I first met Anna Brones last April in Seattle. It was a gorgeous spring evening and the sweeping windows of Cherry Street Public House were wide open welcoming in a gentle breeze from Pioneer Square. Anna was speaking on an independent coffee media panel hosted by Vania Ling and I called Coffee ON:line.
Anna is a staff writer at Sprudge and a freelance food journalist who has been contributing to the coffee media space for the better part of six years. Naturally, I was thrilled when she accepted our invitation to talk and share her thoughtful and reflective voice. That night Anna wore a shirt which read, "This t-shirt was not made in a sweatshop" and earrings she had up-cycled from bike tubes. All this to say, Brones' work takes up residence in a less flashy, more mindful corner of the food and beverage media landscape and epitomizes authenticity—a theme the Coffee ON:line panel kept returning to over and over again.
Anna is a prolific writer, authoring and co-authoring books such as Fika: the Art of the Swedish Coffee Break, Paris Coffee Revolution, The Culinary Cyclist, and the outdoor cookbook called Best Served Wild, to name a few. In late 2017, Anna's most recent book Live Lagom hit the shelves, teaching readers how to live a more balanced life, the Swedish way. On top of her books and freelancing, Anna is also the founder of an independent food zine called Comestible Journal where she curates unique culinary stories from a varitey of writers. For example, "How to Dye with Onion Skins," and "Female Conservationists in the Shellfisheries of New England." The cover and many of the illustrations featured in Comestible are papercuts by Brones herself. Which brings us to the images you see throughout this post—they're all hand cut artworks by Anna. I could go on and on—her creative accomplishments are far too many to summarize.
Brones' art, writing, and everyday activism—which you will learn more about in this interview—are a continuous reminder that conscious consumption and mindfulness are not trends to follow, but rather ways of being which are inherently incapable of going in and out of style. Anna's authentic voice and career in food journalism is one that I greatly admire and I am so delighted that she took the time to answer a few questions about her role in food media while sharing some of her stunning artwork for this post (including a custom tLBCC papercut!). Without further ado, please enjoy this Q and A with Anna Brones...
tLBCC: What piqued your interest in specialty coffee and compelled you to start writing about it?
Anna Brones: I have been drinking coffee since high school, a result of being a Swedish-American born and raised in the Pacific Northwest. I lived in Portland for about a decade, and bought a lot of Stumptown and Water Avenue coffee, but not necessarily because I knew anything about specialty coffee, just because I liked their stuff. Then in 2013, I moved to Paris, and to my horror, I discovered how awful the coffee was. That lead me down a path of wanting to find better coffee, which inevitably led me to start researching and learning about specialty coffee and the burgeoning specialty scene in Paris.
tLBCC: How has the coffee media landscape changed since you began?
Anna Brones: I always joke that if I had stayed in Portland, I probably never would have had an opportunity to write about specialty coffee, because without any barista or any other experience working in specialty coffee, I didn’t have much to offer. But since I was based in Paris at the time, I got to become a correspondent for Sprudge and started covering not only specialty coffee in Paris, but on a broader level as well. I think in that time, I’ve seen the coffee media landscape shift to something that feels quite obsessive. We live in an Instagram-era, and most of the coffee content I come across feels like it’s very driven by this.
tLBCC: You wrote the books Fika: the Art of the Swedish Coffee Break and Paris Coffee Revolution. Can you share a little bit about how these books came about?
Anna Brones: My mom is from Sweden, so I grew up with the concept of fika. I guess this makes it no surprise that coffee ended up playing such a large roll in my life later on. My friend Johanna Kindvall and I pitched that book back in 2012. Around that time, the interest in Scandinavian cuisine was growing, and I thought it would be interesting to focus on this one aspect of it, and how it plays into everyday life.
Paris Coffee Revolution was more of a serendipitous project. Jeff Hargrove, who is an amazing photographer and these days the owner of Fringe Coffee Paris, had an interest in coffee and had been wanting to do a series of portraits of some of the people instrumental in pushing for a specialty coffee scene in Paris. He wanted to pair those portraits with a written narrative, so had been put in touch with me. We worked on that book right at the end of my time in Paris, and in a lot of ways it felt like a culmination of the reporting that I had been doing over those years. Nowadays, the coffee scene in Paris has changed a lot, so that book feels very much like a time-capsule of an instrumental moment.
tLBCC: Are there any articles you’ve written about coffee that you are particularly proud of? If so, why?
