A morning ritual, a conversation piece, a shared bond: coffee adopts whatever role its faithful consumers may assign. It’s one of the few addictions that our local cultures openly embrace. Even just the word “coffee” can be seen on decorative signs for the home, on t-shirts, on mugs. Coffee has transcended its place as a drink to an idea: the symbol of incentive in an increasingly demanding world. “I can’t do anything before I have my coffee” is not a personal statement; it’s a cities-spanning mantra.
I worked as a Starbucks barista for a year and six months. During that time, I slowly moved from drinking a white mocha every few months to drinking black coffee every day. I learned the differences in roasts; the location of origin influences the taste and texture of the final product.
Take the Ethiopian Yirgacheffe (try pronouncing this ten times a day to curious customers). The Starbucks Reserve Ethiopian Yirgacheffe has strong notes of fruit and berries with a medium mouthfeel. When you drink this Yirgacheffe blend, it does not lay heavy in your mouth or taste faintly of nuts or spices, like the Aged Sumatra blend. It glides smoothly across your tongue like steady waters, cascading into the slow and easy descent down your throat.
The Yirgacheffe has its own distinctive personality, which may not be immediately recognized by the casual coffee drinker. Just like wine-tasting or most other identifying skills, your coffee palate can develop with time and focus.
Local business owner Seth Nelson knows better than most the benefits that developing a dormant skill can produce. Nelson is the founder of The Farmer’s Perk Organic Coffee Co. and provides the West Tennessee area with high quality ground coffee, whether through catering, retail, or just selling a hot, fresh cup. Recently, he spoke with me about his growing business and how coffee culture has started to shape our area.
Nelson’s foray into the world of coffee all started at the West Tennessee Farmers’ Market in 2012, when he was only fourteen years old.
“My first day at the market—I mean, it was just pretty basic,” Nelson reflects. “I went out there with a fold-out table. . . . I sold some cups of coffee with some little twenty-dollar Mr. Coffee coffeepots. And that was really just the roots of the business.”
Since that summer, The Farmer’s Perk has expanded to serving the greater Jackson area (including the Old Country Store at the Casey Jones Village), Memphis, and most recently the new farmer’s market in Henderson. Still, many of their clientele remain loyal regulars from those first few years.
Unlike most of the coffee companies in Jackson, The Farmer’s Perk offers something different: certified organic, fair-trade coffee beans, often prepared by a collaboration of local roasters. Nelson works hard to provide a variety of blends so that his customers can find what they like. His personal favorite is The Farmer’s Perk dark roast called The Pacific Rim.
“It’s not your typical dark roast,” Nelson confides. “It’s very low acidity, there’s almost no bitterness to it all...the origin of it is Papua New Guinea, East Timor, and Indonesia: all grown in volcanic soils.”
A coffee like The Pacific Rim could not be enjoyed in our region without the diligent efforts of The Farmer’s Perk. While Nelson believes that Jackson lacks education in the specialty coffee market, he has seen a growing amount of interest in different blends and origins of coffee.
In regards to his vision for the Jackson coffee market, Nelson remarks: “We’re starting to see more interest in the craft and specialty market, whether that be craft beer, etc., and also just [in] being local. Since Alba closed down, we’ve really been the only local coffee company in Jackson. There are some local roasters . . . and we’ll actually be doing some features of [their] coffees here soon. But I think we are helping to educate the market, just simply because we are what they have, besides Starbucks, you know?”
I, too, still feel the painful gap that the closing of Alba, Jackson’s most recent local coffee shop located downtown, left behind. When I was a Starbucks barista, I used to visit Alba every week to enjoy a separate coffee shop from my place of work, to relax in a slower-paced environment and enjoy one of their signature drinks, “the Jacksonian.” But now, The Farmer’s Perk is moving quickly to provide for people like the disenfranchised customers that Alba left behind. Those who enjoy buying local can find a haven in The Farmer’s Perk.
For Nelson, the best aspect of the business is just seeing the smiles on people’s faces. He has learned what his customers enjoy and expect over the years, and he in turn will implement these lessons as The Farmer’s Perk prepares for the future.
“Today, there is a big opportunity for [young people to get into business]. . . . If you’re really striving to create something that’s high quality—to create something that people don’t have to meet a market need—then there’s no reason you can’t succeed,” Nelson concludes.
Most people can enjoy a good cup of coffee—whether they take it with cream and sugar or just straight black. But I think that when you dig deeper into coffee culture and the hardworking harvesters, roasters, companies, and baristas who make the magic happen, that’s when you can fully appreciate the drink that you crave every morning. Take a moment to savor what you have available to you right here in Jackson. You’ll be happier for it.
The Farmer’s Perk booth is open at the West Tennessee Farmers’ Market at 91 New Market Street in downtown Jackson every Saturday for the months of April through October. Visit their bar in the Old Country Store at the Casey Jones Village (56 Casey Jones Lane) seven days a week (hours vary). To learn more or order coffee online, visit their website, as well as their Facebook page and Instagram.
Olivia Skelton is the danger. She is also a writer, music aficionado, barista, and Union University graduate based in Jackson.
Originally from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, photographer Katie Howerton moved to Jackson in 2011 to study Graphic Design and Drawing at Union University. She discovered Our Jackson Home in January 2015 and used it as a guinea pig for her senior design project, creating the first issue of Our Jackson Home: The Magazine. After graduating she was given leadership over Our Jackson Home at theCO, where she now runs the blog, designs the magazine, and coordinates events. She and her husband Jordan live in Midtown and are active members of City Fellowship Baptist Church.