Cxffeeblack stands for good coffee—and for me
Photography by Mirza Babic
It was the summer of 2021 when I first encountered Cxffeeblack and its Anti Gentrification Cxffee Club for myself. I was riding down National Street when I saw a sign that said, “Cxffee Here.” As I was driving like the Memphian that I am, I did not see what “here” was. So, naturally, I whipped my car around. Because wherever there’s coffee, there’s bound to be me!
I pulled up to the storefront and saw that they were closed. But I peeked through the windows and saw a couch, a few chairs, and a coffee table. It looked more like a relaxing living room than a coffee shop. Intriguing. So I hopped on social media, did some minor stalking, and found out the next time they were going to be open. Bet! I was going to be there.
A few days later, my husband and I walked through the doors of the Anti Gentrification Cxffee Club. From the name alone, I knew that this establishment stood for more than just good coffee. They stood for truth, even when it’s hard to hear. They stood for progression, even when moving forward will take everything you have to give.
They stood for me, a Black, female Memphian with four kids who is always first assumed to be a welfare-leeching, uneducated wild woman, rather than the multi-degree nerd that I am.
The Anti. Now, I wanted to see if they also stood for good coffee.
There were two workers that morning, but I remember Monty. He told me that he lived “down the way.” Nice! So Cxffeeblack employed from the neighborhood in which they were established. I’m liking these people more and more and I haven’t even had a sip. He educated me on the coffee I was about to drink. He told me where and who it was sourced from and how the club prepares it. Then he said a line I’ll never forget: “We serve our coffee black. We’re gonna make coffee black again.”
I smiled. I ordered my coffee and some hazelnut tea and reached for my wallet. Monty put up his hand and said, “Naw, first sip is free.” My knees buckled, and I was light-headed for a few milliseconds. I felt like I just walked into the twilight zone. A coffee shop that cared about where they sourced their coffee from and the people in that region, but who also cared about the people in this Memphis neighborhood. And they give first sips free? Coffee education and coffee for free! Wow.
My husband, who up until then had just been nodding along with his hands in his pocket, bent down and whispered in my ear, “But I like my coffee with a lot of cream and sugar.” I gave him The Look, and we quietly took our seats.
We sipped on our Guji Mane—Cxffeeblack’s signature roast—and were in awe of its smooth taste.
Even my cream and sugar loving husband said, “Now, this is coffee that I’ll drink black!”
We sat there that Saturday morning, drank coffee, laughed, and played chess. I left energized and knowing more about coffee. But most importantly, I didn’t feel like I’d just spent the last hour or so in a coffee shop.
I felt like I was just hanging out at a friend’s house. Relaxed. Safe. Authentically me.
My time at the Anti Gentrification Cxffee Club meant so much to me that I had to dig deeper into the Cxffeeblack story. If you’ve followed Edible Memphis for long or even just been a serious fan of Memphis coffee, you’ve probably heard of them. But I wanted to connect all the dots of their story, so I sat down with founders Renata Henderson and her husband, Bartholomew Jones (aka Maurice Henderson).
“My coffee black and bold, I’m ready to go. My coffee black and mild, I’m still alive.” These lyrics, written by Bartholomew, are the words that started it all. “I would have music concerts all the time, but instead of serving alcohol, I would serve coffee,” says Bartolomew. “Eventually, people would say that I should be brewing my own coffee.”
Bartholomew and Renata opened Cxffeeblack as an ecommerce store in December 2019. “We were shipping from a room in our house,” Renata says. “We were perfecting Guji Mane, but didn’t really know about opening up a store. We wondered if Black people drank coffee that much.”
They did a small release at Comeback Coffee and tracked the demographics of the people who partook. “A very large percent were young Black people and young creatives,” says Renata.
In 2020, in reference to George Floyd’s murder, Bartholomew posted, “Love Black People Like You Love Black Coffee.” This statement hit home for a lot of people. “People wanted this statement on shirts and everything, and within one week, we had 200 orders,” Renata recalls. So in the back room of their home, they created t-shirts and the Cxffeeblack brand grew.
