By Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D. , NNPA Newswire Culture and Entertainment Editor
Historic Noir Coffee Group is coming to a grocery store near you. The brain child of Ricardo Richardson and his collaborators Deron Moreman and Christopher Brown, the three childhood friends got together to form The Historic Noir Coffee Group, LLC and launch Historic Noir Coffee Group in flavors that reflect the neighborhoods they grew up in as children in Atlanta.
There is Fourth Ward blend where Ricardo, the founder and CEO of the company, grew up, West End blend where Deron, the Vice-President of Sales, grew up and the Decatur blend, where Christopher Brown, President of Marketing and Distribution, grew up.
Brown explains Richardson introduced the idea to Moreman and Brown, initially wanting to supply high quality coffee at a reasonable price to various business and government entities. Working with a supplier in Senegal and wanting to grow the business and make a mark in an industry where there isn’t a lot of minority representation, Richardson approached his childhood friends with his idea. Thinking about his idea, the market and timing, Moreman and Brown signed on and the rest is history, or Historic Noir Coffee, LLC if you will.
If you’re wondering, “Why coffee?” of all of the businesses they could have started, Brown is very clear. “Gold, oil and coffee are at the top of the stock market at any given time,” says Brown. “Coffee is so profitable McDonald’s built a number of offerings around it and Dunkin Donuts changed it’s name to focus on coffee because it has a higher profit margin,” he adds.
Coffee is great business according to a 2018 report released by the National Coffee Association, which provides research data on U.S. coffee consumption through its annual National Coffee Drinking Trends (NCDT) survey.
Sixty-four percent of Americans have at least one cup of coffee a day. Of those surveyed (3000 people), 79 percent said they made coffee at home and 36 percent said they drink coffee at retail locations. According to Food & Wine, Americans spend more money on coffee each year than any other country. The average American spends $1,110 on coffee each year contributing to a $20 billion-dollar industry here in the states.
Even though coffee is a billion-dollar industry in the United States and is literally the crown jewel of many African, Caribbean and South American countries (Ethiopia, Jamaica, Brazil), very few African-Americans participate in supplying and distributing coffee.
There are a number of reasons for this problem, from issues around consumption (coffee will make you black) to challenges around access to resources stemming from slavery and hundreds of years of being economically disenfranchised.
In the article, “Strong Black Coffee: Why Aren’t African-Americans More Prominent in the Coffee Industry,” Phyllis Johnson, President of BD imports discusses the myriad of reasons you don’t find many black people in the coffee industry.
African-Americans choose coffee less due to stigma’s surrounding coffee’s impact on other health issues. Despite the fact that coffee is shown to have a positive impact on diseases like cancer, diabetes, stroke and heart disease, many still believe coffee is bad for your health.
Johnson states, “The NCDT consistently shows that, in comparison to other ethnic groups, African-Americans are less likely to choose coffee as a preferred beverage.” She believes there is a direct correlation between less consumption and less representation in the industry in other areas like distribution.
Johnson adds, “The absence of African-Americans attending coffee industry conferences, serving on boards and working in coffee in general goes hand in hand with lower levels of consumption. While targeted marketing programs may improve consumption, I believe employment and education will provide a greater return on investment. Greater engagement from African-Americans throughout the industry will provide more ideas and new ways to overcome challenges.”
Johnson’s research and observations about the coffee industry speak to Richardson’s desire to enter an industry that was viable and needed African-American suppliers and distributors. As luck would have it, a streak of seemingly bad luck yet great timing led the friends to take a shot at this opportunity.
In 2008, Ricardo and Deron had been laid off from their prior places of employment. Christopher took an early retirement and was involved in several entrepreneurial pursuits. After eight years of George W. Bush’s economic policies, the U.S. economy was depressed. Despite these precarious times, the three friends decided to take a shot, building on their faith (they grew up going to church together), ability to work as a team (they grew up playing sports together) and prior professional experiences.
Deron had previously worked for a company that sold water and coffee. He had the knowledge and organizational skills. Christopher had a pilot’s license and retired from working as an airplane mechanic, so he knew the travel industry. Ricardo had the vision and foundation in place. Eleven years later, the friends have built a supplier and distribution coffee business that is influenced, informed and run by people of African descent, which is where coffee originated. Talk about a full-circle moment on multiple fronts.
Brown says their success was in the cards. “We were crazy enough to believe we could do it. We saw the vision knew it would work,” he adds. They set off on their journey, educating themselves along the way and making sure they were building a viable business. “One of the most important things to us was taking the time to get it right,” says Brown. “We took time to get infrastructure, licensing, insurance – pretty much everything that was needed to build a viable company and made sure it was in place before we really got into supply and distribution.”
They tested theories and strategies and processes, analyzing, making necessary changes and continuing to move forward. When listening to Brown speak about the different types of beans and how they work together, one might think he’s a scientist with his vivid descriptions and ability to communicate complex information in an accessible way.
Historic Noir Coffee is now sold under different labels (Rosie’s Coffee) and can be found in grocery store chains like Sprouts and their online business is robust, with customers all over the world.
Brown is proud of their success and says one of their company goals is to give back to the community, so they do a lot of work with various charitable organizations. In fact, recognizing that most coffee is sourced and created from the labor of people of African descent, they developed the following mission:
Respect the coffee grower community, the environment and the customer. Conducting our business with honest practices and in an ethical manner is paramount.
The mission of Historic Noir Coffee Group, LLC dovetails with their vision, which is to develop strong relationships with their suppliers and to partner with the top importers and roasters based in the U.S., therefore providing the highest quality coffee products. To ensure this level of integrity, they made it policy to partner with “Fair Trade” coffee importers who are committed to respecting humanity and the environment.
Historic Noir Coffee Group, LLC is a company created and run by three black childhood friends from Atlanta, who care about the local and global community and ensuring that African-Americans get an opportunity to participate in a coffee industry that is truly a natural fit. Later this year, their coffee, which is currently whole bean, will be available in K-Pods and ground coffee.
When asked what’s next, Brown simply states, “Making sure we maintain the quality of our product, operate with high professional and ethical standards, and continue to grow while helping our community.”
This article was written by Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., entertainment and culture editor for Black Press USA. She is also founder & editor-in-chief of the award-winning news blog The Burton Wire which covers news of the African Diaspora. Follow her on Twitter @Ntellectual.