Cha McCoy: The Black Expat Who Left NYC To Start A Wine Consulting Company In Portugal
Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of Cha McCoy

Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of Cha McCoy

Cha McCoy: The Black Expat Who Left NYC To Start A Wine Consulting Company In Portugal

Portugal , Lisbon , Portugal
Parker Diakite
Parker Diakite Jul 6, 2020

Cha McCoy is the founder of Cha Squared LLC, a global consulting company that focuses on tourism,  gastronomy, and hospitality experiences.

Obtaining her master’s degree in Italy back in 2012 opened the door for her where she had an amazing opportunity to drink and eat in close to 20 countries. 

Living as an expat over the years has helped her to establish wine relations and create experiences Italy, Spain, France, California, New York, Chile, Argentina, South Africa, Hungary, and Portugal.

McCoy currently divides her time between New York and Portugal and said she inherited her love of food and wine from her father.

“I would be dragged out of school when he had a taste for something, and we’d drive three hours away,” she told Food and Wine during an interview.  “Food dictated everything we did in life.” 

In an interview with Travel Noire, McCoy discusses more about her life as an expat:

Travel Noire: Why did you decide to move to Portugal?

McCoy: Opportunity and for Self-Care. I previously lived as an expat, I lived in Italy in 2010 for close to 2 years. In 2016 after conducting a much-needed revaluation of my corporate career and personal life I recognized that what truly made me happy after my time in Italy was wine and travel. 

I made a commitment to adjust my life so that they both played a larger role in my next chapter. At this point, I had already spent years of exploring wine countries, it was up to me to make the decision to be more aggressive with my goals to my own hospitality company and move abroad, again.  Since I am from the East coast it was much easier to think of wine and tourism in Europe than California.

I decided on Portugal after coming to visit for 1 month and researching both Lisbon and Porto. There were 3  major things that stuck out in Portugal that were different than Itay. First, I saw myself in among the many faces that I crossed paths with during my everyday life. People from Brazil, Angola, and Mozambique just to name a few of the larger countries that allowed me to feel like the color of skin was accepted. Second, great wine is produced in this country that is unaccessible outside of the country. Third, though prices are rising in Lisbon, Portugal is still relatively more affordable even for me as a bootstrapping entrepreneur trying to survive. A bonus, I can conduct most of my affairs in English. Its a gift and a course when you are trying to learn but mostly everyone I encounter that are from Portugal speaks enough English to converse with them.

Travel Noire: Did you find it was easier to become a wine sommelier in Portugal? 

McCoy: Looking for work in Portugal, in general, was very difficult. Since there is a very high unemployment rate and the pay rate is very low. I found it very hard to find work that paid well for me to survive off one job alone especially.  In the hospitality industry, you need to have multiple forms of income continued to do wine tours and tastings and building out the foundation for my consultancy, Cha Squared.

Becoming a Sommelier at a fine-dining restaurant in Portugal was probably easier for me since I had wine experience from the US and here there are few who are studied beyond Portuguese wine. However, I was also limited because I did not know  Portuguese, therefore I did not have as many options of where I could work. Though I worked in a very diverse team, I still found the race and social constructs making it impossible for upward mobility. 

Travel Noire: Can you tell our readers more about Cha Squared Consulting and your mission behind the business?

McCoy: Cha Squared Consulting is a gastronomy experience company focused on the production of wine events, tourism, and education. 

The goal is to make wine more accessible by providing wine education through initiatives such as the wine pop up dinner series The Communion which I have hosted in 5 countries for the last 3 years.  I provide Sommelier services to restaurants and wine lovers to expand their palate with virtual tastings and build their wine collection (chamccoy.com/estore). As for wine tourism, I service travelers as building customized travel itineraries and my hosting my own group trips, Harvest Trips during wine harvest season. All live events currently postponed but hope to have an intimate experience end of summer in NYC. Stay tuned chamccoy.com/events

Travel Noire: You have created a successful life abroad. What would you tell our readers who are looking to move abroad how to get the process started?

McCoy: Don’t do what I did lol, to be honest, I realized that I needed to leave my current life situation in the US. There were a lot of things I did not think through in order to properly survive in Portugal long term which was my goal however, the amount of stress and depression I was facing at home I knew I had to leave for ME not really to be successful. I left a secure structure that I created to a world full of uncertainty trying to survive from month to month with no assistance and a new business. I realized I had to figure something out or go home.

If I was in the right mindset I would have prepared myself for the following:

  1. Do your research, beyond rental cost, and what neighborhood you want to live I would advise people to always come to visit multiple times in different seasons.
  2. Moving to a country with a job or your own means of income is SUPER important. Until you learn how to crack the code of the local culture to learn how to sell to them you will need a financial base to survive. And if you are relying on tourists I think this pandemic has should us all that is not reliable enough. 
  3. Learn the language. Again learn the language. I conduct business in English since a lot of people speak it. However, I know that when looking for a job or even when conducting business many conversations happen in Portuguese in front of me. And to be honest, it shows respect to the local culture that you are immersing yourself into. 
  4. Depending on how long you plan to stay in the country I think its best to learn as early as possible all of the documents you need to operate in this country. For example in Portugal, we have NIF, SEF, Social Security Number, Residence Card, and Visas, etc, and depending on what you want to do here dictate what you will need. For example, opening a personal bank account versus opening a business.

Travel Noire: What do you enjoy the most about being an expat?

McCoy: In the height of a pandemic and even with racial discrimination being a hot topic hopefully in all countries. I do appreciate the freedom of having a 2nd place I call home. It’s not perfect here for POC and I recognize this within the immigrant community and my privilege of having an American passport,  but I thrive being unattached to the societal norms of the US. Every day gives me an opportunity to learn something about a new culture, food, lifestyle, and more importantly, it leaves room for me to learn more about myself.

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Had to talk to God, dropped down, and prayed for this. To my surprise, He replied, said, “You Made For This” – Cardi B 💪🏿 I want to welcome you all to the new Cherry Bombe Drinks platform where I will be serving you through beverage-focused live events, digital programming, and hosting on Cherry Bombe Radio as the Beverage Director/ Editor. 🍒 Can’t wait to sip all the coffee, tea, tonics, bitters, beers, spirits, and wine, with you And eager to highlight the FEMALE producers, makers, servers and dreamers who make the Beverage Industry so dynamic ! 🖤 Thanks for all the new #BombeSquad Love who are now following my journey! I want to learn more about you so please head over to @cherrybombedrinks and be sure to tag us on your post #CBDrinks 🥂 Cheers, Ready for this new chapter! #TheChaLife #MyRatesJustWentUp . . . . . . #newnormal #winelife #wine #Sommelier #winelifeforlife #BlackGirlMagic #fortheculture #water #wine #beer #tea #coffee #sake #mixers #cider #spirits #cocktails #mead #bitters #mocktails #hotchocolate #kombucha #juice #softdrinks #milk #liquor #matcha

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McCoy said on Instagram that her mission is to deconstruct ideals on palate discrimination that has “perpetually plagued gastronomy.”

You can keep up with McCoy and her live tasting events by following her on Instagram @ cha_squared or on Facebook.