In March 2021, Cxffeeblack opened its brick-and-mortar location, the Anti Gentrification Coffee Club, at 761 National Street. If you are familiar with redlining practices in Memphis, you may know that National Street once divided its community into two categories: the rich and white, and the impoverished and Black. Today the area is home mostly to Black and brown people and is anticipating an influx of development. The Cxffeeblack team wanted to establish a spot there for the community before gentrification happens.
The people of Cxffeeblack often say that they want to make coffee black again. But what does that really mean? Allow Bartholomew to explain: “Coffee is a $460 billion industry, with less than 1 percent going back to Africa. As Black people, we don’t get to claim that inheritance. Here at Cxffeeblack, we want every part of our business to reflect our culture and keep the money within our community. Our business is not only Black-owned, but it is also Black-operated. From our importers to our exporters. From where our coffee is sourced, down to the employees we hired.
We are a Black-owned and operated business, an all-Black supply chain.”
In alignment with their all-Black supply chain, Bartholomew and Renata also decided to do their own roasting. “Historically, in Ethiopia, women were the very first roasters and baristas. In honor of this tradition, we decided that it only made sense that I was the one to do it,” Renata explains.
With support and training from Mayorga Coffee and Ethnos Coffee Roasters, Renata mastered how to roast coffee beans to perfection.
“Roasting coffee beans is a lot like popping popcorn. You have to focus on the sounds, smells, and timing for development,” Renata says.
Coffeeblack sources and roasts two beans from Ethiopia, one from Congo, and one from Rwanda. Members of their team have made trips to Ethiopia to meet with members of their supply chain there. Their award-winning documentary, Cxffeeblack to Africa, follows one of those trips. Now they’re raising funds for a barista exchange to allow four baristas from across Africa to spend time at the Anti Gentrification Coffee Club and for four Black baristas from the U.S. to travel to Africa.
Cxffeeblack is a vibe all of its own. I’ve learned, laughed, and been inspired. Bartholomew Jones, Renata Henderson, and their amazing team continue to educate the masses on coffee as well as uplift the community through their many engagements. To keep up with their latest, give them a follow on social media. And be sure to visit the Anti Gentrification Cxffee Club. Like me, you’ll learn that Cxffeeblack is an experience, both in flavor and in mind.
Bartholomew Jones’s Top 10 Coffee Facts
- Cxffeeblack is not a coffee company. It’s an educational company with a consumable curriculum.
- There are about 120 species of coffee. All are indigenous to Africa.
- Arabic coffee was first found in the Ethiopian plateau around 850 B.C.
- A traditional blessing from Ethiopia’s Guji region says, “May your house lack no coffee and no peace.”
- In Islam, there are coffee priests, or holy men, who facilitate faith through coffee.
- Coffee was stolen by the Dutch to be a part of the Dutch East India Company.
- Coffee started being called “java” after the Dutch enslaved people of Indonesia’s Java island.
- After slavery ended in Indonesia, Haiti became the next center for enslaved coffee labor.
- In the 1800s, enslaved Africans grew coffee into what it is today. Their labor was used to decrease the cost of coffee.
- Rose Nicaud was an enslaved woman in New Orleans who used coffee to purchase her own freedom. She then employed others so that they were able to do the same.
Patricia Lockhart is a native Memphian who loves to read, write, cook, and eat. Her days are filled with laughter with her four kids and charming husband. By day, she’s a school librarian and a writer, but by night—she’s asleep. @realworkwife
Mirza Babic is an artist, photographer, musician, and music producer born in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. He experienced the devastating civil war in Bosnia before moving to New York in 1995 and to Jackson, Tennessee, in 2021. Mirza serves as vice president of marketing at The Wrap Life. His photography showcases his eye for capturing the beauty in people and everyday moments. @mirzababicfoto