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.

1003711001

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.

DSC04655

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

88_Spring3

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!

Meet the Regulars: Richard & Lynne


Irving Farm’s John Henry Summerour sat down with Richard Lewis and Lynne Koehler-Lewis, longtime patrons of our 71 Irving Place cafe, to discuss their dual lives as DJs, their Icelandic connection, and their involvement in the incredible Dig Deeper series, a monthly event that brings soul legends back to New York City for an unforgettable celebration of music, dance and life. The next Dig Deeper will go down on Saturday, February 21st, at Brooklyn’s Littlefield, featuring Georgia artist Roy Lee Johnson who will be performing in NYC for the first time in 40 years, backed by the Brooklyn Rhythm Band! Get your tickets and dig deep into this 1960s soul experience with Richard and Lynne. They’ll see you on the dance floor.
In my twelve years working the counter at 71 there were plenty of regulars I enjoyed seeing. When I was in the zone on a busy morning shift I could scan a line of customers and catalogue up to thirty approaching orders:
Small black coffee flat top, Skim latte paper cup, Decaf latte cold milk flat top paper bag with handles, Tourist, Tourist, Large hot tea no milk two croissants paper bag no handle, Waiter from next door recently married just got back from honeymoon, Black iced coffee light ice topless…

I would continue adding to this list while reaching behind with my right hand to grab a large cup and begin filling it with hot coffee, punching the current order into the register with my left, grabbing a lid and topping the coffee just before it brimmed, asking a coworker for six specific pastry items, calling to the back for more cups and lids and ice and whole milk, making a mental note that we were about to run out of $1s so I needed to dump the tip jar and make change, tossing beans into the grinder to prep the next brew, the whole time maintaining eye contact with the customer directly in front of me, trying to smile and speak calmly, as though we were the only two people in the room. You could call it a ballet except there’s very little grace involved. It’s frenetic at best, yielding to utter chaos at the slightest hiccup in rhythm. So much of being a successful barista comes down to rhythm.

While I liked plenty of customers, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have favorites. On a crazy Saturday morning with the line stretching out to the sidewalk, I could quickly review the string of waiting faces, lock eyes with Richard and Lynne, and I swear every time I would feel 1% calmer. In the coffee industry, 1% is EPIC. It’s the difference between executing a very simple task, like placing a cranberry banana muffin on a plate, and accidentally fumbling the muffin to the floor which triggers the apocalypse. Muffins roll. Coffee overflows. Cupcakes slip from the sugary palms of children. Banshees howl. Glass jugs of milk jump off the counter and shatter, drowning everyone in a river of sticky, sweet calcium. I run to the back of the building and squeeze myself into the darkest, furthest corner, where I hold myself and whisper, “I can’t do this anymore,” over and over like the prayer of a broken man.

Richard and Lynne, with their gentle, calming aura, can prevent this from happening. And they know a thing or two about rhythm.

Born and raised in Houston, TX, Richard relocated to NYC from LA in 2005, and this year marks twenty years working as an analyst for a mutual fund company covering the oil and tech industries. Lynne, who is Brooklyn born and bred, decided to walk away from a decade-long career at the Wall Street Journal to study speech pathology at NYU, graduating last year.

At this point I should tell you that Richard and Lynne also have alter egos: DJ Honky and Lynne K. Upstanding professionals by day, rump-shaking sorcerers by night, Richard and Lynne had quite different paths to the DJ booth.

Richard grew up playing piano and riding in the car with his mother who listened to the Kingston Trio and Broadway show tunes. As a teenager he would scour the record stores for prog rock, developing an early interest in rare recordings and forgotten artists. His first real gig was in Reykjavík, Iceland (cuz you know, that’s what you do when you’re nervous about doing a good job and need an anonymous, safe space to practice your craft). He flew over with a box of 45s and started inquiring at coffee shops, some of which turned into clubs at night, until he found a promoter who gave him the “warm up” slot at a biker bar from 11pm-12am. That night he played his very best soul records for an audience of two drunks who spent the entire set heckling the American. He figured it couldn’t get any worse, so when he returned to LA he started spinning around town and producing mix CDs of his favorite tracks.

