Keba Konte stands with a practiced stoop in Red Bay Coffee’s dojo—if he straightened up, his head would skim the ceiling—and welcomes a group of visitors to the former garage in his backyard, now a mini-roastery and training hub. The perk at the $40 level of his Kickstarter campaign, which exceeded its $80,000 goal in June, is a tour of the dojo behind his Fruitvale Victorian.
Eight people of assorted ages and ethnicities are sipping freshly brewed Kopi Luwak. No one requests cream or sweetener. They are self-proclaimed coffee heads with expensive cameras around their necks, and they ask informed questions. One inquiry concerns the recent trend of Bulletproofing, or putting butter in coffee, which has ties to an Ethiopian tradition but is rarely credited as an African mainstay. “Reused,” responds the Red Bay employee leading the tour. The guests excitedly volunteer more condemning options: “Appropriated!” “Capitalized!” Konte chuckles. “I like this group,” he says.
Thanks to his Kickstarter campaign, Konte is planning to open Red Bay’s flagship coffee bar in October at Oakland’s mixed-use Hive development. The café, located in a modified shipping container, will bear all the hallmarks of a zeitgeist-issued coffee shrine—charismatic baristas will explain the origins of beans as they concoct your pour-over—but Konte’s business model and mission are less familiar. He is committed to hiring people of color, women, disabled people, and the formerly incarcerated, and his employees will share 100 percent of the profits (he will make his money as a bean wholesaler to some 40 clients, including Twitter and Berkeley Bowl). He wants to change coffee culture, which he sees as predominantly elitist and white despite the fact that coffee is harvested by brown hands in developing countries. “It’s an industry that’s moving billions and billions of dollars that we’re getting completely left out of,” Konte says. “And this started in Africa. I like to think of it as our inheritance. But inheritances still have to be claimed.”
[Summer Sewell for San Francisco Magazine | Photo: Alanna Hale]