You can find some amazing calligraphy inks at specialty stores, but one of my favorite “inks” is available at the supermarket: coffee. You can use coffee to write calligraphy that features a warm, antique-like hue. Today, I’ll explain how to achieve the perfect coffee:water ratio, provide tips for successful “coffee calligraphy”, and show you how to protect your work from the elements.
How to Make Coffee to Use as Ink
If you plan to use coffee to write calligraphy, I highly recommend using instant coffee or espresso. Heat a small quantity of water (about 1/4 cup), then dissolve at least 4 teaspoons of coffee in the hot water. Stir, then use your dip pen to write with the coffee on a piece of paper. If you’re satisfied with the opacity of your strokes, great! If not, stir more instant coffee into the “ink”, then continue to test until you like the ink’s appearance.
As a side note, I’ve tried brewing coffee for calligraphy in both a French press and a conventional coffee maker. If you use those brewing techniques, it’s very difficult to get a brew that’s strong and almost sludge-like, which is what you’re going for. Instant coffee makes it easy!
How to Use Coffee to Write Calligraphy
You can use coffee just like any other ink! Simply dip your nib in the coffee, then write your calligraphy. That’s it. Remember, however, that coffee is more of a stain than an ink. Since it’s so watery, you’ll want to test it out on a scrap piece of paper before you take on a project with it! High-quality papers with tightly-woven fibers can handle coffee calligraphy. Cheaper papers probably won’t do very well with it.
If you find that your coffee is too watery, you can always stir in some gum arabic. In my experience, sharp-tipped nibs, like the Nikko G and the Brause EF66, write the best with coffee. Nibs that are slightly broader at the tip (like the Brause Rose) don’t do so well with it. Coffee upstrokes created with those types of nibs tend to look clumsy!
How to Protect Your Work
Unsurprisingly, coffee isn’t a permanent ink. If it gets wet, it becomes nearly illegible.
If I use coffee to write calligraphy on envelopes, in particular, I always waterproof the paper. Normally, I don’t worry about applying a fixative, but one little raindrop can challenge the legibility of an address written with coffee, so I always apply Microglaze to protect my work!
I appreciate coffee as a calligraphy ink because it has a soft, vintage look. Walnut ink is normally my go-to ink when I want to achieve an antique effect, but I’d say that coffee looks a bit more aged than walnut ink does!
While I think that coffee is fun to play around with as ink, I wouldn’t use it for a formal project like wedding envelopes. I suppose you could, but you’d have to apply Microglaze to every single envelope, which would take a long time!
Finally, remember that this “ink’s” high water content means that it won’t give you super smooth lines on many papers. I noticed that some of my strokes feathered on the envelope art I created, which is fine because it adds to the overall vintage effect. If the slight feathering bothers you, though, be sure to write on watercolor paper or use gum arabic to thicken up your coffee concoction!
I hope that this simple tutorial encourages you to try writing with coffee — and other things, too! After all, if a liquid is highly pigmented, you can probably use it to write calligraphy. Bottoms up, and thanks so much for reading!