Coffee and Art: Sue’s Gallery Cafe


Ellen Chung

The bustling sound of people chattering wafts through the crisp winter air as I walked to the cafe’s door over browned leaves crunching beneath my feet. People sip coffee in front of their fluffy sweet pastries while excitedly conversing with one another. As I walk past the people sitting outside, I catch whispers of their conversations and people’s invigorated voices recounting the events of their daily lives to each other. Stepping inside, I breathed in the warm earthy aroma of freshly brewed coffee as the busy noise of a coffee machine and utensils clanging against plates filled the room. After ordering an iced Yuzu tea, I sipped the fresh citrus blend and walked upstairs to the sunlit room to settle down to study.

Sue’s Gallery Cafe is a mom-and-pop shop that provides specialty coffee and pastries, each served with a handmade ceramic piece created by Sue. Located in Saratoga, California, the cafe and gallery are surrounded by the peaceful downtown area leading up to the pleasant view of green sloping hills. Right next door to the cafe is the beautifully serene gallery filled with Sue’s pottery and ceramic works perched on shelves at which customers can observe.

Sue and her husband JJ started this cafe out of their desire to showcase Sue’s art. “She is such a believer of the function of ceramics, we always thought about the gallery with the new concept where the patrons come and touch, hold, and use the displays instead of just using the displays,” JJ said. When he decided to settle down after being a travelling salesman for years, he looked to his coffee hobbie to start a cafe, incorporating his wife’s handmade ceramics into the customer’s experience. Sue has been a potter for life and having a place to showcase her ceramics has been a lifelong dream. Not only is the ceramics displayed, each cup of tea or coffee is served with one of Sue’s works, encouraging customers to interact with the art instead of solely viewing it.

Picking up one of their coffee cups filled with warm Aztec mocha, I noticed the thin lip of the cup and smooth lined texture of the cup’s surface. Attention to detail goes beyond the food itself to the cups in which it is served, adding a personal touch to every drink.

“We think that just a little bit of a difference in for example little delicate changes if the cups lip is facing out, facing in, the thickness; all this will impact the experience of drinking coffee or tea or anything so we take good care of all those details and I hope that our customers can see those details when they experience it,” JJ explained. At times after enjoying their food customers let JJ know they noticed and appreciated aspects of their experience such as the cup’s rim curving inward to retain temperature and he takes joy in this feedback.

Traveling from the cafe to the gallery, the ambience shifts from that of a cafe to an ever changing community area. “The space can be anything just like art is a vessel and it changes its function when you put different stuff in there, so like if you put soup in there it is a soup bowl, if you put coffee in there it is a coffee cup,” JJ said. A vessel is an object that contains whatever is placed in it and in this case the gallery is a container not only for Sue’s art, but also for community events and workshops centered around the theme of art.  

When one steps into the cafe and gallery they are met with open windows and doors that give way to brown-orange autumn leaves drifting to the ground as warm gentle sunlight streams into the gallery illuminating the space inside. A customer can walk in one day with a cup of tea to see a cardmaking workshop or perhaps a pottery workshop and as JJ said, “My patrons can come expecting this cafe is much more than just a cup of coffee, it is an experience and that experience is always changing and so you never know what you can expect.”