As a New Yorker, Lynne had the enviable experience of following her brother’s recommendation to pay $15 and catch James Brown in concert. She was 15 years old and this was her very first club show. Having just picked up the trumpet, this night wound up being a major cultural turning point as she fell in love with soul and early funk. She attended various soul nights and parties around town, making her own mixtapes and CDs, which eventually caught the ear of a promoter who asked her to spin in between live acts at Brooklyn’s Polish National Home/Warsaw in 2001. Bringing a party from a complete standstill to ecstatic mayhem with the drop of one record became her favorite thrill.

It’s unclear how Lynne would have fared in the Icelandic biker bar, but in 2006 she entered a contest through Icelandair to win a free trip. She wrote an impassioned entry about why Iceland needed soul music and why she was the person to rescue them, and although she didn’t win the trip, the experience made for good conversation with the quiet guy standing near the turntables at Rififi’s Subway Soul Club in the East Village. The next time they ran into each other at Botanica, Richard gave her some of his mix CDs, and that was that, leading to their eventual nuptials in 2009.

Another important connection born out of the Rififi scene was Richard’s friendship with Mr. Robinson (also known by day, and probably by his mother, as Michael). They were interested in collaborating on an event as DJs, but New York had no shortage of nights featuring two white guys at a bar spinning obscure record collections. Inspired by concerts that celebrate music heritage, like the Ponderosa Stomp in New Orleans, they began spitballing ideas. What if they could produce live events with legendary soul musicians? Where were their heroes now? Do any of them still play live? Would these artists, many of whom are in their late 70s and early 80s, be willing and able to relearn their old hits, and then travel miles from home for their first NYC gig in over 40 years? DJ Honky and Mr. Robinson had no experience booking shows, but the concept was too thrilling, the mission too important, to not give it a whirl, and thus Dig Deeper came into being.

Their first set of shows was at the Five Spot in Fort Greene, and as their audience grew through grassroots marketing efforts like email blasts, dynamite fliers and word of mouth, the events moved around Brooklyn to venues like Southpaw, the Bell House, and finally their current home at Littlefield, a progressive arts space in a former textile warehouse in Gowanus with walls constructed from recycled rubber tires and chairs made out of repurposed cork.

To this day, Dig Deeper is a labor of love. The booking of Paul Sindab is a good case study of how an event generally comes together. In his heyday, Paul Sindab performed with Sammy Davis Jr., Dionne Warwick, Wilson Pickett and Jackie Wilson. The Temptations even served as his opening act once upon a time. When Richard and Michael began looking for him, they knew he was living in Austin, TX, but had no way of contacting him. Richard combed through the White Pages and started making calls, guided by the rule of six degrees of separation, but to no avail. After years of dead ends, a friend who was a fan of the music and loved doing research happened to type “Paul Sindab” into Facebook, and voila! Paul was driving a school bus at the time and hadn’t played his classic songs in 45 years. Richard was able to convince him to give it a shot and made a CD of his old recordings so that Paul could learn to sing his entire catalogue all over again. They also discovered—and Paul had to be reminded—that he had recorded under another name, E.J. Rush, so he learned those songs as well. Another friend from the Rififi days, J.B. Flatt, served as the Dig Deeper bandleader and personally transcribed all the charts for horns, rhythm, backing vocals, guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, etc. Travel arrangements were made. Tickets were sold. People came, and they danced. They danced hard, and Paul sang harder, and just like that, a moment jumped out of the footnotes of music history to become thrillingly, achingly reborn.

