Even Clichés Can Be Works of Art

Mocha Art by Jann Alexander © 2011
Mocha Art by Jann Alexander © 2011

It was a typical order for a barista: “a mocha cappuccino, please, for here.”

I like to be served on china, fine or not.

He nodded, asked my name. Said he’d call me when it was ready, then went to work, hidden and forgotten behind a chrome maze of machinery and pressurized steam sounds. I wandered toward a table near the window. Elsewhere around me, small tipsy tables held a few solo occupants, absorbed by their screens. The low buzz of engaged conversation came from women seated in a pair of shabby overstuffed chairs in a far corner.

None of them paid a bit of attention to me as I took out my camera, and studied the area for a photograph. There wasn’t one.

And then there was. When my name was called, I walked back to the bar to collect my cappuccino. Except it wasn’t my cappuccino. It was a bona-fide work of art, disguised in a humble wholesale-grade white china cup and saucer. Mocha art.

My surprise at its design perfection became astonishment became effusiveness. I heaped praise upon the barista. His name was Ryan. I studied him for any obvious signs of artistic genius. He said he was not an art student. He modestly said he created these frothy chocolate-syrup gems only occasionally, when it was slow.

Slow was how I drank it. At first, I didn’t drink it at all. I set my unexpected treat on a window table that had some natural light, and began photographing it. From every vantage point, in many ways. Eventually I worried it was getting cold. So I sipped at it, shot the results, sipped some more, kept shooting, finished sipping it slowly as I reviewed my photos. Took a few last shots when I’d nearly drained the cup.

Ryan watched me, from his cash register perch on his slow day. I got his email address so I could send him some photographs. He was nonchalant, as though anyone could make a cappuccino into art that disappears with a satisfying slurp. Maybe anyone can.

Maybe it’s even a cliché to make mocha art. But even if it is clichéd, that didn’t make it any less artful—to me, anyway, on that day. As Michelle W. said, writing on Works of Art, “Art is everywhere: in nature, in architecture, in literature, and more. It’s anywhere we see beauty and meaning.”

It was beautiful, and it had meaning—to me. An ordinary visit to a coffee shop became a photography adventure, and years later, still a meaningful memory. Thanks, Ryan. Ever think about taking up art? 

BUY A PRINT of Mocha Madness. And see more photographs focused on pattern and light here:  Lightscapes.

Do you ever see art in the commonplace?

13 thoughts on “Even Clichés Can Be Works of Art

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  1. Fantastic work of art! I’ve had a couple of beautifully artistic baristas in the past, but nothing quite this intricate! It is so true that art is everywhere, it’s just a matter of us seeing it.


  2. When I was at university I worked at a bistro as a barman/barista and when I was being given the whole customer service thing at the start, I was told that we should make every coffee special be it with art of the way we served it. Ryan seems to be a talented fellow, I wonder what he does when he is not perched at his cash register.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Fantastic memories of something that usually is so commonplace and hurried that we barely have time to notice of question or wonder. What lovely images your story conjured for me – and great image – I had to look at it several times before realizing that it wasn’t – a cheesecake! Totally awesome talent there – and it sounds like maybe he was flirting with you a tad? 😉

    Liked by 1 person

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