To celebrate Black History Month, I introduced the Black Barista Bio (BBB). It was a series of Instagram posts dedicated to black folks in Portland's specialty coffee scene. I wanted to share the stories of these baristas because they often feel overlooked and underrepresented. The series of posts focused on 8 people, and their coffee life, interests, etc. The feedback on the series was amazing! There were many people who reached out and made comments about the series, and how unaware they were about the experience of black folks in coffee. I was glad to get around them and learn more about them. Read each of their stores below!
Kevin / @coachella_kev
Coffee Shop: Deadstock Coffee
Hometown: Portland, OR
Kevin has nearly 4 years of coffee experience as a barista. His favorite part about being a Barista is the challenge of perfecting his latte art and pour. Kev has been seen in several latte art competitions and is a strong competitor. Along with working in coffee, Kev also works at the Nike Company Store (employee store) and is an Assistant Manager at Playdate PDX. His versatility has made him an asset with every company he's worked for. Kev is very interested in the sneaker industry and culture, which makes him a perfect fit at Deadstock Coffee. When asked what it's like being black while working in the Portland coffee scene, Kev said the customer's reaction can be polarizing.
"They expect you to know nothing about coffee, or that you must REALLY know about coffee if you are working in a shop. There is not much grey area," Kevin states.
Head down to Deadstock and say what's up to Coachella Kev!
Zael (Paxton)/ @paxtonxx
Hometown: San Diego, CA
Coffee Shop: Never Coffee
Zael has been in the coffee game for 6 years working both in San Diego and in Portland. Although Zael loves coffee, the real passion for the business comes from the drive to cultivate inclusive environments. "Having spaces where everyone can feel welcome and comfortable is rare. I want to own a shop one day that's welcoming and gives credit to those growing the coffee," Zael states. The idea of paying homage to coffee growers ties into Zael's favorite part about being a barista. Zael understands that coffee is stemmed from hard labor and skill, which makes Zael feel gratified to execute the other end of the deal by creating an excellent drink. "It's the ultimate collaboration. It's not just about us here in Portland, it's much bigger than that," Zael says.
The creative process doesn't begin and end in the coffee shop for Zael. A lot of time is spent on GarageBand with the acoustic guitar and keyboard. Zael has even uploaded some tracks to SoundCloud, but quickly took them down out of fear of potential embarrassment.
When asked what it's like being a black barista in Portland, Zael has this to say: "Depending on what shop you're at, I've noticed that people can invalidate you if they can't tokenize you. It can be mentally and emotionally exhausting being the only person of color in a shop on a weekly basis."
Be sure to swing by Never Coffee and show Zael some love!
Doug (DJ)/ @_dougiefunny_
Hometown: Portland, OR
Coffee Shop: Deadstock Coffee
DJ has been in the coffee business for about a year and a half, but has only been a barista for 6 months. He initially helped out Deadstock Coffee during events while he was juggling other jobs outside of coffee. Like his fellow co-workers, DJ fits in well with the coffee shop’s culture as he is heavily invested in the sneaker world. DJ is currently transitioning from being a “Nike-only” sneakerhead into an unbiased sneakerhead.
DJ’s creativity extends beyond the coffee shop. When he isn’t slingin’ lattes, he is helping customers build-out websites at this full-time job with SquareSpace. He also works with The Almanac Brand, a clothing company established in Portland.
DJ enjoys being a barista because of the people. He mentioned that customers are unique in their own way and the group he works with makes for an entertaining shift.
“Being a black barista is different, to say the least. Like being black in any other field/occupation, you get looked at differently when you’re the minority. Whether that’s good or bad I couldn’t tell you, because I can’t tell what people are thinking,” says DJ. To go along with that, DJ likes the sense of community found among other black members in the coffee world. “Going to latte art competitions are fun too because you see at least 3 or 4 other black people in the crowd. The funny part is that you all probably went together. Haha.”
Give DJ a follow and show him some love!
