For the folks behind South Jersey micro-roastery Mortal Minds, the answer is in the beans

"All of us have these moments. I was staring down the void in a way, and the only thing that brought me hope was community. Even though that’s what I didn’t think I wanted."

When James Hughes first tasted coffee that his friend Nick Cox made, he was mad. Then he had a question for his lifelong friend.

“Why couldn’t you make this coffee when we lived together?” recalls Hughes asking his old college roommate. The brew Cox had concocted was downright delicious.

But not too long before Hughes sipped on coffee he had a larger question to ponder: What exactly was his purpose on Earth? That’ll make you gulp.

“During COVID, I got laid off from my job,” explains Hughes. “It was a time of recalibration of thought of like, ‘OK what am I doing here? What do I want to do, and have I been truly happy in this position?’ The answer was no.”

When Hughes started to answer those questions that he asked himself during the pandemic, Cox was right next to him with a cup of coffee. 

“It was a really intense time of introspection, and it was time to ask all the big questions,” says Hughes.  “And Nick was there for some of those moments. We discussed a lot, and then there was a time we were having good coffee with good friends.”

In those moments, their coffee start-up Mortal Minds was born, with the idea starting with a desire to achieve a sort of redemption.

The early stages of COVID provided (some) people some luxuries: not having to commute into work, more free time, severance packages or $600 weekly unemployment checks, and stimulus. Fresh off of a severance package, Hughes was enjoying his free time originally.

But then depression started to hit, and Hughes had to climb out of some pretty big holes mentally. The theme of picking yourself up from a dark place is a major one for Mortal Minds. 

“After COVID I was in a really dark, dark, dark place,” says Hughes. “When you are in a dark place and asking yourself the big questions sometimes it feels like there is no way out. All of us have these moments. I was staring down the void in a way, and the only thing that brought me hope was community. Even though that’s what I didn’t think I  wanted.

“In order to redeem myself in a way I needed to start something. Nick was someone who could roll with the punches. I could talk to him about this stuff, and he would be like, ‘Dude we gotta do this.’ We were working off each other more, and making ourselves excited about this  project.” 

For the guys over at Mortal Minds, the road to redeeming one’s self is paved with coffee beans, but for Cox the road began at a Starbucks Reserve. No beer snob starts out drinking IPAs, and no coffee snob is born drinking fancy coffee either. Even though Starbucks is taken for granted, there was a time when our innocent minds were amazed at the menu. For Cox, he didn’t know that coffee could taste like that. 

“That was the jam,” says Cox about the Starbucks Reserve Sumutra coffee he had. “You know how you love craft beer, and still open a Miller? That’s what it feels like to me, and we included it in our Descend blend.”

Cox was also influenced by Reanimator Coffee in the Fishtown neighborhood of Philly. 

“La Colombe and Reanimator in Philly were the first places I could go to and have a pour-over and really good espresso. Not just from a pod machine called espresso, but from a real person doing it.”

After those experiences, Cox searched obsessively on the internet and on message boards about how to get coffee to taste just right and how to have an aftertaste as well. In the Ascend blend the duo put out you can taste the beers in the brew. 

“Ascend Blend is our light roast blend,” explains Cox. “Our coffees are what we want it to be. It has notes of berries, has notes of plurality, and is acidic and has citrus and is bright and interesting. It’s a step for our fans to be like, ‘Oh, coffee can taste like this.’ And it can taste like this in a lighter spectrum and not everybody gets into coffee from a classical standpoint.”

The duo also has the Descend Blend, which was the first coffee they ever put out, and they describe it as “their pop song.”

“Descend was our first coffee we ever put out,” says Cox. “We just wanted to hint at specialty coffee. There’s a lot of emphasis on light roast, medium roast, and delicate floral or fruity flavors. But you can’t ignore the fact that a lot of people love dark roast coffee that takes cream and sugar. You know something that is classic, and can be your daily driver. In terms of music, I always described Descend as our pop song. It’s very palatable, and it’s great in a pot, great in French press, great in a pour-over, and great as an espresso.”

In the short time Mortal Minds has existed, they have also had partnerships with local breweries as well. Whims Brewery is a brewery located in the Camden County exurbs of Atco. Owner/Brewer Doriin Saunders slid into the group’s DM’s and the rest was history. Saunders’ interest was piqued when he saw Cox post a reel about making a Moscow Mule with espresso in it. 

“These guys are awesome,” explains Saunders. “I asked if they wanted to do something and thankfully they said yes.”

Mortal Minds has hosted a cupping event at Whims, and they did a collaboration with Saunders for a beer as well. 

“Our first collab was a Golden Ale,” recalls Saunders. “I liked the way the Descend Blend paired with the beer. People told me it was like a coffee with cream, and rose with the backbone of that light golden coffee. There were notes of tamarind, and a little bit of marmalade on the back end and it was received really well.” 

So well that Chickie’s & Pete’s, an institution in the Delaware Valley up there with Rita’s and Wawa bought two kegs of the collab. Mortal Minds has goals to work with other distillers and restaurants in South Jersey as well, and eventually open up their own place. 

The Vineland area duo also have a larger goal in mind as well, and that is to make South Jersey a place to go for coffee. 

“Whether you’re from South Jersey where we’re planting our roots or throughout North or Central Jersey we want you to say Mortal Minds is from New Jersey, and that’s my state. That’s awesome. 

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