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The Rise and Renewal of Coffee as an Art Form

The coffee we have now — a creamy colloid of light and dark brown — holds the same significance that it did in the early 2000s: something that “completes the look.”
The coffee we have now — a creamy colloid of light and dark brown — holds the same significance that it did in the early 2000s: something that “completes the look.” By Courtesy of Anna Moiseieva
By Claire C. Swadling, Crimson Staff Writer

Coffee as an art form is nothing new — take moodboards of early 2000s Pinterest girls fawning over steamed milk tulips made by baristas in beanies, for example. Over the last decade, however, the rise of short-form videos has changed our appreciation of coffee consumption, and TikTok has taken a more active role in the production of coffee. Nevertheless, the beverage’s role as an accessory to trending aesthetics has persisted.

We’re all familiar with the frothy delights of latte art. This movement correlates with the idealized desire to discover quaint coffee shops to read in, and all the while positioning oneself for the perfect meet-cute. This post-Y2K era did its best to provide glimpses of an aspirational aesthetic that centers around the consumption of coffee, but it only allows consumers to imagine their place in it.

It was during this time that seasonal drinks also became popular, like Starbucks’s Red Cup of the year — a holiday promotion where new designs for reusable cups are released each year — for example. People began collecting plastic coffee containers like Pokémon, and coffee was no longer just for thinking about or drinking: It was for owning. Simply curating Pinterest pins of slow-living moodboards was not enough — the internet developed an obsession with taking an active part in coffee culture.

Short-form videos provide consumers with an entirely different way to appreciate coffee. Instead of focusing on pictures of cappuccinos in a French-style café, we are able to see its creation. With the rise of 15-second video clips, it became more trendy to see how something was made, allowing consumers to feel like they are a part of the creative process.

Boasting videos of how coffee was made, TikTok helped make coffee popular. With its oversaturation on social media, the art of coffee transformed and people realized they could appreciate the process from coffee bean to first sip — compared to simply snapping a picture and posting it with a filter.

ASMR accounts that began to create videos where sphere-shaped ice is poured into glass bottles and frothed matcha is mixed with electric blenders. The appreciation of coffee was no longer just for its artistic patterns of milk foam on its surface — the internet wanted something more practical. They wanted to know when, where, and how their lattes were made.

With these growing internet trends, it seems natural that businesses evolved to take advantage of their consumers’ obsession with blended beverages. Old and new competitors alike, from Starbucks to Blank Street in Harvard Square, moved to achieve the very look TikTok videos sold us. Lavender liquids were mixed with crunchy ice, and with that an entirely new palette of colors began to be applied to coffee and tea art, allowing consumers to witness firsthand the innovative coffee that was poured online. Even so, amid all this change, caffeine remained an accessory to a larger consumer-based lifestyle.

The Starbucks coffee being sold nowadays may look different than it did a couple decades ago, but it certainly is an iteration of its past self — another generation of consumer products being packaged into a few adjectives by social media trends. In addition to curated Pinterest boards selling feelings, we have TikTok accounts selling lifestyles.

The coffee we have now — a creamy colloid of light and dark brown — holds the same significance that it did in the early 2000s: something that “completes the look.” However, as consumers transitioned from image inspirations to video, our appreciation changed from dreaming about steamed milk flowers to watching videos of them being made.

How this trend will evolve as new social media forms rise and fall is a question for the coffee culture of tomorrow. Today, on the other hand, it’s unlikely that coffee’s importance as an accessory to our latest social-media inspired aesthetic will disappear anytime soon.

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