Anyone who knows me even a little knows that I am passionate about my daily cup of coffee. And I’m a decaf girl, so I am enjoying for the taste, not for the insta-buzz. So one day, when I spied a food truck by the name of Java Jen’s, I had to pay a visit. I mean, it literally had my name all over it. Not just an oasis from a chilly fall morning schlepping Folgers, Java Jen’s is a full fledged coffee roasting business serving their artistry in bean form, or cup, in Loudoun County and beyond since 2016.
It all started when Jennifer and Jay Breeden happened upon a documentary starring Hugh Jackman called Dukale’s Dream. Jackman traveled to Ethiopia and met a coffee farmer for the film and became so inspired that he returned to the US and opened a coffee company called Laughing Man Coffee, with a few coffee shops in New York City. Jay explains, “In the documentary you saw the farmer and you saw the coffee shop, and everybody’s sitting around drinking coffee. So I said, ‘You don’t grow roasted coffee, how did the coffee get roasted?’ They said nothing about roasting in the documentary. I said, ‘Let’s do roasting! Somebody’s got to do it.’ So we started investigating. We originally started roasting with a hot air popcorn popper.” Jennifer adds, “It was a great way to learn. Roasting that way is very hands on. It’s open and you’re able to watch everything that’s happening to those little beans. It’s not like a big drum roaster where you’ve only got little windows.”
It began as a hobby for the couple, making little 80g batches at a time. Jennifer attended a roasting certification course provided by the Specialty Coffee Association of America to gain her level one roaster certification. Says Jennifer, “In the course, you’re not just roasting everyday and learning all the ins and out outs of roasting. You are learning the industry, all the way from the seed to the cup. You learn the history of coffee.”
While perfecting their craft, they burned through several popcorn poppers they had purchased at thrift stores. Next thing they knew, they were being courted by the Loudoun Valley HomeGrown Markets Cooperative to sell Java Jen’s coffee at their markets. Says Jay, “We just started getting more into it and one thing lead to another. We ordered an 800 lb roaster that was custom made in Oklahoma City, we drove out there, took possession of it and got trained on it.”
Java Jen’s has come a long way from their popcorn popper days. Like most industries, roasting coffee comes with its share of technology. To achieve their desired roast, Jennifer uses a computer that is connected to their roaster. Software allows them to develop their unique roasting profile. Says Jay, “It looks very scientific when you’re doing it. We do sample roasts, and what’s called a cupping, where we taste the different roast profiles and then decide which ones we like the best. Typically, with specialty coffee, you don’t roast really dark. It’s more in a medium roast range that enhances the natural flavors of the particular origin.” Jay explained that when you create a medium roast, you’re roasting the coffee up to a level where the natural flavors of that particular origin are enhanced without burning off too many of the sugars. Jennifer adds, “For example, if you go with a Central American coffee, you can get cocoa and nutty tones. If you roast it right, it really enhances those notes. A lot like wine (and chocolate!), coffee beans will take on the flavor of whatever is grown around it. If you make the coffee too dark you burn away the inherent flavors.”
Quite passionate about the coffee roasting business, the Breedens are very conscientious business owners. With their base business in coffee roasting, ethical sourcing is of the highest priority for them. Says Jay, “We source coffee from around the world and have direct trade relationships with some farms. We like to do fair trade and direct trade as much as possible.” It is important to the couple that as much money as possible goes back to the community in which the farmers reside.
Java Jen’s beans come from Central and South Americas, Indonesia, and parts of Africa. Sourcing beans takes earnest research. The couple works with coffee importers to make their initial bean selections. Importers post the coffees available and provide information about the farm, the altitude the coffee was grown, harvesting and processing techniques, and flavor notes. This is where it gets exciting (to me). Some flavor notes that can be achieved in growing are fruity peach notes, lavender, floral, cocoa, stone fruits, or grape notes, to name a few. Jennifer explains, “The notes can change from lot to lot. I like to look at what the notes are and pick the ones that I think are the most pleasing. I’ll receive a sample and I’ll do a sample roast so we can taste it.” Cultivating their sharpened palate, Jennifer is able to create unique blends used in their espresso and their cold brew.
But before they even get to roast the sample batch, Jennifer must first do what’s called green grading. When the raw beans are received, they are green. They must be inspected to find and eliminate defective beans. For specialty grade, there is a certain amount of partial defects allowed per sample lot. Jennifer pulls out all the defects and will determine if the quantity is too much of her projected coffee lot. Through green grading and running a sample roast, if she is not happy with the way that the coffee tastes, she won’t order it. If the coffee passes green grading and Jennifer samples it and it tastes good, then they order. Jay jokes, “We’ve tasted a lot of bad coffee.”