Anna Brones: I feel very lucky that the editors at Sprudge have let me tackle topics that dig deep into other issues that relate to the coffee world. Some of my favorites that I have worked on include compostable coffee bags, gender and coffee, and female coffee farmers. But I will say that the most meaningful piece to me is an interview that I did with Phyllis Johnson. I can’t really take credit for it, since I didn’t write the piece; instead it’s a conversation with the two of us. But that interview really impacted me in how I think about race, gender and equality and my own role as a writer.
tLBCC: You launched Comestible Journal in the spring of 2016 and you recently published the magazines’s 6th edition. Aside from having a roster of very talented contributors, the journal was recently on a shortlist by Stack for “Best Use of Illustration.” Can you tell us a little bit about what moved you to launch Comestible Journal? What kind of content you are curating? And, how does Comestible Journal differ from other magazines in the food space?
Anna Brones: I had toyed with the idea of publishing something on my own for awhile, and truth be told, I was extremely fed up with print food media. I felt like there were so many gorgeous magazines out there filled with food porn yet lacking substance. So Comestible was born. I always tell contributors that they should see Comestible as the place to pitch stories that they can’t place anywhere else. I want it to be a platform for new voices and to create a collection of stories that relate to topical issues while at the same time providing a sense of emotional nourishment. I want someone to read Comestible and come away with something new, or thinking about something differently.
tLBCC: Can you share with us a little bit about your paper cuts and what inspires your paper-cutting process?
Anna Brones: When I get asked how I started papercutting, I never have a good answer. I can’t really remember exactly when I started, but at first it was with very small, not very detailed pieces and then it grew from there. I love it as a medium, because papercutting comes with an extensive history and spans cultures. It’s very much an art of the people; the barriers to entry are quite low, as you don’t need to invest in a bunch of materials. I like the simplicity yet boldness that’s created through black and white as well.
tLBCC: You wrote a book earlier this year called Live Lagom which is due for it’s U.S. release on December 26th. Can you share a little bit about what it means to Live Lagom?
Anna Brones: Live Lagom is all about the Swedish concept of lagom, which roughly translates to “the right amount.” In other words, not too much, not too little. I really enjoyed writing this book, because it forced me to start to look at my only life, and think about ways that I could perhaps apply a bit more moderation and find balance. In Sweden, the concept of lagom applies to everything from life/work balance to food. I would say that the main takeaway is that living more lagom means living in a way that’s beneficial for the common good. It means not taking too much, not overdoing things. But it also means indulging every once in awhile, and finding appreciation for life as well.
tLBCC: You are a prolific writer and artist—managing multiple websites, journals, and have written over a half-dozen books. How do you apply the concept of Lagom to your own life?
Anna Brones: You got me! I struggle with this a lot. As a freelance creative, I always have a multitude of projects going and often I find it very difficult to find balance. It’s not something that comes easily, and it takes work every day. But I think that’s kind of the point: we live in a world today that wants us to live large and fast, doing anything that’s counter to that takes work because it means going against the social norm.
tLBCC: One of your most commonly used hashtags is #coffeeoutside. Why are you an advocate of #coffeeoutside?
I think that any cup of coffee you drink outside is going to taste better than inside. Ultimately it’s about the whole experience, not just what’s in the cup.
tLBCC: On your website you refer to yourself as a, “writer + artist + activist.” Can you share about the activist part of you? What causes are dearest to you?
Anna Brones: I think we often think of “activists” as people who are very visible or take bold actions. But I think we all have a chance to be an activist in our everyday activities, choosing to stand up for what we believe in, even on small levels. I consider myself an activist, because as a writer and an artist, I am often driven by pushing out a certain message. I would say that the most important issues for me are women’s rights and the environment, but I am also well aware that so many issues are intertwined, and we can’t tackle one without treating another. In that sense, I try to do work and tell stories that gets people to think differently.
tLBCC: Do you have any words of wisdom or advice for those that are aspiring freelance coffee or food journalists?
Anna Brones: Often, there’s not an immediate return on investment for time and energy spent on personal projects. But it’s important to remember, that the payoff for that commitment eventually will come, it just might not be a monetary payoff. I truly believe in investing time and energy into projects that are important to you.
tLBCC: What would you like to see more of in coffee media?
Anna Brones: I think coffee is a great lens for looking at some of the most pressing issues of our time, like climate change, sustainability, women’s rights, etc. I would love to see more of those stories.
tLBCC: Are you working on anything else that we should know about?
Anna Brones: Another side project of mine is the Food and Fibers Project, a multimedia project I am working on with my two friends Amy DuFault and Jenny Nichols about the intersection of food and fashion, and challenging people to think about not only what they eat, but also what they wear.
tLBCC: Where are we most likely to find you when you’re not writing about food and coffee?
Anna Brones: On my bicycle!