And her skin's the color mocha
She will wear you out
Livin' la vida loca"
It is common for characters in fiction to be described as having a skin color that looks like some kind of food or drink. For black or other non-white characters, this is usually some kind of coffee beverage, and can be especially likely if the character in question is of mixed race; attractiveness is also a factor, and sometimes those two concepts will be mixed together.
When describing the skin of a black person, simply calling them "black" or "brown" can sound underwhelming (or even insensitive, depending on the context). The colors of "black" or "brown" skin vary even more widely than the colors of "white" skin: Common comparisons include "honey" or "caramel" for the range of golden-browns, with the use of "chocolate" or "mocha" for darker shades. "White" skin is most often compared to "cream" or "milk," with "peaches and cream" being a fairly common term to refer to fair complexion with pinkish undertones. Non-food descriptors include "ebony" for black skin, and "ivory" or "alabaster" for white skin. You may also encounter mixed-race characters who have "some cream in their coffee". Cafe au lait is another favorite, which resembles the look of coffee with milk; cafe con leche is often used for the same tone when the individual in question is of Hispanophone origin (whether Latin American or a Spaniard).note Occasionally other color metaphors will be used; some will be based on food and some will not.
The reason food and drink terms are so commonly used to describe skin color might be because human skin color is usually in very neutral tones (brown, beige, cream, etc.), and most foods, aside from fruits and vegetables, are neutral in tone as well. Also, food and drink is something the audience is almost guaranteed to be familiar with since we all need both to live.
This concept is more common in the United States than in most other English-speaking countries, both because of the USA's greater diversity and (somewhat paradoxically) its rigid color line: There are many Americans who are ethnically ambiguous enough that they can't easily be assigned a clear-cut race. All too often, anyone who isn't a paler pinkish-yellow than a medium-rare pork chop (especially if they were born into Islam or one of the "Eastern" religions, or do not speak English as their first and preferably only language) will not qualify as "white"; instead they will be referred to as "olive" or "beige" or just plain "brown."
This trope most often occurs in literature, where the audience can't see the character's skin color, but it is occasionally used in visual media like movies or theater when one character describes a second character. In the former case, it's become regarded as something of a cliché (if not quite a Dead Horse Trope), to the point that "how to write" guides advise aspiring writers to avoid it (especially as some might find it objectifying to be described as food). It's also fairly common in advertising — for example, Cuban sugar sellers used to advertise the colors of their various sugars in relation to pictures of women with analogous skin tones. They ranged all the way from "wild" (dark brown) to "refined" (lily white), with every color in between. Cosmetics is another industry in which this is widespread, which needs to describe a whole range of skin tones to sell products and often resorts to food to make their products sound appealing.
- In Appleseed Deunan Knute is referred to having "café au lait" skin in the manga.
- Redd Foxx, in one of his stand-up routines, said that the colors of black people could range from "black walnut, burnt almond, chocolate, chocolate mocha, pecan, vanilla, yellow, mellow, light, bright, and damn near white".
- While not specifically referencing coffee, Wanda Sykes did use this in a comedy routine. She mentioned how the "random screenings" at airports weren't really random, mentioning that they had a Benjamin Moore paint chart at the gate, and if you were darker than "khaki," you were getting screened.
- This article on Buzzfeed, entitled "If White Characters Were Described Like People Of Color In Literature," parodies the trope by describing various white characters in food-related terms: tapioca, raw chicken breast, mayonnaise, etc...
"She had brown, wiry hair and skin that can only be described as the color of the inside of an apple. The mushy ones, not the cool, crisp ones."
- Cynical Jewish comedienne Julia Gorin, who has a relatively swarthy complexion, has described herself as a "toasted Jew", and once complained that she fell into a sort of racial Uncanny Valley where she's too dark to pass for a stereotypical blond beauty and too light to count as "exotic", so neither white men nor black men who like white women find her sexually appealing.
- The first issue of The Spirit revival featured a dark-skinned woman named Ginger Coffee.
- In Zits, Pierce (white) tells his girlfriend D'ijon (black) that her skin is "like brushed mahogany. But not hard like mahogany. Like that skin that forms on caramel pudding when you leave it out for a week." She's not amused.
- In Project Tatterdemalion, when Yoruichi is told that they can never be sure whether they got all the Hollow DNA out of the infected, the paling of her skin is compared to the swirling of cream into coffee.
