A Discussion with Korie Pickett

I was lucky enough to get to speak with Korie Pickett, edit at Coffee People Zine and creator and curator of Issue 10 of Coffee People Zine. Issue 10 is particular special as it entirely features Black creatives from the coffee world, including baristas, roasters, owners, etc.

Here, we talk about how Issue 10 came to be and how being a Black woman informs her day-to-day life both within coffee and on a regular basis.

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Charles: Let’s start with something simple, what is your goal and your vision with working at coffee people magazine?

Korie: When I started, I would just submit to “Coffee People” as a barista and I think one of the first things I submitted had a lot to do with civil rights. It was just like what was on my heart at that moment. That was a good two and a half to three years ago. Kat (editor-in-chief at “Coffee People” zine) had a conversation with me apologizing that she had never really portrayed imagery like that in the zine before but also, because nobody had sent it in. 

Charles: Ah ok. Why was that?

Korie: it was likely that people didn’t know they could. I mean there is this back and forth of like, “don’t be political!” But... human rights aren’t political.

Charles: Right!

Korie: So, overall that led to when I started working on the editorial team. It was very important to me to highlight Black-owned businesses and Black and brown people in coffee, because coffee specifically comes from Black and brown people and I think that gets lost a lot, especially in specialty coffee. People just aren’t really thinking about the origin stories anymore, they are just thinking about who has the best cappuccino or this or that. That's all well and good but my goal has definitely transcended that. Yes, this is good coffee but let's go deeper than how it tastes, and let's see the people behind everything. For example, behind the bar. What are they doing for their community and just focusing on that. 

Charles: You were submitting articles to “Coffee People” Zine about lesser known stories that were not particularly part of the mainstream of what people considered to be specialty coffee. So you were specifically writing about BIPOC baristas as well as people at origin? 

Korie: Yeah that's what it led to. The first ever that I submitted was actually a composite picture. This featured a group of Black women walking on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. Both were photos I took for other projects, so it was nice to see them come together. The accompanying poem was centred around what the bridge symbolizes to the Black freedom struggle and how we are still marching today.

But really, my submissions to “Coffee People'' stemmed from being the only person of color in the shop that I was working in. And it would get really isolating. So, I took those feelings, and started doing my research to see who else is feeling this. Which helped me to find them on social media, and hear their stories.

This is how Kat (Editor-in-Chief of “Coffee People Zine”) and I just came together. She said that she wanted to do an issue that would tell all these stories that I was already submitting and talking with her about. And that’s how Issue ten on Black creatives came to be. 

Charles: I can relate in a way because I grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood. yeah there were small communities of Black folk from the Caribbean—my mother is from the Islands—but like everywhere I work, my interests, where I hung out it was mostly white people. So when I was younger I had a similar isolating experience, like an identity crisis in a way…

Korie: Oh yeah I can TOTALLY relate. 

Charles: Like am I a Black person or a white person? My mother set the record straight. She said: “well you are both, because your father is white and you have him in you, and you have my culture, but the world is going to view you as a Black man, they are not going to view you as a white person.” 

Korie: Oh yeah, my story is so so similar, I am biracial, my dad is Black my mom is white, and the white side of my family pretty much raised me and it was always like they are expecting me to be just like them, but when I would go out in the world like the world doesn’t view me just like you do, like that just doesn’t work, it just doesn’t add up, and it does it creates this like, "well who the hell am I?" Like what am I doing out here?

Charles: Yeah.

Korie: I feel that.

Charles: So would you feel like working on that project, in a way, helped you kind of, I wouldn’t say define your space, but does it help you to reconnect with a side?  Because I feel like a lot of the work I do now, and why I kinda gravitated towards my degree in Black History, I felt like I was kind of teaching myself about a side of me that wasn’t a part of me. 

Korie: That definitely resonates because, I always say I am surrounded by Black culture these days especially, and that is just not what I got to be surrounded by when I was growing up. And so it’s kinda like I feel like I’m raising myself the proper way. Not to say that my family didn’t do the best that they could, because they absolutely did, but it’s like they only know their culture so they didn’t even know how to begin to show me and allow me to experience the other side of my culture. So it's like now I get to soak in that more. I still feel so late to the game on somethings, even as simple as nobody could properly teach me how to do my hair. 

Charles: Yeah!

