With exchange program, Cxffeeblack is taking baristas to coffee’s African roots

When Renata Henderson is asked about her Anti Gentrification Coffee Club and its originating idea, embodied in the self-created term “Cxffeeblack,” she is quick to say it’s about much more than coffee.

“This black coffee represents the Blackness that we get to experience in America, without the Blackness,” she said, referring to the way Black people are sometimes separated from the consumption of Black culture.

For Henderson, it’s about the origin, purpose and integrity of coffee and tying its roots to its Black history.

Henderson and her husband Bartholomew Jones began the social experiment that is Cxffeeblack in December 2019, following it soon after with the brick-and-mortar Anti Gentrification Coffee Club at 761 National St. in the Heights neighborhood.

The couple wanted to learn more about coffee seeds and whether the coffee industry is reflective of its African origins.

This exploration took Jones to Ethiopia in 2021, to learn about the history of coffee and the parallels of coffee farmers in Africa to the Black American experience.

Now he’s going back, and not alone. In November, as part of Cxffeeblack’s new Barista Exchange Program, Jones and Henderson will be taking four American baristas to Ethiopia and Rwanda to experience the coffee culture and host a mini conference.

“It will be an exchange of resources and stories and empowerment and love,” Henderson said. “It’s going to be the start of something that we do annually or bi-annually. Next year, we’ll select four baristas from the African region and bring them over (to the U.S.) … to do the same.”

Henderson said the application process was rigorous, and Cxffeeblack received applications from around the world. Ultimately, four participants from across the U.S. were offered scholarships for the trip.

One scholarship recipient is Sydni Barnes, a native Memphian who works for Cxffeeblack.

“Coffee is just kind of a vehicle that they (Jones and Henderson) use to connect with and be passionate about people,” Barnes said. “I feel like that naturally attracted me to adopt the same practices. I feel like coffee has been just another tool to learn more about myself and the community that I live in.”

In doing so, Barnes is following in the steps of Henderson and Jones.

“We asked ourselves, ‘Do Black people even drink coffee?’” Henderson said. “We developed Guji Mane coffee, named after the zone in Ethiopia where it comes from, and Mane is for Memphis. When we sold it, we realized 85%-90% of the (buyers) were young Black creatives and professionals who were just curious or wanted a different coffee experience.”

I’m excited to see what coffee can do to connect with people. It’s this community, this peaceful feeling and identity.

Sydni Barnes

This experience was deepened by Cxffeeblack connecting directly with Africa on that first overseas trip.

“We were able to hear about the disrespect that the farmers feel from the people who want to come in and export coffee,” Henderson said. “(The trip) answered a lot of the questions as to why the coffee industry is a $460 billion industry, and they get less than 1% of this wealth in Africa.”

Jones and Henderson wanted to develop ways to work directly with their producers and create resources that will continue to benefit those families, even in the off-season.

While Barnes hasn’t traveled internationally, she has applied for her passport and is excited for the opportunity.

“My family aren’t really international travelers,” she said. “My mom doesn’t do a lot of travel, period. I’m excited to see what coffee can do to connect with people. It’s this community, this peaceful feeling and identity.”

This article was originally published at “dailymemphian.com

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