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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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!

Notes From Colombia

Irving Farm Coffee Colombia

When not cupping and roasting alongside Roastmaster Clyde in our Hudson Valley roastery 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 September, he visited Colombia, one of the world’s most prolific coffee-growing nations, and home to some of our favorite coffees year after year. As always, Dan wrote some letters home to his Irving Farm “farmily”, and also as always, we now share them with you.

Irving Farm Coffee Colombia

Day 1
Today is the first day in Colombia. I got into Bogota last night around 11pm, and we went back to the airport at about 4am to catch our flight to Huila. We landed in Neiva after a short flight on a propeller plane. On the way, we hit some fairly weird turbulence, and I think it was the closest I have ever been to puking in flight… however, our sunglass-wearing flight attendant helped me keep it together with her dark wire-frame Ray-Bans and serious poker face a la Lady Gaga.

We had a two hour drive to the town of Timana (Tee-ma-NAH), which is the oldest municipality in Huila. A beautiful little town with a quaint central square and historic old church/cathedral. In Timana, we met with a grower’s association called Aspro Timana. They are essentially a co-op with about 100 members, 30 of whom are female. They are doing some very cool stuff especially in terms of Colombia. They have a Q-certified cupper on staff, and are cupping every lot that comes into the warehouse, and maintain price premiums for coffees that score 83+ or 85+. They are also working very hard between their cupping team and technical assistance team to work with the growers to improve their quality. We cupped 9 coffees from this group, all were solid 82-83 coffees with the best being in the 86-87 range. I was mostly impressed by how consistently good the coffees were.

Also cool about the cupping was that we tasted two different fermentation processes by one producer, one a normal 16-20 hour fermentation, and the other a 72 hour anaerobic fermentation without water. The 72 hour fermentation was one of the clear favorites on the table. Afterward, we went up to the producer’s farm for lunch. When we arrived we were across a ravine and down from the house where we would be eating lunch, and the ravine had a zip-line running across it. Someone said, “we’re riding the zip-line across the gorge,” at which point I noticed a large wooden/metal frame hanging from the zip-line.

Irving Farm Coffee Colombia

Irving Farm Coffee Colombia

“Who wants to go first?” we were asked. I promptly got into the frame, and got hoisted across this at least 100ft drop by an electric motor.

The farm was beautiful and lunch was delicious—a local version of chicken soup called “salcocho” in which they make broth and then serve it with TOUGH old hen, plantains, yucca, and starchy corn. The farm is 1,750 meters above sea level, which made it quite cool temperature-wise, especially once it started drizzling rain. After lunch we hiked up to the top of the farm, which is 1,850 masl, and noted the mix of Castillo and Caturra varieties. He had “la roya” (leaf rust) up to about 1800 meters, but the very top was untouched. We also saw one Typica tree.

After the farm tour we piled back in Jeeps to get back to town. Our driver’s green Jeep was lovingly entitled “El Loco”, and it was in El Loco in which we jammed to reggaeton all the way down the dirt roads back to Tamina.

Irving Farm Coffee Colombia

Chris Davidson of Atlas Coffee leading cupping comments.

Day 2

A slightly less adventurous day here in Colombia. We stayed in Garcon last night, so this morning we woke up and got breakfast in the hotel before walking over to the co-op offices of CooCentral. CooCentral is a larger co-op in Huila which operates in about 6 municipalities. They have 4,000 members.

We got briefed on the co-op programs, which are quite impressive, before cupping 22 coffees. We saw some solid quality, up to 86.75, and nothing was below 83—so very good in terms of quality, but a little disappointing for us, as we are looking for the Super WOW coffees.

After lunch we went up the mountain to visit a producer which is working with CooCentral. They were located at a fork in the road so our van-bus had to go up and turn around… at which point we got stuck. After a little worrying, and some digging, along with some bamboo, ingenuity and elbow grease, we got the van turned around.

At the farm, we met a female producer who is part of a program which focuses on providing assistance to women farmers. Her family actually was displaced by a dam project in a nearby valley. Her family was asked if they wanted land or money by the power company, and they chose land, eventually taking over an abandoned coffee farm about 18 months ago.

So far they are doing very well, mostly because they have little experience in coffee and they are following the advice of the co-op very rigorously.

After our farm tour we tried an original dessert of candied coffee pulp along with coffee panna cotta and goat cheese. The flavor was quite good, but at this point my eyes were twitching from all the caffeine.

Tomorrow we head to La Plata to cup coffees from the Monserrate region. This is where our Willer Rivera, Luis Rivera, El Jigual, lots have come from in past years. I am hoping that we will find some coffees from here again. Only time will tell.

