We toss this word around like pizza dough in a college town, but what does "artisan" really mean?
What is it? Oxford Dictionary defines 'artisan' as: "A worker in a skilled trade, especially one that involves making things by hand" or (as it relates to food and beverage) "made in a traditional or non-mechanized way using high-quality ingredients."
Both definitions apply when using the term in relation to the specialty beverage industry, as it carries the idea of artisanship - both in those crafting the drinks and in the drinks themselves. The School of Artisan Food explains:
"'Artisan' is a term used to describe food (or beverages) produced by non-industrialised methods, often handed down through generations but now in danger of being lost. Tastes and processes, such as fermentation, are allowed to develop slowly and naturally, rather than curtailed for mass-production."
Accurate synonyms / related terms - craft, hand crafted, master, artful, skill, small batch.
The word itself stems from the Latin term meaning "to instruct in the arts," and traditionally carried the meaning of small-batch, quality focused, hand made values in the languages it was adapted into. As USA Today points out, the recent unscrupulousness with which it has been slapped on everything from frozen egg sandwiches to the latest paper-wrapped indigestion from fast food companies is understandable -large corporations are in a new playing field, marketing to the generation that wants quality, transparency, ethics and artistry in their coffee and their cocktails.
The Hartman Group hits the nail on the head: "The authentic meaning and application of artisan alludes to a simpler time when people took pride in their craft: It’s about special and unique. Today, the draw for real artisan products is born out of a movement deriding overly processed, mass-produced foods linked to big corporations. Manufacturers, attempting to ride the wave of this movement by stamping artisan on their products, are hoping it will suggest that what’s inside is higher quality—even premium."
Goodfoodworld.com shares The Hartman Group's simple Q&A for determining if the thing you're about to eat/drink is actually "artisan."
As it relates to beer, the term "craft" is a helpful synonym. CraftBeer.com explains that to qualify as an "American craft brewer," you must be small, independent and traditional. In the world of spirits, an artisan cocktail should be made with quality ingredients, locally sourced when possible, and created with skill, artistry and reproducible excellence. 'Artisan' doesn't necessarily mean purist - this S'mores Gibralter from Onyx Coffee Lab could be considered an artisan option to the floodgates of pumpkin spice lattes we'll all soon be wading through. Why? They've taken quality, hand-made, small batch ingredients and crafted them into something artful, thoughtful and delightful.
Need a good laugh alongside your hand crafted beverage? The That Is Not Artisan blog's gotcha covered. Thoughts on what the word "artisan" means to you? Chime in below!
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