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ZipUSA: 39428
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ZipUSA: 39428 @ National Geographic Magazine
   
By Peter GwinPhotographs by Bob Sacha



Travel down Mississippi's Hot Coffee Road on a java junkie's quest for true brew.



Read or print the full article.

Rio, a hundred-pound (50-kilogram) Czech shepherd, has locked his gaze on me as if I were a giant rabbit. He can barely contain himself. Quivering with anticipation, he emits high-pitched yelps, begging his master to utter the command that will launch him at me like a canine missile. Plainly put, he looks like a dog that's had one too many cups of coffee.
 
A police dog is not what I expected to find in Hot Coffee, Mississippi. As an avowed coffee junkie, I envisioned a quaint hamlet lined with tidy cafés serving all manner of frothy, caffeinated libations. The citizens of Hot Coffee would know their arabica beans from their robusta, grocery store off-brands would be outlawed, and the mayor might even be part Colombian. Perhaps there would be a coffee fountain in the town square. Forget Seattle, Vienna, and other self-proclaimed coffee capitals, I told myself. Hot Coffee, if only by the perfect simplicity of its name, must surely hold the key to true brew nirvana.
 
But when I got to Hot Coffee, about halfway between Jackson and Hattiesburg, reality was a cold shower. Hot Coffee isn't a quaint little town; it's not even a town. Instead it's a tiny community of farms, homes, and businesses scattered along two-lane Highway 532. The 12-mile (19-kilometer) stretch known locally as Hot Coffee Road runs from the town of Mount Olive to a crossroads that dates back to pioneer days. There, according to local lore, a resident opened an inn in 1870 and sold coffee to passersby. Apparently the drink was the only memorable thing about the place.
 
Which brings me back to Rio, whose owner lives in a house built on the site of the old inn. I'd knocked on the door, hoping to find coffee but found instead Pete Robinette. He and his wife moved from Hattiesburg to expand the kennel where Pete trains law enforcement dogs to sniff out drugs and apprehend suspects. It's this latter skill Pete offered to let Rio demonstrate—on me.
 
"You ready?" Pete calls. Rio leans forward. Although I'm wearing a heavily padded sleeve over my right arm—which Pete assures me is the only thing the dog will bite—my mind races. How in the name of Juan Valdez did a story about coffee become an episode of Fear Factor?

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There's more to Hot Coffee, Mississippi, than the expectation of a steaming cup of brew. Just ask author Peter Gwin and resident Martha Diehl.

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What's your secret for brewing a good pot of coffee?

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Nominate your own wonderful, weird, or wacky choices for this magazine series.

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So you think you know everything about the highs and lows of java? Test your caffeine IQ.



More to Explore

In More to Explore the National Geographic magazine team shares some of its best sources and other information. Special thanks to the Research Division.

Did You Know?
In 1921 the Old German Baptist Brethren denomination approved the use of automobiles by its members. Concerned that the church had strayed from its traditional values, opponents broke ranks and formed their own denomination, the Old Order German Baptists. The Diehls, owners of Martha's Kitchen in Hot Coffee, belong to the offshoot group. Martha Diehl says the denomination doesn't count its members, but she estimates there are more than a hundred adherents today, living in four designated districts—three in Ohio and one in Hot Coffee. 
 
Old Order German Baptists continue to shun cars—though tractors are allowed for farming—and they avoid using electricity whenever possible. At baptism, they believe, one must be immersed three times in the forward position. Traditional dress is reserved for adults; children don't wear it until they formally choose to join the church.  At yearly meetings held in Ohio, all male members discuss possible changes in practice. If one person is strongly against a proposal, it is not adopted, upholding the traditional spirit of their Brethren forefathers who came to America from Germany.
 
—Emily Krieger
Did You Know?

Related Links
Covington County Chamber of Commerce
www.covingtonchamber.com/county_tourism.htm
Includes information on Hot Coffee (39428) and Mt. Olive (39119) two communities within Covington county and along Hot Coffee Road.

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Bibliography
Brieger, James F. Hometown Mississippi, 2nd ed. Historical and Genealogical Association of Mississippi, 1980.
 
Greene, David L. "Stopping en route for Hot Coffee." Baltimore Sun, April 4, 1999.
 
Margolick, David. "Hot Coffee Journal: There's Little to Do, But the Name Is a Big Draw." New York Times, June 9, 1991.

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NGS Resources
"Coffee." 1999. Only available online at www.nationalgeographic.com/coffee/ax/frame.html.
 
O'Neill, Catherine. "Along the Mississippi on the Great River Road." National Geographic (July/August 1991), 14-7.

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