Taking his belief that "coffee inspires creativity" to a literal level, Ben Blake documents his coffee journey in a series of doodles and sketches on filters, sharing his clever graphic narratives with a growing number of fans on his site, Draw Coffee. He considers all requests for java-related images, and his drawings span visual narratives about coffee companies, events, brewing methods and more. Blake even gamely incorporated CH dog-duo Otis and Logan into a recent set of filters.
Coffee drinkers are joined by the industry in taking notice of Blake’s art, with recent collaborations including a shell for a ZPM Espresso machine, and a line of mugs and apparel for Kuma Coffee in Seattle.
We asked Blake—who by day works in development for a liberal arts university—to share his thoughts about making, drawing and drinking joe.
When did you start drawing? Do you remember the moment when you realized that you love to draw?
I've been drawing ever since my Mom and Grandma told me to use my imagination. I started drawing famous cartoon characters from books such as Where's Waldo, Dr. Seuss, and Calvin and Hobbes—over the years, drawing has really followed me. I remember all throughout high school and college using drawing as a way to pay attention in class. I don't know that there is any particular moment where I realized I loved drawing—I think at some point I realized that I could sit down and draw for hours, wake up the next day, and still have an urge to put something on paper. There aren't many things that drive me like drawing does.
What was your first coffee-related doodle? Why did you draw it?
At some point in college, I started to love coffee—not because it helped me stay awake, but because I recognized there was something special about it. As I started to learn more about coffee, I started to think about it a lot more. That's when it started making its way into my doodles. I don't always do coffee-themed doodles, but nearly 100% of the time, a coffee cup makes its way into the doodle somewhere. It's kind of my not-so-sneaky tribute to coffee.
Why did you decide to draw so many of your sketches and doodles on coffee filters?
I think it was a natural extension of what I wanted to do with Draw Coffee. I wanted to present something unique that wasn't being done— actually, the more I think about it, its kind of a stereotypical and cheesy thing for me to have done. I think the Hario filters have a nice, symmetrical shape, and the borders give the drawing some sort of finality.
When did you start Draw Coffee? What was your inspiration for starting the site?
Back in November, I discovered the website Dear Coffee, I Love You. I think the thing that brought me there was the "Coffee Lover Gift Guide" post—it made me realize how many coffee gadgets I wanted. After browsing the site a bit, I was inspired to learn even more about coffee. Two things happened right after that—first, I won a high-quality grinder from Baratza, which helped kickstart my journey to learn about coffee and how to make wonderful coffee at home. Second, La Marzocco USA started a Facebook challenge where they asked fans to post a picture of their brew method and brewing recipe each day. I participated, but I started to realize that my pictures looked the same as everyone else's pictures. I didn't like that, so I started to doodle mine instead. I wanted to keep track and share what I was learning, so I decided to start a year-long project where I would learn as much about coffee as I could, and doodle about it.
Why do you like coffee and the coffee community so much?
I have experienced a community full of passionate and creative individuals who love coffee. I've been welcomed with open arms by so many people—the drawing thing helped, obviously, but people are so willing to teach and share about coffee. It's exciting, and I think it's contagious.
One thing that seems to set the coffee industry apart from other industries is its collaborative nature. I think most wise, knowledgeable people in the specialty coffee industry recognize that there is no current definition of "best". That's important, I think, because rather than investing time into battering the competition and living on an island, folks are investing time in bettering the industry—working together on maintaining best and sustainable practices.
Where is the next coffee place you will be visiting?
Well, I'm fresh off trips to Portland, Seattle, and Chicago, but my cousin and I have a coffee-touring trip planned for either Chicago or New York in the near future. Beyond that, I know I'll be in Kansas City, up and down the East Coast, and possibly down to Atlanta to see Jason Dominy of Batdorf & Bronson before my wife and I move to Bologna, Italy.
After all of this focus on the coffee world, have your coffee-making skills improved?
The more I learn about coffee, the better the coffee I make at home tastes, and the more I realize how complex and intricate coffee can be. What used to be a dull, bitter, muddy liquid has now become this bright, sweet, fruity, and complex drink that I look forward to hand-brewing a few times a day. It's pretty common for people—mostly me— to describe coffee as "the nectar of the gods".
What's next for Draw Coffee?
I think as long as I keep learning and experiencing new things related to coffee, I'm going to keep drawing on my filters, but I've been also been doing a lot of projects with roasters, companies, and other websites. Through those commissioned projects, I've started to weigh taking design classes to learn typography, graphic design, etc. I would love to continue evolving my drawing styles, and hopefully expand them into other industries and ride that into even more collaborations. It's been a fun ride the last six months, and I'm trying to let this grow organically to see where it takes me. Hopefully people will continue to find value or inspiration in my doodles, and hopefully they'll want to learn more about coffee, too.