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Mano (It.) – “the hand”
© 2017, all rights reserved
I have thought about writing this for months and it is because, I’ve thought about this man for months. Both his life and his passing has deeply affected me. I have much to say, much I want to tell you, much I want to share with you and yes, much I want to teach about much that he has taught me. So, it is my hope to pay my teacher, a master teacher, the respect and the credit he deserves. And it is my greatest hope as he has done for me that I can impart to you, some of the art and mastery of the world’s second most traded commodities, coffee!
So I begin with a series, simply called, Java Joe. And it and this series begins with, what the Italians call ‘Mano [pronounced: mah-no] – “the hand.” In this sense, this hand, belonged to the man, affectionately known as, Java Joe.
Born February 1949
Died March 11, 2017
When you have a cup of coffee, you might think of it or call it a cup of Java or simply, a cup of Joe. Whether you realize it or not, you are paying respect, every time you have a cup, to the one and only, the original, Java Joe.
Java Joe, or a.ka. Joseph J. Palozzi and Joe Palozzi and just, Joe, was a legend. At least many of the stories surrounding his life were legendary. To be a legend in one’s time or in one’s mind, the story or stories are sometimes popularly regarded as historical, but unauthenticated. I don’t believe Joe thought of himself as legendary in his own mind, but he was to many, a legend in his own time. Even to write this, I found it very difficult to find many facts about his life, from public places. Even his obituary did not give his date and time of birth. All I could track down was the Month (February), and the year (1949), when he was born.
I had heard rumors of his passing for about 2 weeks, before I started writing this. Life being what it is, it took me awhile to track down and verify that he did indeed die, March 11th, 2017, after a long fight with lung cancer. Now you may not believe or understand this, but his death deeply saddens me because, beyond his ‘legend’ status, and all he accomplished, he was for my part, my friend.
You may not know me and Joe may never have even thought of me as his friend, but to me, for my part, he was my friend. To me, he was my teacher, a master teacher and I remain, a devoted student.
I first met Joe by way of his coffee, at a local coffee bar owned by two friends of mine, Nick and Connie Reda. They bought all their coffee from Joe. One time, I went with Nick on a trip to resupply his coffee stores. Nick introduced me to Joe.
I believe I understood who this man was, the first time I met him. His language was colored with expletives, his opinions set and to many, he may have come off as harsh and bristling. He certainly was set in his ways, but as the old adage says, “You can’t judge a book by it’s cover.” Underneath the covers of some of the most intense blue eyes I have ever seen, was the man, perhaps many never saw. I got Joe. I got him from the beginning. I might not approve of his salty language or his political opinions, but he was at least, if not a formally highly educated man, he was certainly, a highly self-educated man. You cannot separate the man from what he does. Joe did coffee. That’s who he was to me and what he did.
There have been many tributes to Joe about his legendary adventures. Some will talk of his love for music and even his once owned café, Java’s Café. Java’s Café was right in the center of downtown Rochester, NY, a mid-sized city and right next door to Eastman Theater. Eastman Theater was gifted by George Eastman of Eastman Kodak, then just Kodak. The theater was built-in quality and with culture outreach as any other larger city like, New York City. So, Rochester had something great bestowed upon it that rivaled cities many times its size. And Rochester, to this day, is home to so many incredible artists and musicians that the world have never heard of and may never will. Now it is just my opinion, but I think if you spread all of them out, all across the United States, city and town by city and town, each of them would have, could have and should have, been world renown. I could say the same thing about Joe. His name and his perfected coffee bean roasting prowess should be known all over the world. He got pretty close to that happening, but like the musicians of Rochester, for most and for Joe, it just didn’t work out. Put Joe and artists, and musicians all together in a small mid-sized city and the chances of success are reduced exponentially. But to the locals and visitors, go to almost any pub, bar and grill that offer live music and you will be blown away at how good these artists are here! Go to many of the areas finest restaurants and you would have most likely ended your meal with a cup of the original Java Joe’s coffee. But very few, ever seem to make it out of here.
