“Love Black people like you love black coffee.”
That’s one of the phrases that Bartholomew Jones, co-founder of cxffeeblack, has put into the world—and after my recent talk with Bartholomew, I’ll never look at coffee the same way again. “There are 120 species of coffee, and they’re all singularly indigenous to the continent of Africa—from Madagascar all the way over to Ghana,” the musician and entrepreneur told me. In many of those areas, coffee was originally more than a drink; it was about ritual and connection with others. The Oromo-Guji people, who grow the coffee used in cxffeeblack’s Guji Mane roast, have a unique point of view on coffee. “When we visited for the first time, they told me this story,” Bartholomew said. “They had received a blessing from the Creator for the coffee, which means ‘May your house lack no coffee nor peace.’ They believe that every time you serve coffee with someone, you’re supposed to share this blessing.”
The history of coffee is too complex to cover in a paragraph, but if you take away one thing, make it this. During the colonial era, coffee-crazy Europeans enslaved African people to grow more of the crop around the world. To this day, the legacy of colonialism hasn’t gone away: the people who grow and harvest coffee globally are mostly Black and brown, and many don’t earn a living wage for their work. Coffee and Blackness are historically intertwined, but that’s not always obvious when you grab an espresso at a coffee shop.
“The story of Africa was weaved all throughout those [coffee] shops, but it wasn’t visible to me.”Bartholomew Jones
That history, knowledge, and a desire to make coffee empowering for Black and brown people is what drives Bartholomew’s work. “We want to make Africa and the imprint of African lives more visible in the story of coffee,” he says. He told me about his early days as a budding coffee geek, back when he was writing music and learning about coffee at his local shop. “The story of Africa was weaved all throughout those shops, but it wasn’t visible to me. My ability to see myself in that beverage was that much more difficult,” he said. “Cxffeeblack’s whole story is trying to reduce that barrier for connection for people of African descent around the world, and also to give everyone else in the world a more honest story of coffee.”
Coffee isn’t necessarily an obvious contributor to mental health, and it’s not necessarily something closely linked to masculinity. But a lot of coffee entrepreneurs are using their businesses to create positive impacts in their communities and the wider world—and as you’ll see below, some folks in the space are using coffee to open up dialogues about masculinity and men’s mental health. For his part, Bartholomew is building a community around coffee, both with producers he knows in Africa and coffee drinkers where he lives in Memphis. He’s opened the AntiGentrificationCxffeeClub in Memphis, where everyone is welcome to learn more about their coffee while they enjoy a cup or two. And I’ve gotta say, if you want a nuanced and informed guide to finding a coffee you love, Bartholomew is the man to seek out. “Coffee can be an individualistic thing,” he said. “Sometimes it’s the strongest, darkest, most caffeinated, manly drink I can get. And sometimes it’s the softest, brightest, most floral and sparkling—like a natural Ethiopian coffee from Guji, prepared very slowly, to reclaim peace.” Who doesn’t want that?
In the spirit of connecting more people with the cultural origins—and cultural present—of coffee, here are a few more Black-owned coffee businesses on our radar. From offering group therapy sessions to encouraging healthy masculinity, they’re creating community and reshaping entrepreneurship in seriously cool ways. —Chris
Bartholomew’s Memphis, TN spot is a community hub that just so happens to revolve around coffee. Expect coffee tastings and ceremonies, community workshops, and a friendly “yes loitering” policy.
Coffee, Hip-Hop & Mental Health
Located on Chicago’s North Side, this nonprofit coffee shop hosts regular therapy sessions in men’s, women’s, and mixed-gender groups. Founder Christopher LeMark opened CHH&MH last year to make mental health care more accessible to the community. Come for the lunchtime yoga, stay for the Biggie Smalls group therapy.
This huge shop in Hartford, CT aims to be a “neighborhood living room,” and it’ has quickly become a cultural hub for the city. It consistently serves up great coffee, used vinyl, locally made goods, and plenty of events: jazz performances, vegan soul food dinners, yoga, and endless local art and culture. Basically, if you’re looking to find community, it’s here.
Bold & Gritty
Headed to Rochester, NY? Don’t leave town without picking up a bag of Bold & Gritty to brew at home. Founded by a neurosurgery resident, the roaster’s mission is to raise awareness of mental health issues while highlighting the stories of successful and thriving Black men. We’re way into their recent collab with NAMI Rochester, which helped raise money to support mental health care in Black and brown communities.
This specialty coffee roaster’s facilities are located in a building originally owned by Lottie Watkins, Atlanta’s first Black woman to be a licensed real estate broker. As the neighborhood gentrifies, the Portrait team is continuing her legacy of Black entrepreneurship while shining a light on Black and brown coffee producers. Coming this summer: a brick-and-mortar shop. Can’t wait.
Bloom & Plume
You can’t miss the vibrant purple facade of this L.A. coffee shop, which is good because it’s a must-visit kind of place. Co-owner Maurice Harris is one of the city’s most talented floral designers, and the vibe is always welcoming and on-point.
This Brooklyn nonprofit shop is more than a place to caffeinate, it’s a place to connect. Among its initiatives: the Take One, Leave One Free Library, community fridges, community dinners, and accessibly priced barista training. While you’re there, don’t miss the Playground Annex, a bookstore featuring works by BIPOC and queer writers.