Our dear friend Jamie Rice just wrote to me with news of her experience at Burning Man this year ”August 26 to September 2 ”where she worked as a barista at Center Camp Café, the full service coffee shop erected for the duration of Burning Man right on the Playa, located 2.5 hours miles outside of Reno, Nevada.
“I’ve just returned from almost two weeks at Burning Man, located in a dried up lake bed,” says Jamie. “Volunteering at Center Camp Café is an experience, for sure! This will be my second year and I hope to do it again for many years to come.”
Nearly 500 volunteers came together to brew coffee, clean, be runners, spread word to the citizens of Black Rock City about the awesome coffee service at Center Camp Café, as well as create original artwork and performances for the café.
At 38,000 square feet, the Café offered .65 of an acre (or 2/3 of a football field) worth of shade from the blistering sun. The structure was held up by two concentric wooden rings and secured to the earth by high-tension cable, capable of withstanding 120-mph winds and drastic temperature and weather changes.
The Café is a community driven adventure, from which a unique and colorful creation blooms every year. Members of this community travel from all over the world to the Black Rock Desert to create the Center Camp Café.
The Café is the center of the city, hence the name. The remarkable story behind its inspiration and development is as follows from the Burning Man website:
“Early in 2000, a young restauranteur presented an idea for a huge “Cafe” at Center Camp. His premise was “the larger the structure, the more coffee would be sold”, so if it was big enough it would much more than pay for itself. However, even if this formula didn’t prove out, a grand central meeting space would still be a fine community asset.
A 3/4 sphere of glued toothpicks was the model for a one to two hundred foot high dome, this to be built of timber bamboo shipped up from Mexico. The proposed structure was evaluated by our City Designer, Rod Garrett.
This design proved not entirely practical, as it would have an enormous surface area compared to the usable area within its footprint, and might roll through the city like a giant potato masher in high winds. Further, we had no expertise in building high in the air with bamboo, possibly having to import a crew from Asia. Lastly, the bamboo would simply explode into cracks and splinters in the extreme low humidity and heat of the high desert.
Rod was asked to come up with an alternative design. Without any knowledge of precedents for very large temporary structures built quite inexpensively in the middle of a vast desert having occasional hurricane force winds, this took some study.
It seemed prudent to design a structure which could be taken down, transported, stored and reassembled every year; therefore, it should be composed of durable and modular, replaceable elements. As the winds could come from any compass direction, the structure should be able to effectively disperse potentially great forces.
This resolved to the idea of a large diaphragm, a round ring pulled into compression by a membrane which distributed loading from any point. Being slightly peaked in the center, the deflected wind would tend to hold everything down. However, with the outer ring elevated for access, it could become a giant Frisbee.
Bedouin tents came to mind, developed over eons in similar conditions. So, in profile, another line was angled from the post supported outer ring down to the ground, but would remain partly open for access. This would anchor the structure in place, as well as deflect the wind upward.”
The structure as described and everything housed therein is the Center Camp Cafe. Center Camp is the entire 6:00 plaza.
Also the structure being described is Center Camp. The cafe is just one part of Center Camp.
Some clarifications. There are no guests at Burning Man only participants which are often referred to as burners. The great thing about the Cafe is that anyone can volunteer to do anything including be baristas, the goal is not and will never be to have only professional baristas. There are barista trainings every day for people interested in barista. Also most of those picture of Jamie making coffee are not from the cafe as we only use espresso machines. Being a barista at Burning Man is nothing like working at a regular coffee joint. For one thing it’s open 24/7 and the weather fucks with the machine constantly. Also the idea for the cafe was from a woman not a man.
SARAH !! This blog is great! Thank you for writing about the cafe! It’s not pretty but I’m willing to bet that it is the busiest cafe, at times, for one week only! Hopefully others will find interest and eventually Center Camp Cafe will house only professional coffee bean slingers!