Burning Man 2022 changes policy about coffee sales

Whether those principles — which range from radical inclusion to immediacy — have been upheld as the event has grown is up for debate. But they’re certainly still the driving force for Burning Man’s philosophy, and this year the organizers are making a big change in order to stress the importance of “decommodification,” “gifting” and “leaving no trace.”

For years, the only things that were officially available for purchase with currency at the week-long event have been ice and coffee. Otherwise, the entire economy subsists on a gifting system. However, this year, the price of coffee has dropped to zero dollars.

Since 1995, Burning Man has had a cafe called the Center Camp Coffee Shop where attendees could congregate to buy coffee. Over the years, it grew from a lone espresso machine to an operation staffed by 1,000 volunteers. This year, the area known as Center Camp will still function as a social space, without the coffee sales.

In a post on the official Burning Man blog, associate director of operations Laura Day wrote about the decision. “Every great city should provide these spaces — and this IS that space — yet do cities provide the coffee itself?” Day wrote. “No, that’s offered by members of the community. And in our decommodified city, coffee could be an element of the prevailing gift economy. Perhaps the city’s population has grown enough to take on the caffeination of the [Burner] nation. We like to test this theory.”

The decision was partly inspired by a re-commitment to the buy nothing philosophy, but also environmental concerns, given that the cafe uses 30,000 cups and 25,000 gallons of greywater throughout the week.

Thankfully for attendees, that doesn’t mean there will not be any coffee on the playa — there’s still plenty of camps whose contribution to the gifting economy is dedicated to keeping burners caffeinated. The organization estimates that 10 percent of camps give out coffee, which by historical numbers, amounts to roughly 150 do-it-yourself cafes.

Editor’s note: This story was edited at 11:30 pm, August 31, to correct an error regarding Burning Man’s gifting economy.

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