the world.

You can view select portraits and read their stories at Birds of Unusual Vitality. Below is an exclusive look at a few of the photos left on the dark room floor. Enjoy.

Birds of Unusual Vitality


posted by on 12.19.2011, under Interviews, Misc.

Dialing in to Common Grounds TV


Last fall, two friends embarked on a cross-country road trip to experience and capture Canada’s independent coffee culture. What resulted was a 20 episode series called Common Ground TV that highlights the many different places, personalities, and perspectives within the Canadian coffee scene.

I know very little about Canadian coffee aside from the names of a few roasters and a couple baristas I met during Coffee Common, so I’ve learned a lot during the first six episodes. The 10-minute episodes have featured everything from interviews with coffee notables like Zane Kelsall and Sevan Istanboulian—to a trip to the Canadian Barista Championship. There’s also a bit of cultural insight and good clean fun along the way.

The two hosts, Nik and Edan, spoke with DCILY about their project, what they learned during their journey, and what the future holds.

What spurred you to make this trip? Have you always been so enthusiastic about coffee?

NIK: Ever since about 16, I’ve had an addiction to coffee. I’ve always had a decent surface knowledge of what makes a good cup. After being a barista on and off for about 15 years, I found the culture to be very interesting as far as the characters you meet across an espresso machine. People never set out to be baristas, they’re always led there and often times down some colorful paths. Those are the stories that we have been capturing. Ex-engineers, athletes—you name it—they’re often very eccentric and intense folks.

EDAN: When I was in high school, a cafe opened in Grand Forks called ‘River City’; they made really good coffee, and I started to appreciate the differences between gas station swill and proper espresso. When Nik opened his cafe, I got a chance to learn the finer nuances of pulling a good shot of espresso and how to steam milk properly. From there, Nik and I wanted to create a guide to the best coffee in BC, but I ended up doing my masters in architecture, and Nik got busy with film school, and we took a few years away from the project. Last year, we finally decided to stop talking about it and do it, and that idea ultimately turned into this film project.

What was the most enlightening thing you learned about coffee on the trip? Has it changed your perception of coffee since learning it?

EDAN: We started the trip as reasonably well informed coffee drinkers, but we soon learned that there is just so much more going on behind the scenes when it comes to getting the most out of green coffee beans. Sevan Istanboulian of Cafe Mystique showed us a lot: from the temperature and humidity the beans are kept at during transport to the roaster, to the exact conditions of roasting, to blending—before a barista ever has a chance to grind, tamp and extract a shot, there is a tremendous amount that goes into ensuring the roasted beans are absolutely the best they can be.

NIK: Personally, I learned, or at least reinforced my belief that the scenario affects the cup. As much science, heart and energy obviously dictates the flavour, taste, profile, etc—the scenario really is what rounds out the experience. We visited cafes that weren’t as highly regarded as others but the staff and locations would be so nice that they would supplement the overall enjoyment. Counter to that we visited a couple of the countries highest regarded and found people to be arrogant and unwelcoming thereby ruining the experience.

I’ve always dreamt of doing something like this in the US, do you plan on taking your crew abroad anytime soon?

NIK: We are currently prepping both Series Two on the West Coast of the USA and we’re shooting Series Three in Europe shortly there after.

EDAN: The US West coast is extremely appealing right now, and we are starting work on establishing connections to cafe’s and roasters from Seattle to San Francisco, and we are hoping for a summer launch. Europe, we hope, will happen in the fall.

What’s the connection between Global Authority and CGTV?

EDAN: The notion of ‘Global Authority’ was a tongue-in-cheek response Nik and I had while driving around BC a few years ago in the midst of a highly opinionated caffeine-fueled rant. It morphed into a proper company in 2010 in order to give ‘Common Grounds TV’ a proper business foundation, and Nik and I remain the primary members.