Jasmine (Jassy) / @jassyonyae
Hometown: Napa Valley
Coffee Shop: Courier Coffee
If you’ve visited Courier Coffee recently, there is a good chance you may have seen our next featured barista. Originally from Napa Valley, Jasmine has been in coffee for about 2 years. She is one of a few baristas that staff the small coffee shop in downtown Portland.
Creativity is one of the qualities that Jassy brings to the table. She mentioned that she is obsessed with natural skincare, which eventually led to her side business venture. Jassy created @onyaenaturals, a company that makes small batch skincare products and hand-poured candles. She is a one-woman business when it comes to her brand. She does everything from making the products, designing the labels, executing the digital strategy, and packaging/shipping products. Coupled with working behind the bar at Courier, Jassy’s schedule can be quite full.
Jassy’s experience as a small business owner gives her a different perspective and makes her more mindful of all aspects of a business, especially customer relations. She notices that being a barista in her skin often calls attention to herself from visitors of the shop, positive or negative.
“Being a barista while black feels new in a way. It’s rare here in Portland. Caucasians own most coffee shops, and I feel like the token black girl but I’ve only had a good experience. I can tell though if I upset a customer, they can’t describe me too well on a review without describing how I look.” Jassy went on to talk more about how some customers find ways to differentiate her from other baristas when reviewing her, as opposed to stating the obvious. “I’ve been deemed as the girl with the hair with a couple of customers. I work at a very small coffee shop; I stand out A LOT,” Jassy states.
Be sure to follow Jassy on her business page!
Jordan / @jordanleeanthony
Hometown: Los Angeles, CA
Coffee Shop: Water Avenue
"It can be a challenge at times, but that’s the nature of customer service and being black in America. “- Jordan
Water avenue was one of the first specialty coffee shops that I featured when starting on Instagram. I remember seeing Jordan in there during the visit and felt the positive energy he brought to the room. He was one of the first baristas that came to mind when putting this series together. Originally from Los Angeles, Jordan has been working in coffee for 3 years. He gravitated towards the specialty coffee industry because of the support provided among coffee shops. He has made it a point to visit other shops in the city to pick the brains of other Portland coffee people and their operations. “It’s dope that there’s so much individuality and creativity being celebrated in coffee these days too,” Jordan says.
Like a few of the other baristas featured, Jordan has hobbies that are centered around creativity. He’s passionate about the arts and dabbles in a few different worlds. His interests include: photography, fashion, tech, and modeling. He spends much of his time producing music, which is one of his main outlets of creativity. Jordan is talented, and has seen success in all fields mentioned. If he isn’t modeling or making music, you may see him playing basketball or walking his dog, Kobi.
When meeting with Jordan, we spoke about his upbringing in Los Angeles and how it compares to living in Portland. The state of Oregon was intended to be a “white utopia” when it was founded, and that mindset still lingers for some residents. “The toughest thing is seeing how customers look at me compared to my coworkers and talk to me with a sense of novelty about my presence, like it's ‘cool’ that I’m there making their coffee. It’s dehumanizing, but I find subtle ways to send reminders or imbue a better idea,” Jordan states.
Go visit my friend Jordan at Water Avenue and give him a follow!
Vincent / @vnprt
Hometown: Portland, OR
Coffee Shop: Kopi Coffee House
"I do notice some reluctance in engagement outside of ordering from the menu with some customers, but they tend to warm up after a while.” – Vincent
A couple of people recommended Vincent once the series started, which is pretty dope. A native of Portland, Vincent has been working in coffee for over a year and a half with Kopi Coffee House. His intro to coffee came about when he visited his friend that worked at Stumptown, Jointsy. This allowed Vincent to see the passion that comes with the product. He would then meet with the owner of Kopi, Xua, and casually discuss the politics and culture involving coffee. That bond would be the precursor to Vincent’s role in the coffee world. Primarily, he is in the back of the shop prepping and cooking as the shop’s chef. He was handed creative control of the food menu by
Xua. Vincent also is seen behind the coffee bar whipping up your favorite Southeast Asian-themed drinks.