Irving Farm Coffee Colombia

Day 3
In La Plata, we cupped 40 coffees for the “Monserrate Microlot Competition” This is the 6th year they have held the competition, and Monserrate is where all of our Colombian coffees have come from. Think Capucas, but smaller (in overall people), and less organized (even though the average farm size is a little larger).

There were some awesome coffees; I scored the winner 92.5. After the 2nd day of cupping we had an awards ceremony for the winners, afterwards, all the buyers played the local kids in a game of soccer. We got trounced 6-2. Although we put up a good fight, it was a 2-2 tie after 20 minutes… I even scored the first goal of the game, however… a mentally egregious error of a handball set up the Penalty Kick that put the kids up 3-2 and they never looked back.

After the soccer game, we headed back to Bogota, and I caught my flight early Monday morning. Still waiting to hear from our from our friends in Colombia about getting samples sent so we can finalize coffees for this year, but I am definitely excited about the prospects.

Irving Farm Coffee Colombia

Three Months Later
We are getting half of the competition winner’s supply: 2 bags from Diego Casso, and have purchased coffee from previous winners, Willer Rivera, Orlando Osa, and coffee from Dario Anaya, whose El Jigual we had a couple years back, along with a lot from the whole community. Willer and Orlando’s coffees are here now, with more of these great Colombian coffees to come soon in our shops.

Coffee, Cacao & Connection

 

Talnamica Irving Farm Raaka

Freddie, Cecil, Nena, and Carlos at Talnamica, 1961.

In preparation (and excitement) for our evening of coffee & chocolate pairings with Brooklyn’s Raaka Chocolate, we sat down with Nena Méndez, whose family farm in El Salvador—Talnamica—is featured in our limited edition chocolate bar inspired by the flavors of Salvadoran horchata. Her family has been in the coffee business since the 1880s, and they’ve just begun to venture into cacao. Her daughter, Mayita, has worked for Irving Farm as a barista at our 79th St. cafe (which just won Best Coffee Shop on the Upper West Side from Time Out New York’s readers!) and now represents our wholesale team.

We would love to know about your experience growing up in a coffee farming family.

The family spent every weekend in Talnamica. My father walked the farm and some of my four siblings would go with him and the farm manager. I loved those long walks with him. They could last from two to four hours. During the long walks we would encounter the houses of the “colonos” [resident workers]. We would stop and chat. My father knew the names of all and was very chummy with them. He had spotted a pair of twins living on the farm, so he asked the parents if they could come and play with my sister and I. To this day when we see one of them (the other twin moved away) we hug tightly and remember how much fun we had as little girls.

Talnamica Raaka Irving Farm

What is the story and history behind Talnamica specifically?

My father bought this farm in the 1950s. By marrying my mother he became in touch with growing coffee, as it is from her side of the family that we have been in the coffee business since the 1880s, and he fell in love with the bean. My father was a very successful lawyer during the week, but on the weekend he would transform himself into a “cafetalero” [coffee farmer] and enjoy the people, the land. He loved plants and flowers. He collected interesting specimens from all over the world and brought them to the farm. His favorite flowers were orchids and camellias. My mother would spend her time reading Agatha Christie, Reader’s Digest and historical novels. Gradually he continued buying neighboring lots until it became what it is today. He fixed community roads, built houses for all the colonos and brought them electricity and access to water.

Talnamica Irving Farm Raaka

Nena’s father, Alfredo Ortiz Mancia, on the Talnamica farm.

At what point did your family begin interacting with the specialty coffee industry?

Four years ago the government coffee agency asked if any coffee growers would be interested in hosting a luncheon for the jurors for the Cup of Excellence who were meeting in the country at the time. We had about forty jurors for lunch. Seattle-based roasters who had come to the luncheon contacted us some time after. They were our first buyers of single origin. We were delighted! Two years ago I was walking along Irving Place, saw this charming coffee place, and to my surprise I saw that coffee from El Salvador was being sold there! I chatted with the nice baristas and asked who the coffee buyer was. This led me to meet Dan Streetman and the rest is history! On his next trip to El Salvador, Dan stayed with Mayita and me in Talnamica. My older brother, Freddie, joined us in walking the farm. We ate, drank and chatted all evening and, yes, he got some beans for Irving Farm. It has made us appreciate the value of what we have. It has made us want to continue working the farm in spite of many occasional challenges—low prices for the coffee, heavy damaging rains, strong damaging winds, and diseases such as roya [coffee leaf rust].

