It’s time to reclaim the whitewashed narrative of specialty coffee

Europe’s unmistakable influence on coffee culture cannot be denied. If you walk into any speciality coffee shop, you’re likely to notice a gleaming espresso machine made in Italy and a menu featuring cappuccinos, cortados, and other espresso-based beverages. Even the reputation of speciality coffee as “a white hipster thing,” complicit in gentrification, has a whiff of European colonialism. Yet coffee’s African, Latin American, Middle Eastern, and Southeast Asian origins — where Black and brown people cultivated and brewed it long before Europeans “discovered” it — remain largely unknown.

With Coffee Del Mundo, Jonathan Kinnard is rewriting the script with a speciality coffee shop in South Central Los Angeles that firmly centres these cultures. “What we are doing and will continue to do here is assisting people in rediscovering coffee in its original form,” he tells Mic. Coffee Del Mundo does not serve espresso-based beverages; rather, they specialise in drip coffee, pour-over coffee, and cold brew. Additionally, because many Black and Latinx people, including Kinnard, are lactose intolerant, the menu excludes dairy.

Along with Red Bay Coffee in Oakland, Resistencia Coffee in Seattle, and a few other BIPOC-owned coffee shops, Coffee Del Mundo is reclaiming the narrative of speciality coffee. Rather than sneering at newcomers for, say, expecting a caramel-and-whipped cream concoction à la Starbucks when they order a macchiato, they strive to make their products accessible to all. They hire marginalised members of the communities in which they operate and develop direct relationships with farmers.

Coffee, like many other goods exported to the West, has a chequered history. According to PBS, popular legend links it to ancient Ethiopia, and people in the Arabian Peninsula have been roasting it since at least the 13th century. It was not until the seventeenth century that it made its way to Europe, where demand skyrocketed. To keep up, Eater notes, colonial governments in the Americas compelled enslaved African and Indigenous people to work on sugar and coffee plantations. Many coffee producers continue to work for pitiful wages.

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