Cracking the Coffeemaker

 

Our collaborative spirit often finds us in beautiful spaces all over the world—and in our own backyards—populated by creative, entrepreneurial people who inspire us. We recently sent our Head Service Technician and resident beer expert Bill McAllister to the borderlands of Connecticut, where he visited a…beer farm?

kent falls brewing irving farm coffee coffeemaker beer

My phone’s GPS started to work only intermittently before I crossed the border from New York into Connecticut. I was on my way to visit Kent Falls Brewing Company after Irving Farm’s Teresa von Fuchs surprised me with the opportunity for a brewery tour and a takeaway of a few cases of beer. Totally helpless without a computer navigating for me, my anxiety peaked as I came close to completing a full circumnavigation of Lake Waramaug—but it wasn’t long before I felt a mild bliss at the sight of the idyllic farm that Kent Falls Brewing Company calls home. I picked the closest building—a modest barn—and invited myself in, looking for Barry Labendz, co-founder/manager of the brewery.

What I walked into was this beer geek’s fantasy: gleaming mash tuns, stainless steel fermentation tanks, a keg cleaner/filler, and most gorgeous of all, a line-up of perhaps twenty wooden barrels. I introduced myself to the three-person bottling team, Barry appeared, and I soon had a miniature glass of beer in each hand. In my left, Waymaker, one of the three flagship beers brewed regularly on the farm. In my right, Coffeemaker, an experiment that spikes Waymaker with some of Irving Farm’s coffee sourced from the Santa Isabel farm in Guatemala.

kent falls brewing irving farm coffee coffeemaker beer

Before launching into the geeky details of how Coffeemaker came to be, let me say: I was blown away by this beer. I’ve had several beers made with the addition of coffee, from the straightforward (and often boring) generic coffee-flavored porter/stout/name-your-typical-dark-beer to ambitious and wild single-hop, single-origin coffee, single-keg releases from the beer industry’s darling hot shots. Coffeemaker reminded me both of the Waymaker I had sipped seconds before and an iced version of our Santa Isabel, served by the carafe-ful at the IFCR training loft all summer. It may sound simple, but achieving that balance is something that few brewers are able to pull off. Kent Falls Brewing has, and it is delicious.

Even without the addition of coffee, Waymaker is a bit of an unusual beer. It is hoppy and complex, with flavors more easily describable by setting a scene than drawing comparisons to other foods and drinks. Think late spring verdancy in New England, carbonated in a glass. The body sat heavy on my palate, but not in the syrupy way that I’ve come to expect from most thick beer. Genre-wise, it is an India Pale Ale (IPA) that is fermented with wild yeast called Brettanomyces, or “Brett” for short. IPAs are a staple in the craft beer section of any grocery store or deli, but still land outside the mainstream due to the heavy dose of hops essential to the style. Besides the aromatics of citrus, flowers, and pine resin, the hops bring a bitter component to the beer. Brewers often use extra malt in IPAs, which provides a sweetness to balance that bitterness but also increases the body of the beer.

kent falls brewing irving farm coffee coffeemaker beer

But what about this wild yeast? Normally, beer is fermented with domesticated Saccharomyces yeast. Brett is its feral cousin, five times removed, except anyone that studied biology in college would point out that these two are not even in the same family, taxonomically speaking. Brett is used to ferment sour beers or a “wild” saison style brew because, depending on the work of the brewmaster, the yeast produces acidic chemicals and a wide range of exotic aromatic chemicals otherwise absent from conventionally fermented beer. It also typically makes for a thinner, delicate beer. Here is where I cede to you the limits of my beer-geek knowledge. Waymaker has got the spicy, barnyard-y flavors that are a dead giveaway of a brett-fermented beer, but does not lack for body at all, and I have no idea how the guys at Kent Falls Brewing do it.

I am certain, though, that Dan Streetman, our Green Coffee Buyer, and Teresa von Fuchs, our Director of Wholesale, hit it out of the park for their side of the Coffeemaker collaboration. Dan and Teresa did much more than drop off some beans. They chose the coffee, the brew method, and experimented with a wide range of beer-to-coffee ratios.

The brew method was a straightforward decision, since we have confidently brewed hot coffee directly onto ice at our cafes for years. This method results in coffee that is strong while preserving the nuances of hot coffee that we love, particularly the crisp fruit-like acidity and aromas, which other methods such as cold-brewing sacrifice.

kent falls brewing irving farm coffee coffeemaker beer

Beans from the Santa Isabel Farm in Guatemala were their choice for this first batch of Coffeemaker. Dan has been visiting Santa Isabel for years, and Irving Farm is very proud of the relationship we have with Alex and Martin Keller, the third-generation operators of the farm. Relationships like this are at the core of how Irving Farm works, and so Santa Isabel is our quintessential mid-summer coffee after we have gone through all of the season’s Costa Rican and Salvadoran coffees. It is also delicious—a beautiful example of a sweet, clean, balanced Central American coffee. It simultaneously has approachable flavors of caramel and dark chocolate, but also the sparkle of fresh pineapple. It is easy to see why Dan and Teresa chose Santa Isabel for our first collaborative brew.

If all of this has you ready to find a four-pack of Coffeemaker to bring home, don’t hesitate. As much as Kent Falls and Irving Farm have common ground in delicious beverages, we also see the truth in the seasonality of agriculture, whether it is coffee or grain. So, expect Coffeemaker to change as the seasons do, but trust it will always be delicious.