After Superstorm Sandy, they threw a benefit with Rye Coalition and ’60s garage group The Sonics for Norton Records, the legendary label that was completely flooded during the storm. Dig Deeper also hosts Jamaican music nights that have drawn fans from the UK, Japan and Puerto Rico. DJ Honky and Lynne K can be found at Union Pool once a month, spinning records before a mass of spinning bodies. And there’s more… They chose to completely renovate their apartment and live out of one small bedroom lined with multiple extension cords, where they prepared all their meals in a slow cooker. Dishes were washed in the bathroom sink. They would take pictures of their dinners as a source of encouragement. “Look what we managed to create out of incredibly challenging circumstances!” This spirit infuses everything they do, and it mirrors the lives and journeys of the artists they showcase.

Dig Deeper has hosted over 50 musicians since 2008, and each time it’s an incredibly emotional experience for all involved. Most of these artists were not fairly compensated when they were recording, and many were left to feel chewed up and discarded by an industry that often prizes youth, units and dollars over longevity and legacy. To be invited to perform again, to be respected and cared for, to be honored for their artistic contributions in their latter years can be a cathartic experience. After suffering a stroke, Marva Whitney traveled to New York with an oxygen tank, and even though she had to remain seated to perform, she absolutely rocked Dig Deeper’s New Year’s Eve concert. Lou Pride took a break from dialysis to do his show. Jimmy “Preacher” Ellis was almost 80 years old when he participated. It was his very first time playing NYC and he had to be carried onto the stage. Lynne sat in the sound booth with Jimmy’s daughter who had never seen her dad perform. Marva and Lou passed away in 2012, and the urgency of this series is not lost on its organizers.

When I ask Richard and Lynne how they manage to juggle full-time day jobs with full-time nights and everything in between, they credit their love of the music and lots of coffee, which they affectionately call “magic juice”. Lynne tells me that she started drinking iced coffee with her grandmother when she was 5 years old, and I’m reminded of drinking coffee in my grandmother’s kitchen as a kid. I’m reminded of my grandfather playing his prized collection of gospel tapes by the Rangers Quartet. I remember the profound importance of shared experience, sensory connections that carry us deeper into the rhythm of living, of being. I think about that special quality Richard and Lynne possess, their ability to introduce calm into a chaotic environment. And then I realize that what I see in their eyes—what I imagine the Dig Deeper artists see as well—is empathy. To be seen and heard can be simply miraculous in this busy, quick world. And that’s what soul and funk is all about.

Are you hurting? Is your heart in pain? Do you wanna cry out?

Are you happy? Is your heart about to burst? Do you wanna shake and sway and shout?

You are seen. You are heard. You are not alone. Let’s dance.

Join us this Saturday, February 21, at 9pm as we catch some Georgia soul with Roy Lee Johnson, DJ Honky, Mr. Robinson and special guest DJ Brian Poust. It’s all going down at Brooklyn’s Littlefield. Tickets here!

Coffee Postcards From El Salvador: January 2015

Irving Farm Coffee Roasters

When not tasting coffees in our brand new 19th street training lab, and tracking shipments of beautiful coffees across the seas, Irving Farm’s Coffee Director, Dan Streetman, likes to check in on the farms with whom we have relationships. This January, he had the opportunity to travel to El Salvador, along with a few other Irving Farmers, like Liz Dean, our Upper West Side cafe manager, our technical wizard Bill McAllister, and El Salvador native Mayita Mendez, who works with us on our sales team.

As always, Dan wrote some letters home to his Irving Farm “farmily”, and also as always, we now share them with you.

 

Day 1:

Yesterday was basically a travel day. We got to the wet mill here at Beneficio Las Cruces around 4pm yesterday, and saw some coffee being unloaded and processed.