NIK: We have found great success across numerous intertwined industries including photography, film-making, reporting, small business and architecture. Global Authority is the umbrella under which we operate and explore avenues that interest us. We recruit also, if we feel we aren’t as good as we can be in an area, we refer and outsource work to driven creative types. We have a network of incredible sound techs, sound designers, graphic designers and marketers. Our biggest thing is that we work with nice, driven creative people. Life’s too short to work with awful people and by varying our interests we’re never stuck in a position of dealing with unsavory folks for extended periods. When you drink this much caffeine, outside aggravation has to be kept to a minimum.

You have a couple big sponsors, including Krups, how did that relationship form and what role did they play in the project?

NIK: They’re certainly the biggest name we’re associated with and their sponsorship made the logistics that much more possible. We certainly don’t reap a wage from Series One but being able to cover gas and hotels to minimize our personal outlay is a godsend and we couldn’t have done it without them. They certainly took a chance on us but we feel we are able to reach their target demographic with our humour, content and fanatical approach.

EDAN: Basically we needed someone to fill the gap between the funding Nik and I had ourselves, the the amount needed to pay for the trip (food, gas, gear, etc) without bankrupting us completely, which is where Krups came into play. They had confidence in the concept early on, and with their help, we found a way to take the time off our ‘real jobs’ to make the show.

Thanks for taking the time to talk with DCILY. Good luck with the upcoming seasons.

Watch more episodes of Common Grounds TV
Fan Common Ground TV on Facebook
Get more info at Global Authority

posted by on 06.13.2011, under Interviews, Misc., Videos

Interview w/ Pete Licata – 2011 US Barista Champ


After taking four regional titles and coming in second place at the USBC finals twice, Pete Licata from Honolulu Coffee Co, is a prime example of persistence who has reaped the benefits of never giving up. There was an incredibly talented group of competitors in this years US Barista Competition, so it was no easy task to take the top prize.

Pete’s presentation, which shared his journey from fruit to cup, along with the quality of  his drinks—prepared with self-picked and self-roasted Hawaiian coffee—brought home the US Championship title, making him the first to do so with Hawaiian coffee. I recently talked with Pete about his win and what he’d be doing if it weren’t for coffee.

It’s been over a week since winning the USBC. Has it sunk in? Are you ready to represent in Bogotá or have you re-immersed yourself into training?
I still don’t think it has sunk in yet. I haven’t really had time to think about being some champ, probably because there is another competition just 5 short weeks after the USBC! I have literally been running all over with my mind racing about all of the little details I need to take care of in order to be prepared for WBC. I feel I will be ready to represent in Bogotá, but my training mode this year is FAR more extensive than anything I have ever done before. As of right now I have hulled my coffee and roasted a sample batch. Next is going to be practice runs in between roast days, high altitude training (Colorado and maybe Mauna Kea), and finding the perfect touches in smallwares.

Will you be changing anything about your routine for the WBC or are you completely satisfied with it? I will never be satisfied with my routine until there is nothing negative that can possibly be said about it. I am taking in my judges’ feedback and information and going to revamp what I can. Obviously I feel good about my routine, but I am my own horrible critic.

Could you summarize your signature drink and the concept of your presentation? Let’s start with the presentation. The concept was to tell the story of the coffee, as well as my own, in the journey it took from the fruit to the judges’ cups on the table. I didn’t just want to say “look at what I did,” but rather “look at your coffee and what a fantastic journey it takes to get to you.”

Aside from telling the story, I tried to emphasize a balanced espresso by explaining each element and building the blend from the ground-up. This is where my sig drink came in. It was a highlight of the honeyed coffee I used in order to give a representation of my first tastes, as well as delving into the honeying process itself.

The drink was 3 tastes—a tea made from the cherry skins and parchment that the mucilage had dried onto (to represent tasting the cherry right off the tree), a French press of a lighter roast (to represent cupping the coffee for the first time), and a single shot of the coffee at a longer espresso roast (to represent pulling shots and understanding how the coffee would fit into the overall blend).

