Welcome BACK to The Chocolate Barista, and hello to everyone coming to my corner of the internet for the very first time. Your girl is back at it again and feeling brand new. It feels really fucking good.
Before we can move forward, I need to catch everyone up to what’s been going on. The Chocolate Barista’s been dormant a long time, even when I, Michelle, have been around mobbing, scheming, and causing chaos (literally) all over the world.
So, allow me to (re)introduce myself.
Hi. My name is Michelle R. Johnson, and I am The Chocolate Barista. I was born in Arlington, Virginia and raised in the Washington, DC area, living back and forth between Virginia and Maryland until I left for Phoenix, Arizona in 2013. My coffee story predates working at a shop (Tynan Coffee & Tea, 2011) and begins at the age of four when I remember taking my #firstsip from my mom’s sweet, milky cup. She didn’t mind giving me a sip or two whenever I asked. It was something we continued to share together—cream, sugar, and all—until I moved away.
In essence, that early experience with coffee laid the foundation for what The Chocolate Barista is now, and honestly, what it always was supposed to be. This is a place of sweetness, comfort, and warmth. No matter what, you’re safe here.
I started The Chocolate Barista in 2016 as a “barista lifestyle” blog. What the hell did “barista lifestyle” mean? I didn’t know, but I was making it up as I went along. All I knew was that I wanted the world to know the things about coffee that were most important to me: sharing with people, developing strong community ties, having fun in every way possible, and being myself always.
The more serious elements of coffee—the equipment knowledge and technical skillset to go along with it, extraction theory, and even barista competitions—are all also important to me. It was in the early days of my barista career that learning this side of coffee existed made me want to stick with it even more. I’m probably one of the biggest coffee nerds you’ll ever meet, and all I’ve ever wanted to do was break down any barriers to enjoying that side of coffee.
Eventually, The Chocolate Barista pivoted in ways I wasn’t expecting.
After shedding light on my experience as a Black woman in coffee, I sort of became an “accidental activist”, similar in the ways Franchesca Ramsey wrote about in her memoir. [Side note: select archived posts from 2016-2017 that I wrote in the spirit of continuing racial education with respect to coffee are on this website for reading.] I’ve been honest and upfront about how being the coffee industry’s beacon of diversity and inclusion was never my intention, but sometimes there are things you’re called to do and you run with it anyway. The industry is certainly better for it—if I may boldly go ahead and say—but more than that, seemingly for the first time ever, people—Black people—finally feel like they have a place in a world that only ever thought of them as laborers and people with valuable resources (coffee, for instance) to exploit.
2020 was a year that forced everyone on their ass and the systems some of us thought worked blown apart. I’d lost my job as an Education & Training Manager for Red Bay Coffee due to the pandemic and finally had some time to reevaluate what I wanted to do from there. The idea of going full force into The Chocolate Barista wasn’t my first option because what wasn’t known at the time was the emotional trauma and turmoil I’d experienced from being a voice for racial inclusion in coffee up until that point. June of last year was one of the worst months for me and I could not see myself moving forward with this platform after that.
But you wanna know what’s one of the beautiful things about something that’s yours? You have full control over it and can change whatever you want about it to embody. For me, that was moving completely away from talking about what could/should/would be better to showing how it can be done from my point of view.
It’ll look like a lot of different things and probably change over time, but it’ll always be sweet, comforting, and warm like those coffee moments with my mom growing up. My hope is that you’ll leave the (virtual and physical—one day) spaces I inhabit feeling inspired, motivated, and seen by how you do whatever it is you’re doing. That “barista lifestyle” I started with still applies, and you’re going to see so many different lifestyles through the coffee lens here.
This is only the beginning of my reintroduction to the world. Stick around; I can show you who I am better than I can tell you.
Michelle R. Johnson is the founder of The Chocolate Barista and CEO of TCB by The Chocolate Barista, a creative consulting agency. She likes a nice wake & bake session, spiking her coffee with Hennessy, and falling in love with everyone who walks by. She as a dog named, Todd, who does not stand for her BS. Say hello to her on Instagram.