Brent and Sarah Patton are celebrating Java Jacks’ 20 year anniversary!
How does a small town like Nac get a coffee shop cafe that rivals spots in coffee meccas like New Orleans, San Francisco, and Seattle?
(How far do you have to go right now to enjoy a coffee experience that’s as good? 100 miles? 150?)
It springs from the creativity and adventurous spirits of Brent and Sarah Patton.
I had the opportunity to sit down and interview Brent (while tasting three different kinds of coffee) about his years in the coffee cafe business.
The Pattons’ coffee dreams started in Houston back in the early 1990s. One day, the young couple found themselves in a coffee place called Brazil. Brent noticed the exotic names of the coffees (Costa Rica, Sumatra, Tanzania). So he asked and found out that if a coffee was named Brazil, that’s where it came from. Or if it said Costa Rica, it came from there.
Around that same time he started to run into people who roasted coffee their own coffee. They were epicureans and crafters who were looking for the ultimate cup of coffee. They would orders sacks of green coffee and roast it to a chocolate brown.
He remembers way back when he asked a coffee roaster at a roastery to make a fresh bag for him. You can see how fun that was for him even now.
And we take it for granted. I know I do.
All of this caused him to dream some more.
So the Patton’s started asking questions about the coffee business. They would go in a shop and just ask questions. Sometimes people had a lot to share sometimes they didn’t.
Sarah and Brent both learned how to be baristas by working in Coffee cafes in Houston, Lufkin, and Nacogdoches.
Brent learned a lot especially in Houston. He worked at Praisewater Coffee Roasters. Michael Praisewater turned Brent on to the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA). In 1995, Brent went to his first coffee trade show which was sponsored by the SCAA.
Plus Michael was a wealth of information. He had grown coffee in Hawaii. Growing it led Michael to roasting it which finally led him to selling it.
By working around the Praisewater roastery, Brent learned how to subtly change the characteristics of coffee by the way it’s roasted. Of course when he and Sarah started Java Jacks Coffee House and later acquired his own coffee roaster, he went to town trying out different techniques and settings.
That’s one reason when I order at Java Jacks that I like to taste my coffee black before I add anything to it. Sometimes it just sings to me when it hits my taste buds. See, when you add cream, the flavor profile gets dialed way back. It’s kinda like adding the sepa filter to a photograph. (Still, I often drink it with cream because I like it that way too.)
I think Brent and Sarah’s creative backgrounds add a lot to the whole Java Jacks experience. Brent was a musician and sound technician before working with coffee. Sarah was an art major in college. She comes from an artistic family. I think most of what she does has that artists point of view in it.
Java Jacks is their canvas, their song.
Brent loves getting a green coffee bean in his hands and roasting it in such a way that he finds all of the flavor that the bean has to offer.
They learned this by being persistent.
Working in several cafes helped them learn the customer service. I’ve always been impressed with their staff. You’ll notice that baristas often work at the Java Jacks cafe for years. In most restaurants in Nacogdoches, employees serve for months, not years.
The first Java Jacks opened on College Street in September of 1996. Months before that the Pattons had worked just a few doors down at a coffee restaurant that had closed. They were able to get their first equipment from there.
They quickly hired their first employee and little by little ramped it up to five. Today they have a staff of fifteen.
Java Jacks is a tapestry. The coffee, the physical shop, and even the great customer service are all important elements.
If you ever have an opportunity to talk to Brent about coffee, do it. It’s like talking to someone who loves Beethoven and can talk about what makes it great.
There is literally so much complexity to coffee that you can keep finding more and more. Brent has been roasting coffee for over 20 years.
I’ve been drinking Java Jacks brews for ten. I keep discovering more depth the the coffee.
If you talk to Brent, he’ll talk about the Fruit flavors of one coffee and the chocolate notes in another. When he first mentions that a certain flavor is in the cup, I don’t immediately notice because it’s subtle. But when I take another sip, I taste it.
Some roasts are fruity and sweet with a heavy body, others are more bright and lively.
Brent uses a special breathing technique to sense all the flavors in a cup. He breathes in, takes a sip and then breathes out. I felt a little awkward when I first tried it, but I found that it made a difference.
I wonder if Brent thought 20 years ago that he would get to travel the country to teach roasting techniques with the Specialty Coffee Association of America.
I wonder if he knew that he would travel the world to meet coffee growers. He told me an interesting story recently. In some countries, growers did not always know that much about the characteristics of their coffee. The reason is that they didn’t have a way to roast the beans. They would sell dried green beans on the market and the beans would get dumped in with all of the other coffees.
Now, Brent can go to Africa,Costa Rica, or even Colombia and meet with a coffee farmer, and taste his product right there. If the bean has a special flavor profile, he can taste it immediately. And growers can work to use the best horticultural techniques at their disposal to create a unique taste.
For 20 years, Sarah and Brent have served Nacogdoches by pouring the best coffee that they can possibly make, into our cups and by opening the doors to an singular structure where people gather to talk, study, and dream.
It’s one very beautiful way that the Pattons make art.