Anti-Blackness in Specialty Coffee

This is the third recap of our ethics discussion from our weekly staff meeting.  Reading materials regarding a specific topic are provided before each meeting so staff may read, think, and formulate comments and questions for the group discussion.

June 16, 2020 – Microaggressions

June 23, 2020 – White Privilege

June 30, 2020 – Anti-Blackness in Specialty Coffee

As stated by author Umeko Motoyoshi, their article “Addressing Anti-Blackness in Specialty Coffee” was written within their personal framework; “I write this as a non-Black coffee professional, for the many non-Black coffee businesses who are struggling to understand the path forward…Anti-Blackness is deeply rooted in our industry and we must be the ones to fix it.  We created it.  We are accountable.  To this end, I am presenting foundational information about anti-Blackness and suggestions on how to actively address it in coffee businesses.”

Within their writing, Motoyoshi goes on to educate readers; “American anti-Blackness is the specific mode of racism imposed on Black people, informed by 240 years of chattel slavery, followed by Jim Crow, the racialized War on Drugs, and Mass Incarceration – also known as the New Jim Crow.”  As we look at this history of oppression within the coffee industry, there is no need to delve into research for evidence of racism and anti-Blackness.  Countries where coffee exports make up for a large amount of the economy have their own positions within the history of colonization and white supremacy.

“White supremacy is built into the foundation of the coffee industry.  The global coffee economy was created through colonialism, the white supremacist system under which European countries invaded, subjugated, and exploited the countries of Black and Brown people.  After Dutch spies stole coffee from Africa, Europeans forced Black and Indigenous people into slavery to grow it on colonized land.  Today, Black and Brown people in the Global South still produce the crop, while white people in the Global North dictate its value largely through futures trading.”

Motoyoshi states “Most coffee growing countries export far more coffee than they consume domestically.  And the top coffee consuming countries are all majority white countries in the Global North. 

They then go on to quote a question from author Gabriel Rhodes in Being Black in Specialty Coffee; “How empowering would it be if it were common knowledge that coffee culture originated in Africa, and is the source for the success of this billion-dollar industry?”

Initial responses to the article as a whole from staff included the following:

“We’ve started to define these terms, and this article is another good foundation.”

“You can insert flowers for coffee in the article and it would read about the same.”

“When people are used to buying products produced by the labor of enslaved people, the cost of items produced through fairly paid labor seems expensive.  When you’re so used to buying so much and consuming so heavily, how can we re-orient our customers towards the value of fewer things?”

“Having flowers or coffee is an experience in itself.  How can we move away from consumerism?”

“How can we be more explicit in our welcoming of Black customers and customers of color?  People feel more welcome when they see themselves represented.”

Within Part 4 of the article, financial barriers to accessing specialty coffee in a retail setting is addressed, as well as the dichotomy of being Black in the specialty coffee industry.  The author quotes Anthony Ragler from his 2020 US Barista Championship routine; “We are pigeonholed at two ends of the supply chain.  One end is Black baristas with limited opportunity for career advancement, the other Indigenous farmers who rarely get to enjoy their finished product, being told the worth of their life’s work by white foreigners.”

Our staff acknowledged that we need to actively create hiring practices to foster diversity.  We also discussed the fact that we do our best to buy from local vendors, but that it’s not as feasible with coffee, as it is an import to Philadelphia.  The supply chain is much more heavily integrated into the Global South.

In an effort to support sustainable farming practices and ethical compensation for all parts of our coffee supply chain, our café serves coffee from Triangle RoastersTheir sourcing places an emphasis on women-owned and operated coffee cooperatives, with tracing and transparency in mind.

Our staff indicated that education for our customers is one way to encourage greater enjoyment of investment in coffee (and flowers) as consumable goods, particularly when they are priced fairly for all parties involved in their creation.  We want to spread awareness to increase enjoyment for our customers by clueing them in on who they are supporting when they shop at Vault + Vine. 

We also have interest in promoting coffee brands that have a more direct supply chain, that might not sell wholesale, in order to boost those businesses who are working in alignment with our mission and goals.  Seeking out relationships with Black-owned businesses that might not have a huge following just yet is another way we can use our work to elevate and support their work.

Making an active effort to partner with Black-owned businesses within our café and retail settings is one practice we are aiming to put into play as we navigate the terrain of operating in a during- and post-Covid sphere.  Continuing our education and talking about these topics is paramount to putting our plans into action.

For more reading about the topics mentioned within this post, we invite you to click through the numerous links provided in the Motoyoshi article, as well as the piece Every Rose Has its Thorn: Exposing Colombia’s Cut Flower Industry for cut-flower-specific information.


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