Next in our series of profiles of Athenians who contribute to our town's creative energy:
Charlie Mustard is the head roaster for Athens' favorite coffee company, Jittery Joe's! Mustard has been with Jittery Joe's since they first began roasting their own coffee and has remained passionate about his craft and the coffee through the years. Although not originally from Athens, Mustard exhibits all the traits of a true Athenian and has an ever-growing love and respect for the Athens community! With a warm smile and an inviting personality, everyone in Athens should want to cross paths with Charlie Mustard at some point during their time here!
What led you to roasting for Jittery Joe's?
Coffee roasting wasn't always in the plans for Charlie Mustard. While working on his Master's thesis at UGA, Mustard would spend a lot of time at the new coffee shop in town, which happened to be Jittery Joe's. Little did he know that this small coffee shop would become such a significant part of his life! He got to know the two brothers that started Jittery Joe's, and heard them discussing that they wanted to start roasting their own coffee rather than buying from Atlanta. Mustard offered to help them out and roast for them, as long as he could get all the free coffee he wanted, of course! With no prior experience in the coffee industry, he immediately began to research how to roast coffee, especially pulling from his background in Chemistry. Twenty-two years later, and he still has an ever growing passion for this craft and this company.
"What dawned on me, sitting in the first Jittery Joe's shop," Mustard explains, "was that these two brothers had an idea to start Jittery Joe's, so they maxed out two credit cards and just started it. These guys created a job. I'd never seen that before. I love the creative process with coffee, and I admired the brothers so much for doing what they did that I knew I wanted to be a part of it."
What's something not everyone knows about Jittery Joe's?
The origin of the Jittery Joe's name! Inspiration for the Jittery Joe's name actually came from an episode of The Simpsons, where they had a parody of the movie "Thelma and Louise," and there was a Jittery Joe's coffee shop featured in the episode.
Jittery Joe's is also a large advocate and supporter of cycling. For a while, Jittery Joe's had a professional cycling team that they sponsored, and from this they were able to spread their name and brand across the country.
You've been with Jittery Joe's since the early days, how have you seen it evolve and grow?
"We've grown mainly by word of mouth. Nobody has ever really sold our coffee for us. We've grown very organically." Mustard has seen the company go from not even roasting their own coffee, to roasting beans in their very first 25 lb roaster, to now utilizing a 150 lb roaster. "We started out with 4 coffees. I only had one game plan at the time, one roast, and I did it to all the coffees," Mustard jokingly recalls.
As he became more well versed in the coffee roasting process, he began to separate the coffee into medium and dark roasts, and then he began to recognize which coffees tasted better with which roasts. Mustard described the whole process as quite the subjective learning process. He shared that he would read books by certain well-renowned coffee roasters, and adapt their methods. Then, he would turn around and read a book by another author that would claim that another method was the best. It was through these experiences that he realized just how subjective the process is and how unique it can be to each individual.
You have a wide range of coffees available, some with quite intriguing titles (we love the names "Whoop-Ass In a Can" and "Travelin Joe"). Can you share any stories behind the naming of these fan favorites?
Jittery Joe's is heavily involved in the Athens community, and this is represented in most of their coffee blends. People in the community come to Jittery Joe's, wanting to collaborate and create a coffee unique to their company. So they meet with the roaster, select a blend they like and then its branded with whatever name they want! There are special blends for the Athens Land Trust, Grady College, Habitat for Humanity, Bike Athens, and Terrapin, just to name drop a few of the organizations and groups that have been lucky enough to work in tandem with Jittery Joe's.
The oldest Jittery Joe's blend, "Travelin' Joe," was created and named by Mustard. Mustard explains, "The three main growing regions of coffee, Indonesia, Africa, and Central and South America, are all included in this blend. I took beans from each of those regions and blended them together, and there you have the origin of the name!"
What's your favorite part of the roasting process? What's the most challenging?
