Coffee as cultural bonding

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Today at the Weisman Art Museum, the WAM Collective had the pleasure of partnering with Small World Coffee Hour (SWCH), a student organization that has been around for 20+ years serving up hot coffee as a way to bring together international and domestic students from around the world. For the Weisman edition of SWCH we set our sites on Pan-America, the geographic region featured in our current exhibition Pan-American Modernism on view at the Weisman through January 1st. Together members of WAM Collective and SWCH, along with dozens of other students, bonded over coffee, Ecuadorian food, and new cultural experiences.

As a college students, coffee plays a pretty big part in our day to day lives. We are inundated with Starbucks, Caribou, or Dunn Brother’s on every corner, in addition to the array of local roasteries and coffee shops in the Twin Cities. If you’re like me, you drink a hot cup o’ joe before you even leave the house.

In the United States, coffee has become both a commercial phenomenon and a cultural icon. I grew up stealing sips out of my parents coffee cups and warming my hands on their steaming cups before I was old enough to acquire a taste for it. Coffee is associated with family, ask anyone who has ever watched Gilmore Girls.

The best thing about coffee isn’t the taste, or the smell, or even the caffeine- it’s the drink’s universality. No matter who you are or where you’re from, coffee is a way to come together. Originating in tropical Africa, coffee is one of the most valuable commodities in equatorial countries such as Brazil, Indonesia, and Vietnam. It’s exported globally with massive popularity- in North America and Europe, coffee consumption is about equal to a third of tap water. Unfortunately, the industry puts a massive strain on growers and gatherers, who are often paid very little and operate under unethical working conditions. Because of this, the coffee-loving community is coming together to make change toward better conditions through fair trade organizations.

Once the coffee beans reach their destinations, they are made into several different kinds of drinks depending on where they are headed. Coffee is both necessity and tradition, not only here in the United States but all around the world. Many cultures have distinct serving rituals and favorite flavors, like in Kenya where men drink bitter coffee brewed in brass kettles. In some cultures coffee has a folkloric association, such as in Turkey, where drinkers can tell their fortunes in the leftover coffee grounds. Some countries prefer iced coffee, such as in Thailand and Japan, and others love espresso, like Italy and France. In the United States, flavored lattes and blended drinks are the most popular!

No matter what your taste in coffee is, spend some time at a café, or at the next Small World Coffee Hour, with your friends (or your laptop) and know that thousands of others around the world are doing the same.


Lauren Gengler is a second year from Wisconsin working on majors in Art and Journalism. She currently works at the WAM as a gallery guard. She spends most of her free time dancing around the kitchen, cooking noodles, eating entire avocados, and listening to the Hamilton soundtrack on repeat.

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