After dinner we came back to the mill and watched the guys unload all the cherry from the day’s picking. The farmers usually start around six in the morning and pick until 2-3pm. Afterwards everything gets sorted and weighed at the farm. Depending on the farm, the best quality will be sorted for microlots while the less ripe cherry will be separated and marked to go into the larger lots, or generic Strictly High Grade (SHG) lots. After the trucks are loaded they have to drive to the wet mill, which can be up to two hours of travel. Once at the wet mill all the trucks are weighed to verify that the same weights arrive at the mill that were picked in the farm. This process takes some time, and there is usually a line of trucks waiting to get their weight verified, and then be unloaded. Each truck takes about two hours to unload, especially as they have to move around to unload different lots into the designated bins so they can be processed separately.

january_2015_elsalblog_1

We watched until midnight, as they unloaded five truckloads. It was crazy to watch, as they had just finished one microlot when we arrived and immediately started dumping cherry into the bins. Meanwhile they started processing the SHG coffee while they unloaded two more trucks into the tank. Each truck had some of each type, generic SHG, and microlots so it was a ballet of rearranging the trucks every 20 mins or so to get it in the right spot to sort the coffee into the right bin: six different microlots, an SHG and a commercial grade bin. At the end of the night they totaled 180,000 lbs of cherry, which will be processed into about 250 bags of exportable green coffee. (The equivalent of how much Guadalupe Irving Farm buy for a whole year.)

Next, we’ll head to Guadalupe and El Molino.

jan_2015_elsalblog2

Day 2:

Yesterday morning we went over to visit the Guadalupe and El Molino farm sites. We did a rather extensive walk of Guadalupe and examined some different plots. Specifically, Andres and Jose Antonio showed me how they are continuing to convert Guadalupe to the agobio parras system. This method takes the vertical Bourbon trees and bends them sideways. They have found that this method is working to help the trees fight rust because it uses a more developed root system to support the tree. Also, it is very beneficial for another problem they have been having in the farms recently which is WIND.

Wind storms are very common to this part of El Salvador, but this year the wind has been especially bad. Usually the storms only last for the month of October but this year they have been seeing windstorms every other week from October until now. The Bourbon is especially susceptible to the wind because of its height, as it can grow up to 10-12 feet. By bending the tree you bring the height down to 6-7 feet, the wind can more easily pass over the trees. It was pretty incredible to watch the tall trees shaking profusely in the wind and the parras barely be touched. After we went and saw El Molino drying on the patios at the old abandoned mill on that farm.

january_2015_elsalblog_3

We also examined a plot of Catuai variety coffee growing on Guadalupe.

Afterwards, Andres and Jose Antonio showed me the nursery and some of the varieties they are working with. This year they are working on a project to plant 8 different varieties in one farm, as a test for what types they will plant in the future. Specifically they are working to find the best variety for each plot on each farm, by understanding what characteristics each will have. They are planting SL-28, Geisha, Pink Bourbon, Yellow Caturra, Batian, and SL-32 along with Castillo and a few other Catimor types.

We had lunch with Jose Antonio Sr. (Andres and Jose Antonio’s father). It was great to see him, the first year that I was here was his last year managing the farms. This is my 5th trip.

After lunch we did some cupping. We cupped 30 coffees. I am very excited because both the Guadalupe and El Molino cupped well, even though they are extremely fresh from the patios.

We also cupped a lot of Catuai and Catimor from the same farm, neighboring plots. I was surprised how well the Catimor cupped. Jose Antonio explained to me that they are planning to plant more Catimor at lower elevations and for their more generic coffees. We also cupped some coffees with different processing methods, like some which were soaked after being washed, some pulp naturals, and some naturals. It is early in the harvest but across the board they are showing the consistency and quality I have come to expect.

Later we went to visit the Santa Rita farms, and Jose Antonio had me demonstrate two different types of parras. A parra is when you allow the tree to grow vertically for 5-10 years, and then you bend the tree so that the vertical trunk, becomes horizontal. Since you learn by doing, Jose Antonio had me demonstrate the techniques on a few trees so that I could practice.

january_2015_elsalblog_4

One method is the traditional parras where the vertical tree is bent to become a horizontal branch, which will eventually sprout 4 more verticals. In this system it is very important to give adequate space to the verticals so that the branches don’t all grow into a tangle. It takes quite a bit of forethought to do this well, especially considering that this will be a 10-40 year project to complete. Thinking that far ahead is definitely a challenge.