 

Join us 7pm, Thursday, August 26 at the Owl Farm Bar, 297 Ninth Street, Brooklyn, to taste Coffeemaker as well as a limited edition Cascara Waymaker at a very special Kent Falls Brewing launch event!

Irving Farm + Joto Sake Pair Up on August 19

joto sake irving farm coffee

We love to celebrate all the ways beyond coffee that farmers, chefs, and other food and drink artisans bring delight to the world through their thoughtful sourcing and practices. And, let’s admit it—we love sake. In the continued spirit of collaboration, we’ve teamed up with Joto Sake for a special evening of process-focused tastings on Wednesday, August 19th, from 6-8pm at our Upper West Side cafe.

Joto has been importing and distributing small batch sake from a focused portfolio of Japanese breweries since 2005, representing the various regions and styles of this centuries-old tradition, and on August 19th they’ll be serving a delicious selection of their chilled sakes alongside Irving Farm’s newest (and sold out!) limited edition series, the Los Niños Experiments—one harvest of Salvadoran coffee processed four different ways.

joto sake irving farm rice

irving farm coffee beans roasting joto sake upper west s

Learn about the science and taste of processing both coffee and sake, from the sun-drying of coffee’s cherries to the polishing of sake rice, all while sampling a dynamite grain-and-bean coffee/sake cocktail alongside beautiful cheese and charcuterie furnished by Brooklyn-based importer Food Matters Again.

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Join us to get your beverage processing geek on, and share a sure-to-be delectable night on the Upper West Side.

Irving Farm and Joto Sake
Wednesday, August 19
6-8pm
Irving Farm Coffee Roasters, 224 West 79th Street

$30 in advance, $40 at the door

Tickets available at Eventbrite

 

Curiosity. Discovery. Surprise. Coffee + Sake!

On Amaro Gayo

Irving Farm’s Director of Wholesale, Teresa von Fuchs, has had the opportunity to visit coffee farms in a few different parts of the world—it’s not, as they say, her first rodeo. But a recent trip to Ethiopia with our Coffee Buyer, Dan Streetman, to visit the Amaro Gayo coffee farms belonging to our producing partner Asnakech Thomas, opened her eyes into the past and future of coffee as just part of the greater social and agricultural landscape. Read on…

Amaro Gayo Ethiopia Irving Farm Coffee Roasters

When I teach classes or conduct trainings about coffee, I always stress that coffee comes from far away, that it’s exotic and we shouldn’t take it for every-day-granted. When I had the opportunity earlier this year to travel to Ethiopia, and specifically to visit coffee producer Asnakech Thomas at Amaro Gayo, this truth was so clear. And although I’d been to other coffee-growing countries, Ethiopia was truly like nothing I’d ever seen before.

It took almost 3 hours to drive to Amaro Gayo from Yirgacheffe, a distance of only about 50 kilometers (as the crow flies) along rough, dirt and gravel roads. The landscape alternated from lush and green to dry rolling desert then back again. The spare number of buildings we passed were mostly hand-constructed in the local style from organic materials, and some had intricate designs carved into the wooden windows. We passed beautiful mosques and Christian churches, built out of corrugated metal, or occasionally stone.

Our fellow travelers along the road were almost all on foot herding cattle, sheep, or goats, or leading a mule piled with water, or sacks of grain, or coffee. Some rode handmade carts attached to mules piled with building materials, like long sticks, or more sacks of grain or firewood, or more people. We passed motorbikes with up to three or four riders, also carrying goods.

Amaro Gayo Ethiopia Irving Farm Coffee Roasters

Wearing two pairs of glasses on her head, Asnakech was sorting coffee with about 20 other women on the porch of her coffee storage facility when we arrived. She shared that they were resorting 40,000 lbs (one container’s worth) of coffee because she had been unsatisfied by the sorting done by the processor in Addis. The women were seated, with large metal trays on their laps with small piles of green coffee. They sorted out the defects and rejects into smaller pails and the newly sorted coffee into separate bags. They had removed their shoes before coming onto the porch and a large piece of burlap covered their feet. The material was to ensure that no coffee was dropped onto the floor of the porch and that anything that was dropped could be added back to one of the sacks in the center of the porch to be sorted. Asnakech estimated it would take them all about 20 days to sort through this last container.

From there she switched the sunglasses from the top of her head to her eyes and invited us to walk through the mill and then her farm.  We were late in the season, and the harvest had happened earlier in the year than usual. Mill workers were already cleaning up the raised beds, replacing older posts, and cleaning the mill. From the mill, we walked through parts of the farm and she explained that the rains stopped too early this year, and sadly many of the cherries on the trees were not able to fully mature. Total production was down nearly 50% because of this and had increased her costs with the extra sorting. She told us that it was the hardest year of her 11 on the farm so far, but “c’est la vie” she shrugged—what could she do?

Amaro Gayo Ethiopia Irving Farm Coffee Roasters

Well, actually, during the rest of the walk and the day, we learned how much she was doing. We walked down to the river just outside the lowest part of her farm. She explained that this was the primary water source for this area and though it was running strong now, by the time her trees needed the water, it would dry up. So she’s building an irrigation project at the top of the hill. She was still working on funding to build it when we visited, but the hope is that building the irrigation system and rain collection tanks will allow for a backup water supply so the trees and her harvest don’t suffer like they did this year.

She also showed us the pruning techniques she had been developing, the fertilizer they create from the coffee pulp byproducts in the wet process, how they dry and package coffee leaves, and the husks they save from the naturally processed coffee to sell to the local market as teas.

