TUPELO – Joe Moffatt didn’t intend to become a master coffee bean roaster. He just played the hand fate dealt him.
After operating a P.B. Loco franchise on Main Street for eight months, followed by a sandwich shop that served coffee and smoothies, called Joe Joe’s Espresso, Moffatt decided to move his business to South Gloster Street, behind McAlister’s Deli.
But once in his new location, he found a non-compete clause in his lease, meaning he couldn’t specialize in sandwiches because that’s McAlister’s niche.
So he leased a coffee roasting machine and turned his sandwich shop into a true coffee house.
“I knew if we were really going to get serious about coffee then we really needed to get serious about coffee,” said Moffatt, 31. “It ended up being a blessing in disguise. And it lowered my stress level.”
Today, Moffatt boasts that Joe Joe’s is the only coffee house in Mississippi, to his knowledge, that roasts imported coffee beans on the premises.
“Now, we’re a true coffee house and coffee roaster,” he said. “Roasting is the key to everything we do here. It’s unusual in Mississippi, but it’s an everyday thing out West.”
Coffee is a fruit?
Moffatt said a turning point in his business came in February when he attended a trade show called Coffee Fest in Chicago.
“I got to see the top independent coffee shops in the country,” he said. “Some of the best roasters in the world were there and I got to taste their product.”
And taste, he said, is everything.
“The only way you can be really sure of the quality of a product is to roast it yourself,” Moffatt said. “I import my own beans and control the way they’re roasted. One or two degrees of temperature change during roasting can totally change what flavor comes out.”
Moffatt roasts five pounds of coffee beans at a time and figures he roasts 30 to 40 pounds a day most days.
The Tupelo High School graduate imports raw, green coffee beans from Tanzania, El Salvador, Kenya, Brazil, Peru, Ethiopia, Uganda, Indonesia, Yemen, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Panama, Jamaica and Hawaii, among other places.
“Coffee is very seasonal,” he said. “The best flavors aren’t available year-round. Because coffee is a fruit, it’s very akin to grapes in wine production. Everything is a factor – the soil, the climate, the amount of rainfall, the variety of fruit used. Coffee is a fruit – it grows in cherries. Most people don’t know that. The beans are the seeds of the cherries.”
The roasting process itself takes between 10 and 16 minutes and Moffatt carefully controls the temperature during the entire process. Once the beans are roasted to their desired doneness, they pass into a cooling process, which takes about five minutes. Then they’re ready to be bagged and sold.
“Coffee flavor gets more intense at it cools,” he explained. “You want to stop the roasting as quickly as possible. It’s kind of like an ice-water bath to stop the cooking of vegetables.”
A cup of freshly brewed coffee at Joe Joe’s will cost you between $1.59 to $1.79, with cappuccinos, espressos and lattes running a bit higher. Most 1-pound bags of freshly roasted coffee beans sell for $10.95 to $12.95, although a pound of the highly prized Jamaica Blue Mountain costs about $50.
Untouched by economy
Right now, Moffatt’s favorite coffee is one imported from the Sidamo region of Ethiopia, but that, he said, is subject to change. And don’t even think of offering him a cup of American-grown coffee.
“I don’t drink 99 percent of American coffee because it’s not good,” he said. “It has a bitter taste to it. Lighter- and medium-roasts highlight the flavor of the bean. American coffee roasters have to roast to a higher temperature every time for consistency, so the roasts tend to be darker.”
For the best flavor at home, Moffatt recommends putting freshly ground coffee beans through a French press, which allows water to have more contact with the grounds than automatic drip coffee makers.
“With a drip brewer, you don’t get any real flavor,” he said. “Of course, if the coffee beans aren’t any good, a French press will emphasize that, too.”
Moffatt said all coffee – whether imported roasted beans or a can of pre-ground American coffee – needs to be stored in an airtight container at room temperature in a dark place.
“Oxygen, light and temperature are the enemies of coffee,” he said. “And never store coffee beans in the refrigerator or freezer. Coffee beans give off oil and oils get destroyed that way. It would be like putting olive oil in the refrigerator.”
Moffatt noted that while other businesses may be struggling right now, the downturn in the economy hasn’t really hurt his shop.
“People may be going to coffee houses less, but they’re brewing at home more and that’s great for us, too,” he said. “We’re still new and we’re still in Tupelo in a horrible economy. But once people start getting what we’re about, they just keeping coming back. People from out of town seek out independent coffee houses. We’re in the very early stages of developing a true coffee culture here.”
Joe Joe’s Espresso
Where: 491 S. Gloster St. in Tupelo, behind McAlister’s Deli.
When: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday-Friday and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday.
Info: (662) 823-5637.
What: Coffees, teas, breakfast croissants, pastries, breads, scones, cookies, muffins.
Ginna Parsons/NEMS Daily Journal