A Java Journal to Ease the Daily Grind : Coffee Journal is for those who thirst for more than the next cup of joe. “We’re going for more of an upscale, little older . . . professional coffee culture,” says editor Susan Bonne.
You’ve seen the target audience, and maybe in the mirror. Early morning glazed eyes, mumbling their early morning mantras:
It’s not a drug, I can stop any time.
It’s not an addiction, it’s a lifestyle.
While not just for members only, Coffee Journal certainly makes those in the know know that they are members of a very elite club.
This Minneapolis magazine, which made its debut last summer, is an elegant quarterly that has attempted to capture the imagination of the gourmet caffeine generation. This is not simply a how to A) pick the best coffee grinder, or B) decalcify your espresso machine. It’s an exploration of the full range of accouterments of the lifestyle--from book and music reviews to short stories and travel features.
“There is kind of a young, grunge coffeehouse culture,” says editor Susan Bonne, carefully differentiating between slacker coffeehouse habitues and the typical Coffee Journal reader.
“Ours are the readers who grab Starbucks on the way to work, who are in their 30s.
“I think it is part of the whole trend to treat ourselves in small ways. The excess of the ‘80s has worn out,” she explains. “ ‘I’m not going to buy a sports car but I will have a good cup of coffee each day.’ We’re going for more of an upscale, little older, working professional coffee culture. We are addressing people who own homes or are on their way to that. Who read for pleasure, enjoy traveling or things like that.”
The magazine aims to be fairly eclectic in its offerings, to set itself apart from existing trade coffee magazines. It aspires to be something, like a biscotti or a thin wafer of dark chocolate, to be enjoyed with a damn good cup of joe--whether you’re brewing it at home or scamming at the corner cafe.
Daringly capitalizing on a trend just now coming to a boil, the journal has set out to integrate tea drinkers into the fold. A risky notion, since strict tea drinkers, oftentimes repulsed at the notion, quite seldom crossover.
“Tea drinkers are more of a solid core group, while coffee drinkers are interested in expanding their repertoire,” Bonne says. “They are no longer 20-year-old college students who used to drink it ‘round the clock.”
Tea culture is just part of the ambitious exploration the magazine makes. As well as poetry, fiction and travelogues that hop across the globe to such coffee meccas as Kenya, or take a whimsical slalom through ski country’s coffees.
“We,” Bonne says, “like to be the Zeitgeist. “
Coffee Journal joins the stands along with other ‘90s ultra-specialized mags catering to anyone from chiliheads (chili pepper enthusiasts) to micro-microbrewery buffs.
And by keeping the focus broad and the caliber of writing high (contributors have included fiction writer Ron Carlson and New York Times food and restaurant columnist Florence Fabricant), the creators hope the magazine has a long shelf, and coffee table, life.
In the months prior to publication, says Bonne (who herself is a two-cups-a-day person, with a latte thrown in now and then for good measure), much of it was relying on instinct.
“All we knew was that people were drinking a lot of coffee and there wasn’t anything out there speaking to that.”
With a circulation of 125,000 in the United States, Canada and other foreign posts, and very little p.r., Coffee Journal has caught on mostly by word-of-mouth, largely because outside of trade magazines like Coffee and Tea or Coffeetalk, there really isn’t anything for the consumer who wants to learn about just what makes that little cup of morning happiness so special.
Publisher R. Craig Bednar places the most credit for interest in his magazine on the booming gourmet coffee market.
“I think it’s reflective of the times. You can see how successful Starbucks is and you look at the numbers--one-third of all coffee consumed in this country is gourmet coffee and it continues to grow dramatically. It’s popular and people want to know about it.”
Coffeehouse culture also plays a huge part in the creating and cultivating of a lifestyle.
“Yuppies are entertaining at home more often, getting away from alcohol and bars,” Bednar says. That picks up on a variety of trends that highlight home and hearth activities, from gourmet cooking to fine wines to gardening. His magazine offers a sampling of activities for weekend putterers that range from biscotti and pie recipes to reviews of the best ambient music to occupy your weekend newspaper-clipping activities.
In the same way, coffeehouses, many of which are done up with old wing-chairs and musty, busted-spring couches to approximate someone’s great-aunt’s cluttered living room, have been a way to cultivate a home away from home feeling.
“They provide a sense of community lost through time by the bar scene. When you go there it’s a nice non-threatening environment. It’s clean living. It’s enjoyable to sit there.”
As well as a fine place for an issue of Coffee Journal to rest.
“Yeah,” Bednar says. “A lot of coffeehouses carry us, but it isn’t like we have blanketed the market.”
Most major bookstore chains and many supermarket chains carry the mag in their culinary sections.
But does coffee have the same staying power as, say, wine or cigars? Or could this crazed coffee-sipping trend be just a blip?
Says Bednar: “I look at it and go: Hey, could it be like when ice cream was the craze and you had thousands of brands with all these weird names, but I think it’s really a lot different with coffee . . . coffee is community-based, where the other trends are sort of solo. As well, look at the large, large investments in coffeehouses where there is truly an interest and growth. I think there is a lot left before all that is over with.”
Adds Bonne: “Like with anything it’s going to peak, then there will be a shakeout. But coffee is firmly entrenched in our culture, always has been. And look at the Europeans. Once you get used to a certain level of some things, there’s really no turning back.”