We also walked through the parra de raiz, or root parra, where the tree is dug up and reburied at an angle. A different method of achieving the same result. Only in this system, the roots will not support 4 bent verticals like in the traditional parra. Afterwards, Bill, Liz and Mayita arrived and we gave them a tour of the wet and dry mills before leaving to stay at Talnamica, Mayita’s family farm. It was a memorable visit for all of us.

 

Stay tuned for our next round of Irving Farm letters home from coffee’s source, next stop, Nicaragua!

True Magic at Krupa Grocery

Irving Farm has a longstanding appreciation for great food—particularly breakfast-oriented foods. Our relationship with Brooklyn’s Krupa Grocery, a restaurant that excels at breakfast-oriented foods as well as all foods from all the other times of day, has been going strong since their opening in April, 2014.

10784819_811160615594349_1405602802_n

Alchemy isn’t just about turning matter into gold. At least for Bob Lenartz, co-owner of Krupa Grocery in Windsor Terrace, it’s when things come together to create something greater than the sum of its parts. It’s magical.

Bob had opened Slope Cellars and Windsor Wines, focusing on artisanal wines and spirits, and dreamed of building the kind of neighborhood place where folks could come to celebrate both the everyday and a special occasion. When the old Krupa Grocery on Prospect Park West became available, he saw an opportunity to make his bistro dream a reality. Krupa was a corner store and deli for over 20 years, owned and operated by the Patel family, that also happened to feature a backyard (a form of real estate alchemy in NYC). Locals called it “Love’s” because that was the salutation of endearment that greeted everyone who walked through the door.

10890604_868970563145301_882895879_n

Barista Rex bringing the Irving Farm Coffee to the people at Krupa Grocery.

Around this time Bob made the acquaintance of Tom Sperduto, another Windsor Terrace resident with dreams of opening a neighborhood oasis. Once an elementary school art teacher who worked summers and weekends at Eleven Madison Park, he eventually moved into food full-time, developing his relationship to “enlightened hospitality” at Clinton Street Baking Company, Community Food & Juice, and Craftbar.

The third piece of the puzzle was Tom’s colleague at Craftbar, Chef Domenick Gianfrancesco, who was ready for a kitchen of his own. Together, they spent over a year building out the former grocery space, salvaging original details such as the tin ceiling which they repurposed as a bar front. It was important for them to build upon the goodwill of the Patel family business (thus keeping the name) and allow the restaurant to reflect their love of food as well as community.

10894956_848133558563530_1876776424_n

One of Tom’s chief areas of interest happened to be coffee, as he had spent years developing the coffee programs at his other restaurants. He knew that great coffee was a necessary tool for integrating a new restaurant into neighborhood ritual, whether it’s starting the day with breakfast or the finish to a memorable meal, so he put great care into selecting special coffees and overseeing drink preparation.

Now, after all the hard work and alignment of stars, you can go to Krupa for an expertly prepared cappuccino, breakfast gnocchi with bacon and beet greens, or a hanger steak garnished with bone marrow, and it all tastes like it was prepared just for you, like the food is saying, “Hey Love.”

On a recent visit, Bob was standing near the bar explaining the history behind the hanging cymbal light fixtures, how each one came together piece by piece, slowly making something much more special than he originally thought he was building. Staring up at the cymbals, he realized that’s it. That’s alchemy. That’s Krupa.

10914471_389950337852541_1670411570_n

Krupa Grocery is located at 231 Prospect Park West, Brooklyn, NY 11215. They open for coffee at 7am seven days a week.

« Older