Melissa and Mark Hall weren't impressed with the coffee options when they arrived in Nolensville.
The husband and wife duo moved from Seattle in 2004, and though they fell in love with the growing Williamson County town's neighborhood feel, they couldn't find the top-notch brews they fell in love with in the nation's coffee capital.
So for the past 12 years, they've brewed their own at Mama's Java coffeehouse. The cozy café just off Nolensville Road is a neighborhood favorite, well-loved for its in-house roasts and friendly atmosphere.
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"Once you drink it, you're like, 'Oh wow, that's pretty good,'" Mark Hall said.
"And then you go back to what you were drinking, and it's like, 'Ooh. Ooooh."
The key to the operation is a towering Sivetz air roaster, which is visible to curious kids and adults through a large window in the dining area. Instead of tumbling coffee beans in a hot metal drum, the machine creates a bed of hot air that floats the beans in the air as they roast. This method keeps the beans from being burnt by the hot edges of a metal drum — a difference Mark Hall said customers taste right away.
"You're never going to have a burnt taste, no matter how dark," he said. "You're never going to have a bitter taste to it. It's going to be super smooth coffee."
Mama's Java is also famous for its flavored coffee. Its rotating selection includes toffee nut crunch, peanut butter cup, summer berry, and two flavors that are available every week: southern pecan on Saturdays and chocolate whiskey on Wednesdays.
"When you can drink it hot or cold, and black or flavored, that's how you know it's good," Melissa Hall said.
If the air roaster is the key to making good coffee, Mark Hall said his wife is the key to making the café a beloved neighborhood spot.
The tables at Mama's Java are filled with thank you cards, event invitations and newspaper clippings from grateful customers that have made coffee runs and lunchtime meetings part of regular routines.
"I think we are just so well-connected with the community that, if somebody wants to know something, or needs a recommendation, or pretty much any information, this is where you go," Melissa Hall said. "I get more people that go, 'Hey, I know you know everybody. Can you refer somebody for this?'"
Those deep roots also provide opportunities to give back to the Nolensville community, which has grown significantly since they arrived in 2004. Mama's Java contributes to local food pantries and charities, hosts neighborhood get-togethers and employs local students. At Mill Creek Middle, the shop donates coffee sold at Maverick Café, an in-school café operated by general education students and students with disabilities.
During the coronavirus pandemic, the Halls leveraged business relationships with restaurant suppliers to secure hard-to-find household staples. That allowed them to launch a "share a square" campaign where every online order included a free roll of toilet paper, a hot commodity in the early days of the pandemic.
"We're not just a storefront," Melissa Hall said. "We try to utilize it for everything we possibly can to give back."
Mama's Java now wholesales as MJ Roasting Company, allowing the company to expand its reach as far south as the Florida Keys. The company also launched a subscription service for customers who move away from Nolensville but can't live without their air-roasted coffee. And the Halls are open to franchising — if the right partner comes around.
But Mama's Java is a family affair, and the Halls like it that way. Melissa's crafts pastries for the menu and the restaurant's name derives from the initials of the Hall parents and kids: Mark, Anthony, Melissa, and Alexis spell "MAMA," and Ashton and Alec provide half of the word "jAvA." (They're not planning to have kids named Serena, Josh, or Victoria any time soon to fill in the remaining letters.)
All of the kids have worked in the restaurant, meaning they've grown up alongside the expanding business.
"They went from playing with toys in the corner," Mark started.
"...to taking naps in the office," Melissa finished, laughing.
Even as the business grows, the Halls said their commitment to Nolensville will remain at the heart.
"It's not about just shoving coffee down at people," Mark Hall said. Without missing a beat, he added: "Granted, MJ Roasting has the best coffee in the world because it's air-roasted coffee."
How to visit Mama's Java
305 Sheldon Valley Dr. #101, Nolensville, TN 37135; 615-776-5282; mamas-java.square.site
Cole Villena covers Williamson County at The Tennessean, part of the USA Today Network — Tennessee. Reach Cole at email@example.com or 615-925-0493. Follow Cole on Twitter at @ColeVillena and on Instagram at @CVinTennessee.
This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Mama's Java café serves air roasted coffee in Nolensville, Tennessee