web analytics

#71 | Re:co Podcast – Phyllis Johnson and Keba Konte on Letting Go of Sameness (S4, Ep. 1)

This podcast is brought to you with the support of

Today, we’re very happy to present the first episode of “Growing Consumption: Letting Go of Sameness,” a session recorded at Re:co Symposium this past April. We’ve grown accustomed to specialty coffee consumption growing at a fast pace, but some signs indicate it may be slowing. This session convened experts to ask: What could we stand to gain if we became more diverse in our approaches and offerings? 

Session Host Phyllis Johnson begins with a study by the National Coffee Association indicating that specialty coffee consumption is slowing among our current target market before bringing Red Bay Coffee’s Keba Konte to the stage. Together, they discuss how to ensure specialty coffee is a vehicle for diversity, inclusion, economic restoration, entrepreneurship, and environmental sustainability. 

Special Thanks to Toddy 

This talk from Re:co Boston is supported by Toddy. For over 50 years, Toddy brand cold brew systems have delighted baristas, food critics, and regular folks alike. By extracting all the natural and delicious flavors of coffee and tea, Toddy Cold Brew Systems turn your favorite coffee beans and tea leaves into fresh cold brew concentrates, that are ready to serve and enjoy. Learn more about Toddy at http://www.toddycafe.com.

Related Links 
Table of Contents

0:00 Introduction
2:15 Introduction to the Re:co series of talks about thinking differently and that gourmet coffee consumption is growing amongst American minorities, but declining amongst caucasian Americans
9:00 An introduction to Keba Konta and Red Bay Coffee and his experiencing having a multicultural leadership
32:45 Outro

Full Episode Transcript

0:00 Introduction

Peter Giuliano: Hello everybody, I’m Peter Giuliano, SCA’s Chief Research Officer. You’re listening to an episode of the Re:co Podcast, a series of the SCA Podcast. The Re:co podcast is dedicated to new thinking, discussion, and leadership in Specialty Coffee, featuring talks, discussions, and interviews from Re:co Symposium, the SCA’s premier event dedicated to amplifying the voices of those who are driving specialty coffee forward. Check out the show notes for links to our YouTube channel where you can find videos of these talks.

This episode of the Re:co Podcast is supported by Toddy. For over 50 years, Toddy brand cold brew systems have delighted baristas, food critics, and regular folks alike. By extracting all the natural and delicious flavors of coffee and tea, Toddy Cold Brew Systems turn your favorite coffee beans and tea leaves into fresh cold brew concentrates that are ready to serve and enjoy. Learn more about Toddy at toddycafe.com. Toddy: Cold brewed, simply better.

Re:co Symposium and the Specialty Coffee Expo are coming to Portland in April 2020. Don’t miss the forthcoming early-bird ticket release – find us on social media or sign up for our monthly newsletter to keep up-to-date with all our announcements.

Today, we’re very happy to present the first episode of “Growing Consumption: Letting Go of Sameness,” a session recorded at Re:co Symposium this past April. We’ve grown accustomed to specialty coffee consumption growing at a fast pace, but some signs indicate it may be slowing. This session convened experts to ask: What could we stand to gain if we became more diverse in our approaches and offerings?

Session Host Phyllis Johnson begins with a study by the National Coffee Association indicating that specialty coffee consumption is slowing among our current target market before bringing Red Bay Coffee’s Keba Konte to the stage. Together, they discuss how to ensure specialty coffee is a vehicle for diversity, inclusion, economic restoration, entrepreneurship, and environmental sustainability.

Also, to help you follow along in this podcast, I will chime in occasionally to help you visualize what you can’t see.

 

2:15 Introduction to the Re:co series of talks about thinking differently and that gourmet coffee consumption is growing amongst American minorities, but declining amongst caucasian Americans

Phyllis Johnson: Thank you, Peter, for the introduction. And thank you to everyone who’s here this morning. It’s early, so hopefully, you’ve gotten your coffee. So today we’re going to be talking about consumption, but I think consumption is going to take sort of a different angle. We have some great speakers. You know, I got a chance to speak to some of the fellows and some of the old folks who’ve been around coffee for a while yesterday. And we’re all kind of excited and frustrated at the same time as to where we are. And as we look at the U. S. and we look at our coffee consumption in the US and we noticed that over the past few years, past seven years, coffee has actually been unchanged. But what about that unchanged that we’re not seeing what’s behind the numbers. Where might there be opportunities that we have yet to discover? So that’s some of what we will talk about today, letting go of sameness.