She then walked us through a small nursery that was planted by some of her trainees.  Asnakech hosts trainings once per year for other local farmers, on everything from farm management to how to produce coffee for quality, not just quantity.

Amaro Gayo Ethiopia Irving Farm Coffee Roasters

We walked back to the porch and coffee storage building and shared a lunch of injera, lentils and many small cups of coffee with her and her workers while she told us about all the other projects she’s working on.

Along with training other local farmers, Asnakech also trains the women in her area, many of whom are the farmer’s wives who end up doing much of the farm work. She trains them not just in farming, but in banking. In her region there had never been a bank and not much reason for a bank to open, because no one wanted to use one. She convinced a bank to open in her town, and in her trainings she created an ID system where husband and wife both get cards and she pays them separately for the cherry that meets her quality spec. This way the women have an income and, potentially, savings. She stressed the importance of this because in her area women have no property rights to their husband’s land. Typically if something happens to a woman’s husband they cannot keep their land and thereby lose their income. With the bank, they can at least save a share.

Since the bank has opened she’s also working with all the locals to open accounts and use the bank to secure funding for projects that could help them create more profitable futures. She said even small things, like the capital needed for an out-building to store their coffee and protect it from the elements and animals, can make a huge impact on a small landholders’ earning potential.

Amaro Gayo Ethiopia Irving Farm Coffee Roasters

She’s also working with her community to create alternative revenue streams, such as setting up honeybee hives and teaching people how to collect and sell the honey. She worked with a group of local women to produce pottery that she hopes they’ll be able to bring to market next year.  And she’s working on introducing new crops to her area like adzuki beans.

She has also worked with a partner to create an HIV awareness program. She explained that though HIV is a huge health issue in her region, there was no local knowledge of what the disease is and how it is transmitted. She runs the program during her employees’ work days at no cost to them and incentivizes that everyone in her area go through the program yearly.

Another project she’d like to complete is to build a hospital. The closest facility is hours away. It could take an ambulance days to arrive and almost no locals have vehicles. Asnakech has dreamed about being able to open a hospital in Amaro since she was a little girl and listened to her older sister suffer for days and finally die in childbirth. When we were there she’d secured a site but had been disappointed as funding kept falling through.

Amaro Gayo Ethiopia Irving Farm Coffee Roasters

What was most obvious and moving to me was that Asnakech’s passion for her coffee was a larger expression of her passion and pride in her region and people. She spent years lobbying the agriculture minister in Addis to study her area’s coffee trees. Every time they refused, saying that her trees were most likely the same as the ones 40 kilometers away. She insisted they weren’t and finally offered to pay for the research project herself. Once there, the scientists discovered 58 new varieties which had never been seen before. She continues to pay for the project to study and cultivate her unique varieties.

She named her farm for her region and her tribe, Amaro—which she said no one had really heard of until coffee people started traveling to visit her and discover why her coffee is so unique—and Gayo, a waterfall in the area.  The legend is that Gayo is the place where sacred water collects into a waterfall, and this water was used to anoint the king of her tribe.

When I caught the first aroma of this latest crop of Amaro Gayo coming off the grinder, it made me think that all of Asnakech’s work is like the sacred water collecting, ready to spill over,  her beautiful coffee, like her spirit, anointing the world.

Thoughts on El Salvador

In these pages, we’ve been proud to share occasional travel journals from Irving Farm family members like our Green Buyer Dan Streetman, or this wonderful Honduras reflection by longtime staffer and all-around-talent John Summerour. Now, we’re thrilled to share words from Liz Dean, manager of our Upper West Side Cafe, who we profiled here last fall. Earlier this year, Liz took a trip along with some other Irving Farmers to visit some of the farms we have relationships with in El Salvador. Here are her impressions, along with her photographs.

Irving farm coffee new york city liz dean el salvador

One of the things that makes Irving Farm special is its commitment to truly investing in the professional development and education of its staff, and one of the ways in which we’re doing this is by selecting a few staff members every year to travel to one of the countries we get our coffee from. Earlier this year, I was fortunate enough to be one of the people chosen to go on the trip of a lifetime to travel to El Salvador to visit some of the farms and mills we work with to supply our coffee.

The purpose of taking what is referred to as a “trip to origin”—a sort of rite of passage in which a coffee professional visits a country, like El Salvador, where coffee is grown—is to try and understand the place on its own terms. The word “origin” is deliberate—it implies something prehistoric, knowledge a priori, or things that exist outside of our own experience of them. For those of us who work in a cafe setting, we are required to surrender that we’re actually only the last step in a very long chain that begins somewhere far away. It’s because of this that taking a trip to origin is the dream of many serious coffee professionals—it’s the only way to fully understand our role and, ultimately, our responsibility, within our industry. I knew that this trip would likely be one of the most formative and defining parts of my career as a coffee professional.

Irving farm coffee new york city liz dean el salvador

When I got back from El Salvador, I was asked to share some thoughts about my experience there. I discovered that I had a hard time figuring out what to write, which wasn’t because I didn’t have anything to say. It’s a well known and very bad habit of Americans like myself (of a certain education and income level) to travel to foreign countries—especially those seen as impoverished or lacking in resources—and then use our very Americanized lens to describe and dictate, in pictures and blog posts, the terms in which other people live. It can be a kind of gross exercise that usually says more about the person visiting than about the place visited. It was important to me that I give proper tribute to the country and people who had graciously shown me so much during my short time there. I wanted to try and present El Salvador as authentically as I could, and to seize moments of surprise as opportunities to examine the assumptions I came in with.