“Usually, they see other people greet me warmly or converse with me with the utmost interest. Other times it’s the music I play when I’m working that breaks the ice.” – Vincent
What I found most compelling about Vincent’s story was his community involvement. He mentioned that his music selection can break down barriers and that's been pivotal in his life as a DJ. Known as “VNPRT”, Vincent is well-known in the area as a DJ through his seamless blends on digital platforms and eclectic selections during vinyl sets. He can be seen at @churchbarpdx and other places. Most importantly, he collaborates with several progressive initiatives in Portland that is focused on the arts. He does work with @deepunderground, @chaptercollective , @y.g.b.portland, @therightbraininitiative, and @pdxartspark, to name a few. Whether it’s centered around coffee or music, Vincent/VNPRT uses his innovative approach to bring all cultures together. He’s proven to be valuable in many groups that’s he is associated with.
Hop onto Souncloud.com/VNPRT to hear Vincent’s mixes. You can find the link in his bio on his page!
Shantel / @bikegal24
Hometown: Seattle, WA
Coffee Shop: Nossa Familia
“Being black while working in coffee has been pretty chill for me. I used to have customers question my skills behind bar and my knowledge of coffee quite often early in the game, but not so much anymore. I've grown much more confident in my coffee-self and I’d like to think people can sense that too.”-Shantel
Shantel is one of the more experienced baristas that I’ve come across in Portland. She’s been in coffee for about 11 years, spending time with a few different companies. Due to her lengthy experience, the confidence she has in coffee comes naturally. She got into coffee while she was in college, and the desire to continue is still burning, to her surprise. Shantel has been through some adversity in the past decade, but the feeling of flowing behind the coffee bar has provided serenity. She mentioned the coffee world has given her a sense of community, which she is grateful for.
When it comes to Shantel’s interests, they are as diverse as it can be. She makes use of her hands on and off the clock. She recently got into bike mechanics, and loves to ride. She also sews clothing, quilts and builds things with wood. Her favorite hobby, however, is being the mother of a five-year-old girl named Ari. When Shantel isn’t making coffee or wooden objects, she dives into hip-hop music and spoken word as a closet MC.
While Shantel has many interests and hobbies, her desire is to stay in the coffee business. She mentioned that she has concerns about equality when it comes to advancement in the coffee industry, but it’s not going to stop her.
“As my desire grows to delve deeper into the coffee industry beyond being a barista, I’ve questioned whether there’s a place for me in the world of coffee as a black woman because the industry is whitewashed, but I'm sticking with it. I’m taking the chance and saying 'YES, there’s plenty of space!’ I must be confident enough to take up that space,” Shantel states.
Follow Shantel and visit her at Nossa!
Brianna / @bri666sux
Hometown: Portland, OR
Coffee Shop: Bipartisan Cafe
“People in Portland have a standard of what POC should look and act like. Sometimes, I don’t meet that standard and I get ‘the look’. Whether it’s from the album I put on, the clothes I wear, the style of my makeup or the way I speak. I don’t really care though because I work at a place where my coworkers support me and don’t ostracize me.” -Brianna
The last barista to be featured for the Black Barista Series will be Brianna. For the past 3 and half years, Bri has been working at Bipartisan Café in SE Portland. It took her a little bit of time to acclimate herself to the coffee world, but she has hit her stride as of late. Her best friend’s parents own the café, which led her over there, but she stayed because of the regular customers that come in. “They respect us as we come. it’s casual like a bar gig but instead of drunk idiots you get people who are minding their business and getting way too jacked up on caffeine,” Bri states.
What I found most unique about Bri was her music selection and her hobbies. She is into Punk and Metal, which bucks the trend of your typical coffee house playlist. In fact, it’s common that Bri plays Judas Priest while working on bar. Outside of the Bipartisan life, she spends her time doodling cartoons and feeding quarters into pinball machines, which she is obsessed with playing. Also, she is an avid VHS collector. She has over 100 VHS tapes that she has collected thus far and it continues to grow.
Moving forward, Bri has interests in uplifting the community through the arts, both vocal and visual. She has thrown a few music shows already, and is planning to throw more in the future. Her dream job would be to open a creative space for the arts, which will cater to those local artists looking to gain exposure and positively affect the community.
Follow Bri on her IG page and swing by Bipartisan Café!