So maybe there’s some growth in product categories, different products that have not been developed. Maybe there’s some growth in minority groups who are not big consumers of coffee. Maybe there’s some opportunities in producing countries. So this morning I’m really happy to have a couple of individuals who’re going to join me on stage. Keba Konte. He’s from Red Bay Coffee in Oakland, California. He traveled all the way here. Keba focuses on engaging non-traditional specialty coffees consumers. People of color, particularly African Americans, who often fall short in consumption. Those who were formerly incarcerated, women, the disabled. Kevin sees the future of coffee is being highly inclusive. Vera Espindola Raphael. Vera is a researcher and developer. She’s also new to the SCA Board. Vera’s going to talk to us about this whole idea of giving more value to the custom, to the producer. And how do you do that? Do you do that by growing coffee consumption? Well, it seems that we’re talking about some really long-range ideas, but I think that it’s time that we start to dig deep into some of these topics of increasing consumption through either minority groups through producing countries but giving more value to farmers. So just for a few minutes, I’d like to show you some of the data as far as the US is concerned regarding consumption. And mostly all of my data is coming come from the National Coffee Association’s National Coffee Data Trends. It’s the oldest coffee survey in the United States. It started in 1950 when surveyors would go door to door to find out what people were drinking.

Peter Giuliano: Phyllis has a chart showing coffee consumption in the US hovering around 60% of the population since 2012.

Phyllis Johnson: So as you can see, over the last seven years, coffee has pretty much remained the same in and around 60%.

Peter Giuliano: Phyllis’ new chart shows non-gourmet traditional coffee falling from around 40% to 30% in that same period, the difference being counterbalanced by gourmet coffee.

Phyllis Johnson: But the exciting thing for the specialty coffee industry, of which gourmet coffee is part of the category, were involved in a survey. You can see that there has been somewhat of a decline in what we called “non-traditional coffee” or “non-gourmet,” where there’s been an incline in gourmet coffee. So that should be good news to specialty people. But we can’t lose sight that the last three years has actually plateaued.

Peter Giuliano: Phyllis’ has a chart showing gourmet coffee has increased from 50% of all cups of coffee drank in 2016 to over 60% in 2019.

Phyllis Johnson: The survey looks at the number of cups that are consumed on a daily basis by those they survey. So the good news for specialty people is that in the US, more consumers year over year are drinking more specialty coffee versus traditional coffee or gourmet coffee as the survey said.

Well, what about age and type of coffee? We probably all kind of knew this, I think. Younger people tend to drink more gourmet coffee. Older people drink more traditional non-gourmet coffee. So last year I got a chance to speak at Re:co, and I threw out this crazy idea that there was really a lack of involvement in the coffee industry by minority groups. I don’t see many minorities in coffee in the US. And I felt that the way to engage minorities more would be to bring them into the industry – not just as consumers – but as entrepreneurs, as leaders, as employees of companies. Well, what happened is a few other people thought the same thing. William Fry, who’s the author of Diversity Explosion, said that youthful minorities are the engine to the future. 35% of the US is made up of three ethnic minority groups African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans. That’s 130 million people. In the next 26 years, the US demographics will change dramatically. And so, for the first time, according to the 2017 census, the US will have 49.7% Caucasian Americans. We will have an increase in our multiracial population, Asian Americans in a small in uptick in all the other ethnic groups. While Hispanic Americans typically are among the highest coffee consumers, as I said earlier, African Americans have always lagged behind. But the most exciting news that came out of the National Coffee Associations NCDT  survey this year, was that African Americans are now on par – with not just coffee consumption – but with gourmet coffee consumption. African Americans have closed the gap. That’s exciting. It’s not just coffee. It’s gourmet coffee. It’s good coffee. It’s the coffee that that helps the whole industry.

Peter Giuliano:  Phyllis’ chart shows the percentage of people of different ethnicities who drank a “gourmet” coffee in the last week.

Phyllis Johnson: So what do those numbers look like? So if we look at past week consumption, you can see for 2017/2018, we African Americans were hovering around a little over 40% close to 50%. But jumped over 51% this year. Asian Americans and Hispanic Americans remain pretty constant, but we are seeing things move in that area. It is because of young ethnic minorities that the gourmet coffee sector is growing. As you can see, Caucasian Americans actually dropped. The number based on percentage of those surveyed, dropped from 42, 41 to 39. Researchers said that they actually do consider this a drop.

