MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — From a young age, C.J. Porter Born was drawn to the coffee roaster.
“There’s a cast iron drum constantly turning. You look on the side you can see the flames in there,” he said watching the brute force of fire turning a green seed into a chocolate-colored bean. It’s the transformation in a farming product that led to a transformation into C.J. himself.
“I had a hard time fitting in as a kid,” he said, “being mixed, multi-racial, lots of identity issues. I had a hard time sorting out over the years.”
But there was one place he always felt welcomed and at home. “I realized at my coffee shop, none of that mattered,” said Porter Born. J & S Bean Factory in his St. Paul neighborhood became a second home for teenage C.J.
“I was there every day. Every day,” he said. So often, they hired him as a roaster. A career that took him to UP Roasters in Minneapolis and visits to coffee farmers in Mexico, to the job of head roaster at Spyhouse Coffee, and now as the first director of coffee for The Get Down Coffee Co. in north Minneapolis.
C.J. may be the only Black head roaster in the Twin Cities. “I got into coffee because I was in the right place at the right time,” he said. He’s used his voice and his position to try to show others they can do it too.
“There’s no formal path of trade school. You have to, unfortunately, know somebody,” he explained.
He now has a bigger platform in that regard, a new job as the roaster for one of the few Black-owned coffee makers in the country, Houston White’s Get Down Coffee Company.
“With everything that started last year in this city, we have a massive amount of momentum in supporting Black-owned businesses, and supporting Black people and their ventures, and I want to keep that going as much as possible,” said Porter Born.
C.J. knows change won’t happen right away. But he wants more people like him to experience the magic that happens: not only in the roaster, or in the cup, but an industry where everyone is invited to be at the table.
“When I see the coffee come out and everything looks good, it feels good,” he said.