TJ Roberts // Photo by Mar’Che Boggess
Located on the corner of North 6th Street and Ann Avenue in Kansas City, Kansas is Kinship Cafe, the city’s only Black-owned coffee shop.
Formerly home to KC Cupcake Co, owner TJ Roberts has completely redesigned the space and knocked out a few walls.
Roberts started in the KC coffee scene in 2019 while working weekends as a barista at the Roasterie. While there, he learned the ins and outs of the shop and began making his own specialty drinks, inviting regulars to come by and try them. Many are now signature items on Kinship’s menu like the “MLK Way” and “Green Fling.”
Creating a culture of transparency
During that time, he also noticed the lack of transparency about the coffee-making process, noting that while a lot of shops source their coffee from countries like Guatemala and Ethiopia, it isn’t served by people who look like them. With that in mind, he started working towards creating a Black and Brown supply chain.
“For me, I saw an opportunity to really get a chance to learn and then be a catalyst for what I didn’t see,” says Roberts. “We’re picking specific farms that are Black and Brown owned to support, and we’re trying to find better ways to have a good relationship with them but also, you know, just to highlight the culture in such a way. Who better to do that than the people that look like them?”
Kinship’s beans are sourced from Colombia and are directly shipped to the cafe where Roberts roasts and sells them.
For Roberts, that transparency goes far beyond where their coffee is sourced from, he’s also big on educating people of color about how they fit into the history of coffee too.
“Coffee, in the same way as any industry, was built on the hands and knees of minorities, and minorities don’t get the recognition that they’re owed,” says Roberts.
Along with educating customers on the history of coffee, he also strives to change their perception of it, introducing them to drinks that don’t have any cream or sugar, but are instead made with natural sweeteners like honey and agave.
Kinship specialty drink menu // Courtesy photo
“I can’t tell you how many times a Black person tells me ‘I’m not a big coffee drinker.’ And it’s because they don’t know the history of coffee,” says Roberts. “I enlighten them, and they order something like a Milky Way, which is the MLK Way, or they order a Cinnamon Delight, and by the time they leave the shop, that cup is halfway empty.”
For a lot of them, it’s also the first time they’ve actually felt welcome in a coffee shop too.
Setting the tone for the block
With the cafe being located at the furthest northern part of the block, it’s often people’s introduction to the Strawberry Hill neighborhood. Roberts uses this to his advantage, taking the opportunity to highlight other businesses in the area by hosting pop up events on the weekends and having a market of Black owned products within the shop.
“We don’t share any profit with them, they take all the profit. We really want to give the creatives that upper hand when it comes to just being seen, being noticed, and being appreciated,” says Roberts. “When we try to set that tone as a business, it does kind of create that energy for everybody to leave our shop and go out and do the same.”
In addition to pop up events and their Black market, Kinship Cafe also hosts community events like forums with local government officials,
Black artwork at Kinship Cafe // Photo by Mar’Che Boggess
Kinship Cafe is located at 719 North 6th Street, Kansas City, Kansas 66101.