Peter Giuliano: Phyllis has a similar chart as before, but this new chart shows the percentage of people of different ethnicities who drank a “gourmet” coffee in the past day.

Phyllis Johnson: But I want to give recognition to those who have done some work. And I feel that, you know, I would be written remiss without saying that I’ve noticed as an African American who’s worked in coffee for the last 20 years and seeing very little representation, I have seen a shift towards becoming a more inclusive industry in the US. And I hope that regardless as to what country you’re in, that you also take note to see who else is not at the table. It’s more than just the women. It’s the indigenous people. It’s the different groups that make up your community and your society. So I would really like to give acknowledgment to the SCA who I think has put together its most diverse board that I’ve ever seen. I was probably the first woman of color who served on their board this year. They have many. So I’m very pleased to see that. The industry has taken a role in talking about diversity and inclusion issues, and I’m happy to see that. But, yes, we have a long way to go. We need diversity that extends beyond your production area. But in decision making roles, a society becomes more and more diverse. There’s a need to have that perspective at the table.

 

11:20 An introduction to Keba Konta and Red Bay Coffee and his experiencing having a multicultural leadership

Phyllis Johnson: So this leads me into my next conversation. I get to sit down for a moment with a practitioner. Keba Konte, the individual that I mentioned earlier. And as I said, Keba joins us from Oakland, California, a place where there’s tremendous gentrification. And he has focused on an industry on the part of the industry that helps to improve consumption among people of color. Keba would you please come to the stage?

Keba Konte: Hello, Boston. Hello, coffee people.

Phyllis Johnson: Yeah. So, tell us about Red Bay. Tell us about your mission.

Keba Konte: Yes. Well, Red Bay Coffee we were founded five years ago after me spending 10 years in the coffee industry as a cafe owner. Owned a couple cafes and then got into the roasting side of it. Our tagline is “beautiful coffee to the people” and what I mean by beautiful is beautiful coffee is specialty coffee and not just… So, specialty coffee is that there’s so much beauty in it. Just in this lobby, you could see the equipment. You could see the tools of the trade. You could see the beautiful latte art.  Moving back up the screen you see those coffee cherries and the farmers. There’s just so much beauty built into the whole thing. But really, what’s at the heart of what I mean by beautiful coffee is really the relationships and how we’re moving coffee and to the people is really trying to make this beautiful coffee more approachable and more accessible to more people.

Phyllis Johnson: Okay.

Keba Konte: So, that has been our mission from the very beginning, trying to create spaces that are more welcoming and really having the experience, the joy of specialty coffee. Just wanted to share that with a broader audience and in order to bring more people into this industry, bring more customers in to experience.  These have more beautiful coffee experiences and that is about creating spaces. so that’s some of the things that we do.

Phyllis Johnson: So, you must be excited about this new data survey saying that more African Americans are drinking coffee. You’re creating spaces that help to make people feel more comfortable in a space. What have been some of the things that you’ve learned from having such a multicultural experience in your business and in your leadership? What are some of the things that you’ve learned from that and what are some of the challenges that you had with that?

