Ink Spotlight


This internet thing is cool, but there is something about ink on paper that—for me at least—will never go out of style.

The internet is an endless feed, but books and magazines are finite and discrete objects, and somehow inked words set on paper put things in a spotlight that is fundamentally different from an online spotlight by virtue of the fact that you can touch it. Not better, not worse, just not the same.

The ink spotlight is different from the electron spotlight because the former is made of sliced trees and the latter is made of 1s and 0s and that just makes them feel different.

The Coffee Book Project places the daily realities of Nicaraguan coffee growing smallholders squarely in the ink spotlight of sliced trees. The Coffee Book Project is a booklet of words and images designed to pique a coffee drinker’s curiosity as to the source of coffee and the labor behind it. The booklet is a craft project and very much a book’s book, being crafted with more ink and sliced trees than most of today’s “hard copy” stuff.

Michele Aquino is the author and project designer, inspired by his Peace Corps years in Nicaragua and the voracious readers he unexpectedly found in the kids of his rural communities. The Coffee Book Project is illustrated with carved woodblock prints. The images were literally made by pressing sliced trees into ink, and then those images were printed onto pages of more thinly sliced trees.

Depulper art!!!
Depulper art!!!

The book’s treecentricity is a beautiful form-is-content construct; like the book itself and the illustrator’s medium, coffee also comes from trees. Lots of tropical wonders come from grassy plants (bananas, sugarcane) but coffee grows on trees. We spend a lot of time with our 1s and 0s, so reminders that stacked cellulose produces our morning fuel is a refreshing reconnection to the physical world.

Also in the ink spotlight are the stories of Ngöbe coffee farmers/harvesters in Panama’s Caribbean mountains. I am delighted to be a new contributor to Fresh Cup Magazine

Fresh Cup August 2014


and I love that they encouraged my article Long Laborers, Now Farmers.


Coffeepeople love to tell the stories of the growers who produce the top quality “rare gem” coffee beans. But not everyone produces rare gems, and I don’t think that makes those individuals/families/communities any less worthy of the ink spotlight.

The people in Bahia Ballena grow Robusta coffee that gets turned into instant coffee sold domestically in Panama. People in the industry would very quickly call it “low quality,” but everyone who buys the little packets of instant coffee and has spent their lives drinking it would just call it regular.

Because the ink spotlight of the printed word is finite, discrete, and increasingly more expensive (especially compared to the freeforall digital spotlight), it is more and more reserved for the “rare gems.” As ink spotlights become less common, only the best of the best make the cut to be set on that paper stage.

This week I’m excited to share two cases of sliced trees that shine the ink spotlight on people and places who are not producing million dollar anything. Sometimes people work really hard and get lucky to produce something someone deems extraordinary. Sometimes people work really hard and run up against roadblocks after roadblocks that are beyond their control, and the same amount of hard work that in the case of the first people yielded extraordinariness in the second group yields only survival.

Extraordinary is extraordinary, but survival is too. Let’s keep the ink spotlight on both.

Coffee doesn't harvest itself. Art made by hand, coffee cultivated by hand.
Coffee doesn’t harvest itself. Art made by hand, coffee cultivated by hand.

Get your hands on some ink.

Order The Coffee Book Project

Order Fresh Cup Magazine

Order When Coffee Speaks: Stories from and of Latin American Coffeepeople


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