Irving farm coffee new york city liz dean el salvador

Nowhere was this more evident than when I spent several hours picking coffee at Talnamica. This farm was on relatively flat ground, which was unusual for a coffee farm—since coffee grows best at higher elevations, many pickers have to work on steep mountainsides. And even though we had it easy that day, it was still hard work!

After we’d picked for just a few hours, we hauled our bags to the patio to have our coffee weighed. While pickers are paid based on the weight of the coffee they picked, there are still incentives to pick properly and not just strip the trees bare in order to get the heaviest bags the fastest. After all, stripping the trees of everything on them would damage them, and picking cherries too soon would also mean fewer ripe cherries to be picked later on. I’d been pretty careful in my picking and while I didn’t pick as much as some of the others in my group, I’d picked well. I was told that the coffee I’d picked would have earned me $1.25 USD. On average, a coffee picker in El Salvador earns about $10/day.

Irving farm coffee new york city liz dean el salvador

Several American friends expressed disgust when I told them about this. “That’s appalling,” they said. And I’ll admit that my initial reaction was similar, until I realized how much more complicated this issue was, and that this was one of those moments in which I was going to have to step back from my own biases.

I spent my week in El Salvador expecting just to learn more about where coffee comes from and instead was given a crash course in the economic and social difficulty of evaluating and comparing quality of life across culture and country. It’s very easy for an American to feel bad for a Salvadoran coffee picker who lives off of $10/day because there’s a value we associate with that money, and what it can and cannot buy.

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This attitude also suggests that the Salvadoran coffee workers are deserving of our pity,  that we should feel bad for their lot in life. Our Americanized lens allows us to chase the narrative of the downtrodden, exploited worker when the reality is more complicated. In fact, while I visited only a handful of farms and mills, the Salvadoran coffee workers  I met seemed to take an extraordinary amount of pride in their work and seemed to see their work as important and meaningful. Many of them also possessed skills that made them invaluable to the process of producing coffee. No one exemplified this more than Wencis Lao.

Wencis Lao has been working with coffee for almost his entire life. He has a huge, toothy grin and strong hands rough from work. His job is to oversee the turning of the harvested coffee as it dries, which has to be done at specific timed intervals to ensure that the coffee dries evenly. He told us that he sometimes skipped his lunch break because he was worried about making sure the coffee was being turned properly, on time. It was clear that he cared about and took pride in his work.

Coffee has to reach a certain percentage of moisture content before the drying process is considered finished (if the coffee is still too moist, it can spoil and rot). While a moisture meter could be used to scientifically and accurately measure the moisture content of the coffee, Wencis Lao can guess the percentage just with his hands alone. Most of the time, he is just as accurate as the meter. He can also predict how long it will take for coffee to reach the right moisture level, even down to the specific time of day.

Irving farm coffee new york city liz dean el salvador

Another problem with how we react to $10/day for Salvadoran coffee pickers is that we are, in fact, part of why they make so little. Coffee is a tremendously undervalued commodity, given how much work and time is required to produce it in the first place, right from when it is first planted to when it reaches its final destination, brewed into a cup. Knowing how much goes into producing, say, hand-brewed pour-over coffee, it’s surprising that it’s as cheap as it is at $4.50. And yet, even at the cafe I manage on the Upper West Side—one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in Manhattan—people balk at this price. “$4.50 for just a cup of coffee?”.

But the reality is: it’s not just a cup of coffee. It’s nothing short of a miracle that happens as a result of a very long process involving a lot of labor and time and many different people across different countries. A process that requires painstaking attention to detail every step of the way. And that’s before it even gets to the barista!

Irving farm coffee new york city liz dean el salvador

For every moment you have shared with a friend over coffee, or for every morning you have woken up and felt grateful for the cup of coffee to help prepare you for the day, you owe thanks to an extraordinary number of people for making that possible. We owe it to every person whose hard work and long hours are part of the process that makes coffee what it is in the first place not just recognition, and gratitude, but also (perhaps more importantly)—fair wages, and a certain standard of living – for the meticulous care and effort that went into its production. Seeing this at work firsthand helped me shed the lens of my own American gaze, but one doesn’t have to travel to see the facts of our part of the process.

 

The Los Niños Experiments


los ninos experiments el salvador irving farm talnamica

Irving Farm’s relationship with El Salvador’s Finca Talnamica and the Ortiz Herrera family has developed into one of our most fruitful, beginning in 2012 when Nena Méndez walked into our 79th Street cafe and noticed a black-and-white mural on the back wall depicting Guadalupe, a coffee farm from her homeland. She inquired about the photographer—who happened to be our Green Coffee Buyer, Dan Streetman—and invited him to visit her family farm on his next trip to El Salvador.

Nena’s mother, Bessita, came from a lineage of Salvadoran coffee farmers dating back to the 1880s, and her father, Alfredo Ortiz Mancia, purchased Talnamica in the 1950s. Today the farm is owned and operated by Nena and her three siblings along with her husband, Hermann, and farm manager Don Hector Vides.

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The Los Niños Experiments came about when Nena & Hermann’s daughter, Mayita—a talented photographer who began working for Irving Farm in 2013 as a barista at our 79th Street cafe before transitioning to our wholesale team—suggested that we explore coffee processing by taking one harvest through four unique processing methods, representing the four Ortiz Herrera siblings: Nena, Freddie, Cecil & Carlos.