Korie: I didn’t feel like I actually learned how to do my hair until adulthood. And that was always kinda embarrassing to me. Because there are Black folk that have known how to do their hair because they had an auntie, a mom, or whoever to teach them, but I didn’t have that. My family resorted to let’s buy that box relaxer from the store and make sure this hair is straight and easy to deal with, because they didn’t know how to deal with it! I completely understand the why of it, but it’s kind of a disservice to me because now I have to figure all of that out by myself now. But I think that it's been really helpful because so many people I have found community with don’t make me feel that awkwardness of not knowing. I am honest enough with myself that I wasn’t raised in a culture that understands all of me so now I am learning that and  I am thankful for it.

Charles: So when you were choosing which people to write about, so I saw you were working with Coffee Black and some poets in there, was it a conscious choice to choose a variety of things or were you choosing people you were resonating with?

Korie: It was a little mixture of both, because I already had an established relationship with several of the people, and then like a lot of the poetry that was submitted were people I only knew as baristas and I only knew them because of coffee. I didn’t realize they were musicians as well as poets and this and that, so it kind of just led to me learning so much more about them as people. Because I reached out to them and was like alright, “I know you're in coffee, so would you like to be a part of this issue?” This led them to asking if they could submit their music, poetry, paintings, or my photography. And I’m over here like, YES! 

Charles: Coffee really is an amazing community. But I would like to return to coffee in the Black community. CxffeeBlack is working on his De-gentrification Coffee Club, which is a whole aspect that I didn’t even realize. Yet in my own backyard, there are huge coffee deserts in Montreal. And where are those deserts? They are in Black neighborhoods, Arab neighborhoods, an in North African neighborhoods. I lived three years in a place in Montreal called the Park Extension and it was primarily becoming a Desi-African neighborhood from an old Greek neighborhood.

Korie: Talk about culture!

Charles: Right? BUT there was only “bro coffee shops,” your bro serving Illy coffee. I would have to take a bus like 40 minutes to get any kind of specialty coffee. So most specialty coffee shops in Montreal are attached to gentrified neighborhoods. 

Korie: There was this book, I need to find the name of it, basically the central line of it was is that one of the biggest signs of gentrification is when a specialty coffee shop opens up in an area. Because, typically they are not serving the people that live there, they are not employing the people that live there, it will kind of stick out like a sore thumb, but nobody talks about it because they are like, oh its coffee, coffee is for everybody. 

Charles: I was wondering if you probably felt like that working inside cafes? I mean, the gentrification of the inside of the coffee shop too, you know what I mean?

Korie: Yup!

Charles: I’m thinking back, and sadly I don’t know any non-white presenting baristas. 

Korie: Yeah, it's wild! So I got into coffee from corporate America, like I knew I wanted to pursue my art full time and I was like, what is a job that can kinda float me and sustain me and coffee just made sense. I was at the coffee shop and I would work remotely two days of the week and I would just go to this one coffee shop because it wasn’t too far from my office, and one day I was just sitting there and I was like, can I work here? And they kind of like joked about it, but I was like, no I am serious, like if y’all are hiring like can I work here. And as I am in the shop, and learning then and I got hired and it was great, but there would be conversations where they were like, oh I didn’t know Black people liked coffee! And I was just like what? What do you mean? That was always the weirdest thing to me because, even growing up, like my dads mom always had a coffee pot going, always had Maxwell House, I am not saying it was good, but coffee was always around, and I personally was always been drinking coffee, and I didn’t know where this narrative came from, so I kinda took that on to be like I am gonna change the narrative, but it was kinda hard to do when every person that walked through the door was not a person of color. So it would be this kind of weird thing, that whenever a person of color walked through the door, I would get so excited, and I would be like, ok we need to make them feel welcome, and I was going above and beyond, but it really shouldn't have been on me to go above and beyond it should have been on the white counter parts to be like, I wonder why the only people that come in here are people who look like them. So its then like they didn’t think about it because I worked there, but I would kind of always push them out of their comfort zones. The one thing that would always happen, I would come to work and my hair would be different, like I had braids or this or that, and that would always be the conversation of the day, and I was like, we don’t talk about when Jim comes in with a new haircut, or when Sarah comes in with new shoes, like we don’t talk about this, so why are we so focused on my appearance. And I would bring that up to them and I was like that's not comfortable for me. And they couldn’t even believe that, they were like well its just like we don’t understand so we wanna know more, and its like ok, well there are things about you that I don’t understand but I am not like over here “so why did you get a fade” its like these strange conversations that are actually not normal to have in a workplace in my opinion, that they for some reason felt like that they were, it was just like there is nobody in here that looks like me, working or a customer, and I guess I didn’t notice it as much when I was working there, because I was so honed in on what I was working on that I was just like, I am just here to not be in the office. 