As a side note, the higher coffee is grown the better quality and flavor the coffee is able to achieve. Higher altitudes allow the beans to grow slower which allows the unique flavors to develop. At lower altitudes the beans mature faster and don’t absorb as much of the surrounding flavors. Coffee farms shade-grow their coffee. Farmers grow other plants around the coffee trees to shade them. The coffee trees pull up the flavors of the surrounding plants.
Processing techniques can also impact the final flavor profile of a coffee lot. Says Jay, “Different origins process their coffees differently. Africa and Brazil do a lot of naturally processed coffees. In the natural process, the fruit is dried and allowed to ferment for a few days before the pulp is mechanically removed. This allows the pulp and the flesh of the fruit to impart more sugars into the beans so a more full-bodied coffee is produced.
On a personal note, I had to ask if Java Jen’s offers decaf coffee (‘cause that’s how I roll). Thank goodness, they do! They can provide decaf as well as half-caf to their customers. But there’s more. Java Jen’s is even quite discerning with regards to the processing of their decaffeinated coffee. A lot of commercially sold decaf is chemically treated to remove the caffeine with some pretty caustic chemicals. The decaf that Java Jen’s roasts and sells is decaffeinated through the patented Swiss Water Process which uses no chemicals whatsoever. Says Jay, “We have Swiss Water Colombian and Peruvian coffee. They are really good coffees and no chemicals are used.” The chemical process to decaffeinate coffee beans involves parboiling the beans to remove the flavor and the caffeine. The chemicals that are introduced attach to the caffeine and get separated out of the liquid. To infuse the flavor back in, the beans are put back into the solution that is basically flavored water. It really makes me want to rethink and question what I’ve been drinking for the last 17 years.
Official members of the Loudoun Valley HomeGrown Markets Coop and still growing their farmers market presence, you can also purchase Java Jen’s products at Round Hill Grocery Co. Their brewed coffee is exclusively served at the Herndon Centennial Golf Course Egg Karne Café, Broad Run High School Coffee Café and Java Jen’s offers home delivery within Ashburn and Sterling, VA (even during snow storms!). Don’t live in the Northern Virginia area, fear not! Java Jen’s ships!! They supply customers residing in New Mexico to Dubai and anywhere in between. And don’t let bags of whole roasted beans scare you. Java Jen’s will also grind for their customers.
But if you are local, be on the look out for Java Jen’s bright green food truck-esque trailer at local events. The trailer provides them with a tremendous amount of flexibility since it is able to go anywhere. Some of the events that you might find Java Jen’s in attendance would be Chicks Picks by Hillary (which is where I found them), the Blood and Guts Zombie 5K at Bull Run, and Eggs and Kegs at Lost Rhino Brewery Company. Community service and involvement is also a hot button for the Breedens. Java Jen’s provides sponsorship for the Ashburn Aqua Jets Swim Team and the Ashburn Village Kid’s Triathalon.
Says Jay, “In the summertime we roast close to 100 lbs a week for the markets.” A new offering for Java Jen’s this summer was the roll out of nitro-cold brew (NCB). Sounds really science-y, no? An emerging trend in the coffee industry since roughly 2015, NCB is the process of cold brew coffee being charged with nitrogen to give it a rich, thick head not unlike that of a stout beer. YUM!
On the horizon for Java Jen’s would be the acquisition of a commercial space. Quickly outgrowing their garage-converted roastery, they are on the hunt for affordable space to expand. Says Jennifer, “The space has to be the right fit. It has to be the right size and make sense financially.” Part of that dream also would include a craft beer brewery style space with the roastery in the back and a tasting room up front for visitors to come, do a cupping, hang out and drink good coffee. Until then, they continue to work out of the commercial roastery space built at their home, which has gone through inspection by the Department of Agriculture.
The movement for consumers to buy locally is important to the Breedens, especially here in Loudoun County. Jay explains, “I read recently that the Loudoun farms are in a decline because developers are buying up the land and they’re building stuff all over the place. It helps to buy from local farmers. Loudoun has dairy farmers, produce farmers, and meat farmers raising cattle, pigs, chickens and eggs. Buying locally helps the community. You know where your products come from. You can go out to the farm and see how they produce their products, so you know that they’re not using chemicals and they’re growing organically. You can meet the people that you’re buying from.” He goes on, “At the farmers market, the people that you see there are the ones out there cleaning out the stalls, or milking the cows; they’re doing it all. I think it’s exciting to be a part of that community.”
What brings Jennifer and Jay the most joy, are happy customers. Says Jay, “It’s great to have someone new to us come in and sample a coffee and buy a cup. And then they say, ‘Ah, that’s the most amazing coffee ever.’ That makes us feel good. And then they buy a bag of coffee. And then they become regular customers. That’s what it’s all about.” Jennifer adds, “Our focus is specialty grade coffee. We’re roasting weekly, so you get the freshest coffee. We want to bring really fresh, high quality coffee to the community. It feels really good when we see someone else really excited about our product. I think, wow, I did that!”
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