The coffee is 100% Bourbon variety, grown at an altitude between 1360–1400 meters, and handpicked by 150 workers on the same day from the same part of the farm. The ripe cherry is brought to Talnamica’s award-winning partners at the Cuatro M coffee mill and that is where the experiments begin…

EXPERIMENT #1: Natural Process
The harvested coffee is run through the first stage of the wet mill where it’s cleaned of all debris, and the floaters are separated from the sinkers. This fruit, fully encased in its skin, is then placed in a mechanical dryer at a very low temperature for 60–70 hours.

EXPERIMENT #2: Honey Process
The coffee is sorted and de-pulped, removing the skin but leaving some sweet, sticky mucilage on the seed. This coffee is then spread onto a patio and left to dry in the sun.

EXPERIMENT #3: Wild Honey Process
This is the wild card, so to speak, and a processing method that is new for us and Finca Talnamica. The coffee is de-pulped and placed into fermentation tanks without water until the pH reaches 4.5, which can take 12–16 hours. This allows the remaining mucilage to slowly break down. The coffee is then spread onto a patio to dry in the sun.

EXPERIMENT #4: Washed Process
The coffee is de-pulped and left in the fermentation tanks overnight without water. The next morning it’s sent through the mechanical washer to remove any remaining mucilage and then spread onto a patio to sun-dry. This is a standard processing method and one that we might expect with this particular coffee.

It’s a special privilege to work directly with farmers on innovative techniques from planting to harvesting to processing, and we’re very fortunate that the people behind Finca Talnamica (including Mayita, who’s now part of Talnamica’s fifth generation of coffee growers) are so passionate about exploring new ideas. Their collaborative spirit has even extended to the creation of a horchata chocolate bar with Brooklyn’s Raaka Chocolate, and the harvesting of cascara (coffee cherry) specifically for wastED, an experimental pop-up restaurant by Dan Barber at Blue Hill in Manhattan that addressed food waste by transforming scraps and compost into delectable meals.

los ninos experiments el salvador irving farm talnamica

Irving Farm’s Dan Streetman and Mayita Mendez

We look forward to sharing these experiments with you. Come visit us in one of our five cafes, sign up for an Intro to Cupping & Tasting class at our Loft, or purchase all four experiments and create your own tasting lab at home! Hopefully this will be a delicious and surprising journey for our customers as you brew beyond the lingo on a coffee label and develop firsthand knowledge of how process affects flavor.

Looking Back at the 2015 World Barista Championship

Our Green Coffee Buyer, Dan Streetman, has been partipating as a judge in the worldwide barista competition circuit for years now. Here’s his inside take on the 2015 World Barista Championship, held this April in Seattle, Washington.

Sasa Sestic World Barista Champion Irving Farm

Photo by Liz Clayton for Sprudge.com.

Attending the World Barista Championships each year is always exciting, but it’s even more so when the annual contest is held in the United States. The WBC being in Seattle this year was an exceptional privilege for everyone in the US, as it was the first time it has happened on our shores since Atlanta in 2009. But despite not having to travel as far as Vienna, Bogota, or London, the trip was still a bit of a whirlwind for me personally, as I was responsible for coordinating all of the on-site judging activities in conjunction with all the things I normally do during a Specialty Coffee Association of America event, which this year’s WBC was held in tandem with. Still decompressing even now, it took me a bit longer to process, and discern what, if any, takeaways I had from this year’s event.

First, let me say congratulations to Sasa Sestic from Australia, the 2015 World Barista Champion! He presented excellent coffee, along with interesting and unique ideas that can be further explored in coffee. Most of the conversation within our industry has focused on “the new” things that emerged in competition, and for certain there were several exciting, innovative ideas presented this year on the WBC stage.

Sasa Sestic World Barista Champion Irving Farm

Photo by Liz Clayton for Sprudge.com.

Sasa’s presentation of the carbonic maceration fermentation process applied to coffee was a unique concept that I have never heard or seen in coffee before, along with Ben Put’s presentation of espressos placed into a vacuum chamber to reduce carbon dioxide and change their viscosity.

However, what especially stuck with me was Charles Babinski’s focus on systems, and producing coffee following a standardized approach. Charles did that really, really well without necessarily introducing a groundbreaking or innovative approach to “making coffee better”. As the days and weeks have gone on, I have appreciated even more the refocusing that Charles gave us, as an industry, on what it takes to produce and present specialty coffee to the public, and how we do that successfully. It also struck me that Charles was able to achieve that level of success, taking home second place in the world, without fancy new gadgets, doohickeys, etc. I don’t want to go into a detailed analysis of scoresheet lingo, but the point spread of only 5 points between first and second place means that the coffees served by Sasa and Charles were indistinguishable in objective quality by the judges.

Charles Babinski World Barista Championships Irving Farm

Photo by Liz Clayton for Sprudge.com.

In other words, all that “newness” didn’t result in dramatically better coffee, and proves that superb coffee can be made following readily accepted standards within our industry.

This struck a particular chord with me, as I continually look around the coffee marketplace and see us “reinventing the wheel”. People are continually excited about the “next hot thing” when in reality, producing delicious specialty coffee has not changed in any substantive way in 10 years—sorry folks.

What has changed is interest in specialty coffee and its availability. I often wonder how much of this energy in finding the “new” is a drive to get noticed and differentiate from competitors especially when they are only different and not better, and I fear that much of it is.

