This story is featured in the September/October issue of ESSENCE, on newsstands now.
There’s a coffee movement brewing in South Los Angeles, and Black and Brown people are at the core of it. The motivation? Community, entrepreneurship and connection. The purpose? Making coffee Black again.
“Coffee comes from Africa. It’s a part of who we are,” says LaNisa Williams, South Central native and creator of #BlackinBrew, a social network and platform that spotlights melanated disruptors in the java space. Over the past several years, Black-owned brick-and-mortar locations have begun to pop up around the country, and they’ve become quite popular across L.A.
“When I first started out, there were only four shops,” Williams says. “Today, there are close to 20 shops throughout the city that identify as Black-owned.”
A barista who now calls Long Beach home, she says coffee saved her life.
“I spent 2015 behind bars, and while I was there, I had an opportunity to think about the legacy I want to leave behind,” says Williams. Once she recognized the myriad of lucrative business opportunities that the coffee industry presents, she poured her energy into learning about it and building community.
Within days of her release in 2015, she was back in a coffee shop as a barista. In 2020, amid the pandemic, she began what would become #BlackInBrew. “With 15 years in the coffee game and almost four years running my own business, I couldn’t be happier with what I’m doing,” she says of the platform. “I found my purpose, and I live in it every day.”
Williams was intentional about starting the space by spotlighting neighborhoods like the one she grew up in. “By shining a light on baristas, roasters and café owners from our communities, we show folks there’s another way out the ’hood,” she says. “You don’t need to gangbang or rob. Coffee brings a multitude of opportunities.”
Williams is right. Few people realize that coffee is the second-most-traded commodity in the world, behind oil—with approximately half a trillion cups enjoyed each year. It’s also the third most-consumed beverage, globally, after water and tea. And while Uganda, Ethiopia, Ivory Coast, Kenya and Tanzania are among the top coffee-producing countries, Black and Brown people make up a small portion of purveyors.
Williams is determined to create a seat for them at the coffee table —starting by plugging, uplifting and celebrating those making a damn good brew, and impact, across South L.A. “The coffee at these shops is amazing,” she says. “I was trying to create a platform for Black people in coffee who I felt weren’t getting their flowers. ‘How come nobody knows about you and the work you’re doing for the community?’ I felt someone needed to shed light on that.” And so she did.
THE SHOP: HOT & COOL CAFÉ
4331 Degnan Boulevard, L.A., 90008
THE VIBE: “Every time I step inside, I’m welcomed with open arms,” Williams says of the family-owned and operated vegan café in Leimert Park Village.
THE GOODS: Try the Hot Cinnful Latte or Hot Honey Latte, the Vegan Nachos Supreme and the BBQ Kale Wrap.
THE SHOP: SOUTH LA CAFÉ
1700 Browning Boulevard, L.A., 90062
THE VIBE: “From offering $5 avocado toast to hosting free food drives weekly, this café is exactly what this community needed.”
THE GOODS: Try the Cinnabon Cold Brew or the Rose Latte and avocado toast, as well as the Old School Coffee Cake.
THE SHOP: SIP & SONDER
108 S Market Street, Inglewood, 90301
THE VIBE: “They host Open Mic Nights and were featured in HBO’s Insecure. They have also partnered with the L.A. Rams and Disney, and they regularly throw events to uplift and engage the community they serve.”
THE GOODS: Try the Espresso Tonic or Chai Latte, the Vegan Curry Puff and the chocolate croissant.
THE SHOP: LAZY ROSE CAFÉ
1113 S. La Brea Avenue, L.A., 90019
THE VIBE: “A veteran-owned coffee shop centered around the importance of mental health is a much-needed change of pace in Los Angeles.”
THE GOODS: “I thought I wasn’t a matcha fan, but they have a drink called The Hamilton that has changed my mind.” Try it; or go for the Blush Brew and apple turnover.
THE SHOP: NIMBUS COFFEE
1115 S Hope Street, L.A., 90015
THE VIBE: “Their Harry Potter–inspired drinks are where it’s at—and bring a new meaning to the phrase Black Girl Magic.”
THE GOODS: Try the “unique, refreshing” Witches Cold Brew or the Mischief Macaroon latte; and the No Meats When I Eats Vegan Breakfast Burrito.