Talnamica Raaka Irving Farm

Dan Streetman at Talnamica

When did the farm start growing cacao?

The cacao experiment is grown at another altitude. We still have not harvested any yet!

What is one of your funniest memories from your time on the farm?

There was a time when my father wore a scary mask and walked into the “cafetal” [coffee farm] where the workers were doing their job. When one of them saw him, he was about to strike my father with his machete! My father quickly took off the mask and said, “Miguel! Soy yo!!” This was not Halloween time—no one was celebrating Halloween in the country then—it was just my father’s quirky sense of humor! Everyone laughed hysterically after they all realized it was my father.

Do you have any memories of drinking horchata in El Salvador?

Yes! Horchata is a drink that is offered in almost any coffee shop in the country, but it is also the staple beverage at all First Communions.

Talnamica Raaka Irving Farm

What is your favorite part of the coffee growing process?

It’s meaningful to know that we, the siblings, are the fourth generation of coffee growers. Mayita, Natalia and their cousins are now part of the fifth, and Natalia’s kids the sixth! It’s a sense of pride to be part of a tradition which has given our little country an identity. Especially important is the fact that we offer jobs to people. During the harvest, it is a lot of fun to see women and men taking pride in the beans they have collected.

What is your hope for the future of the coffee farm?

Whenever Dan buys our coffee, each time we go to Irving Farm and see the bags on the shelves, I feel so happy for all of us, but also for my parents. My father loved the farm and he would be so happy to see that its beans are valued. This is our hope, to continue being able to give jobs to people in the community, to continue growing the best tasting beans ever!

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Please join us on Saturday, December 13th, at the Raaka Chocolate factory in Red Hook, Brooklyn, where you’ll get to meet Nena, her sister Cecil, and Mayita while sampling a delicious assortment of small batch coffees and chocolates. Tickets and further information can be found here.

Meet the Farmers: Joshua Littlefield

Josh Littlefield Irving Farm Coffee

This week we send two of our best to compete in the Big Eastern Coffee Championships in Durham, NC. Brandon Epting (a North Carolina native) will be competing in the Brewers Cup, and Joshua Littlefield will represent Irving Farm in the Barista Competition where he promises to present a drink inspired by “Top Gun” with notes of “The Danger Zone.” Irving Farm’s John Henry Summerour braved this insanity to chat with Josh at Bluestone Lane over items of Australian whimsy such as the Flat White, the Piccolo, an Avocado Smash and the PLAT. And Josh interrupted John mid-bite to take an aerial photograph of the spread, because he just can’t help himself when the lighting is good.

Josh Littlefield Irving Farm Coffee

When you meet Josh, you’re meeting Irving Farm’s new Director of Education and former wholesale wunderkind. You’re meeting a volunteer firefighter and the volunteer/event coordinator for the Spring St. Social Society. You’re meeting a graduate of Johnson & Wales College of Culinary Arts, someone who studied wine in southern Germany and harvested seaweed in southern Ireland, an only child from Long Island who abandoned his video games to start working in kitchens when he was 14 years old, the type of college student who commuted from Providence to Boston every week to perform with the Trinity Church Choir. You’re meeting a nephew who goes sky diving with his aunt, an individual who drags espresso pallets home to build furniture with a circular saw in his kitchen just for the hell of it, a donut aficionado/maniac, a twofold biker (he has a bicycle AND a ’74 Honda motorcycle). You’re meeting pure energy.

A self-described “lazy shit” as a child in suburbia, most dinners consisted of fast food and junk. He began washing dishes for the Viking Culinary Center in Garden City and was quickly promoted as the chef’s assistant for classes. This experience, paired with a culinary focus in high school through the Nassau BOCES program, turned him onto the world of food and the sense of family that can be attained through restaurant work.

Josh Littlefield Irving Farm Coffee

After moving to Providence, his roommate introduced him to the joys of coffee, so he decided to add a side concentration on wine and non-alcoholic studies to complement his focus in culinary nutrition. Within a few years, he managed to work as a barista for Seven Stars Bakery in Providence as well as Intelligentsia and Joe in NYC (where he took time away from school to create his own internship). He even convinced Johnson & Wales to sponsor him for barista competition which was a first for them. Josh is like that – his unbridled enthusiasm strikes the right balance between overwhelming and approachable. On a recent coffee crawl with Irving Farm, Josh was joined by over 15 baristas on a dangerously caffeinated journey through West Side coffee haunts, and he fully inhabited the role of the Pied Piper of Espresso, leading his motley crew with smiles and jokes, snapping pictures and even incorporating a taco break.

