10 Minutes With Keith Hawkins of the Color of Coffee Collective

We dive into everything you need to know about the Color of Coffee Collective’s mission, initiatives, and the upcoming second edition of the Symposium Experience. 


Photos courtesy of Keith Hawkins 

Today at Barista Magazine Online, we sit down for a chat with Keith Hawkins, a passionate entrepreneur and advocate for diversity in the specialty-coffee industry.  

He is the founder and organizer of the Color of Coffee Symposium Experience, a unique event dedicated to promoting equity and education for BIPOC members of the community. Keith is also the founder of the Color of Coffee Collective. This nonprofit organization’s mission is to educate people about specialty coffee from diverse perspectives through symposiums, workshops, conferences, and open conversations. 

The Color of Coffee Symposium Experience debuted in 2022 and will have its second event on March 10-12 in Houston, Texas. Keith gives us a sneak peek at what attendees can expect. 

Keith sits with two teens on a wooden platform. He holds a microphone, giving a talk. He wears a brown COCC hoodie and white pants and sneakers.
Keith believes that change is achieved through listening, educating, and implementing a plan of action based on community needs. 

You’ve spent 24 years in the coffee industry. How have you seen the specialty-coffee industry evolve in terms of inclusivity? Or not evolve? 

I would say the latter. For my first 15 years in the coffee industry, I thought it was normal to be one of the only Black male coffee professionals in a room. Then it dawned on me. It was almost as though the specialty-coffee industry was somehow created to be this way and that people started to normalize this, including myself. The white male figure was the norm in all levels, from women’s representation to Black to Hispanic representation. It was at that moment that I had an awakening moment that this isn’t and shouldn’t be normal. And something needed to be done about it. 

Is this what ultimately inspired you to found the Color of Coffee Collective? 

The catapult for me to start this vision was during the pandemic, around the time of George Floyd’s murder. I went to a coffee shop to sit down and have some coffee, and as I was looking through their social media, I found this post inviting people to talk about diversity in a live format. This coffee shop was predominantly white so I thought that was very intriguing.  

I chimed in and said I’d love to be a part of this conversation. And while they said they will get back to me I still haven’t heard from them three years later. Their heart might have been in the right place, but I also feel that sometimes people practice performative social justice. In a way, this sparked the idea of creating a platform where I can create meaningful conversations about social justice—not for good optics, but for actual real learning and growth. 

Keith sips from a gray ceramic coffee cup at a marble table. He wears a black Koffee with Keith beanie and a black Color of Coffee Collective hoodie. One the marble table is a small clay pot with a handle and a glass cloche with lights inside. A small COCC flyer leans against the globe.
The Color of Coffee Collective is currently planning to adopt farms in Guatemala and Uganda. 

What’s different about the second edition of the Color of Coffee Symposium Experience? 

I’m super excited for this second edition, as this year our focus is on the consumer. We really want to welcome as many consumers as we can, people who love coffee and who want to learn about specialty coffee, but also learn from a diverse team of people that represent different identities and backgrounds. This year we also have some phenomenal panelists and people who will give leadership to classes about various topics such as origin, coffee businesses, brewing coffee at home, and many more. Plus, everyone gets free coffee all day long! 

What was the feedback from the first edition? 

The feedback we got was that this event was an amazing concept and more importantly that people felt heard, seen, and recognized. They were in a space where they could just be present and network with people who feel the same way about coffee. We want people to understand that we may not have all the answers, nor do we aspire to have all the answers. But one thing we do is try and be there, be attentive, and create for people an opportunity to just hear their stories. That way we can all work together to transform the industry in a way that we all feel comfortable to be in. 

What does a typical day at the Color of Coffee Collective look like? 

I once heard a statement that said once you find something you are passionate about, it’s no longer work, it becomes life’s work. I really feel that that’s what we do every day at the Color of Coffee Collective. What a typical day looks like is thinking about ideas, concepts, and ways in which we can help others, but then also think about ways we can continue to have conversations about diversity, equity, and inclusivity that are both informative and welcoming. We welcome everybody to the table; we just want people to be part of the transformation.  

Keith is in a large room with folding chairs and large windows. He poses with two young girls holding new toys. An older girl beind them flashes a smile and a peace sign.
Keith runs “Koffee With Keith,“ a podcast that eventually became a way for him to connect local students in Houston to part-time jobs at cafés in the area. 

Can you tell us about any upcoming initiatives that the collective will be involved in?  

Actually, this week, we are holding a meeting to discuss how we can support our four upcoming Color of Coffee Collective Adopt-a-Farm initiatives. We will use the revenue generated and fundraising efforts to provide assistance in any way that they require. 

We have also started to engage with the youth here in Houston and educate them about the coffee industry.  

We aim to connect minority students to local coffee experts, such as roasters and shop owners, in order to foster a deeper appreciation for their craft. We have further partnered with a company that will allow some of these students to get a paid internship at their location to learn whatever it is they want to learn, even if it isn’t directly within the coffee industry.  

Do you have any advice for other aspiring entrepreneurs who share similar goals as the Color of Coffee Collective? 

I think you start with where your heart is. When you have a passion that becomes your entrepreneurial spirit, it just kind of leads itself to success. And for me, success (is) when I can see people staying connected to coffee and making waves day by day. So to the up-and-coming entrepreneur, who wants to get out there? Do whatever you want to do, with an understanding that it’s your passion and you believe in it. 


Vasileia Fanarioti (she/her) is a senior online correspondent for Barista Magazine, and a freelance copywriter and editor with a primary focus on the coffee niche. She has also been a volunteer copywriter for the I’M NOT A BARISTA NPO, providing content to help educate people about baristas and their work. You can follow her adventures at thewanderingbean.net.

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