Coffee & Design: Sam Miller

The interior of a food business shows the back of several patrons eating at a takeout window.

We talk to Cafe Imports’ Sam Miller about his photography work with the company—and much more.


Photos courtesy of Sam Miller

Though he’s known for his stunning visual work with Cafe Imports, Sam Miller (he/him) is so much more than a photographer: He’s also a designer, outdoor enthusiast, and musician dedicated to capturing the beauty around him in any way he can. In this installment of “Coffee & Design,” we’re learning more about Sam, his journey through the coffee world, and his sources of creative inspiration.

Emily: Hey, Sam! Could you share with us a little bit about yourself? Where are you located, and how did you get started in photography?

Sam: My mom is a great photographer. Black and white, portrait, stills, just top-notch stuff. I remember the first time I really got into taking pictures. … We went on a “family vacation” to Costa Rica, which was really just a sourcing trip for my father, who was a green-coffee buyer at the time. I got three rolls of film and a photo book to fill, and I documented the hell out of that trip! “These are coffee trees, this is where they process the coffee, this is where they dry it” … the whole (thing). After that, I was hooked. For me, photography has always been about telling a long story by capturing a single moment, and I try to keep it that way—simple, intense, raw, and honest. I’ve had the privilege of traveling to so many beautiful places because of my job, and still find much joy shooting around my stomping grounds of Duluth, Minnesota.

A closeup of orange coffee cherries on a branch waiting to be picked.
“I have found that when I embrace the moments that are too good to try to capture, and respect them for that, it has helped me to become a better photographer all around.”

Do you dabble in any art forms/creative outlets other than photography? 

Do I ever. I have gone through many creative phases, and I assume most multi-creatives do! I have drawn tattoos for people, made music videos, graphic design, built furniture, made wooden bowls and pipes. My favorite art form is music—I have been writing songs for almost 10 years now. Currently, I’ve been playing solo shows around town and working on a new album of songs I have written all in the past few months.

How did your journey photographing for the coffee world get started? Are you, yourself, a big coffee enthusiast or drinker?

After I dropped out of college and moved to Oregon to live in my van (I know, classic … ), I really started leaning into photography. I was essentially camping, and spending so much time outside with my face in the sun and feet in the dirt—these things inspire me to want to capture moments and hold onto them with a good photo. I ended up applying for an open position with Cafe Imports and joined their marketing department. I was tasked with traveling to different coffee-producing countries to collect information, understanding, and photos to better support telling the stories of the beautiful people behind the coffees that Cafe Imports sources.  

What sorts of things inspire you in your photography and art? And when you’re going through a “creative rut,” how do you get inspiration?

Whenever I am going through a creative rut, I chop wood. Creativity flows, it needs to move through us. It comes from a place that is not ours, graces us with an opportunity to connect with it, and if we don’t, or can’t—it leaves, to find someone else that is ready for it. I need physical movement and fluidity to be able to embrace creative flow. When I’m stuck and stagnant, I make myself move. I have found that picking up the axe and splitting wood is a healing, almost meditative practice for me, and when I’m done, I can feel the creative energy start to move about freely again.

Three pots sitting on a woodfire stove.
“For me, photography has always been about telling a long story by capturing a single moment.”

Do you have any advice for young photographers who want to turn their passion into a career?

Keep shooting! To me, photography is not an art, or a skill, or a talent—it is a practice. When you’re in it, and tapped in, you can feel the moments worth capturing, and more importantly, the ones worth letting be and just experiencing for yourself. I have found that when I embrace the moments that are too good to try to capture, and respect them for that, it has helped me to become a better photographer all around. That’s the beauty of photography, it gets you out there and helps you find yourself in the perfect place, at the perfect time to fully embrace some of the most beautiful moments in life, and whether or not you take that picture, you’ve already captured that moment for yourself.

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Based in Los Angeles, Emily Joy Meneses (she/her) is a writer and musician passionate about culture and collective care. You can regularly find her at Echo Park Lake, drinking a cortado and journaling about astrology, art, Animal Crossing, and her dreams. Explore her poetry, short stories, and soundscapes on her website.

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