Tacos. Donuts. Espresso. Photography. Adventure. Controlled chaos.

Josh Littlefield Irving Farm Coffee

Does he sleep? It isn’t unusual to find Josh training new baristas late on a weekday or early on the weekend. And then, magically, he’ll appear upstate at a food & wine conference manning a pop-up coffee bar, or donning his fire-retardant gear to climb into the equivalent of “Hoarders on fire.” Even his account of staying at the Point Lookout firehouse with his crew of Tower Ladder 254 during Superstorm Sandy as the waters rapidly poured forth is tinged with wonder and the satisfaction that he was able to help others. He claims to only need 3-4 hours of sleep—that his love for coffee is the only energy he needs—so it isn’t surprising that he cites Irving Farm’s other force of nature, Teresa von Fuchs, as a major inspiration. When asked if he’s at all concerned about the danger of burnout, he makes a compelling argument for putting ample time and energy into his coworkers so that they can offer him stronger support in return. Fire begets fire.

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When you meet Josh, you’re meeting the future of the coffee industry, perfectly embodied by the poetic contrast between his dapper clothing and his rough, worn hands. You’re meeting vivid enthusiasm matched by a keen understanding of the endless opportunities within this dynamic, booming community. Dream it up and make it happen. Sleep when you’re dead. One day, he plans to expand his passion for education to include green coffee buying or owning a business, and he’d like to teach himself letterpress printing so that he can make an impression, literally. And on March 25th of next year he’ll turn… 24.

But to be fair, a list of Josh’s varied and bountiful accomplishments is slightly misleading, because the most impressive thing about him is that he has the ability to pause the whirlwind so that he’s totally present, moment to moment. Even when he interrupts a meal to take a picture, it’s executed with the utmost courtesy, and the goal is clear—to elevate a single moment and capture it in time, to consider it, to marvel, to share a tiny breath before the electricity of life rushes back in, much like Lieutenant Pete “Maverick” Mitchell catching a moment of zero gravity in his fighter jet before diving into the Danger Zone with that toothy, Tom Cruise grin. It’s entirely possible that Josh is constantly accompanied by a stealth Kenny Loggins soundtrack. The nice folks in Durham better brace themselves for this sweet NYC dynamo.

Be sure to watch live at http://uscoffeechampionships.org/watch/ to see Josh compete on Saturday, 11/22, at 11:30am!

Ask Us About Our Black Eagle

Irving Farm Nuova Simonelli Black Eagle

One of the best things about making a job out of something as fun as coffee is that everyone understands how important the toys are. We won’t deny it—getting our hands on the newest and sleekest equipment sends a little thrill up the collective spines of everyone at Irving Farm, and even more so when we’re part of a select few stores able to put new coffee equipment to the real-world tests of demanding NYC customers.

Irving Farm Nuova Simonelli Black Eagle

Our busy Upper West Side cafe got a special treat this spring when we welcomed a state-of-the-art espresso machine, the Victoria Arduino Black Eagle manufactured by Nuova Simonelli, known to many only by reputation and legend. Only about two dozen Black Eagles have landed in cafe environments right now, and we’re still reeling from the joy of its quality-of-barista-and-cafe-life improvements like consistent pressure and temperature stability, energy-saving, auto-cleaning, and low maintenance.

Irving Farm Nuova Simonelli Black Eagle

Barista experience—from ergonomics to our ability to work better, faster—has been enlightening and humbling. And for the customers? Seeing the renewed passion we have for combining our own great ingredients—coffee we truly care about—and beautiful tools that constantly evolve, making it easier for us to showcase the inherent beauty in the coffees we’re presenting.

And, hey—we’ll admit it. It’s one hot and steamy conversation piece.

Irving Farm Nuova Simonelli Black Eagle

Irving Farm Nuova Simonelli Black Eagle Irving Farm Nuova Simonelli Black Eagle

Check out the Victoria Arduino Black Eagle at our 224 W. 79th Street cafe in New York City, or on the competition stage at all of this year’s United States Barista Championship regional and national events!

 

A Trip to Barista Camp for Irving Farm

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As much as we like to sell bags of coffee and talk about how great it is to brew at home, there’s one thing home brewing can never replicate: the energy of a cafe, and the spirit of a barista. We know that part of creating our home-away-from-home experience for people who visit Irving Farm has much to do with the spirit of those who make up our crew–and there’s no better way to keep people engaged and enthusiastic, passionate and curious, than to surround them with like-minded professionals.