Charles Babinski World Barista Championships Seattle Irving Farm

Photo by Liz Clayton for Sprudge.com.

Because of this, I am struck by something else about Charles’ approach and conversation during the WBC that seems to be overlooked. Charles’ emphasis was on serving his customers and understanding their needs. He reintroduced to us that we should engage and LISTEN to our customers more when we are designing our businesses and determining what to serve. A wise message for anyone who dares to listen I would say, and one we try to take to heart at Irving Farm, itself a different style of coffee company than Babinski’s three Los Angeles cafes.

I hope that we can take heed, and learn to look at the specialty coffee drinker as an ally in the pursuit of quality; learning, understanding, and delivering what they want to drink will drive value in the chain for everyone. At least I believe that it will a lot more than innovation for innovation’s own sake, i.e without significant objective and indisputable quality gains.

I was particularly inspired by Charles’ message, and look forward to seeing where both innovation, and consistency, take coffee in the future.

First Thursdays

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Irving Farm is excited to launch First Thursdays, a new art series turning our 88 Orchard cafe into a pop-up gallery. The high ceilings and ample natural light make it a great venue for contemporary work, but the real draw is its location on the Lower East Side, surrounded by some of New York’s most cutting-edge galleries. On the first Thursday of each month we’ll host an opening with wine and beer specials. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to stay in the loop.

Daddy, fish Rendered from a found photograph of my dad, taken circa 1960. This image subtly combines urban and rural signifiers—weathered brick walls/rooftops juxtapose with a freshly caught carp. My father is arrested in his adolescence awkwardly posing with a prized fish—his posture functioning as both a gesture of vulnerability and an assertion of budding male ego. Binaries clash and coexist here—man and nature, austerity and grandeur, innocence and culpability, life and death.

Daddy, fish
“Rendered from a found photograph of my dad, taken circa 1960. This image subtly combines urban and rural signifiers—weathered brick walls/rooftops juxtapose with a freshly caught carp. My father is arrested in his adolescence awkwardly posing with a prized fish—his posture functioning as both a gesture of vulnerability and an assertion of budding male ego. Binaries clash and coexist here—man and nature, austerity and grandeur, innocence and culpability, life and death.”

The series aims to shine a light on emerging talent and it is our great pleasure to kick things off with Debra Zechowski. Born and raised in Greenpoint, Debra began painting at LaGuardia High School, followed by undergraduate work at Hunter College and an MFA from Queens College in 2011. Her large-scale figurative paintings are rendered from old family photographs, revealing the layers of beauty, humor and grace in working-class representation. Deb has worked for Irving Farm since 2012 and we’re very proud to be showcasing her substantial artistic talents. Drop by 88 Orchard to see the work seven days a week, 8:30am–8pm, now through May 29th.

Ma on her wedding day Rendered from a found photograph of my mother on her wedding day in 1968. A unique clash of imagery—the opulence of a bride emerging from a limousine against the backdrop of a working-class neighborhood storefront. An older generation of faceless neighbors looks on in awe—background figures symbolizing both the past and the future. This wedding portrait is a staging of capitalist values—heteronormativity, commerce, gender hierarchies.

Ma on her wedding day
“Rendered from a found photograph of my mother on her wedding day in 1968. A unique clash of imagery—the opulence of a bride emerging from a limousine against the backdrop of a working-class neighborhood storefront. An older generation of faceless neighbors looks on in awe—background figures symbolizing both the past and the future. This wedding portrait is a staging of capitalist values—heteronormativity, commerce, gender hierarchies.”

And please join us on Thursday, June 4th, for our next show, featuring the work of printmaker Paul Solis.

 

 

Blue Hill, Dan Barber and Coffee Get WastED

Photograph by Daniel Krieger.

Photograph by Daniel Krieger.

Last month, Irving Farm Coffee Roasters was delighted to participate in Blue Hill‘s transformation into wastED, a one of a kind pop-up restaurant that invited diners to reconsider food waste while some of the country’s top chefs daringly innovated their way through 600 pounds of ugly vegetables (including 350 pounds vegetable pulp), 150 pounds of kale ribs, 30 gallons of beef tallow, 475 pounds of skate cartilage and 900 pounds of waste-fed pigs, creating 10,000 unique dishes over the course of three weeks.

Irving Farm’s contribution was cascara, also known as the skin or husk of the coffee cherry. When coffee is de-pulped, the discarded cascara is traditionally composted and repurposed as fertilizer (or ends up as a pollutant in the surrounding waterways) but it also contains a delicious mucilage with a sweet, earthy flavor and up to 25% of the caffeine found in a normal cup of coffee. The Ortiz Herrera family at Finca Talnamica in El Salvador generously hand-picked and sun-dried 150 pounds of cascara from their Bourbon plants for this event, and producers Hermann and Nena Mendez were able to dine at wastED with their daughter, Mayita, who has worked for Irving Farm since 2013. Their Talnamica coffee was recently featured in our limited edition Horchata Chocolate Bar from Raaka Chocolate, and it was thrilling to see the husks turned into a delicious infusion that challenged us to rethink the idea of after-dinner coffee.

All of this was made possible by the incomparable Dan Barber, chef and co-owner of Blue Hill in Manhattan and Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, NY. We count ourselves very lucky to partner with chefs who are deeply committed to understanding and honoring the scope of how food is grown, prepared and consumed—physically, intellectually and emotionally. Dan is at the forefront of this conversation and our Director of Wholesale, Teresa von Fuchs, was able to chat with him about a few of his takeaways at the conclusion of wastED.