You harvested and roasted the coffee you competed with, which gives you a rather strong and unique connection with the entire process from fruit to cup. Was there anything during the experience that surprised you, that you weren’t aware of previously? I didn’t realize just how many spiders live in coffee trees in Hawaii.

If you could get consumers to understand just one thing about coffee, what would it be? That coffee is an agricultural product. It needs to be fresh (green and roasted). As economic and environmental factors change, prices will too. Just like the price of your milk or fresh produce.

Do you have any creative talents outside the realm of coffee? I am remarkably talented at consuming really tasty beer.

If it weren’t for your passion of coffee, what would you be doing with your life? Probably translating Japanese and raising a family…

Congratulations to Pete, Honolulu Coffee Co and everyone else who helped support you along the way. Thanks for talking with DCILY and good luck at the World Barista Championship in Bogotá.

[photo via USBC2011]

posted by on 05.11.2011, under Interviews, Misc.

Apatternaday’s cup of the day


Apatternaday is a project of Rachael Beresh, a designer from Detroit who currently lives and works in Boston. Rachael loves patterns and coffee, so it made sense that she sprinkle a bit of her talent on us here at Dear Coffee, I Love You.

Each day, a new pattern is designed, paired with its color inspiration and posted for everyone to enjoy. For the 100th pattern, Rachael was kind enough to add new life to our brand while infusing her own sense of character into the experience and joy of coffee. If DCILY ever opens it’s own cafe, I know who I’ll be hiring to design the upholstery. I asked Rachael about her process and relationship with the creative fuel we call coffee.

So this is your 100th pattern, does it mark anything significant for the project? Are you going to continue making patterns? My 100th pattern simply marks 100 patterns; 100 days of patterning. For any project you have to set goals and time lines and allow it to grow to the next thing. I noted my 100th pattern as a goal, that when reached, I’d turn my favorite patterns into fabric, using a tool called Spoonflower that allows artists and designers like myself to turn digital designs into physical things. Through college and even now I’ve been searching for ways to do this, whether that be in fabric, products, environments etc.

Patterning for me will never be a task, so of course I will continue to make patterns. I might approach them differently now that I have a large collection. I want to take more time doing one pattern. Apatternaday is an excise in doing something every day, not necessarily making mind blowing patterns every day. Patterning takes time and planning, especially if you are doing something more intricate. So yes, I plan on still making apatternaday but possibly approaching it a little differently.

This pattern suggests that you’re a coffee lover, is coffee an important part of your process? Coffee is an important part of my daily process. But it’s not just about the coffee itself for me; I love to sit down with a cup of coffee in just the right mug. I always notice how mugs fit in my hands and the thickness of the mug. I have a love for diner mugs. I think it’s the weight of the mug that does it for me.

How long would you say, on average, it takes to make one of your patterns (measured by cups of coffee consumed)? Depending on the day it might take me a cup, although I never finish a cup of coffee all at once. I am a sipper and I like the occasional “heat me up.” Sometimes it’s more of a leisure and could take 3 slow cups. It’s not about how much or how little time I spend on the pattern. It’s about doing.

What’s next for Apatternaday? What’s next, what’s next. I’ve thought about this since the first day I started apatternaday. I have plans and ideas, like… printing yardage of my designs, starting a store to sell my yardage, making products with my patterns, selling packs of my designs for people to purchase and use, designing and producing a pattern book, plus many more ideas. Someone once said to me “It’s all about ideas,” and I don’t think I am short on those.

Which pattern is your favorite (besides #100, obviously)? Pattern 92 – CHICKEN FEATHER. It’s the most recent one that comes to mind. It’s simple and has an openness in the repeat that some of my other patterns don’t have. I also had fun naming this one.

