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Michelle Johnson is an absolute force in specialty coffee. But long before she was an Editor at Large here on Sprudge or a presenter at the Re:Co Symposium or the first Black woman to make it to the National round of the United States Barista Championship or hosting bi-coastal Black Coffee events or Sprudgie winner or a brand ambassador and social media star, Michelle Johnson was The Chocolate Barista.

Created in 2016, The Chocolate Barista began life as a lifestyle blog with a focus on coffee culture, specifically Johnson's experience as a Black woman in that culture. Now, five years later, TCB is shifting from a blog-focused platform to more of an omnimedia presence and consultancy. And with such a tonal shift comes a complete rebrand.

What better way to celebrate a new look than with some limited release apparel? For the soon to be released first run, Johnson leans heavily on the new look and feel of The Chocolate Barista with a logo'd tee featuring an image of a moka pot image. We spoke digitally with Michelle Johnson to learn more about the limited release and the updated focus of The Chocolate Barista.

Do you have any new merch you want featured in the Coffee Merch series? Let us know!

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

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For those who don't know, can you tell us a little bit about The Chocolate Barista?

Some of the words to best describe The Chocolate Barista that come to mind is “omnimedia” or a “universe”, but it's basically two-prong business that houses a creative consulting agency for F&B with a specialized focus on coffee on the backend (officially named TCB by The Chocolate Barista) and a barista lifestyle brand, educational platform, and culture hub centered around communities of color on the front.

The new look is more than just a redesign but a complete overhaul of your brand's goals. Can you explain a little bit about what The Chocolate Barista is today and how it has changed from where it began?

Absolutely! I touched on this a bit in the previous question but we're really trying to encompass several aspects of the type of work I enjoy doing including consulting and teaching people about coffee in a really creative, fun way. Much of The Chocolate Barista's early growth was due to more diversity- and inclusion-focused education in the form of online articles, talks, lectures, and events.

Ahead of this rebrand, I decided that I wanted The Chocolate Barista to focus more on showing my interpretation of “the work” instead of talking about it. So our values of centering Black folks and people of color, accessibility, and meeting people where they are show through in how we approach consulting, creating content for education, and making sure to have fun too!

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Can you tell us a little bit about the design on the shirt? Did you work with anyone to create it?

The t-shirt was designed by Lindsey Created who did our rebrand and website, too. It's very simply our moka pot logo and “The Chocolate Barista” on the left chest.

Can you give us a few details about the shirt? (garment details/specs, essentially)

We're actually in the process of finding a local LA-based printer to finalize these details. We received some samples recently and wasn't completely happy with the quality, so we're back to the drawing board for that!

Is there any other TCB apparel in the works?

Yes! We're really excited to release a series of limited drops sooner than later! I teased a crewneck sweater with “The Chocolate Barista” embroidered in purple on Instagram and Twitter that'll be dropped first. But once it's gone, it's gone, then we'll move onto dropping something else.

Simultaneously, we're working on a more permanent TCB apparel and product line that'll include everything from coffee wares and accessories to lifestyle clothing and workwear. Those things will roll out slowly over time, so my hope is that the limited drops will get some fun TCB branded things to the people much sooner!

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What are some brands—coffee or otherwise—that inspire you?

The New Blue Collar, Everybody's Busy [featured previously in our Coffee Merch series here—Ed.], Portrait Coffee, Fenty, No Free Coffee, and Everyday's A Lookbook are just a handful that come to the top of my mind! All of these brands speak to me in a few different ways including personal style, how they capture and cultivate community in their visual branding and marketing, and they all remain unique and authentic to themselves, which is huge for me!

What's your favorite coffee garment in your closet right now?

I have SO many coffee garments and love them all equally, but the ones in my current rotation as we transition from LA winter straight to summer are my Portrait Coffee crewneck sweater, No Free Coffee hoodie, Cafe Reina crop top, and Cafe Imports socks. You'll also see me rocking a Coffee Too “Start Drama” beanie a lot!

What's next for The Chocolate Barista?

We've got some super cool product collaborations in the works for late spring and many more in the incubation stage that'll come to fruition when it most makes sense. Also, Martha Stewart-type world domination.

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How can folks purchase The Chocolate Barista shirt and what is the price point?

You'll be able to purchase the t-shirt and the limited edition merch on our store soon! Just keep an eye out on social media and/or sign up for our email list for announcements. The t-shirt will be $20.

What is the release date?

On God's time.

Thank you!

Do you have any new merch you want featured in the Coffee Merch series? Let us know!

Zac Cadwalader is the managing editor at Sprudge Media Network and a staff writer based in Dallas. Read more Zac Cadwalader on Sprudge.

All photos courtesy of The Chocolate Barista, used with permission