Thoughts on El Salvador

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

Irving farm coffee new york city liz dean el salvador

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

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

Irving farm coffee new york city liz dean el salvador

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

Irving farm coffee new york city liz dean el salvador

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

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

Irving farm coffee new york city liz dean el salvador

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

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

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

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

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

Irving farm coffee new york city liz dean el salvador

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

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

Irving farm coffee new york city liz dean el salvador

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

 

The Los Niños Experiments


los ninos experiments el salvador irving farm talnamica

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

los ninos experiments el salvador irving farm talnamica

Irving Farm’s Dan Streetman and Mayita Mendez

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

Looking Back at the 2015 World Barista Championship

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

Sasa Sestic World Barista Champion Irving Farm

Photo by Liz Clayton for Sprudge.com.

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

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

Sasa Sestic World Barista Champion Irving Farm

Photo by Liz Clayton for Sprudge.com.

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

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

Charles Babinski World Barista Championships Irving Farm

Photo by Liz Clayton for Sprudge.com.

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

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

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

Charles Babinski World Barista Championships Seattle Irving Farm

Photo by Liz Clayton for Sprudge.com.

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

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

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

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

Raaka_Talnamica

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.

lasercatjosh

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!

 

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