Coffee educator and entrepreneur LaNisa Williams is bringing specialty coffee to her L.A. community.
BY MARK VAN STREEFKERK
BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE
Photos courtesy of LaNisa Williams
Coffee educator and entrepreneur LaNisa Williams lights up when talking about her first “wow moment” with coffee. It happened in 2013 when she was hired at Peet’s Coffee in Los Angeles after a few years of working at Starbucks. Until then, coffee was just a way to pay the bills for the L.A. native, but Peet’s offered coffee training that inspired her to learn more. “Someone made me a Chemex with an Ethiopian super-natural, and when I first opened the bag, I immediately smelled blueberries and I was like ‘What?’ I was looking on the bag to see if it had small print like artificial flavoring. Literally, I was looking for it,” LaNisa remembers. “I never knew all those steps that go into making coffee with a Chemex. Then I tasted it and it literally tasted like blueberry. It was then I felt like, ‘Oh my goodness, this is what I can do.’”
From that moment, LaNisa was determined to learn all she could about coffee. Starting at Peet’s as a barista, she quickly moved up the ranks to shift lead, assistant manager, and then district trainer. Her trajectory came with a small hiccup, however: “I got into some trouble with the law.”
LaNisa explained the situation to her manager at Peet’s, and asked if she could get her job back after serving time. The manager couldn’t promise anything, but when LaNisa came back home after a year, she was rehired. “(The manager) gave me my job back. She gave me a second chance. People don’t usually give people second chances with the background I have. That was my turning point. Someone believed in you this much. … They valued you for who you were. That for me means more than making all the money. I just wanted someone to value me for what I brought to the table,” she says.
LaNisa continued to excel at Peet’s, but eventually her opportunities for advancement grew limited. She noticed “they started to kind of deny me the information that I wanted to get to the next level,” and instead of her getting a promised promotion, another person was transferred in to fill the same position—twice.
She left Peet’s and officially launched Barista Life LA in March of 2019. The company offers barista training and home-brewing classes to individuals and companies, as well as hosts private events. Barista Life LA is a coffee education service where “everybody and anybody is welcome, no information is gonna be denied.”
Even COVID-19 has led to pivots that resulted in greater opportunities. For example, LaNisa has booked more private home-brewing classes via Zoom. She has also used her platform to network with and highlight other Black coffee professionals using the #BlackinBrew hashtag.
#BlackinBrew is an ongoing spotlight at @baristalifela on Instagram that celebrates Black excellence in the coffee community. Past posts have featured Quiana DeBerry of On The Go Jo, Daniel Brown of Gilly Brew Bar, and Ciera Young of Mama’s Brew Coffee. The hashtag was started in part because LaNisa knows visibility and representation matter—two things she didn’t see much of in her early career. “I would be (asking myself), ‘Why am I always the only Black person at the coffee shop?’” she says. That started to change when she attended the U.S. Coffee Champs in Orange County, Calif., earlier this year and met more Black coffee professionals. “I just wanted to shine light on the work that we put in,” she says about the hashtag. “I just want to make sure people know that we exist, there are Black people in coffee. We rock. We bring just as much energy as any other race.”
#BlackinBrew has had an incredible reach, something LaNisa didn’t anticipate until baristas from Africa messaged her with questions after seeing the hashtag. “They heard about BlackinBrew. It’s crazy. I really didn’t think I was going to get that much of a response,” she says.
The success of Barista Life LA is just the start. LaNisa plans to open her own café, Hustler’s Cup, just off of Slauson and 6th Ave. in the community where she grew up. The location has extra significance because it’s close to The Marathon Clothing store on Slauson Ave. and Crenshaw Blvd., founded by rapper, community organizer, and local legend Nipsey Hussle, who died in a shooting last year. “I’m five blocks from Nipsey square where all of Nipsey’s stuff is,” LaNisa says. “We came up with the name and the building (where Hustler’s Cup will be) … actually has his mural right on the front of it. I just felt like this was a sign.”
Running a coffee training business and planning the grand opening of a café keeps LaNisa busy, but she’s not stopping there. She has ideas in the works for a Barista Life LA + Hustler’s Cup joint venture, including debuting their own coffee line, a coffee cookbook, and a universal barista training manual.
“I want to be busy. I want to be able to bring all these ideas and visions to life,” LaNisa says. “I didn’t get that opportunity as a kid. I was denied a lot of stuff, but I have the opportunity now and I want to make the best of it. You only live once, and I’m trying to go all-out.”
You can help support Hustler’s Cup by donating to their GoFundMe here.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Van Streefkerk is Barista Magazine’s social media content developer and a frequent contributor. He is also a freelance writer, social media manager, and novelist based out of Seattle. If Mark isn’t writing, he’s probably biking to his favorite vegan restaurant. Find out more on his website.