Black Self Esteem in Coffee

Empowering Black baristas to embrace their heritage and step up as confident voices in the industry.

BY CHRISTOPHER FUSE
SPECIAL TO BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE

Finding confidence as a Black barista takes quite an interesting path psychologically until you find the stability in your belief of yourself. It only goes to show just how far removed the industry has become from the true origin of coffee. Being that coffee originated in Ethiopia, it is, in a sense, the birthright of Black baristas to embrace and lead the industry. Initially, I really struggled to find my confidence in an industry flooded by white voices and faces. It was through really knowing and understanding more of my heritage that I grew more confident. I am proud to say that I have been able to reclaim my birthright and step into the coffee industry as a confident Black barista, and others can do so too. 

Knowing your heritage is key to gaining confidence as a Black barista. Photo by Katie Wells.

Step one for me was to be confident in myself as a student. When starting off in coffee, most people know little to nothing about the industry itself, apart from all the stylized lattes seen on Instagram. However, coffee is so much more adventurous than that, and it should be cherished for the true product that it is. Being comfortable as a student is key in growing confident in the industry; you first have to learn the ins and outs of coffee to be able to fully appreciate it. This appreciation is gathered through the journey of seed to cup, but also the knowledge of yourself as a barista, the coffee, and the community being served. All three will come with time, dedication, and commitment to the craft.

The coffee industry is more than stylized lattes, but being dedicated to the craft helps baristas succeed and find gratification in the world of coffee. Photo by Christopher Fuse.

Next, it is essential to find a good mentor or business to help you out in your journey and sharpen your talents. In my case, it was while working in Memphis, Tenn., at City & State that I was fortunate enough to have two mentors, Sam Cruze and Katie Wells, help drive my education. Finding the proper shop comes from being open and inquisitive at your local coffee shops, and building organic relationships with the baristas. Being able to work in a shop that allows creativity, true in-depth learning, and exploration is key. If you’re in a place where you don’t have a clear mentor, do some research. With its ability to connect coffee professionals from around the globe, Instagram is a handy tool to find someone. A good account to start this research is @CxffeeBlack. There are several coffee professionals out there who share similar backgrounds as you, and would likely love to help you step into your birthright. 

Coffee is ever-changing, and there’s always something new to learn. Photo by Katie Wells.

Once you have taken on the role of the student and have found a proper environment to flourish in, be free. Being free comes from letting go of any boundaries you have wrongly placed upon yourself. By letting yourself be free, you are not locked into what you may think that you know or what others may try and limit you to. You’re not afraid to be confident or to use coffee as a means of expression. Coffee is so vast and ever-changing, so there is always something for you to learn or experiment with in the way of new brew techniques and coffee processing.

In my experience, the last step in gaining confidence as a Black barista is to simply not take yourself too seriously. By all means, you want to respect your craft and the heritage, but realize that you are part of something bigger than yourself. At the end of the day, coffee is about community and its ability to be used as a tool to impact lives—yours included. Coffee is a staple of many communities, and as baristas we act as key connection points in the communities in which we work and serve. Be open to customers where they are and be able to work with those from all walks of lives. Reclaim your birthright and empower those in your community with your knowledge and confidence. The power of this gem is so dynamic that it holds the power to greatly impact many lives, so step out of your doubts and into the greatness that you deserve.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Christopher Fuse is a Memphis/Mississippi transplant living in Denver, and an aspiring coffee shop owner. You can usually find him on YouTube watching coffee videos when not outdoors on a walk.

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