Editor’s note: During each Chips Quinn orientation and multimedia training in Nashville, Tenn., scholars are required to complete a mobile media reporting module, which includes producing videos and reporting and writing stories. Their work is displayed here.
Sipping a regular Milky Way coffee drink at the Bongo Java Roasting Co., one of Nashville’s premier coffeehouses, might not reveal that in 2005 thieves broke into a company café and stole the Nun Bun, a cinnamon bun whose lines and creases resembled, for some viewers, Mother Teresa’s face.
The unsolved mystery and Bongo Java’s offer of a $5,000 reward for the missing pastry isn’t the only thing that makes visiting the coffee roaster worthwhile. The people behind the java-magic and the passion poured into every cup are also noteworthy.
For Tom Valentine, 28, head roaster at Bongo Java’s wholesale distribution facility, coffee isn’t just dirt in a bag. It’s a drink whose richness comes from a process, years in the making, which begins the moment the coffee seed is planted and extends to roasting the beans and brewing the coffee.
Bongo Java’s raw or unroasted Arabica beans mainly come from Peru and Ethiopia. Twelve other countries also supply beans, including Guatemala, Colombia, Uganda, Congo and Thailand.
“Coffee is this incredibly dynamic miracle of an agricultural product,” Valentine says. “In a similar way to wine, with its rich tradition of connoisseurship, people realize you can roast it a hundred different ways and brew it a million different ways and make the same bean taste different.”
Bongo Java’s coffee is organic and derived from light-roast coffees grown in discrete regions, which many people wouldn’t like due to their acidic, bright-fruit, almost tea-like flavors, Valentine says. But the company’s huge selection of flavors makes the coffee-drinking experience eclectic and extraordinary, even for connoisseurs, he adds.
“The Barrel Aged Coffee Series is a very interesting flavor profile,” says Valentine, referring to coffee aged in spirit barrels, which infuses it with the aroma of the spirits but not the alcohol.
“It’s not something you would drink at six in the morning on the way to work, but it’s kind of a novelty after-dinner type drink,” he says.
Other flavors include Ethiopian Yirgacheffe, yielding aromas of sweet orange, honey and vanilla with notes of bergamot and black tea, and Peruvian Cajamarca, with aromas of white peach, honey butter and graham.
Valentine didn’t always like coffee. He fell in love with it in college, when he met the woman who would become his wife. Her mother roasted coffee at home and encouraged him to enter the trade.
What makes coffee special is not only that it is the most traded commodity in the world behind oil, according to Valentine, but also that it can be both expansive and singular. A single bean can offer a multiplicity of flavors, depending on where it was grown, the soil nutrients it absorbed and how it is roasted and brewed.
Bongo Java customers can trace the source of each bean through Cooperative Coffees, an organization that brings together 23 small roasters in the United States and Canada to buy coffee from small-scale farmers trying to support their families.
Additionally, what makes Bongo Java special, Valentine says, is the time the company spends training its employees. New employees undergo three days of training, and Valentine offers seminars and classes on coffee roasting, cupping and history.
For java drinkers looking for something other than the typical latte, Bongo Java offers coffee that is complex in its processing and aroma, and the chance to solve the mystery of the elusive Nun Bun.