- One line in The Worst Possible Sitch refers to Monique as being "caramel-skinned".
- In the Daredevil movie, an old lady sitting next to Bullseye on a plane rambles on about her daughter-in-law eloping with "this semi-colored fellow from London. What's the word for that? Mulatto. Let's just say he had a little cream in his coffee."
- The French film Metisse (derived from 'mixticius', meaning mixed, compare the Spanish and Portuguese term "Mestizo"/"Mestiço") was called Cafe Au Lait in the US as a Double-Meaning Title reference to the mixed race characters, mix of the characters races and the french style coffees they all drank.
- Used in Bringing Down the House when Peter's friend Howie sees Charlene for the first time. "Swing it, you cocoa goddess..."
- In Hallelujah!, which had an all-black cast, Chick the Ms. Fanservice character is called "high yellow" by a darker-skinned black man.
- Daughters of the Dust: Viola's cousin Mary is called "Yellow Mary", although Viola somewhat sourly notes that Mary isn't actually all that light-skinned.
- In Bridesmaids, Annie's douchey, lecherous boss flirts with her Black coworker, calling her Kahlua due to her skin tone and even stroking her arm (but then quickly speaks up with a request for her not to sue him for touching her).
- Losing Ground: Sara plays the lead in a Show Within Show about the "tragic mulatto". She is a black woman who is lighter-skinned than either her husband Victor or her adulterous Love Interest Duke.
- The first-person teenaged protagonist of Summer of My German Soldier describes her family's maid, Ruth, as having skin "the color of hot chocolate before the marshamallow bleeds in."
- Shaunee Cole from The House of Night is described as having "Cafe au Lait" skin a couple of times.
- Used in Everworld when describing people in a city as being "from latte to espresso" — logical, since one of the characters actually works at a Starbucks.
- Tamora Pierce does it more than once. In the Circle of Magic universe, Briar and Lark have "honey brown" skin, and Daja and Frostpine have "dark chocolate" skin. The twins from Cold Fire are also described as having honey-brown skin.
- Prom by Laurie Halse Anderson has a "dark coffee" girl and a "caramel" guy (with "hot-fudge eyes," no less).
- In The Great Gilly Hopkins, the title character's teacher is "tea-colored."
- Artemis Fowl heroine Holly Short is variously described as having "nut-brown" or "coffee" coloured skin. The Artemis Fowl Files, a companion book, says her whole species is brown-skinned, but only she gets the fancy adjectives.
- Half-black, half-Japanese Hiro in Snow Crash has "cappucino" skin.
- In Doc Sidhe by Aaron Allston, Ish (a princess of a South American tribe) is described as having 'coffee-with-cream' skin.
- Jasper Peavey in Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe is described as having 'coffee-with-cream' skin.
- In The Princes of the Air by John M. Ford there's a scene where the protagonist and a woman he's interested in are having coffee together, and it's noted in passing that her skin tone matches the coffee-with-cream they're drinking.
- In his Callahan's Crosstime Saloon series Spider Robinson references and expands upon the concept with the following speech, delivered by a drunken Irish Sidhe:
- 'I traveled the world in me youth, and I noticed yez/mocha, mahogany, chestnut and cocoa/ochre and umber and amber and gold/coffee with cream, coffee with milk, coffee with nothin' but Tullamore Dew/amber and anatase, russet and chocolate, both the siennas, the burnt and the raw/hazel and sepia, several more/an' never a black man or woman I saw.'
- When anthropologist Karen McCarthy Brown first meets the Haitian title character in the ethnography Mama Lola: A Voudou Priestess in Brooklyn, she describes her skin as having the color of coffee ice cream.
- In a blink-and-you'll-miss-it viewpoint character description characteristic of Neil Gaiman, Shadow of American Gods is described as having a cream-and-coffee complexion. Whether that means he's Not Too Black on his mother's side, Not Too White on his father's side, or even the less-likely-in-context "dark cream in some places, light coffee in others" has been hotly contested amongst fans.
- Slightly confusingly for people used to this trope, Enid Blyton generally used this kind of language to describe tanned white people.
- Appears in Homeward Bound by Harry Turtledove—as part of an Pun, as it's used to describe a black military officer called Coffey.