Keba Konte: Well, yeah, the data is exciting. I just learned about this very recently so you’re all welcome. But no, I’m just finding about this so this is this is really exciting and, you know, I guess it affirms what I sort of knew that black people night like nice things and that if we are as a community giving the platform and giving welcoming spaces that we will take it on as our own and I think that’s the distinction, right. So, there’s one thing to treat someone as a consumer, and because you’re always sort of at arm’s length, right as a consumer but that that coffee drinker feels that distance. But when spaces and experiences are created in a very authentic way with the audience in mind, really, I think that allows opportunities to really be yourself, to be your authentic self, to feel safe in the space. So, that’s some of my experience. I think, in terms of the experience actually building this company, just to give you a little snapshot of where we are, we’ve been around for five years. We have about 35 employees. We do wholesale roasting. We have about five cafes, maybe 200 wholesale accounts and we do about 200 events a year inside of our space. We do classes. We do workshops. Some of the events are not all coffee-centric, but maybe more value-aligned, cultural aligned, films, lectures, conversations, live music, and dance performance. So, the culture is a very dynamic thing. It’s evolving and to try to build in a diverse leadership is really the challenge that I put out to all of you entrepreneurs and founders and company owners today. It’s not enough just to have sort of black and browning of the front line of your baristas but that is important and that is an important first step because that’s where you sort of get on the ladder to grow within the industry. But my mission was to do more than that, was to really create the leaderships in the marketing and the finance and the branding and, of them, of course, in the coffee and the quality control. But if I’m entering into an industry that has not had a really a great track record of that level of inclusion and diversity as I’m trying to hire and build these teams, there aren’t a great pool of experienced people. So that’s part of my challenge. So, that’s often the excuse that many industries use. There’s a pipeline. So really, how I think about that is one just if it’s important to you, try harder, be more intentional, get creative. So, for instance, what I’ve done is I had to sort of go slightly outside of the coffee industry but industries that I think might be relevant.  My first coffee director actually came from specialty chocolate. So really, there’s so many parallels with specialty chocolate.  I also hired people who had experience at bartending and wine, chefs. So, people who had defined pallets, who understood flavor profiles and in giving them an opportunity. So, that was my own practice and I’m happy to see over the last 15 years, in 2005 is when I opened my first cafe, so I have seen the progress over the last 5/6 years. So, although these stats are very nice, it’s not totally surprising. I think I saw the writing on the wall.

Phyllis Johnson: Yeah, great. So, there’s a lot of people in the audience who are from coffee producing countries and feel the pains of the crisis and the low prices that we have now, and they may be thinking black people drinking coffee, okay, but coffee prices are low, and we need to fix that. Tell me, as an African American, what do you think, having the history being an African American, living in this country and understanding the crisis in a position of farmers is there any correlation or opportunities that exist even in the realm of empathy, that can take place that would help move the industry towards better solutions or better answers.

Keba Konte: So, African Americans and I think really young people in general, really the millennial generation; there’s a stat that I read that 88% of millennials will actively boycott a brand that they feel is practicing unethical business. So, that sentiment is very much engrained in the African American culture because of so much discrimination throughout our history from Jim Crow to redlining to just segregation. So, we’re very sensitive to unethical business behaviors, and we will very sort of passively boycott and actively boycott.  So, we saw that last year around the coffee industry when two men were arrested in Philadelphia for just going into a coffee shop. So, this is really just always just right there on the cutting edge of it and really, coffee is interesting because coffee is one of these industries like cotton or sugar.  It’s a commodity that was really founded with slave labor. So, it’s a very complex history for us. We do have empathy when it comes to people’s labor being exploited which is part of this coffee crisis and you and obviously this coffee crisis it’s a very complex global economic challenge, but we can’t let that overwhelming-ness of the problem really stump us from addressing it from wherever we are, wherever we address coffee. We can have a say so in it.  So yes, there’s empathy for it. I think you know as Vera will speak on later the growing consumption in producing countries I think has a tremendous long term value to help break the chains of the coffee crisis by gaining more self-determination and consumption in creating industries within our own community.

Phyllis Johnson: I just wanted to let you know that the clock is stopped so we’re going to just talk for the next six hours. So yesterday we were having a conversation and you corrected my language because I said when I visited your cafe, I got a chance to taste some beautiful coffees Brazil, Burundi from all over the world and I was talking about the supply chain and how it’s important that your company keep an eye on the supply chain and he challenged my use of the word supply chain, and I’d like for you to share your perspective on that.

Keba Konte: So, we talk about sort of the role slavery played in history of coffee and of course, slavery’s cousin colonization. So really we think about language a lot because language is really how you think about problems, just the languages engrained in all of it and how it’s going to be very difficult to create solutions using the same thinking that created the problems. So, we’re always, as part of the culture at Red Bay we’re trying to decolonize the process. So, for instance, even using the word chains is really loaded and impactful. So, we think about value, I mean, the streams. So, yes in our company, we talk about value streams and just sort of we’re getting the supply and where the supply is moving from place to place but what value is that and just the metaphor of the stream is so much more beautiful than a chain and I think it’s even more apt because streams have rivers and have the conduits and they break off.

Phyllis Johnson: They have alternatives,

Keba Konte: They have alternatives. They pool, it’s so much more dynamic than a chain.

