CxffeeBlack Returns to the Birthplace in Ethiopia

On CxffeeBlack’s first origin trip, they embraced a return to the motherland in Guji, Ethiopia.

BY TANYA NANETTI
SPECIAL TO BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE

Photos courtesy of CxffeeBlack

CxffeeBlack is a social enterprise founded by Bartholomew Jones and his wife, Renata Henderson, with the purpose of reclaiming the Black history of coffee. As a Black-owned coffee company, CxffeeBlack is dedicated to encouraging the Black community to see themselves not only in the origin and in the history of coffee, but also in its future

There are many ideas and stories behind where coffee truly comes from. On a quest to determine the truth, the founders of CxffeeBlack were ecstatic to have the opportunity to visit Ethiopia recently, as Ethiopia is widely believed to be where coffee was first discovered..

Bartholomew Jones, co-founder of CxffeeBlack.

This past autumn of 2021, Bartholomew and his crew made their first trip to the origin in Africa, specifically to the Guji zone in Oromia region of Ethiopia, as CxffeeBlack has been not only buying this coffee but championing it within the coffee community for more than a year.

Their first impression upon landing was simply a sense of wonder: how beautiful everything was, from the clean air to the capital city of Addis Ababa. In a way, it suddenly felt like, finally, going home. 

After some not strictly coffee-related stops to meet with various artists (local and not), explore the food scene in town, and visit Shashamane (a traditional Rastafarian place, a small corner of Caribbean in the middle of Ethiopia), it was time to visit Guji.

Tamiru, lead farmer of the coffee lot that CxffeeBlack buys from.

CxffeeBlack in Guji

Cxffeeblack spent three days exploring the area, and this is what Bartholomew told us about it. 

“Everything there was so green and lush, and astonishing … from the fruits, to the vegetables, to the coffee itself, to the people… everything was just truly amazing,” he shares. “We met Tamiru and his family; he’s the lead farmer behind the lot of coffee that our hosts Ture and Mike Marmo were exporting for Green Spring Coffee. … We also met a lot of random people in the small town of Uraga. We were amazed by everyone’s hospitality. People were excited because they had never met African Americans before. (And think about it: We were not only African Americans, but we also owned a coffee company, and we were there to buy their coffee!) Their welcoming was something like ‘this is your country, we missed you, welcome back to your Motherland.’ I will never forget it.”

The meal that connected Bartholomew to the motherland.

Connecting Through a Meal

And the connection with the motherland came so quickly, it took just the time of a “simple” meal. On the first day, Tamiru’s daughter prepared a dish for them so similar to the one Bartholomew’s grandma used to cook for him when he was just a little kid in Alabama … almost the same dish, more than 8,000 miles away!

The days spent in the Guji area were a life-changing experience for Bartholomew and the whole CxffeeBlack project.

“We went there expecting to know more about coffee—and we did—but on top of that, everyone was so excited to have us there, they saw us as family,” he says. ”We have received so much love from people; and thanks to their support we were able to develop a whole Black coffee supply chain.”

But of course, not everything is perfect: The team at CxffeeBlack wishes that the prices paid for coffee were higher, affording coffee producers a nicer lifestyle. “It was just a little sad to see that—with so much the Black community gives to the world—so little is given back to them,” Bartholomew says. ”They’re not properly compensated and this needs to change.”

Reflecting on the Past

A couple of months have passed, but Bartholomew still feels like he has a home there in Ethiopia. “Being African American in America is a weird feeling, because you’re too African to be considered American, but at the same time you think you’re too American to be considered truly African. And then you reach Africa, and realize that this is so far from the truth … we were able to go, to build a Black supply chain, and even be able to create a documentary that we’re planning to release in April. Everything was so exciting, and we hope to do more in the future. I now feel like I have a place to return to—now I have a home.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tanya Nanetti (she/her) is a specialty-coffee barista, a traveler, and a dreamer. When she’s not behind the coffee machine (or visiting some hidden corner of the world), she’s busy writing for Coffee Insurrection, a website about specialty coffee that she’s creating along with her boyfriend. 

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