- Hazel and her mother from The Heroes of Olympus are both described as having "skin like a roasted coffee bean,"
- Found in The Mortal Instruments, where for example the biracial character Maia is introduced as having "honeyed" skin. Author Cassandra Clare discussed her choices in describing skin tones in a blog post, where she admitted that she risked coming off as ethnocentric due to not giving similar descriptions to Caucasian characters.
- Hunter from Neverwhere has caramel skin. And caramel eyes. And a caramel laugh. The word is repeated a lot in descriptions of her.
- Played with in Ella Enchanted, where Ella describes Areida in food terms after having been practically starved for three days, so everything reminds her of food.
- In Chrestomanci, Tacroy is described as being the colour of 'coffee with a dash of milk'. When he realises the source of a new terror, he turns the colour of 'milk with a dash of coffee'.
- The Dark Tower: Susannah's skin is generally described as coffee-colored, most prominently in Song of Susannah, where her body is starting to change color due to Mia (a white woman) possessing her: her skin above the waist is stated to be "coffee with the smallest splash of milk", and below the waist "milk with the smallest splash of coffee".
- In The Mysterious Benedict Society, George "Sticky" Washington's skin color is compared to the tea that the protagonist's Tamil Indian guardian makes every morning.
- Naked Came the Stranger has a white example. Gillian is "the color of India tea at summer's end."
- In If I Fall, If I Die, the Indian boy Marcus has skin the color of the milky tea Diane drinks.
- Maniac Magee doesn't get why the Two Mills East Enders are called "black", comparing their skin tones to cinnamon or butter rum or gingersnap or light or dark fudge, but never licorice-black. Probably justifiable since Maniac's a kid (and given that he's been a runaway for over a year, probably a hungry one).
- Eleanor & Park: Eleanor compares the half-Korean Park's skin to honey.
- The Hate U Give: Starr's (white) boyfriend once tried to nickname her "Caramel" after her skin tone. He genuinely didn't mean anything by it, but she found it annoying and a bit fetish-y, and called him "Marshmallow" in response. He got the point and didn't do it again.
- In Almost Perfect (2014), David thinks of Dr. Kate, who is half Irish and half Indian, as having café au lait skin.
- Angel: Angel once described Jasmine as "mocha."
- The Big Bang Theory: Raj's skin is frequently compared to caramel, both by himself and by others. One character even says she wants to dip an apple in his face.
- Shirley refers to the half-Palestinian Abed as a "caramel angel."
- The Human Color Wheel. It goes from "Seal to Seal's teeth!"
- Criminal Minds: "Chocolate Thunder" is one of Penelope Garcia's many pet names for Derek Morgan.
- The Good Place: Eleanor starts off insulting Tahani, but then segues into her "cappuccino skin" and "curves everywhere".
- Interview with the Vampire (2022): In "In Throes of Increasing Wonder...", Lestat de Lioncourt's term for biracial (black/white) skin is "cinnamon," which he fetishizes.
- On New Girl Schmidt refers to a prospective child by the Indian-American Cece as a "caramel miracle".
- One Day at a Time (2017): Played for laughs when the fair-skinned Elena realizes that unlike the rest of her Cuban-American family, she is light-skinned enough to be perceived as white:
Penelope: You and your brother are of different shades.
Lydia: Yes, Papito is a beautiful caramel, and you are... Wonder Bread.
- Room 101: On one episode the guest wanted to banish celebrities who wear so much fake tan that they look like Oompa-Loompas. The host presented various photographs of such celebrities that the guest had to place on a color scale ranging from 1975 Michael Jackson to 2005 Michael Jackson.
- Will & Grace: In one episode, when Grace is about to dump a man played by Gregory Hines, Will wonders why, since not too long before, Grace was pouring milk in her cappuccino to show him what pretty colors their kids would be.
- "Livin' La Vida Loca" by Ricky Martin describes a beautiful woman with skin the color of mocha.
- The Rolling Stones' "Brown Sugar" contains the refrain lyrics "how come you taste so good... / ...dance so good... just like a black girl should".
- Ce Ce Peniston's "Finally" describes her love interest's skin as "cocoa".
- The Serge Gainsbourg song "Couleur café"/"Coffee colour"; the coffee image is an extended metaphor throughout the song.
"Que j'aime ta couleur café." / "How I love your coffee complexion."
- Musiq and India.Arie have a duet called "Chocolate High", a love song where both parties are compared to sweet chocolate. Other metaphors used in the song include: 'black coffee with sugar, no cream', 'tasty like Hershey's and Nestle', and 'rich like Godiva'.