It’s this thinking that keeps us sending Irving Farm folk to Barista Camp, a twice-a-year training camp held by the Barista Guild of America that brings together all experience levels to learn from and meet one another–while receiving professional certifications and hands-on training. This spring, we sent two of our team–Ben from 71 Irving and David from 79th Street–to sleepaway barista camp in Wisconsin. When not busy having fun, or recovering from it, they were thoughtful enough to send some postcards home.

“David and I were sent to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin for Barista Camp. Camp activities included things like cupping coffee and tea and milk steaming classes, and within all of that time were great moments with some really great people in the coffee industry. While we had several hours of coursework on espresso and brewing, we also had time to practice on the espresso machines. Being able to spend time with machines I’ve never seen was a real plus. Even with all of the aforementioned machine playtime and three meals a day, I’m most grateful for the human element. Having the opportunity to interact with people within our community that have such care and passion for what we do, and representing a company that cares about education to the extent that it does, made my camp experience so enlivening.”
— Ben

“It was such a memorable experience! When I imagined barista camp, in my mind I had this picture of people getting up early from bed, and going to sleep late at night, and learning all day. (In other words: boring.) And this is exactly what happened—but there was a big difference at this camp. We learned a lot of things about coffee and the art of making an excellent cup of coffee, but at the same time, the more I learned about coffee, the more I craved more knowledge, and the time kept getting shorter each day.

Lectures were given by some of the most experienced instructors in the industry, and there were opportunities for everyone who was there to experiment with different kinds of machines and equipment. My favorite equipment was the siphon, which gives a very distinct cup of coffee. Rich in flavor, but also clean, uninterrupted flavor. The espresso machines were of all kinds, including the famous La Marzocco Strada, similar to the one we have at 79, which I was able to practice on.

Though we were at the barista camp, we had an opportunity to attend a lecture about tea as well, which was taught by the best instructors from Rishi Tea company, and we also had a tea cupping session. We attended more classes, and learned more about measurements and qualities of coffee, and how to identify different kinds of flavor notes in espresso shots. We learned a lot about milk, and how different types of milks affect the quality of coffee drinks–including different kinds of cows, and the way they are taken care of, and how the kinds of grass they eat can make a huge difference in the cup. We had a milk cupping session which gave me a whole new perspective in the way I see milk.

Just as importantly, we had enough time to interact with each other and exchange knowledge. I was able to tell them about Irving Farm Coffee, which made a few people interested in coming to New York, and I got to learn about other coffee companies as well. It was nice to know that many people knew our own Tam, and I was glad to talk about her behind her back. And in the end I was able to take my level one certificate barista test, and I hope to receive my certificate soon.”
–David

To get involved with the next Barista Camp taking place October 6-9 in Rancho Mirage, California, visit the Barista Guild of America website. Registration opens July 15!

Irving Farm Texas Takeover: A Dan Streetman Barista Getaway

Demitasse at Houndstooth Coffee, Austin, TX. Photo courtesy Houndstooth Coffee.

Texan demitasse at Houndstooth Coffee, Austin, TX. Photo courtesy Houndstooth Coffee.

It struck me, about 2 days before I left to head home to Texas for a week to serve as a groomsman in my younger brother’s wedding. “What am I going to do for a week in Waco?”

The bustling metropolis of Waco has about 200,000 people, or you know, the same number of people who pass through Grand Central Terminal every day, and while I love my parents, the idea of sitting around watching HGTV reruns with them for the entire week was not quite exciting. So it occurred to me, at this last minute: there’s so much good coffee in Texas now. “what if I work a couple of barista shifts?” I figured two might be enough to keep life interesting, and leave some time to relax.

So I contacted a couple of friends and quickly arranged a guest shift on Tuesday in Austin at Houndstooth Coffee, and the other on Wednesday in San Antonio at Local Coffee. After making the arrangements, I posted my plans to my personal social media pals, hoping that some old friends would come by and see me. Besides, that is what you do in this day and age right? Put everything on social media…

But quickly, almost too quickly, David Buehrer from Houston texted me: “Really? Really? You’re not going to come to Houston?” So I agreed to do Houston on Thursday, thinking “Ok—now my schedule is really full, but it won’t be too bad.”

After a nice weekend with my brother, and some bachelor party shenanigans, we’d return to Waco. Monday I spent most of the day cleaning out some old things I had left in my parents garage, but at the end of the day, my brother and I wanted to go check out the newly minted Dichotomy Coffee that had recently opened downtown. As we grabbed coffee, I recognized the barista, who also apparently knew my brother. However it was clear that he didn’t remember me, so I jokingly reminded him that we had met at Barista Camp in Austin this spring, and foolishly told him about my plans for the rest of the week. He instantly replied, “oh man, you have to email Brett, and work here on Friday.” What can one more shift hurt? Besides it would be in my hometown.