You are also part of a design collective with two other talented ladies, are they coffee drinkers as well? Who drinks the most? The ladies of ARM are both coffee drinkers as well. We all enjoy our coffee black….It’s a tough call of who drinks the most. I say it’s a close call between Megan and myself. I know Aubrey enjoys good cup of coffee but, also travels into the tea world a bit.

Who makes your favorite coffee, and how do you drink it? I know you would never approve of a drip coffee but, I enjoy a simple pot of drip coffee and just a morning blend no specific brand. I like to drink my coffee black and for me it’s the experience of the mug, the coffee and location that makes the cup enjoyable.

Thanks Rachael for taking the time to talk with us. Check out more pattern goodness while finishing your coffee over at apatternaday

posted by on 10.19.2010, under Design, Interviews, Misc.

Mugshot Monday


Meet Lisa Frame. She loves coffee and people. So she created a place to consolidate the two passions and meet other hard working people who love coffee. Mugshot Monday’s concept is simple, it introduces readers to a new, creative and entrepreneurial coffee lover each week. What began as a simple idea has become a liaison for job searches, networking, and apparently dating. I took the opportunity to flip the spotlight on Lisa and ask her a few questions about her love of coffee.

On Mugshot Monday, you post photos of lots of people with their favorite mug, now you’re in the spotlight. Tell us about your favorite mug? My FBI mug, for sure! I feel like a total badass drinking out of it.

What are you up to when you aren’t meeting other coffee drinkers online? Offline, I’m pounding the pavement in Chicago, my home turf. You can generally find me in the Wicker Park eating Mexican at Big Star, shopping til I drop at Penelope’s or reading a how-to/DIY book in the park. Online, I’m tweeting, blogging, editing videos and managing the Abe’s Market seller community.

You’re based in Chicago (mostly) which is where my love for coffee began, so I know there are some great cafes. Do you have a favorite place to get your coffee? And what’s your drink of choice? Chicago has so many great coffee spots, where to start? The Swedish coffee at Ann Sather is one of the most comforting drinks I’ve ever tasted. Dollop Coffee Co has the best soy cappuccino & vibe in the city. And, for the best diner cup of coffee I recommend sitting at the counter, on a rainy afternoon at The Hollywood Grill. (the people watching is fantastic too!)

What’s the best opportunity or experience you’ve had where coffee played a leading role? Coffee has introduced me to so many amazing people. I’ve met writers, producers, musicians, stylists, marketing geniuses. I’ve met them all and each conversation was simply started with the same passion in mind, coffee.

Thanks Lisa for sharing some of your Chi-town coffee secrets with us, and creating a place to laud all of the talented and hard-working coffee lovers out there.

Check out Mugshot Monday and Abe’s Market

posted by on 10.04.2010, under Interviews, Misc.

Frank Chimero and the elixir of Life


Frank Chimero is a brilliantly clever illustrator and designer soon relocating to Portland, Oregon. Frank and I first met in the land of Intelligentsia (Chicago, IL), but we were usually out drinking beer together, not coffee. The first time we had coffee was a couple cups of Blue Bottle outside the Ferry Building in San Francisco. During which our conversations teetered between our love of coffee and world domination (you can’t have one without the other).

Is coffee a routine part of your workflow? If so, how important is it to your creative process? Yep! Most mornings start out the same. Wake up, get ready, do a cursory glance at my inbox, then head over to my local coffee haunt (the Mudhouse) to get some piping hot, locally roasted drip coffee. If I’m teaching that day, I walk the extra block to my classroom. If not, I usually plant there for a bit to take care of the morning niceties and communication obligations.

How many cups do you have a day? Typically two. Any more than that, and I think I can feel my heartbeat sync with the twitch in my left eye. Sometimes I have more than two cups. COFFEE!

Who makes your favorite roast and how do you drink it? I’m going to go plain jane here: Stumptown House Blend in a french press. Then it goes in a mug. And then in my belly. I take pleasure in the simple things. It’s not exotic, but I dare you to say it’s not good.