Phyllis Johnson: Yeah, the chain is linked. Not always a good thing. Good. Good. Well, I’m looking at your photographs here and I’ve been to some cafes in the most diverse places and I’ve never seen this level of diversity. When I visited your café, you think an African American company it would be filled with African American people drinking beautiful coffees but that’s not necessarily the case. I remember I came in early that morning and you had your dog and the guests who came in they were not just black people. They were all sorts of people who felt comfortable in your café, so I think the message is when you start to be inclusive, it really is inclusive. Everybody feels welcome to come.

Keba Konte: Think about jazz music or the blues or hip hop or Black Panther the movie, things that are very unapologetically black, they are still powerful and very rich forms of art and culture and that goes for spaces, that goes for flavor profiles so when we create spaces like that it’s really a welcoming, approachable space. That’s the goal. and that is what I’ve noticed that by creating a space like that, it attracts everyone. Everyone wants to be in that space, and I use diversity in different contexts. So, at Red Bay Coffee we do have a big Africa on the wall as homage to the birthplace of coffee, Ethiopia. It’s an opportunity to really understand and help foster the link between African Americans and Africa which is important because, back to the question of helping African Americans embrace specialty coffee – like, how do you make it relevant? What does that have to do with me? What does coffee have to do? So, my argument is that, well, coffee is the birthplace of Africa. As a continent it’s still one of the most productive continents producing coffee and as African Americans, we can see that is our heritage and so on one level it’s our heritage.  So, let’s embrace that, enjoy the coffee as a cultural nod. We could also on a business level, on entrepreneurial we could look at it as an inheritance. An inheritance very linked to heritage. Inheritance is something that is financial, is cultural. It’s sort of a family heirloom, so to speak.

Phyllis Johnson: It’s pride.

Keba Konte: It’s pride so that’s why you see that Africa there. We’ve got pictures of famous black people drinking coffee. We’ve got T-shirts that say, “Coffee, Africa’s Gift to the World. You’re welcome.” We have coffees that say black coffee. T-shirts that say that. So, we’re not trying to be everything to everyone, but we’re trying to be our authentic selves and we see that that has been embraced by many.

Phyllis Johnson: Great. Great. Well, I think we could talk forever. I think I may have about three more minutes to converse before we have to move on, but I noticed we do have a lot of African farmers who attend the Specialty Coffee Association activities and they really don’t know African Americans.  They don’t have any idea of who they are, or they don’t understand their drinking habits. So, would you agree that there may be some opportunities for connections to form all over the world, Brazil, Africa, all over the world?

Keba Konte: Sure. Yes, absolutely.

Phyllis Johnson: Just in understanding each other culturally. Yeah.

Keba Konte: Yeah. I mean, I think there’s been has been an ongoing movement ever since emancipation and there’s even been an active campaign to disassociate Africa from African America and so I think it’s in our common interest, continental African farmers and producers and people to African Americans. So, since sort of really, the sixties and seventies was really the sort of height of trying to draw our cultures together and that’s a movement that goes on today. There’s really a resurgence with even younger than millennials. The generation following them who are really understanding travel, global travel, making chips to Ghana, making trips to Senegal and to Kenya. So, this is a movement that’s happening and so, I know a generation or two there was a lot of misunderstanding on both sides, but I think we’ve been fed misinformation which is sort of a divide and conquer.

Phyllis Johnson: Right.

Keba Konte: So, now we’re going to sort of unite and defend and I’ll leave it at that.

Phyllis Johnson: All right. Good. All right thank you Keba. Thank you so much.

Keba Konte: Thank you.

Phyllis Johnson: Thank you.

 

32:45 Outro

Peter Giuliano: That was Phyllis Johnson and Keba Konte at Re:co Symposium this past April.

Remember to check out our show notes to find a link to the YouTube video of this talk, a full episode transcript, and a link to speaker bios on the Re:co website.

Re:co Symposium and the Specialty Coffee Expo are coming to Portland in April 2020. Don’t miss the forthcoming early-bird ticket release – find us on social media or sign up for our monthly newsletter to keep up-to-date with all our announcements.

This has been an episode of the Re:co Podcast, brought to you by the members of the Specialty Coffee Association, and supported by Tod

Subscribe to the #SCAPodcast on Anchor, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Breaker, Castbox, Overcast, Pocket Casts, PodBean, RadioPublic, or Stitcher.

Go to Source