Day 1: Houndstooth, Austin, TX.
“Old friends, new haunts” would be a theme for my jaunt through Texas. I had gotten up by 8am to make it the 2 hour drive to Austin by 10am, for my shift at the newest downtown location of Houndstooth Coffee. Seeing brothers Sean and Paul Henry grow their business is always rewarding for me, as I remember helping them open the first location—I even worked there the first week. Back in 2010, Houndstooth was the first multi-roaster café in Texas, and pretty early in that whole movement. Upon entering I was met immediately by barista trainer Daniel Read, and we quickly started discussing the Austin scene. Having lived in Austin from 2007-2010 I know a lot of the coffee professionals there, and watched a lot of growth. But since I moved away, it seems the scene has really exploded, and it was fun to hear updates on all the new happenings. It was also especially interesting to see how some of the developments in Austin were mirroring what is currently happening in New York, where small independent shops are moving into the higher rent, more populous neighborhoods. This new Houndstooth located inside the iconic Austin Frost Tower building is a prime example. The space has a great feel with windows on 3 sides, and tons of light streaming in. Working behind the bar at Houndstooth was a blast—the staff there are so congenial that it makes customer interaction always feel truly positive. There was a steady flow into the afternoon, which kept the pace fun, and lively. I was pleasantly surprised to see how many of the customers were ordering single espressos, and cappuccinos. This was definitely not the Texas coffee scene I worked in as a barista. The staff were digging the Santa Isabel Guatemala and the Amaro Gayo Ethiopia I brought with me. After my shift, I would head to dinner with Sean from Houndstooth for dinner, where we eventually met up with Lorenzo Perkins of Cuvee Coffee. Hanging out with these guys was a blast from the past, and we wiled the night away postulating about the future of the coffee industry.

Dan Streetman on the brew bar at Local Coffee, San Antonio, TX. Photo courtesy Catherine Manterola (@ManterolaC) on Twitter.

Dan Streetman on the brew bar at Local Coffee, San Antonio, TX. Photo courtesy Catherine Manterola (@ManterolaC) on Twitter.

Day 2: Local Coffee San Antonio
Wednesday brought another early morning and another 2 hour commute to a 10am shift. Of course, who can complain when your motel is conveniently located directly under the highway, and they serve you breakfast that comes in 36-packs from Costco? Arriving in San Antonio, I was greeted with a big smile and a curly mustache from my long time friend Andrew Schulz, the manager of Local Coffee’s Pearl location. Andrew and I go back to my days as a café manager, when I hired him for his first barista job—old friends, new haunts, remember? The bar at the Pearl location was extremely spacious, and I quickly hopped to working, rolling out El Molino single origin espresso drinks, along with making Chemexes of El Molino and Guadalupe and waxing poetic about the effects of natural and washed processing on their flavor to anyone who would listen. You see, these two farms, located directly next to each other, and both containing almost solely bourbon variety coffee trees, are among the greatest examples I’ve encountered of tasting how one variable affects the flavor of the coffee. A parade of staff from Local’s other locations came through along with several famous area chefs, and a multitude of loyal customers. The Pearl district is probably the most happening place in San Antonio, and Local is definitely the coffee shop leading the way for the city. After lunch, Local’s owner Robby Grubbs came in and we caught up, reminiscing about the early days when he opened his first location in Sonterra, and discussed some of his future plans. It seemed that growth in coffee cafes/culture was not isolated to Austin.

Dan working the bar at Blacksmith Coffee, Houston, TX. Photo courtesy @Bl4cksmith on Twitter.

