I love the thought of trying new ideas or finding ways to switch things up. It seems to help if I’m in a creative slump too.

This activity isn’t a new concept, but it certainly was fun and easy to handle.

I decided to “watercolour” with coffee and tea. It’s an easy and cheap experiment that anyone could do, even you! 

Don’t Lose the Hot Cup

Don’t sip the beverage paints once you start but feel free to drink them until the brushes come out in play.

For starters, I kept my separate drinking cup out of sight while working because I habitually set down my hot coffee next to my “paints” and almost contaminated my drink.

It helps to choose a drinking cup that looks distinctly different from the painting cups. I happened to fill 2 of my three paint cups from a mug set of 4, so I had to pick a completely different beverage cup. 

Just because we aren’t using traditional pigments in this piece, that doesn’t mean the brushes or rinse bucket are exempt from toxins.

Brew the Perfect Paint

Most people have coffee or tea in their kitchens and I used half a cup of coffee I already had leftover from my nightly pot. It was a dark roast, black coffee. If there isn’t a coffee maker for regular coffee grounds, instant coffee will work too. As long as it’s a dark coffee, it’ll be fine.

For my teas, I steeped bags of chai and passion herbal tea. The chai yielded a pale yellow, and the passion was deep pink.

I didn’t even use my kettle. I just ran about 6 ounces of lukewarm water over the bags. I thought the stains would be darker when I tested them because they looked dark enough.

 I suggest using less water that is hot for a more concentrated solution. I left the bags to steep for well over the average time, about an hour.

If the colours are denser than you desire, dilute them on a palette like traditional watercolours.

Remember: these beverages aren’t for drinking, so don’t add milk, cream, honey, sugar, etc., or they won’t work for painting!

Swatch the Drinks

Once the “drinks” are prepped, or the tea is steeping: start sketching! My reference picture-to-page ratio was off, so I taped off borders.

The borders came in handy later when I was laying down swatches to test my saturations.

As I mentioned, my teas and coffee weren’t as strong as I anticipated, so I swatched a few different samples to push the layers darker. I’m glad I did because my passion tea pink dried purple/blue.

The colour change altered my plans for where to use that tea. I also mixed the colours and diluted them on my palette for more options. 

Dunk the Brush in the Drinks on Purpose 

After knowing what my beverages would produce, I wanted to pick a reference picture with similar tones.

I could have used a more vibrant image but thought I’d lose the atmosphere with my paler colours. Ultimately, I choose the photo best to capture my vision.

I started with single washes in strategic areas. I used the coffee for darker sites; I used chai and my middle hue and passion tea for the light.

They were so transparent that I used the same drinks again over the same patches. There was an option to leave the piece pale and not push the colours so much.

However, part of my own painting experience is to challenge my eye and replicate the exact colours in my subject, even if that includes many layers.

Mixing Smells

To mix hues, I found it was easier to wash directly over specific locations with another stain rather than mix on the palette. That could be from the natural paleness or from pushing darkness via multiple layers.

Again, a paler study might also be the solution. Letting everything dry first before laying down those layers helps control the paint lifting and unwanted mixing. A little wet-on-wet can vary things up, too, though.

The colours were so alike that I muddied up spots and lost definition when I didn’t wait. Keep in mind that while building up layers, it is best to leave some areas pale. It’s always easier to add paint rather than attempt to subtract by lifting it off or scrubbing the paper.

Continue introducing colours to solidify shades, gradations, shapes, definitions, relationships, and smells. Adding paint had the bonus of activating another tea or coffee smell. Fun for the eyes and nose! It is a different type of exercise, so experiment with what works and what doesn’t.

I am glad that I made swatches, and I referred to them often. I also suggest you take pictures to document the changes before, during, and after drying so you can refer to them later. 

Ink Over Coffee

I chose to ink the piece to outline my structure as I first sketched it in pencil.

If I had started with a waterproof pen, then I could have skipped this step. However, I wasn’t sure then if I wanted hard pen lines. (We recommend our hot press sketchbooks for mixing media.)

As it turns out, after all those washes, I needed them. The coffee wouldn’t darken or be as sharp as the ink, so I used my pens to shade in the dark areas for contrast, details and angles. I did use it sparingly so as not to cover or overwhelm the pale comparison.

Lastly, I used white ink for added definition.

Keep the Fade-Prone Stains Fresh

Pull off the tape, erase the extra pencil lines, and spray down with varnish to seal it. Wash out the cups to lessen the chances of cross-contamination from actual paint.

Have you painted with coffee or tea? Or perhaps another kind of drinkable “paint?” Tell us how it went!

Elly Jauquet is a student artist currently living in Illinois. She started watercolour in 2017 but has been drawing since she was young. When she is not painting, you can find her wearing colourful clothes, listening to podcasts, or watching true crime documentaries.


  • Beth James said:

    Thank you!
    It sounds like fun!

    August 31, 2021

  • Sue tasker said:

    Super article! I’m in a slump and need to try something different! Thanks!

    August 31, 2021

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