Revealed: Coffee-free ‘social art’

Written by By Jeffrey T. White, CNN

Starbucks has a signature Roastery in Milan, its all-star employee-program drives sales at its 600+ global locations, and its ultra-premium Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room in Seattle — a new space that opened last year — makes upscale drip coffee an acquired taste.

So it might surprise you to learn that Starbucks-wannabe Delia Almqvist has taken things a step further: getting a lot of people to like coffee that isn’t coffee.

Coffee Zero , Almqvist’s Berlin-based coffee-via-social-media project, doesn’t offer coffee. No traditional beans, no grounds; it just pictures coffee without any coffee whatsoever. Almqvist unveiled her photo-heavy venture last week, after winning Startup Weekend Berlin.

Dressed in flannel pajamas and geeky specs, Almqvist describes herself as an “art enthusiast,” adding that Coffee Zero is essentially the opposite of brewing coffee — an art project.

Reacting to an itch to express more creativity in her work, she noticed a gap in the market for “real coffee,” because today’s typical coffee is either too sweet, or too bitter, or both.

Taking a risk

Don’t get her wrong. She loves the taste of coffee, she said — but she also wants to tap into her passion for photography to give this sip a face and a voice. So she asked her Instagram followers to submit photos of coffee, “with hearts as the text and a tapestry effect as the color.”

She decided to take some risks, and by pulling in submissions from across the globe and introducing a selection of recipes with their captions, she hoped to find two to three images that would resonate best. Her own editing skills, she explained, made it look like a coffee-free espresso.

With over 70 photos submitted from 43 different countries — the photos alone have received over 5,000 likes and 10,000 comments — she’s relishing the social experiment. Her photos have been featured at CafenoSpace, a Berlin art installation.

She is now working with another photo lab in Stuttgart to make still photos — but Almqvist recognizes that there’s a long way to go to create and circulate coffee-free coffee that’s as delicious as traditional coffee.

Starbucks hopes to sell only coffee-free coffee at one of its 700+ locations worldwide. For now, but fans of the “original” Starbucks Coffee in Seattle can choose between classic espresso and drip coffee.

Delia Almqvist designs a “Flickr In Share” coffee tablet for an upcoming project. Credit: Courtesy Delia Almqvist

And if consumers start to tire of a coffee-free brew?

“The coffee business is a real artist’s medium, and I think coffee Zero will be successful,” Almqvist said.

“Just like the paintings artists made after the invention of photography, coffee Zero will be a starting point for a new type of coffee art, with stories written by consumers with their favorite coffee. I think coffee Zero has the potential to grow to become a cultural phenomenon — because it’s like the best of both worlds. It’s Instagram inspired coffee, but it doesn’t have to taste like a gallery painting.”

Coffee Zero: The cafe

So will coffee Zero make an impact? The startup has had a hit in Germany, where Almqvist won the Startup Weekend competition.

But the Berlin gallery is just one part of its plan, she said. Coffee Zero is attempting to show customers other parts of the product that people might not have known about. And its plans for expanding to other coffee markets includes an experiential coffee-free cafe in December in Paris.

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