I have long been a devotee of the bean, and the search for the perfect brew, for that truly spectacular blend of arabica and artistry, has been an ongoing, life-long quest. Travels hither and thither across the globe have been defined and remembered by the superior cups of coffee savored in one locale or another. High on the list is Café De Pause in Marburg, Germany, a gorgeous nook of a place filled with stovetop espresso pots of various size and description. Kokako in Auckland, New Zealand, a sleekly appealing café with in-house roasting and organic beans, is another member of this club. Surprisingly, the Delta Club Crown Room at Amsterdam airport, where I downed five much-savored cappuccinos also merited a place in the ranks of my favorites.
More recently, however, my quest has revolved around my new neighborhood of Raleigh, North Carolina. Last year, when we moved to our current abode, I began the trek from one coffeehouse to another in search of the perfect java. My requirements were most particular: the ideal coffee would have a depth of flavor, an earthy intensity that lingered on the tongue. The brew needed to be rich, velvety, impossibly smooth; the beans, organic and freshly roasted. I went from one café to another in a fruitless search for Raleigh’s best coffee and, while some were good, none quite managed spectacular.
None, that is, until I took a short drive out to Hillsborough and visited the home base of Joe Van Gogh Coffee. Brian Hereghty, the Director of Sales at Joe Van Gogh (who just celebrated their twenty-fifth anniversary!), kindly took me on a tour of their impressive facility. The front offices opened up into a spacious back-room that accommodated the tasting bar, the massive bins of imported organic and conventional beans, the sumptuously gleaming brass and steel roasters, and the packaging center where the freshly roasted beans were sorted, weighed, bagged, and shipped off to their lucky recipients.
Joe Van Gogh Coffee at Hillsborough is not so much a processing facility or a warehouse as it is the home of artisans who care deeply about perfecting the art of importing, roasting, grinding, and brewing the most divinely delicious cup of coffee the planet has to offer. Brian Maiers, the professional barista whose tasting station is a beautiful ensemble of chrome panels, infusion systems, and steel arms (a diminutive Star Trek shuttle pod on steroids), made me a latte. It was unspeakably spectacular! A richly smooth concoction that tasted of earth and sun, of chocolate and nuts—a Zen moment, when my global search for the perfect coffee had at last come to a delectable conclusion. Imagine my joy and delight to find it in my own new backyard!
There are other tangibles that contribute to my recent adoption of Joe Van Gogh Coffee as my all-time favorite coffee source. JVGC is not motivated by shareholders’ profits or corporate bottom lines, nor are they regimented by protocol; Joe Van Gogh Coffee, founded and led by the intrepid Robbie Roberts, is, above all, about nurturing the health and happiness of others—of the farmers and brokers with whom the company works, and the small but devoted Hillsborough team upon which the company depends. Work hours are flexible, and employees have the option to travel to the sustainable farms from which JVGC obtains its beans but more on that anon. All Joe Van Goghvians are united in their passion for the bean.
Kevin Swenk, Roastery Operations Manager, explained how the company integrates this passion into its guiding philosophy. He discussed how the company wants “to feel good about the sourcing choices we make,” and went on to say that, while fair trade is good because it ensures that a “minimum wage payment is being made to suppliers, and it puts money back into infrastructure which encourages other kinds of trade … a living wage is better. That’s what we offer our brokers and suppliers. We believe deeply in our relationships; we want our partners to be successful. Ultimately, Joe Van Gogh Coffee is all about equal treatment no matter who you are, where you are from, and which way you lean.”
In keeping with this philosophy, JVGC prides itself on purchasing beans from carefully selected farms and co-operative programs such as Café Femenino, which empower women pickers, growers, and exporters of coffee beans; farms like Mogola in Honduras, where Don Manuel has devoted his life to the growth of the community and the workers who tend the crops; farms like Selva Negra in Nicaragua, an astonishingly sustainable operation where schools, clinics, and organic kitchen farms supply farmworkers and their families with every possible need.
So every time I enjoy a cup of Joe Van Gogh’s finest, I feel a thrill of pleasure that I, too, in the purchase of a bag of beans, am playing a small part in supporting such marvelous enterprises: sustainable farms where workers are family and the land is cherished, and a coffee company that has quietly built its success by elevating others. And they make a damned fine coffee to boot. What more could a discerning coffee devotee ask for? Now I just have to get Brian Maiers to move into my spare room with his Star Trek coffee-contraption in tow.
505 Meadowland Drive, Unit 101
Hillsborough, North Carolina 27278
Jaynie Royal is the Founder and CEO of Regal House Publishing, Fitzroy Books, and Pact Press. She is passionately devoted to publishing finely crafted works of literature, to nurturing meaningful partnerships with a diverse group of authors, to building and fostering a sense of community, and to find ways in which Regal and Pact can support worthy nonprofits. Jaynie is the author of a work of historical fiction, Killing the Bee King, and lives in Raleigh, N.C., with her husband and three children.