Day 3: Blacksmith, Houston
I got a late start on this fine Thursday morning: hanging with old friends and the San Antonio Spurs going up 2-0 in the Conference Finals are a great recipe for a late night. This meant my 3-hour commute to Houston would have me arrive just about lunch-time. Sure enough I made it to Blacksmith at noon sharp, and I was greeted by a sharply dressed David Buehrer with “can I feed you lunch before your shift?” I politely accepted, and moments later Vietnamese Steak & Eggs appeared in front of me. A dish that is the essence of Blacksmith, simple and interesting food, paired with great coffee. The barista on shift had dialed in our Blackstrap Espresso, along with the Guadalupe they were brewing for their drip option of the day. David had been insistent I must come to Houston, and I must say the trip was well worth it. It was also especially fun to work at Blacksmith after hearing the plans for years. After lunch, I took my turn behind the counter, and enjoyed the flow of the café throughout the afternoon, while discussing work-flow and training techniques with Blacksmith trainer John, David made plans for us to all go to dinner with his partner Ecky, and boy was I in for a treat. Across the street from Blacksmith is a recently James-Beard-awarded restaurant Underbelly. After being seated, we were greeted by Chef Chris Shepherd, a quick exchange and all of a sudden we’d surrendered our will to the whims of the kitchen. Dinner proceeded with exceptional results, to the effect that by 10pm, I was insisting I must get on the road, to begin my 3-hour journey back to Waco, and return the rental car by 8am the next morning.

Dan and XX at Dichotomy, Waco, TX. Courtesy @Dichotomy_CS on Twitter.

Dan and Michael Suttle at Dichotomy, Waco, TX. Photo courtesy @Dichotomy_CS on Twitter.

Day 4: Dichotomy Coffee, Waco Texas
The 7:30 alarm came as if it were the conclusion of the previous night’s drive. I deliriously crawled out of bed to return the rental car. Returned to my folks’ for a 1-hour nap and then off to pick up my tuxedo for the wedding on my way to Dichotomy! Arriving at Dichotomy, I was sharing space with their other roasters, Counter Culture, and Tweed. So I asked the staff if they wanted to have some fun, and we decided to roll with Amaro Gayo, Ethiopia on Espresso to contrast the Tweed Guatemala, and to do our Yirgacheffe, Ethiopia, along with Counter Culture’s Kilenso Mokonisa, Ethiopia on pour-over. Brett, the owner of Dichotomy scheduled me on a split shift which was great, as I got to interact with more of Dichotomy’s staff, a young and enthusiastic crew, who are extremely into coffee. I enjoyed rocking their Modbar, but it was the customer conversations that really went the distance. Many of the customers seemed accustomed to waiting the 3-5 minutes for their pour-over or loose leaf tea, and were eager to talk with the very friendly staff. Dichotomy’s space is large, and spacious with high ceilings, a renovated downtown building that represents a growing interest in the city to revitalize the city’s core after it was gutted by both suburbanization and a tornado in the 1950’s. How fitting then, to end my journey at the end of the new growth branch, for the Texas Coffee Scene, and also for Waco’s Downtown.

After it all, I felt as if I had maybe bitten off a little more than a could chew, but I didn’t regret the decisions one minute. The week long journey represented so much more, in sharing where I have been and what I am doing with so many people close to me through-out Texas, along with reciprocating that with them. What a rewarding journey.

Honduras Trip with 71 Irving Place’s John Summerour

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We’ve shared travel diaries from our trips to coffee-growing countries before, but every now and then we get to bring along someone extra-special from the Irving Farm team. John Summerour, a filmmaker and longtime Irving Farm employee, has been working at our Irving Place cafe since 2002. He joined coffee director Dan Streetman on a Honduras trip to origin this past harvest season, and was kind enough to let us reprint his reflections here. 

When asked if I would be interested in accompanying Dan on a trip to Honduras to meet farmers and sample coffees, I said yes immediately, impulsively. Without knowing anything about what Dan actually does on these trips, I sensed that it would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. In the weeks leading up to the trip, I didn’t ask any questions. I had the flight information, and I had traveled to South America and the Caribbean before, so I knew to pack lots of sunscreen for my pasty complexion. Sometimes it’s best to throw yourself into an experience free of expectations. Be present, observe, absorb, hang on tight.

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We were driven from the airport in San Pedro Sula to Hotel Finca Las Glorias on the banks of Lake Yojoa, the largest lake in Honduras. After check-in and lunch at the hotel restaurant we went to the coffee mill at San Vicente which looks out on wildly gorgeous foothills, steep and lush, the light falling in golden sheets all around. The air was warm and dense, but not oppressively so.

This was my first time seeing coffee drying patios. Workers unloaded bags of freshly washed beans onto a rectangular slab of concrete where they proceeded to neatly spread them out with rakes, allowing the beans to dry naturally in the sunlight. We toured the mill where I saw the mechanical dryers that are used for large batches of commercial coffee, as well as the machine that removes the outer parchment from each bean, creating a powdery byproduct that settled within the folds of my ears. I watched a vibrating panel brilliantly sort the beans by weight, channeling the denser, more desirable nuggets in one direction while the lighter fellows hopped happily to the side. We walked by the tables where workers carefully handpick through the coffee as a final step, removing any defects. At one point I was directed into a room containing a massive computer that was rapidly sorting thousands of beans per minute, quite possibly transmitting them to outer space.

