Angela Yee wasn’t always a fan of coffee.

“I always felt like coffee was something that wasn’t good for you,” Yee tells BK Reader. But today, the radio personality and entrepreneur finds herself at the helm of Coffee Uplifts People (CUP), a coffee company that opened its first brick-and-mortar location in Bed-Stuy last November.

Yee, a Brooklyn native and co-host of the popular morning radio show ‘The Breakfast Club,’ first became interested in coffee in 2020, when she and business partner Tony Forte were looking for a facility to store products for their juice company Drink Fresh Juice.

“We were talking to Brooklyn Roasting [Company] about their facility at Brooklyn Navy Yard, and then we got a whole education on coffee,” Yee said.

“We did all these classes learning about the roasting process, and also learning about the origins of coffee, how it originated in Ethiopia,”

Coffee Uplifts People. Photo: Christopher Edwards for BK Reader.

Yee’s education in coffee changed her outlook on the drink, enlightening her to its health benefits and history. “Sometimes the problem with coffee is like you put too much heavy cream and too much sugar,” she said. “Now I’m like, okay, it is safe for me to have this every day and it does actually improve a lot of different things, like my alertness.”

Already the owner of several businesses, Yee’s new appreciation for coffee soon led her to the coffee business, where she quickly realized a lack of diversity in the industry.

“We saw that there was a huge void in the coffee industry,” Tony Forte, who co-owns Drink Fresh Juice with Yee, told BK Reader. Despite it being the second largest commodity in the world and that it comes from countries of color, he said, there was a real diversity issue. “There’s not a lot of black and brown culture communicated to or resourced from within the coffee industry.”

Yee behind the counter at Coffee Uplifts People. Photo: Christopher Edwards for BK Reader.

Yee, along with Forte and their other partner LaRon Batchelor, and investors Brooklyn Roasting Company launched Coffee Uplifts People in August of 2020. “The original name of the company was Coffee Unites People. But we wanted something that had more weight to it, had more responsibility to it,” says Forte.

The brand initially promoted itself through a series of social impact events hosted by Yee called “pop-uplifts,” aimed at promoting local Black and minority-owned businesses. “Everything we do has a give-back aspect of it,” Yee said.

CUP soon began selling its coffee products through e-commerce, and has since expanded to being sold in Fairway, Stop & Shop and all New York City locations of Whole Foods.

The next phase of its growth is physical locations. Their flagship location, a café in Bed-Stuy with an eye-catching façade on a corner lot at 329 Gates Ave., opened in November of 2021.

“The last thing Williamsburg needs is another Coffee shop,” Forte said of the decision to open the store in Bed-Stuy. “The Bed-Stuy location is evolving, but it has a firm hold on the historic Bed-Stuy.”

Coffee Uplifts People. Photo: Christopher Edwards for BK Reader

Yee, who currently lives in Bed-Stuy, hopes that the opening of the café will be inspiration to other Bed-Stuy residents of color to become business owners, combatting gentrification of the neighborhood by outsiders.  

 “It is nice for me to be able to walk around and for even people in the neighborhood to say, ‘Oh look, somebody who lives here just like us actually opened a business here’,” Yee said.

“I just wanted to make sure that we push that entrepreneurship. I feel like that makes a big impact.”

Following a principle they call DIRE (Diversity, Inclusion, Representation, Equity), Coffee Uplifts People has a goal of diversifying “the entire supply chain,” having people of color involved in every step of the business. Yee and Forte tapped Leyden Lewis, an acclaimed Black interior designer, to design the café, tasking him with making sure people of color had creative input on every stage of the design process.

Photo: Christopher Edwards for BK Reader.

“Eventually we want to be able to supply our beans from minority owned farms, minority or women owned importers,” Forte said.

Though opening and expanding a business amid a pandemic presents unique challenges, CUP plans to open two more physical locations in Brooklyn in 2022, and eventually franchise its stores by 2023.

“For me, when I decide I want to do something, even if it seems irrational, I just know I want to do it. And I don’t get that feeling too often, so when I do, I really go with it,” Yee said.

Christopher Edwards

Christopher Edwards is a Brooklyn-based writer and Journalism student at Baruch College.

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  1. It depends If you have arthritis or any other joint pain drinking coffee drastically increases pain
    I have proved that to be true in my life
    Green Tea rules

  2. Check out Playground Coffee a block away – real grass roots doing real good things for the community.

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