Photograph by Daniel Krieger.

Photograph by Daniel Krieger.

 

TvF: What was your aim behind the wastED pop up?

DB: One goal was can we create something that disrupts our daily routine, wakes us up and really focuses our efforts? I really believe that in cooking (as well as in life, but I don’t give advice about life) you only become better by working outside your comfort zone.

And wastED was hard. It stretched us as a restaurant and built camaraderie in really surprising ways.

Another aim was to really wear our heart on our sleeves more everyday. Whether we were pushing this agenda because of environmental reasons or economic reasons, could we really highlight our use of craft and not hide the fact that restaurants work to use as much of every ingredient as possible everyday?

Beef tallow candle at wastED. Photograph by Noah Fecks.

Beef tallow candle at wastED. Photograph by Noah Fecks.

 

TvF: You mentioned camaraderie. Was one impetus of including guest chefs to help spread the mission?

DB: Not at all. Our intent wasn’t to inspire other kitchens but to recognize that this is what Chefs are already doing everyday in their kitchens. Actually we were all a little surprised by the interest! The crazy long lines late at night and all the social media attention. Also that we attracted such younger crowds. It feels like we’ve given the restaurant a new life.

TvF: Irving Farm helped source a special cascara (or coffee cherry) preparation for the coffee course. What was your first reaction when you tried it?

DB: I really fell in love with it. The fullness of the sweetness was just so surprising. It was really a revelation. I remember standing in the kitchen with Adam Kaye, our Chef and Kitchen director at Stone Barns, and being totally amazed by the flavor. It was one of my top three experiences in this whole process. I can’t wait to keep using it. I want to cook with it.

TvF: That’s fantastic! We’re so happy we could share it with you. Now that the pop-up is over, how has it changed—or will it change—the menu at Blue Hill?

DB: We’re still figuring that out. I’d really like to keep pushing how we can wear our heart on our sleeve. Most of our menu already addresses waste, so how can we keep calling attention to it without losing diners’ enthusiasm. I hope we keep working on it together.

Huge thanks to Chef Dan, Finca Talnamica and everyone who took the plunge with us at wastED. Stay tuned for more cascara collaborations popping up around the city in the coming months!

The Road To The Brewers Cup

Brandon Epting Irving Farm Coffee United States Brewers Cup Competition

 

Irving Farm’s Brandon Epting recently competed at the US Coffee Championships in Long Beach, CA, in the Brewers Cup competition. We asked him about what it took to train for an event like this, and, like most things in coffee, it goes far beyond brewing a perfect cup.

Condensing months of learning, testing, applying, and redoing is difficult. Add to that the experience of meeting extended coffee family—brothers and sisters in the Northeast, cousins along the East Coast, and seldom-seen uncles who offer wisdom and encouragement. This is enough for a person to handle in a short few months: overwhelming activity and emotions, layered on top of the day-to-day mechanics of co-running a coffee shop and being a person…and then competition must be peppered in. After all, that’s the event.

People have asked me about the process of preparing for and going through regional and national competitions in the United States Brewers Cup Championship. Mostly, I answer that I thought it’d be a fun thing to try, that competition would increase my knowledge and abilities, and would be a fun way to get paid to brew delicious coffees all the time. These are all true, but they’re the answers I give when I think people don’t want to listen or would like a shorter answer. This is probably why they’re in my second paragraph.

Brandon Epting Irving Farm Coffee United States Brewers Cup Competition

I could also tell them how we at Irving Farm chose to approach the competition this year: mostly for educational growth and the application of quality assurance. When one prepares to go this deep into coffee brewing and assessment, all nuances are scrutinized. Our team learned heaps and could write volumes about our entire process, how it’s changing, and how we hope to apply it from farm to cup. These are the practical applications that are easy to grasp and quantify. They’re also good ways to justify cost and time, as they could easily yield even higher quality than we currently possess.

However, I’m convinced that these are not the most valuable take-aways from the process of competition. At least, they’re not what I felt vibrate in my bones. Community and camaraderie, the inspiration of other people and places, the ideas of bringing delicious coffee to the table—these are incredibly valuable. It’s like art, though: how do we express the value of inspiration and excitement? How do we express the experience of giving someone paper and paint, a story and a stage, or a coffee and a friend? You can’t. You can only watch as joy and sunlight stream out of their eyes.

***

Competition required six months of my attention when all was said and done. Some of the associated memories stick out more explicitly than others. One in snow-covered Rhode Island with the kids from New Harvest Coffee. Erick Armbrust and I met when we competed at the regional competition last fall. I’ve met one other person who I knew was family at first handshake, and I hope that one day Erick and I will get to work with each other in coffee or any other thing that requires heart and craft. Erick brought a solid knowledge of coffee and brewing to the table and was also headed to the nationals, so Josh Littlefield and I went to practice run-throughs with him in Providence. We tasted coffee, shared doughnuts, tasted more coffee, and ate Mexican food while Erick told us about the wood shop he wants to build in his living room. I expect a new wallet from him this spring because he’s clever with fabrics and sewing machines, too.

