Cxffeeblack Founder Bartholomew Jones Shares His Go-To Coffee Break Essentials
Bartholomew Jones talks to us about coffee culture, connecting to the community, and his essentials for enjoying the perfect cup.
Large chains like Starbucks and Dunkin' are likely the first spots that come to mind when you think about coffee, but with countless independent coffeehouses and online coffee companies popping up daily, it’s obvious that the demand for a good cup of joe isn't waning anytime soon. So when Bartholomew Jones, the founder of Cxffeeblack, tells us how coffee is only indigenously grown in East Africa, it begs the question—why aren’t more Black people getting into the coffee business? According to Jones, that’s all about to change because Cxffeeblack is at the forefront of the “Make Coffee Black Again” movement.
We spoke with him about Africa’s connection to coffee, how he's been putting more Black people onto specialty coffee, and some of his favorite coffee (besides his own beloved Guji Mane). And, in addition to deconstructing Cxffeeblack as a brand and as a movement, Jones lays out all of his essentials for the perfect coffee break.
"Coffee’s the seed of this African fruit. It has all these interesting notes. It's way deeper than what people think it is."
Thrillist: What sparked your deep dive into the world of coffee?
Bartholomew Jones: When Kendrick Lamar dropped To Pimp A Butterfly, my wife had just bought me my first espresso machine, and she was really the person who pushed me to get into coffee. Growing up Black, there’s just certain things you don't spend money on. I grew up in a working class family in Memphis, a blue collar city. So I always feel kind of guilty buying a $20 bag of coffee or $45 pour over or decanter. My wife bought me this espresso machine, and to me, that gave me permission as a Black man to be interested in this real nerdy thing.
How did your love for coffee turn into Cxffeeblack?
Jones: When I got To Pimp A Butterfly on vinyl, I invited all the homies over. We were listening to it, I was making Ethiopian pour overs, and the vibe was just immaculate. My homie grabbed a cup, and he was like, “What you put in this?” I told him I ain’t put nothing in it. Coffee’s the seed of this African fruit. It has all these interesting notes, and it’s way deeper than what people think it is. That led to conversations about how the same thing is true for not just the seed of a fruit from Africa, but the people who were stolen from Africa. There's more to us than what people think.
I was an education major at this PWI right outside of Chicago called Wheaton College and also an indie music dude, so I was either at a coffee shop writing music or writing lesson plans. Naturally, you just start pulling from what you're into, and that all led to this whole metaphor of “No sugar, no cream/Don't cover my dreams.” Cxffeeblack really started out as a bar in one of my raps.
The coffee metaphors in your music eventually turned into merchandise, which turned into a whole coffee brand. How is Cxffeeblack working to reconnect the roots of coffee production to the Black American community?
Jones: Guji Mane for sure. Guji Mane’s name comes from Guji, the zone in the southern region of Ethiopia in Oromia, one of the first regions where coffee was cultivated. It's showing the connection between the African experience and the African American experience, and it just so happens that Guji is my favorite coffee and Gucci is one of the dopest rappers to come out of the South.
We also have a spot where we give coffee away for free and train people for the community on barista stuff. We're bringing 10 different people that we mentor down to the Specialty Coffee Expo in New Orleans, which is the big deal. And we’ve got two seasons worth of podcasts out right now with us interviewing coffee farmers and coffee professionals from all across the diaspora—Trinidad, Ethiopia, Burundi, Haiti. We interview them about what it is like to be Black and in coffee and what the potential for the Black community to experience generational wealth can be like if we re-engage with coffee. Right now, we're raising funds to go to Africa because we were invited by several different coffee farmers and professionals in Ethiopia to come and visit.
"People don't know this, but Black women are the world's longest standing barista class."
Are there any African traditions that live on through Cxffeeblack?
Jones: A month ago, my wife quit her job and took over as our roaster, which is dope because she’s working in the tradition. People don't know this, but Black women are the world's longest standing barista class. For thousands of years in Ethiopia, Black women have been sourcing, roasting, and preparing coffee three times a day. We figured to honor that heritage, my wife should be our roaster. She was willing to go and do the work to learn, and she has been a natural. She's killing it.
Now that you’ve properly introduced us to Cxffeeblack, can you walk us through all your must-haves for the perfect coffee break?
Jones: Say less!
Jones' Essentials for Enjoying a Perfect Cup of Coffee
Guji Mane, that's the best way to get into what we're doing. You also should check out Stephen Zinnerman’s The Coffee Enthusiast and Ethnos Coffee Roasters because they do a lot of great collaborations. In Atlanta, my homegirl Neichelle has Black Girl Black Coffee, and there’s also Portrait Coffee, who is doing great work, too. And let’s get international really quick—go check out Oromo Coffee Co. The Oromo people were one of the first people to cultivate coffee in Ethiopia, and Oromo Coffee is super dope. Then there’s Black Gold Creative Coffee, and it’s a company from Dre Murray, one of my favorite rappers from back in the day.
We sell a brewer on our website called the Aeropress Go!, which to me is the perfect way to start getting into coffee. It's very cost-effective. You just spend about 30 bucks, and once you get your coffee ground, you can make one of the best cups of coffee in the world. If you want to get into pour overs, I would definitely recommend the MiiR Pourigami. Then there’s the Fellow Ode, a $300 grinder. It gives you really consistent grinds, which is really important with extraction because you want to make sure you don't get over extracted parts of the coffee. So If you want the complicated setup, I would get the Fellow Ode and the Fellow Stagg EKG, temperature-controlled gooseneck kettle.
For espresso machines, we use the GS3, which is a La Marzocco piece. It’s a five or six thousand-dollar espresso machine, and it’s a single grouphead that makes a really good cup of espresso. But if you’re looking for a really good deal, De'Longhi has a really good espresso machine I would check out.
I would definitely say To Pimp A Butterfly is a classic, so I definitely keep that on vinyl. The latest A Tribe Called Quest album—We Got It from Here... Thank You 4 Your Service—was really a vibe. It’s between that and Midnight Marauders. There’s a project by Jordan Rakei called Wallflower—his voice is amazing. I really recommend Oddissee’s The Good Fight, too, and that’s a good little smorgasbord of joints right there.