Upstairs we convened in a tasting lab where we cupped 40 samples between Sunday evening and Wednesday morning. Back in New York I had participated in a cupping session with Dan and Irving Farm’s core of coffee experts, so I had an idea of what to expect, but suddenly I found myself in a room with people who possess superhuman palates, instantly differentiating between the nuanced flavors of Israeli basil and Thai basil, the aromas of tangerine mist and clementine zest. I felt so out of my depth that I was literally mute after the first cupping. Dan encouraged me to speak up and participate, so the trip represented a gradual emergence from total silence to proudly proclaiming that one particular sample had taken me on a picnic with barbecue, lemonade, vanilla cake and freshly cut grass. Seriously. That coffee was dynamic.

I had wondered if we would be treated differently as a group of American buyers, perhaps shielded from the “real Honduras.” This question was answered as soon as we visited the first of several farms, all the buyers loaded into the back of a pickup truck, clinging for life as we cruised through the bustling town of Pena Blanca where many businesses were guarded by gunmen (a precaution more than a necessity), along the main paved roads that were riddled with potholes, and into the mountains where the truck bounced and lurched up narrow passages of gravel and dirt.

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At each stop we would greet the farmers and chat about their incoming crops. Most farmers had their own drying tables instead of having the mill dry them, increasing the value and quality control of their coffee. They also had bi-level structures for processing the cherries, pouring the ruby fruit down a chute from the top level where they slowly traveled through a de-pulper which resembled a meat grinder/music box. The beans (or “seeds”) fell into a concrete tub for fermenting and washing, while the pulp piled at the side to be used for compost. I thought the pulp was delicious, depending on the variety and ripeness, with most of the cherries yielding a sweet fruit that had a touch of bell pepper earthiness. It reminded me of the beach plums on Cape Cod where locals take pride in producing jams in spite of the effort/reward imbalance, and it seemed that there could be an untapped market for turning this byproduct into preserves, infusions and even liquor, but it would require a large outside investment since so many coffee-producing countries still struggle with basic infrastructure. After witnessing the number of people who work tirelessly to plant, grow, pick, process and package the coffee–before the beans even reach Irving Farm for roasting–my initial interest in a coffee cherry-infused sparkling water or spreadable compote slowly faded.

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The highlight, and greatest physical challenge, of the trip was hiking amongst the crops. Most farmers would choose to abandon trails and guide us straight through the plants, the larger trees smacking us in the face with thick, waxy leaves. Some farms were planted directly into the crumbling slopes, leaving us with no choice but to descend quickly and precariously as though dirt-surfing. At one point, the truck was parked in a little village and we were led to a trailhead on the side of the road. From there we proceeded to climb steeply and deeply, through mud, over rocks and roots, totally at the mercy of our guide. After much sweating and heaving, we finally reached an isolated plot at the top of the mountain where we were greeted by an old farmer. He had a hose running directly from a mountain spring to water the baby coffee plants. We drank from the hose, and it was the clearest, freshest water I’ve ever tasted. I marveled as his workers cinched the sacks of freshly picked cherries and roped them to the backs of mules for transport down the same knotty paths we had ascended. We learned that his wife had recently passed away from cancer. The money that he made from last year’s crops had afforded him the medicine that kept her alive a few months longer. Nothing could prepare me for that moment, standing on a mountaintop, filthy and exhausted, shaking hands with a farmer whose life had been directly impacted by someone buying his coffee. As I sipped from a cup in New York City, a man in Honduras held his wife’s hand, cherishing each moment gained.

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How do we wrap our heads around something like that as consumers? Drinking coffee is a privilege, a tiny miracle of nature and people coming together, a dance of expertise and passion and communication and serendipity. I don’t think that means each coffee purchase needs to be accompanied by a crippling sense of guilt or responsibility. Rather it’s a celebration of connection. Each choice we make is directly tied to other lives, whether it’s the clothes we wear or the water we drink. To engage with that narrative is empowering. It’s an opportunity to emerge from your daily routine and gain perspective, to awaken curiosity and gratitude.

We hiked down the mountain by twilight, the gradual darkening punctuated by a luminous pulse of lightning bugs. That night, sated by the immersive and visceral experience of Honduras, I drank a beer before falling asleep to the thrum of ecstatic fauna, a sound that will reverberate in tomorrow morning’s cup of coffee, a resonance that will extend throughout the rest of my life.

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