Matt Johnson from Muletown Coffee took some time to answer our questions about coffee, Columbia, and his experience opening a coffee shop that has become a cornerstone of Columbia's resurgent downtown.
What were y’all doing before you started Muletown Coffee?
I was working for a music publishing and production company out of Florence, AL I met Chris one night in a coffee shop there called Rivertown Coffee. He was actually playing an acoustic set there one night. He’s a great singer-songwriter. I invited him over to the studio and we immediately became pals. We starting writing songs together and that’s really the foundation of our relationship. He had just moved up from Birmingham and was a “coffee guy.” He eventually moved back there and worked in the quality control lab for Royal Cup Coffee. We stayed in touch over the years and through an odd series of events both ended up in Columbia, TN. Chris had helped start a company called Seeds Coffee down in Birmingham and saw the potential here for something similar. He asked me if I’d be interested in helping him start a boutique roasterie and coffee shop. Long story short we put one foot in front of the other and here we are.
How would you describe coffee to someone who has never tried it?
Coffee is one of those simple pleasures that many people like myself had to grow into. I didn’t grow up liking coffee. Compared to Dr. Pepper it just didn’t do anything for me. It’s funny looking back because now, I can’t imagine my life without it. The joy is in the subtlety and ritual. The smooth sweet, molasses and dark chocolate notes are the most common and quintessential in my opinion. Specialty coffee can bring all kinds of citrus and berry notes. Dark roasts are smokey and rich. To each his own you know. If you don’t like one coffee that doesn’t mean you don’t like coffee, it very well may mean that you just haven't found the coffee for you.
What’s the most surprising thing about starting Muletown?
Being a part of a budding revitalizing downtown has been surprisingly fun. Our shop has become a gathering place for the community I never thought I’d be a part of something like that I’ve spent much of my life in coffee shops and they are very special to me. To know that our shop is that place for others is a good feeling.
What’s your favorite coffee flavored non-coffee?
Tough call between dark chocolate and ice cream.
How do you decide from where to source your coffee?
We’ve used a lot of importers over the last few years and have had good experiences all around. However this year one importer, Royal Coffee out of NY, that we’ve been partnered with for some time, invited us to go down visit some of the farms we buy from. That was really special. It’s a pretty normal thing for roasters to go to origin these days, but it was the first time for me. It really connects all the dots. To see these farmers and their families and to see the care and effort they put into their craft is inspiring It really makes you want to do your best as a roaster to really showcase what they have done. People always talk about buying ethically and that is very important to us too.You hear a lot of horror stories about farmers getting taken advantage of. Working with a reputable importer steers you clear of that kind of bad business. And, of course, going down to origin to create and actual friendship with the producers helps to ensure that you’re doing healthy and virtuous commerce.
What local products do you use at home?
I buy a lot of local stuff. It’s kind of a hobby I buy bread, milk, beer, vegetables all from local venders. Our local farmers market is a block from my house, it’s so great. It opens in June and I’m so excited.
What is your go-to gift to give?
Besides Muletown Coffee? Olive and Sinclair Chocolate. Always a hit.
Where should we go in Columbia (besides Muletown)?
If you’ve never been to Columbia, now is a great time. The downtown area is just beautiful. And it’s bustling with activity. Seems like a new shop is opening every month. It’s a great afternoon trip down from Nashville. Great food, great shopping. There’s a new local brewery called Asgard that sits just off the square by the Duck River. Too many to name everyone. You just gotta come down.