Rochester, once known as Image City had three of the top companies in the world — Kodak, Xerox and Bausch & Lomb. So yes, there was a lot of talent here, which had offshoots of such things as the digital press (a football size printing press), that could print 10,000 + pieces, each custom designed and all in about an hour. Adobe spun out of here, the digital camera, and, why even the personal computer and many other things had their origins here. My thoughts are the area had great talent, but poor management. None of these big three are anything like they once were. Same for music here. Most musicians need good management. It seems to have been lacking here, for many things, for a long time. You could fault Joe as not being a good businessman or lacking good management skills, but like many artists and musicians here, these do not diminish, the quality of their art: of Joe’s art!
I will leave it to the legendaries to tell of how Joe came to Rochester to roast coffee, but I do know he had spent time in Italy and in Hawaii, areas known for their expertise in the art and science of roasting coffee and the other, rich in volcanic soil, where Kona grows. Now where do you suppose Joe learned about coffee? Italy and Hawaii would be my educated guess, but if it was just from books so be it. But I do know personally, that when he came back to Rochester, after he left Hawaii, he noticed a very peculiar thing. One of the last things you might recall, about a fine dining experience (in some 4 star restaurants here), would be the cup of coffee served at the end of the meal. Joe noticed it was all over roasted or burnt coffee. And we are now, talking about the birth of, micro-brewed coffee. Yes, Java Joe was its grandfather, its patron saint if you will. So, Joe finds and builds a roaster from a nineteenth century design.
A vacant spot opened up next to Eastman Theater in the heart of downtown Rochester, NY, and Joe moved in, roaster and all. He started roasting and selling whole beans in Java’s Café to the public and he roasted the coffee, for several fine dining establishments. He sold simple foods and deserts when so many patrons kept asking him to. The café had the look and feel of something like a blend of bohemia, hippies, beatniks and a more modern culture, slightly offbeat, but colorful emergence.
Local art for sale or those pieces gifted, adorned the walls. There was a corner bay window with pillows spread about the floor. There was a piano, for any that would care to tune it and play it and there were many that did. The interior was a lot of rustic dark wood, old floors, old walls if not filled with art, were lined with advertising of some culture, art, music etc. thingy happening somewhere. And there was Joe, in the center of it all, OK-ing it all, drawing all these different people and roasting coffee.
My first visit to Java’s Café was one in which I will never forget. Musicians dressed in tuxedos carrying their instruments, business people, local dignitaries, young and old, rich and poor all stood in line and set together or near each other. Music is said to be a universal language which draw many together that may not ordinarily be together. Coffee does too. Where art, music and coffee may be subjective and uncertain, where so many make conclusions based on opinion, there is the technical side of art and music and coffee, which attest to their mastery. And behind every masterpiece, there is a master. Joe was a master!
Java’s Café was and still is a place where art and artists of the Rochester, NY area merged and converge, conversed and voice and were given and are given voice, but this tribute is for Joe’s passion and for all of that it is, coffee.
I met Joe in 2001 through another friend that used to buy coffee from Joe, for his small café, also in Rochester. I certainly have not known Joe the longest or even close to the detail and intimacy of others, but he was my friend. Me to Joe? I don’t know what Joe thought about me, but he did remember me and he always treated me with respect.
“There was a phrase heard again and again while interviewing those that knew Joe Palozzi, endearingly and enduringly known as Java Joe: “That was just Java.” Whether people were describing how he golfed barefoot — something he picked up when he lived in Hawaii — or how when he would deliver coffee to restaurants that he loved, he’d walk into the cooler, grab whatever he wanted cooked for him, be it lobster, steak, you name it, and still charge you for the coffee.”
By Katie Libby, March 29, 2017
To me, Joe summed himself up personally, in the following.
“When you taste our coffee I personally guarantee it will be the best coffee you ever tasted.”
Now you would probably expect him to say this as would any other roaster about their coffee. You may think it is his opinion. And you may think that it is just my opinion, if I agreed with him. I certainly do, agree with him and opinions are subjective and uncertain, but there is more to this statement and there is more to Java Joe than whether you or I agree with him or whether you like this coffee and I like that other coffee.
As this series continues, despite its many variables, there is a formula for making great coffee and it is based on science, the mastery of the art and expertly executed; time-tested techniques. Joe was a master artisan! Grab a cup of Joe and I’ll see you next time.
Dahni at The Gathering Place
Next time: ‘Machina (It.) – “the machine”