- Comedy-Musician Stephen Lynch has the song 'Vanilla Ice Cream', in which the lyrics go: "I like-a them black girls, them brown girls, them café au lait / Caramel girls and mocha girls just blow me away".
- Labelle's song "Lady Marmalade," about a black/Creole prostitute. "Mocha chocolata ya ya," etc., and her skin "colour of cafe au lait."
- "Caramel" by City High
- "Ice Cream" by the Wu-Tang Clan
- "Chocolate City" with a "vanilla suburb," mentioned in the Real Life section below. It's a song and album by Parliament.
- Variant in "When I Think About Angels" by Jamie O'Neal: "Why does the color of my coffee match your eyes?"
- In "Papi" from Straight Outta Oz, the woman says that she wants a "piece of chocolate" and a "piece of caramel" when talking about the black protagonist.
- Genesis: In "The Lamia", Rael, a Puerto Rican, mentions his "chocolate fingers" when describing the aftermath of his sexual encounter with the titular creatures.
- Zero Punctuation often describes the But Not Too Black skin tone as "dipped in tea" e.g. Sheva Alomar from Resident Evil 5.
- Mary Sue Problems criticizes this trope and says a more straight-forward approach is better. The blog then goes on to show how weird this trope sounds by applying it to other traits.
- The Book of Mormon: When Arnold first meets Nabalungi, he says she's a "hot shade of black" like a "latte."
- Once On This Island makes reference to a half-islander, half-French boy — "a beautiful child the pale color of coffee mixed with cream".
- Hair and the movie based on it contains the song "Black Boys," which while not specifically going directly for the "coffee" comparison uses quite a few food-related metaphors: "Chocolate-flavored love," "licorice lips like candy," and "keep my cocoa handy" among others. The counterpart song "White Boys" limits this to a single reference to milk.
- Hairspray has two songs centered around such metaphors:
Yeah, I could lie but baby, let's be bold
- "Run and Tell That" has Seaweed describe the everyday racism he faces in 1962 Baltimore, but that he is proud to be black himself:
Vanilla can be nice, but if the truth be told
The blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice
I could say it ain't so, but darlin', what's the use?
The darker the chocolate, the richer the taste
And that's where it's at
Ooh, baby, baby, run and tell that (Run and tell that)
In my ivory tower
- "Without Love" has Penny make the following comparison while falling in love with Seaweed:
Life was just a hostess snack
But now I've tasted chocolate
And I'm never going back
- During character creation, Divinity: Original Sin 2 describes skin tone for each of the playable species using a theme. For humans, all the skin tones are named after food plants. This includes this trope, but also describes other skin tones using words like "Butternut," and "Pumpernickel."
- Referenced in Real Life by New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin in his "Chocolate City" speeches and comments. He was simply referencing an old Parliament song about D.C., but the Unfortunate Implications of the comment became an Epic Fail that nearly cost him his re-election. His back-pedaling clarification that meant "chocolate with milk" was unintentionally hilarious, however.
- In Stephen Colbert's 2006 White House Correspondents' Dinner, he describes Washington, D.C. as "the chocolate city with a marshmallow center." ("And a graham-cracker crust of corruption... it's a Mallomar, basically.") Two years later, the city's marshmallow center has received its own chocolate center.
- This is very common in Brazilian culture, where the very large mixed-race population means that a kind of shorthand is more or less necessary. The agency responsible for the country's census, IBGE, even had to shorten the possible answers to the question "what is your color or race?" down to five options note due to the overwhelming number of terms given by the general population in previous censuses.
- In his memoir, Tim Gunn mentions once working for someone who commented, offhand, that what they really needed for their front desk was a "cafe au lait." It took him a few minutes to figure out that the idiot was talking about a person, not a coffee machine.
- Crayola used to make a crayon shade called "Flesh" (that only covered a pinkish caucasian skin tone) up until 1962, when they changed the shade color to "Peach".
- Their 1992 Multicultural Crayons line also features the "Apricot" crayon.
- Downplayed with their 2020 Colors of the World product line, spearheaded by African American Mimi Dixon, which features 24 skintone-inspired shades, ranging from "Extra Light Almond" and "Very Light Golden" to "Deepest Almond". Coffee, chocolate, and caramel never come up.