Ok. Play along with me here: imagine yourself outside of yourself, like you’re watching yourself enjoying coffee from across the room. I mean you’re really enjoying it. Now notice your body language: what are your hands doing? What are your shoulders doing? Your eyes? Your arms?
Body language- called kinesics by some researchers- is the part of nonverbal communication that relates to body motion and posture. I think it’s important for two reasons: it communicates feeling to another, and it also can reinforce one’s own emotion and perception: stand up straight, and you seem powerful to others, and you also feel powerful. What does this have to do with coffee?
I began to think about coffee kinesics when considering cup design. Could the shape of a cup; i.e. how it encourages the coffee drinker to hold it- affect the way the coffee drinker feels about the coffee they are drinking? Clearly, feeling is important: Tracy Ging’s amazing work (if you haven’t seen it yet, watch her Symposium talk here) explores the importance of emotion to coffee consumers, particularly feelings of love for coffee, and the feeling of power coffee gives people. But more about those feelings later.
So, could cup design guide the drinker into a posture that reflects and reinforces the desired emotional reaction to coffee? And what would that posture be? I had a guess on what the ideal coffee posture was, but I wanted to check. So I did a google image search for woman holding coffee. And there it was. My imagined “loving coffee” posture was reflected in the vast majority of the photos: hands cradling the coffee, almost embracing it. It’s the pose of someone holding something precious and special. I see this pose all the time, even in the wild. I snapped this photo in a cafe in New Zealand:
I call this the “cradling pose”. Shoulders up, hands cradling the coffee, face near the surface of the coffee to feel the warmth and smell the beautiful aroma. This is the posture of coffee love. Now: if this is the way people want to cradle their coffee, shouldn’t we serve coffee in cups designed to let them? It’s obvious that bowl shapes are perfect for this. I can’t help but think of the “Bowl of Soul” served by the great shop named Java in Sun Valley, Idaho: they have special bowls hand-thrown by a local ceramicist- complete with thumb-notch- to serve this warming and delicious coffee drink.
Could it be that the cradling pose is the ideal expression of coffee-drinking kinesics? Could be, I kind of think so. The ability to cradle, hunch my shoulders, smell the coffee, embrace it and bury myself in it is part of my daily ritual, and it’s the reason I drink from a classic, rounded coffee cup or a bowl. I tend to serve coffee to people that same way when I want them to feel the coffee is precious and special, and I model the posture (without saying anything, of course), myself holding the cup with two hands, smelling it deeply. It’s probably not a coincidence that it is the classic holding coffee cherries posture, and holding coffee beans posture.
But you no doubt noticed it was woman holding coffee I googled. Turns out there is another posture, easily seen by googling “man holding coffee”. Most of these images have the following kinesic posture: one hand gripping a cup by its handle or around its throat: this is what I call the “power posture”. The coffee drinker looks as if he might be clutching a weapon of some kind: like Gandalf clutches his staff, or Princess Leia grips her blaster. This is coffee as a source of power, of dominance, and of energy. This is literally “grabbing a coffee”. The mug (with its pistol-like grip) and the to-go cup (wielded like a sword) are perfect for this posture, and seem to mean “this coffee gives me power and energy for the dragons I am about to slay later today”. I would give people coffee in this kind of cup if I were sending them away to work, giving them fuel for the day.
You’ve surely noticed a gender nuance here, which probably exists to some extent, but by no means is this effect gender-specific. Men are perfectly capable of cradling and loving coffee, and women use coffee as a power source just like anyone does. This isn’t about gender, it’s about posture. Now: do you notice that the two coffee drinking postures I describe (cradling/loving coffee and the coffee power posture) correspond to two main groups of emotions described in the SCAA Consumer study (deep love of coffee and coffee as giver of energy).
Can we use these observations to design better coffee experiences, that are more emotionally resonant and satisfying? Can we use this in our marketing?(hint: we already do) These things I ponder as I cradle my little porcelain cup.