Any chance you will actually design a set of coffee mugs in the near future? I would love to! Who wants to get going on this with me?

Burning the midnight oil usually requires fuel. Check out more of Franks’s work at

posted by on 02.10.2010, under Design, Interviews

Up & Atom with The Office of PlayLab, Inc.



I’ll be sharing studio space with The Office of PlayLab, Inc. over the next couple of weeks, while they’re visiting from Brooklyn. The two partners, Archie Lee Coates IV and Jeffrey Scott Franklin I start each morning with some coffee and a stack of napkins to hash out ideas. Here are a few that have developed recently during our morning conversations. Enjoy!

posted by on 12.11.2009, under Design, Interviews

Cheeming Boey, coffeeless cups



Cheeming Boey doesn’t drink coffee, he prefers sake. But inspiration struck him while sitting outside a coffee shop that has led to an incredible collection of artwork on a unique canvas – styrofoam cups.

You don’t drink coffee, so what were you drinking the day you first started drawing on cups in a coffee shop? I wasn’t drinking anything, just sat outside the shop, picked up a cup sitting on top of a trash can.

Are all of the cups you draw on previously used or have you purchased new ones to maintain a consistency in your work? The first couple of cups were all recycled, until hygiene became an issue. The cups were not consistent in sizes too, so displaying them as a series of works weren’t pleasing to the eye. So I started buying them. Companies are going to keep churning them out, atleast when I draw on them, I like to think they aren’t disposed of.

Have any cafes been in touch about designing custom cups for them? Yes, some have contacted me, but many times there isn’t a lot of creative freedom. It’s almost like they just need a graphic/ product designer. I didn’t want to fall into that category. I like the freedom I have now. Some were willing to give me that freedom, but the pay wasn’t right, so I didn’t. It was less than what I would sell a cup for. A clothing company also contacted me, and they didn’t even want to pay, because they see it as a privilege to have my designs on their tshirts. I didn’t like that idea at all.

Have you ever considered creating and selling your own products, like reusable mugs for example, with your work on them? Or would you be worried that mass production would decrease the artistic value of your gallery work? If my works were on ceramics, then that’s just another cup. The thing with the foam cups is that it’s so common. Everyone’s held one of these before, before throwing them away. It is that idea, that I am willing to spend so much time on one that draws people to my works I think.

The foam cup isn’t any less durable. For one, the cup will last thousands of years, which is why it is an environmental issue. If you drop it, it won’t break like ceramic would. It’s really is how you choose to view it.

Just because it is labeled disposable doesn’t mean it has to be, right?

Do you still have a day job? Or have the cups allowed you to focus solely on your artwork? Yes, I still work as an animator.

You can see more of Boey’s cups on Flickr or check out his recently launched Etsy store. Also visit

posted by on 12.10.2009, under Design, Interviews, Products

Obsessive Coffee Consumption



Kate Bingaman-Burt is a professor at Portland State University and she draws the things that she buys. She also drinks a lot of coffee, so she’s drawn a lot of it in various forms. I talked with her to find out more about her coffee buying habits and her work.

How much do you spend on coffee each month? Too much. I live above a coffee shop ( and we have a very active french press in our apartment. I also frequent Contrary Coffee which is right down the street from my office for my morning Americanos. So, again. I am kind of afraid to add it all up.

How many cups do you have a day? Days when I teach: 2 small cups at home and then a large Americano before class starts. I usually grab another americano in the afternoon before my afternoon class.

Who makes your favorite roast? Stumptown!

How important is coffee to your creative process? Pretty important. Recently I have stopped drinking it at night and have been using yerbe matte tea as a substitute. Also, I try to drink more Americanos over regular coffee because it goes down a bit easier. But I am most certainly addicted.

So many of us have the same addiction Kate! Thanks for sharing some of the intimate details of your coffee love with us. Check out more of Kate’s work at Obsessive Consumption or on her Flickr.

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posted by on 12.07.2009, under Design, Interviews