Brandon Epting Irving Farm Coffee United States Brewers Cup Competition

In California, during the trip to the nationals, I had a paralyzing emotional reaction that made me a horrible person to be around for much of the trip. Walls went up and I lashed out at friends. I had little control and no idea why I’d shifted into this terror, but it happened—and realizing this only made me more uncomfortable. About five days in, everything clicked. Reliving some parts of our lives is miserable. Fortunately, my teammate Josh Littlefield can mitigate that misery and be gentle and kind, if not a full-on buffer, and can take you around to drink good coffee served by people who give a damn. And my friend Matt Lauria can share apples and clothes, while listening intently about coffee brewing, even though he’s more of a water drinker.

Brandon Epting Irving Farm Coffee United States Brewers Cup Competition

Brandon Epting Irving Farm Coffee United States Brewers Cup Competition

Lastly, and on the day Josh and I were to fly home to NY, our friend Tyler from Wilbur Curtis asked us to meet at Blacktop Coffee. We drank several beautiful coffees poured into turquoise mugs, plated on wooden slats with reserves of coffee in small glass bottles, and ate stunning salmon and eggs that Instagram would swoon over—if you’re into that sort of thing. After, we appropriated Tyler from his work and drove to Joshua Tree. Tyler, a new friend, is wildy comfortable to be around, so there was a lot for us all to share. We spoke about where we came from and where we are, our perspectives of the “state of coffee” and our dreams of where we hope it will go. We spoke about relationships and families, business models, cremated rockstars, and drank rainwater on top of huge rocks in the middle of a desert. There’s a decent chance it was actually urine from a well-hydrated desert animal, but we’re still alive and all the better from the experience.

IMG_5078

The competition itself was a mixture of frustration and excitement. With Brewers Cup being so young, there’s still confusion of what we’re rewarding and penalizing, and whether it’s a sourcing or a brewing competition. There’s a formula to follow if you’re after points, but honestly, these tend to be the least interesting presentations, although often the most expensive and different (read weird and uncommon) coffees. It’s a competition after all, so who can blame anyone for collecting points? I took two risky routes out of interest in where I was personally and professionally. Education and progress were my starting blocks, so I explored how isolated brewing variables work collaboratively and made analogies of escaped dinosaurs from Jurassic Park for regionals. At the nationals, I spoke about the choices we have to make as an industry, as roasters, brewers, and drinkers, then offered the judges a choice of two coffees and asked them to choose which they wanted me to brew on the spot. Both of these were a little more involved than the judges liked, but I had a blast doing them. It certainly pushed my boundaries and brought a lot of excitement to the people around me and the audience. We started thinking and discussing and sharing, and that excited me.

Brandon Epting Irving Farm Coffee United States Brewers Cup Competition

One of my great joys is learning. Another is people, although I’m incredibly uncomfortable around them. Pairing the two and hoping to invest in both brought me to coffee and presented me with one of my best friends, a home, the woman I am dating, and a place to learn better the fullness of relationships, community, and craft. It’s also a place I’ve poured time, blood, sweat, and money into. So, I guess this is really the root of the competition process for me: a coffee and a friend, with a hefty dose of craft.

Introducing Irving Farm’s New Training Space: The Loft

We’ve been dreaming about the launch of our new training & education facility for months, and now you’re invited!

Located just west of Union Square where the Flatiron District meets Chelsea, the Irving Farm Coffee Roasters Loft is open for business with a range of weekly classes for coffee professionals and hobbyists alike. Come in for an hour and learn how to unpack the complexities in the cup with our Intro to Coffee Cupping & Tasting, or sign up for a four-hour Barista Fundamentals intensive where you’ll dive into the science and technique of espresso. In no time we’ll have you pulling juicy shots and steaming luscious ribbons of milk.

Visit our website to see the calendar of upcoming classes or go directly to Eventbrite to sign up. And now, take a quick tour…

Featuring an assortment of La Marzocco and Nuova Simonelli espresso machines, we have two labs that can open into one larger space, accommodating up to 20 people per class. Explore various brewing methods and test different grinders before investing in one for your home or office.

 

Our Green Coffee Buyer, Dan Streetman, oversees the Cupping Lab where he reviews sample roasts and new coffees in between worldwide travels to farms and mills.

 

Every week we gather as a team to cup incoming beans and discuss our taste impressions and scores. Sign up for our Intro to Coffee Cupping & Tasting to discover some of our latest and greatest coffees while learning how to evaluate coffee like an industry professional.

 

Crow spoons!

 

Under the leadership of Joshua Littlefield, our Director of Education (and occasional photographer), all Irving Farm baristas are trained here in the art and science of brewing to ensure the highest quality presentation in our cafes. We also provide classes for our wholesale partners so that you’re getting the best cup possible anywhere Irving Farm coffee is served. Look—you can write on the invisible walls!

 

Josh was taking a picture of many tiny boxes filled with pretty things that will delight you and provide an educated buzz.

Our class offerings have included the aforementioned Intro to Coffee Cupping & Tasting and Barista Fundamentals, plus Coffee Brewing Science, Advanced Espresso, and Latte Art & Workflow. If you’re an experienced barista looking to practice your craft in a controlled, customer-free environment, reserve an Open Barista Jam Session. If you have an idea for a special event (anything from private tastings to teambuilding, book clubs to bachelorette parties) or would like to come in for a one-on-one tutorial, let us know by emailing education@irvingfarm.com. We’re dedicated to connecting with the community and getting the most out of this beautiful new space.

Finally, we like to party. Join us on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook to keep abreast of our latest happenings. It could involve coffee + chocolate, coffee + booze, or coffee + you!

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