Charles: It sounds like an exoticization of Black folk, and a reflection of how maybe sheltered or just not a diverse enough of a opinion that normal mundane things that a Black person can do with themselves. It's like "oh damn man, you got hairstyles and different ways of talking", but that is just how I am.

Korie: Yeah like this is just normal, what do you mean? And then it was always wild too, because I have done three big chops in my life, and at one point when I was there I shaved my head completely and they were just like, you are so brave, I can’t believe you would do that, and this and that. And I am like y’all don’t understand how work hair is, if you have to spend four hours just to wash your hair, you would shave it all off too. 

Charles: Preach.

Korie: It was just always weird that it was something that I did for me and my mental health was this brave stance because I was apparently brave enough to not have hair, and it was just weird to me. So, I dunno, I never realized how exhausted I was until I left there. Like I was just like, oh I am exhausted because I am constantly explaining myself and not even defending myself, i just felt like everyday when I go to work I am going to have to explain something. And it got to the point where I would be like, should I wear this or naw. And I hated that. Like i just wanna go to work, other baristas can just show up and go to work and make coffee, but somehow when I was on bar, huh, I hated when certain people would sit at the bar, cuz Im like here we go, they’re gonna ask me like 50 million questions and I just wanna be like, can you do your work and let me do mine? 

Charles: Yeah its like why did you come to the café in slides and sweatpants on a weekday at 2pm, how bout that?

Korie: Right, like if you wanna talk about that we can, it was just always something like that. I didn’t know that there were other ways to be in coffee besides being a barista and I think that’s another reason I stuck it out for as long as I did. Because I love coffee and I love the community aspect of it, but I just thought I can only be in coffee as a barista. Now I understand that there are many many avenues in coffee it's not just this one. 

Charles: From your perspective, doing work in the coffee people zine issue number 10 and as a wider whole, as a Black person inside the coffee industry what do you think seeing, like have you seen the book by Phyllis Johnson (The Triumph) and another book called Coffee Milk Blood?

Korie: Yes! I haven’t gotten to see that yet, but everyone keeps telling me about it!

Charles: David picked up Coffee Milk Blood at Rabbit Hole, it's a piece of art, it's beautiful but anyways seeing things like that, what do you feel as a Black person in coffee seeing that, what do you feel that means for coffee. 

Korie: It just makes me feel completely seen, which was one of the hardest things being a customer facing in coffee. I didn’t feel like people were actually seeing me, I thought that they were just seeing attributes of my appearance. But to see works that are focused on the origins of coffee and the people inside of the industry... It just brings me joy to be like “wow, these are my people.” These are people that are just as passionate about this product and they understand the why behind the passion behind this product. And I think that it's cool that a lot of people use issue 10 to kind of get their friends into coffee, or even their family members. It feels really good, the power of storytelling is transcending anything I knew of coffee to be, so it's giving me the depth I wanted this whole time, but just didn’t know where it was. 

Charles: Yeah it's nice to see yourself as a fully fledged member of the community and not like aspects of yourself within the community or like a curiosity.

Korie: Yeah! 

Charles: So for my last question, putting yourself in the shoes of a Black person not in coffee, seeing more things like Issue 10, Black owned coffee shops, or seeing specialty coffee shops in neighborhoods where coffee shops aren't usually popping up, what do you think that will mean to regular—not specialty—coffee consuming Black folks?

Korie: I think no matter what type of ownership it is, I think that seeing Black ownership is something that gives people a sense of power, especially Black folk. Like when you see Black ownership you kind of start to think of what's possible. I think, especially in coffee, when people think of a specialty coffee shop I don’t think of a Black owned coffee shop, you know? I think  it’s possible to be a trendy little spot for the hipsters and be Black owned as well. But most importantly, when you see and experience Black ownership it opens up the doors of what's possible. And a lot of times we don't get to see that unfortunately, because we as Black people can’t get loans, there are so many things that stand in the way. So when you see something finally come to life, it creates a huge sense of hope.

Charles: Yeah, that is a very good way to put it. It matters to see people like yourself doing things independently without permission.

Korie: Right, it's the power of representation. It's for every Black and brown girl that realizes “oh im allowed to be vice president,” its as simple as that. If you have never seen someone that looks like you in that position, you don’t even know that that is allowed. You know? It feels like, oh that's something you're not allowed to do. But that's not true, it just means somethings have never been done, but it doesn’t mean that it can’t be.

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