Africa is my descent And here I am far from home I dwell within a land that is meant For many men not my tone
“Africa,” by D’Angelo
“Love Black people like you love black cxffee.”
This is the mantra of Cxffeeblack – a Memphis-based venture that was launched by Bartholomew Jones and Renata Henderson. Cxffeeblack is a social enterprise that seeks to reintroduce the black history of coffee into black communities and help reimagine its black future by using revenue generated from apparel, music, events, consulting work, and collaborations to invest in their community; providing opportunities for people of origin to create inspiring work.
Their most recent collaboration is with Arkansas’s Onyx Coffee Lab, as an installment in Onyx’s Public Label series. Onyx’s Director of Wholesale operations, Bear Soliven, and Jones have had a relationship for the past several years, being born out of a mutual love of coffee and hip-hop.
“Since that point, Onyx has been family,” says Jones. “It was only a matter of time before we found a way to collaborate.”
Onyx’s Public Label series provided the perfect opportunity to do exactly that. Eschewing the “private label” moniker – which Onyx views as pejorative and exclusive – Public Label creates an opportunity for Onyx to learn from their partners and for their partners to share in beautiful coffees.
It’s also the first installment in a new line of releases for Cxffeeblack called the 1616 Collaboration Series. Similar to the 1619 Project, 1616 Collaboration Series is an exploration and celebration of African coffees; it aims to honor the African and indigenous peoples who cultivated coffee culture then and now.
It’s fitting, then, that of the sample coffees that Onyx sent Cxffeeblack for consideration, the first installment in the 1616 Project comes from the birthplace of coffee – Ethiopia.
This coffee is a single origin selection from METAD, an Ethiopian coffee sourcing firm. They own and operate the famed Hambela Estate, where this coffee hails from. METAD is a big part of Onyx’s portfolio, as more than half of all their Ethiopian offerings are either farmed or sourced through them.
METAD is a very unique entity in Ethiopia, and has an even more unique history. The land on which Hambela Estate sits was awarded to Muluemebet Emiru – the first African female pilot – after World War II. Her descendants now run the estate and farm, with brothers Aman and Tariku Adinew at the helm of METAD. Adinew is also one of the founding executives of the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange (ECX), the dominant organization in Ethiopia for commerce and trading.
METAD plays an active roll in the local community: their workforce is over 70% women, and they provide healthcare for employees, award university scholarships, and sponsor an elementary school with over 700 students. Quality and certification premiums have also helped METAD build roads and community centers, and they have expanded an “out-grower” program designed to provide technical assistance, farm equipment and certification programs for more than 5,000 local farmers.
“This particular coffee really represented what we wanted to present about a natural Ethiopian,” Jones explains. “The vibrancy, the beauty, the delicacy, the juiciness…the way the floral, perfumy nature of the coffee lingers in your mouth. That all really embodied the kind of Black perspective we wanted to present.”
Some naturally processed Ethiopian coffees act as big blueberry bombs that explode in your kitchen as soon as you tear open the packaging. Others can be smell and taste fermented and vinegary. That is not the case with this coffee. The aroma of this coffee is fine and elegant – perfumed, even. There is a dark berry note here, and it is accompanied with black tea and purple flower aromatics.
The coffee is just as elegant in the mug. It’s medium-bodied with a smooth, silky mouthfeel and mild stone fruit acidity. It’s floral-forward, coming out of the gates with a bouquet of lilac, lavender, and Earl Grey tea, all riding on top of a base of dark chocolate. As the coffee cools, the berry notes from the aroma present as elderberry liqueur and I’m also getting flavors of plum, which rides out through a moderately dry finish.
All of the flavors that Jones was looking for in the first 1616 Collaboration Series release came through in this coffee. This was a rich, elegant, sophisticated coffee that showcases how unique Ethiopian coffees are – even from one another.
To that end, it’s also proof of a tremendously successful collaboration between Onyx and Cxffeeblack. The stories that both brands set out to tell are told in the cup.
What were your thoughts of this one? Comments, questions, and suggestions are always welcome! Contact me, or enter a comment below
Andrew is a husband, father, dog lover, craft beverage enthusiast, content creator, and niche market Internet celebrity. Formerly of A Table in the Corner of the Cafe and The Pulitzer Project and contributor to Barista Magazine and Mental Floss, he’s been writing on the Internet for years.
Andrew is a husband, father, dog lover, craft beverage enthusiast, content creator, and niche market Internet celebrity. Formerly of A Table in the Corner of the Cafe and The Pulitzer Project and contributor to Barista Magazine and Mental Floss, he's been writing on the Internet for years.