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The Coffee + Music Connection

There’s no doubt that coffee and music make for an excellent pairing.

A song you love can enhance the ritual of brewing coffee in the morning, or add to the atmosphere when you’re sitting down in your favorite café. For people who love music, it can arguably add something extra to the experience of brewing or drinking coffee.

However, beyond this, music and coffee have more in common than one might think. To learn more, I spoke to Matt Earley, former Special Projects Coordinator here at Higher Grounds. Read on to find out what he said.

May Erlewine

The relationship between coffee and music

Music and coffee have both been integral fixtures of global human culture for hundreds of years.

However, for Matt the link between a great song and a good cup of coffee goes further than that individual similarity.

“Historically, both music and coffee houses have played pivotal roles in fostering social change, developing personal and community resilience, and providing the space and inspiration to create life-enriching experiences,” he says.

“At their best, they are recognized catalysts for societal change.”

Matt also notes that both coffee and music are produced by the actions of a great number of people working together. The coffee supply chain is long and complex, often requiring dozens of actors around the world to collaborate for each delicious cup.

The same principle is true for music: it’s created through a process of continuous, collaborative effort.

Matt adds: “Even a solo musician depends on others to help develop their musical ideas into something that flourishes and takes root. 

“What’s more, without [coffee], a lot of great artists surely would have slept through recording sessions after pulling all-nighters in the studio or partying before sessions.”

 May Erlewine brewing Higher Grounds coffee

How does music alter the experience of drinking coffee?

Music can also have a distinct influence on the experience of eating and drinking. There are even studies which show that music has an impact on how and what you taste.

For example, when you’re listening to very loud music, your brain responds to the supposed sensory “overload” by dialing down your other senses as a subconscious defense mechanism. This can make your food taste more bland, for instance.

Music can also influence how you eat and drink, as well as what you taste. Research shows that noise influences the intake of both food and liquids by regulating mood states and provoking psychological responses.

For instance, when slow music is played in a restaurant, customers tend to stay longer and drink more beverages.

On a less scientific level, background music also alters the specific atmosphere of a coffee shop. It can build ambience, making for a unique and more complete experience, and help develop a coffee brand by defining their identity through music choice.

 Shine On blend and mug Higher Grounds Coffee

Partnerships: Coffee and music

In recent years, the link between music and coffee culture has only developed further. Rather than just offering background music, many coffee shops now choose to partner with local musicians and add live music to the customer experience.

Matt says that there are many benefits to doing this. For instance, coffee shops can tap into a new set of prospective customers when hosting local artists or bands.

“Crowds naturally gel together [with live music],” he tells me. “The two ‘brands’ can have a super beneficial symbiotic relationship.”

Since our beginnings at Higher Grounds, we’ve partnered with a number of different musicians whose visions align with ours.

Through these collaborations, we have been able to do more than just stimulate the experience in our café – we have also stood together to support real, lasting social change.

 Take Shine On, for instance. It’s a Peruvian-Ethiopian blend we created in collaboration with May Erlewine, one of the American Midwest's most prolific and passionate singer-songwriters. This delicious coffee has tasting notes of brown sugar, honey, and plum jam.

With every purchase of the blend, $1 is donated to Title Track, a Michigan non-profit that supports racial justice education. The blend was named after May’s song of the same name, which speaks about feeling powerless and unable to drive the change one wishes to see in the world.

Matt adds: “The message is to do the things we can do to bring about change in our communities, no matter how small a step one feels it might be.”

Another example is our collaboration with Los Angeles non-profit Jail Guitar Doors. Jail Guitar Doors’ co-founder Wayne Kramer is also a founding member of Detroit's MC5. Our aim is to support the non-profit in expanding their rehabilitative music programming throughout Michigan.

 Chris Treter and May Erlewine

What to consider when partnering with a musician

Cafés considering partnerships with local musicians should consider who they partner with very carefully.  

For example, Matt says that you wouldn’t necessarily want to associate a clean, minimalist, third wave coffee house with a “Norwegian black metal band.”

Ultimately, it’s incredibly important to think about your community, your customers, and their tastes. Think about the music itself, too – ask yourself if it matches the space and atmosphere you’re trying to create.

Matt concludes: “The chances are that the bands and artists you want to partner with are already in your orbit. The first step to partnering up is to look in your own playlist.”

Wayne Kramer

Music and coffee play a major role in the lives of millions of people around the world. However, while alone, they’re enjoyable, combining them through partnerships can drive a real, tangible impact on society – even though it’s underpinned by individual efforts from two very different industries.