"The most challenging, and most fun part," Mustard proposes, "is to learn what a coffee is all about. Being able to taste the batches at different stages, and learning the coffee inside and out, what it has to offer and what it can and can't do. There are nuances that happen at every step of the process, and we are just trying to pull out those nuances. The essence of the coffee is the same year after year, but it's up to the roaster to decide how to roast it. It's an incredibly subjective process, which makes it both challenging and exciting."
Do you believe roasting coffee is an art or a science?
Mustard stated confidently that he believes coffee roasting requires a strong mix of the two, but with his background in science, he tends to lean more towards science throughout the process. "With the amount of science background I've had, it helps me to think about roasting coffee in a much wider picture than a lot of people get to think about it in," Mustard explains, "I get to analyze so many aspects of the process and understand how the variables all work together. The art part of it all is learning to take the science and bend it and be creative with it. It's all about trying new things, crafting it and being able to make what you want out of it, then putting it together like you're making a painting."
What should every coffee drinker know about the roasting process?
Without missing a beat, Mustard exclaimed, "How that coffee came to your cup! Think about all of the steps that came together to form the coffee you're drinking. Also, it's interesting to note that coffee is the second commodity traded globally, following behind oil."
What inspires you and keeps you passionate about coffee?
"This is a creative business. There is an art to creating coffee and coming up with blends and presenting yourself in a way that you want to be presented. Also, in a workplace, I like to actually have a list of goals and see it all be done. While I was teaching, it was never ending tasks, whereas here, I can leave the day and feel satisfied with what I did." Mustard also adds, "I also just love drinking coffee, so being in a place where you can drink so many cups of coffee is a plus!"
What are some of the trends you've observed in coffee roasting over the years?
Mustard says that he's seen trends come and go, from organic coffee fads to a heavy focus on fair trade, and of course new machinery and ways to roast the coffee. Among constant change and evolution in the industry, Mustard argues that "the basics will always be the same. You can add new machinery, but it's always going to be taking coffee beans and heating them up until they taste good." It's as simple as that!
What is your go to cup of Joe?
So, I see the phrase "The Bike is the Answer" all over this place, what does that mean to you?
Mustard argues that, "Any question or problem you have, the bike is the answer! Think about it, say I'm sad or depressed. Well, if I start riding my bike to work I will increase my blood flow and that naturally makes you feel better. Maybe I don't have enough money to be doing the things I really want to do. Well, if I sell my car and move closer to where I work, I can bike to work and give myself a huge raise by making those changes." Not to mention the added benefits to the environment and your personal health! Mustard has had this motto placed all over town, and you can find it at places such as Weaver D's and Little Kings!
What do you love most about Athens?
"How unique this town is.," Mustard reveals. "This town is very open minded to the realization that there isn't just one way to solve a problem. I think this has a lot to do with the university. The creativity in this town is amazing- it blows my mind over and over! And I always hear about things I miss, because people here are constantly doing new and interesting things! I've also learned that you really have to let this town embrace you."
Describe your perfect Saturday in Athens.
Whenever Mustard has friends or family visit, he loves to show off all of the Athens creative community! His perfect Saturday in Athens itinerary would consist of an art oriented day, that only entails walking around town. Mustard states, "First, we would meet up at Jittery Joe's," (obviously!) "then we would walk down the train tracks towards Pulaski Heights, for great Athens BBQ and banana pudding! After lunch, we would visit the Hotel Indigo gallery, the Lyndon House, and continue to go gallery hopping around town. By the end of the night, we would end up in Flicker Theatre & Bar and Hendershots!"
Describe Athens in one sentence.
"Let's compare it to coffee. There are such a variety of coffees and tastes and aromas, and we are just trying to put it all together to make the perfect blend. That's what Athens is to me. Athens takes so many different people and puts them in a blend and adds in creativity and that's what makes this town what it is, " Mustard explains.
Want to know more about Charlie? Stop by the Jittery Joe's Roaster where you can grab your favorite cup of Joe and watch Charlie do what he does best!