The Importance of Black Coffee
"The Importance of Black Coffee" by Korie "KP" Griggs first appeared in the first issue of Batch Magazine. Photos by Sarah Jehoiada de Rueda.
It’s no secret that there is a lot of talk lately on how y’all (white people) can collectively do better. The coffee community is included in that “y’all” because specialty coffee has always been a predominately white space.
I’m not here to gripe about what has been; I’m here to educate on what should be. There is a lot of irony around a predominately white industry stemming from the labor of Black and Brown bodies. After all, music, fashion, sports, food, and (most likely) everything else you love have been founded, created, and/or cultivated by Black people.
Why is it that an industry profiting off of Black bodies rarely has any close proximity to Blackness?
Maurice Henderson created the Memphis-based CxffeeBlack (@cxffeeblack) to provide opportunities for people of color, to offer more insight on how to ensure inclusion in our coffee community, and to ignite inspiring work. CxffeeBlack’s mission is to focus on education, empowerment, creation, and inspiration by providing opportunities for POC to create and generate inspiring work. Since the organization is so mission-based, I knew Maurice would be great to have a conversation with about how coffee communities could do better on including Black people in the industry.
“Don’t solely focus on coffee,” he says. “Start investing in the communities and see what needs, ways, and connections you can find. It requires a wholesale investment into the Black community. An easy way to invest is through public schools, artists, creatives, etc. It’s a long-term solution, but it is a solution. America is a place where most things Black are valued by their proximity to whiteness. Coffee is just a great place to start the conversation about why that is.”
Maurice also shared his opinion on representation. This answer is one that may make you uncomfortable, but it is SO important to know and acknowledge.
“It is important to have representation within the coffee community because coffee is a stolen good,” he says. “In the early 1600s, the coffee plant was stolen from Africa by Dutch spies. We have to be honest with ourselves about offering reconciliation to what has been taken.”
It is completely possible that the coffee you have enjoyed was stolen from Black people and then grown and harvested using slave labor. I know, not a great feeling, but that’s the whole point of this article, right? We’ve got to do better at understanding this history and doing right by it. One easy way is to make sure people that look like me are working in coffee.
There is a lack of representation in coffee communities across the nation, and the Indianapolis coffee scene is no different. In my experience, it is rare to see people that look like me, a woman of color, working behind the bar at some of my favorite places. This can be very uncomfortable and isolating when it is always the same experience, and even joining the community as an employee to be a woman of color behind the bar can be an uphill battle. We have to work our way into an industry that is not made for us—just like many spaces within America. We have to establish relationships and start conversations in hopes of being accepted on a base level, AND THEN push for employment. It takes a lot of bravery to even take the initial first steps.
Specialty coffee shops cannot continue to make sustainable and profitable businesses without considering the community outside their walls. The heart of specialty coffee is the community—which includes the Black community, even if that is not your main clientele.
The reality for business owners is that you choose which clients you want. If you are worried about using your voice and platform to speak on human rights, you may want to reevaluate the mission and vision of your company. Your worry may be coming from potentially upsetting your white client base by making them feel uncomfortable by having a Black employee behind the bar.
The majority of Indianapolis shops have chosen to make their profits in neighborhoods that also house the BIPOC community. I don’t think I am telling y’all anything you don’t already know; but if all of this is new to you, let’s sit down with a cup or two and unpack all of that because there’s a lot that’s not happening.
Here are some things to think about: As a company, are you making room for equal opportunity? Are you an active member of your local community? How are you giving back and to whom? Are you educating? Are you truly “money over mission?” Are you making your customers aware of where the coffee they drink is truly coming from? Are you listening to the impact your business is having on the people and neighborhoods around it?
BLACK WOMEN HAVE BEEN A CATALYST FOR CHANGE FOR A LONG TIME. I truly believe in the power of community BUT IT TAKES A LOT MORE THAN A BLACK SQUARE ON SOCIAL MEDIA. If we have these tough conversations with one another and those that we love, we will begin to see and feel the changes we desire. So before you take another sip of that delicious drink from your local shop, I urge you to think and reflect on where your coffee came from and how that shop is or isn’t supporting the people are it. Hold yourself and your community accountable by investing in the whole community, not just the parts that are comfortable. After all, if your coffee is essential, so are the people that grow, harvest, and make it.
CxffeeBlack says it best: “Love Black people like you love black coffee.”
Korie ”KP” Griggs is a creative entrepreneur who focuses on healing the communities she is within. She is the founder of Queen Spirit, Inc. (check out the Patreon!) where she releases quarterly print publications for creatives. Korie is committed to creative movements that save lives, and I encourage you to follow her and the important work she does: @koffeepersonkp