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Our Black Coffee History Month Recommendations: Reading, Watching & Listening

Come on along with us as we try something new – sharing our thoughts and recommendations in a simple, straightforward, (kind of?) analogue way! When we thought about putting this post together, we wanted to center and celebrate Black coffee professionals, but we didn’t want to take up too much space while we do it! So instead, we’re sharing our recommendations for stuff to read, watch and listen to.

And there’s no better way to summarize why it’s important to keep talking about the connection between coffee and Black history than Phyllis Johnson’s words from 2020:

“Coffee has been and, unfortunately in some ways, still is a vehicle for racism and unbalanced and inequitable relationships throughout the supply chain. We can’t glamorize altitude, varietals, and all the new inventions without addressing the history and its present effects of this product. To look at the heaviness of it and try to untangle some of that, that’s where the real work is and the real value is…That’s the importance of asking questions and digging deeper about where we source our ingredients from.”

— Phyllis Johnson, owner of BD Imports and founder of the Coffee Coalition for Racial Equity

Throughout the past year, we’ve looked for meaningful ways to educate ourselves and take action – and to make those words of Phyllis Johnson ingrained in our culture at Driftaway. To start off our recommendation list, here are some coffee producer spotlights!

✨ COFFEE SPOTLIGHTS

1. Burundi Ngozi Turihamwe – Seven Burundian coffee farmers and entrepreneurs opened the first wet mill owned and operated by women in the entire country! This coffee was imported to the US by Jeanine Niyonzima-Aroian, founder of JNP Coffee.

2. Brazil Sítio Santo Antonio  – One of the few Black Brazilian landowners in the Campo das Vertentes region of southern Minas Gerais, Brazil, the Peixoto’s became well-known globally as one of the first Black Brazilian families to export their coffee into the international specialty market under their own name and recognition. They’re also featured in The Triumph, a book about Black Brazilian coffee farmers! (Imported by BD Imports and Phyllis Johnson.)

3. Brazil Sítio Vista Alegre – José Élio and Margarida Vilela started their journey as coffee growers 10 years ago, and are part of the Black Coffee Producers Project, built in partnership with BD Imports. For the couple, being a part of the project is a source of great joy, and they also feel it gives them recognition for their work in the production of specialty coffee. (Imported by BD Imports and Phyllis Johnson.)

📖 READING LIST

1. Open Letter to the US Coffee Community on Racism Writing in 2020, in the midst of nationwide police brutality protests and a national reckoning with the institutionalized racism, Phyllis Johnson’s call to action asked us to go beyond pledges of social media solidarity, and instead consciously build partnerships across the coffee industry to combat racism. It’s the letter that started our journey to learn more and do better.

2. Slavery & Specialty: Discussing Coffee’s Black History –  In 1788, French-occupied Haiti was supplying half of the world’s coffee as a direct result of slavery. Read how the origins and success of the coffee trade are inextricably linked to slavery and the Black diaspora.

3. STRONG BLACK COFFEE –  In this article in Barista Magazine, Phyllis Johnson interviews 14 Black coffee professionals as she tries to work through why African-Americans aren’t more prominent within the specialty coffee industry.

4. If you want to learn more about how the history of coffee is intertwined with colonialism and slavery, Uncommon Grounds by Mark Pendergrast is a good start. The scope of the book goes much wider, but check out the first chapter, especially “Coffee  Colonizes the World” for good context.

🎧 LISTENING LIST

1. Listen to the Keith Hawkins interview on one of our favorite coffee podcasts, Boss Barista. Keith started The Color of Coffee Collective, aiming to challenge the coffee industry to be more equitable across the supply chain. The CCC does this through direct support, education, and its annual symposium held in Houston – which Driftaway’s Director of Coffee, Ian, attended last year!

2. We’ve been wanting to begin a relationship with Vava Angwenyi of Vava Coffee for a while now. Suyog and Ian finally got to have a chat with Vava just this week, and as Suyog said when he got off the call, “We are so aligned it’s amazing”. Listen to Vava chat about her work in Kenya with smallholder farmers on this episode of Boss Barista.

3. When we say that Black Girl Black Coffee has incredibly beautiful packaging, we mean absolutely  gorgeous – especially Our Mothers Gardens, inspired by In Search of our Mother’s Gardens: Womanist Prose by Alice Walker. And the coffee is, of course, also delicious. This is a really great episode with founder Neichelle Guidry, whose coffee story is super interesting – from her first trip to Ethiopia, her foray into barista competitions as a “non-barista”, and her project to reclaim the Black history of coffee: Neichelle Guidry Brings the Light.

4. Alicia Adams on Building a Career in Coffee – Director of Coffee for Red Bay Coffee in Oakland, Alicia shares her journey in coffee and lots of great tips for anyone looking to get into specialty coffee, or advance in their career. Alicia is refreshingly both down to earth and extremely insightful, and we really like her philosophy around coffee sourcing and community.

5. On this episode of the Keys to the Shop podcast, Phyllis Johnson chats about her book, The Triumph, which details both the history and present reality of Black coffee farmers in Brazil.

📺 WATCHING LIST

1. This Cxfeeblack documentary from Bartholomew Jones and Renata Henderson is an insightful and candid look into the history of coffee and its place (and power) in the world today. It follows  Bartholomew on a journey to Ethiopia for the first time, and he and Renata’s dream of an all-Black coffee supply chain.’

2. Black Coffee PDX Live Podcast event centered the voices and experiences of Black coffee professionals and enthusiasts alike, all with unique perspectives that spanned intersectional identities and roles on the retail end of the value chain.

3. Vava Angwenyi of Vava Coffee is showing up twice in this newsletter! We are big fans, and this talk on Race, Specialty Coffee, and the Urgent Need for Progress from Re:co Symposium (think Ted Talk for coffee geeks) is exactly what we needed to hear.

DRIFTAWAY UPDATE
By the way, we made some promises last Black History Month, and spent the last year doing a serious overhaul of the way we buy coffee. To hold ourselves accountable, here’s an update on what we’ve been working on:
1. We searched out and purchased coffee from Black-owned farms in the coffee diaspora, like Brazil.
2. We incorporated three new buying relationships with Black-owned importers, purchasing coffee from Rwanda, Burundi, and Brazil – like this month’s Bold profile, the Burundi Turihamwe Join our little coffee community FOLLOW US
James McCarthy

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James McCarthy

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