Meet the Regulars: Kenie (and C)

Kenie and Catherine Richards, who began their love affair at Irving Farm.

Kenie and Catherine Richards, who began their love affair at Irving Farm.

We recently learned of an Irving Farm love story from Kenie Richards, who is a regular at our 79th Street cafe and soon relocating to Seattle. We’re sad to see her go but we firmly believe, “Once a regular, always a regular.” Next time you visit one of our cafes, take a moment to look around and consider that couple chatting in the corner, or those ladies out front standing and crying over their bikes. Something extraordinary could be taking place. Good things happen over coffee…

Occupation:
Director, Content Marketing at Teach For America

Hometown:
New Port Richey, FL

Other places you think you could live:
Seattle—at least I hope I can live there. We’re moving on September 8!

Name of spouse:
Catherine Richards —I like to call her C.

Names/breed of “kids”:
We have two handsome men in our life—our sons, Sir Estherhouse and Kevin Bacon. (Both Boston Terriers. Both dapper in bow ties.)

Favorite/standard drink at Irving Farm:
My go-to drink is a simple cup of black coffee—but a drink I like to treat myself to once in a while is a soy latte, either iced or hot (depending on the season).

Item you have to resist (or treat yourself to) at Irving Farm:
Biscuits!

Do you brew at home? If so, what device/method do you use?
I’m typically a French Press girl, but I’m considering a Kalita Wave Dripper for Sunday mornings. There’s something fun about pour-overs (or maybe that’s just pop coffee culture getting to me).

Favorite non-coffee beverage:
Seltzer. (Fun fact: C’s vows included the line, “I promise to always bring you coffee in the morning and seltzer in the evening.”)

What did you do on your first date?
We met at Irving Farm on 79th Street for coffee after work—a dinner date would have been too much too soon, but coffee was just right. We hit it off almost immediately, even though I asked C if she was into zombies after she told me that she was wrapping up her PhD in Epidemiology at the time. Her answer was a quick “No,” followed by an awkward silence, in which I was convinced I had blown it.

Tell us your engagement story:
C and I are both really into bikes. Because of this, I really wanted to somehow include a bike ride in the proposal, but I also needed to get C to Irving Farm in a way that wasn’t obvious. (We had already asked permission from both sets of our parents to marry each other, so she knew it was coming.) I arranged a dinner with some friends on the UWS, and of course we biked there. On the way home, I steered us past Irving Farm on 79th, then slowed way down. I let C pass me and then called to her saying I had a flat tire. She rode up, looked at me and then at my tires, and realized there wasn’t a flat after all. Once she looked up and saw where we were, she blurted out, “Holy shit, this is happening right now isn’t it!?” I answered yes, started to cry, and pulled out a list of 33 reasons why we were perfect for each other from my pocket. (I had given her a similar list to explain why I loved her earlier in our relationship, and 33 is C’s favorite number.) After we got through the list, I pulled the ring out of my other pocket and asked her if she’d marry me. She said yes and we stood there taking pictures, crying, kissing, and hugging—all while standing over our bikes and wearing helmets. A stranger on the street had seen the whole thing and congratulated us, and it was easily the happiest moment of my life up until the day we got married.

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Wedding date/location:
We got married on May 24, 2014, at a friend’s weekend house in New Paltz, NY. When we first saw the house we couldn’t believe the view—fields, mountains, and the tower at Mohonk. We fell in love with it and the town of New Paltz, and began spending most weekends there through the winter and spring. Our friends rarely used the house anymore, and we traded house and yard work for weekends upstate.

Tell us about the food:
The food was really important to us—we wanted fresh, local food, but also variety and comfort offerings so that everyone had something good to eat no matter their preferences or palate. We ended up with the perfect caterers (Main Course based in New Paltz) who gave us a harvest table full of Hudson Valley cheeses, fruits and veggies, delicious hors d’oeuvres, and stations of food for the main dinner—comfort foods kicked up a notch (grilled cheeses and sliders made in front of you, truffle mac and cheese) and a taco station with fish, chicken, and tofu (also prepared and grilled in front of you). That was all rounded out with a salad table featuring fresh green salads, but also quinoa, beans, etc. For dessert, we did have a wedding cake and cookies, but also invited everyone around a bonfire where we all made s’mores. It was perfect. To this day, our guests tell us it was the best food they’d ever eaten at a wedding. Mission accomplished!

Photo by Prisca Edwards.

Photo by Prisca Edwards.

Side note: Our wedding favors were bags of coffee—displayed next to a sign that read “Good things happen over coffee”. We also took inspiration from the Irving Farm brand for our wedding colors—we went with white and black for most everything, tossing in a pale yellow and purple (our favorite colors) here and there. I’m detail-oriented like crazy, so I really wanted the coffee that started it all front and center, even if C and I were the only two that knew the significance!

Favorite memory from the honeymoon:
We spent two weeks in the Pacific Northwest for our honeymoon with a last stop in Seattle. I had never been there but was pretty blown away by the city almost immediately. It’s gorgeous! On our second day there, Catherine actually interviewed for a job, and when she came back a few hours later I knew the look on her face said that it went well and that she was excited. I asked her, “Are we moving to Seattle?” and she smiled and I knew.

Personality traits necessary for marriage:
Courage and patience. There is a James Baldwin quote that comes to mind—“Love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.” So, you’ve got to be willing to go all in, or you’ll never be happy. And the patience part is all about being completely willing to give up selfish habits, and to realize that not everything is on your timing any longer. It’s about staying calm in tough situations even if they lay outside of your comfort zone.

Personal heroes when it comes to successful/inspiring relationships:
Edie and Thea come to mind—their story and persistence is inspiring.

Life philosophy in one sentence:
Can I borrow a Steve Martin Quote? “Be so good they can’t ignore you.” I don’t borrow this in an arrogant way—rather, I keep it close as a reminder to keep at it (whatever it is), to be persistent, to always keep going. You can’t give up too easily or be swayed by the inevitable roadblocks in life. A line I might add—if you are that good, and you do gain attention, you’ve got to do something good with that attention. Invest it in making a difference.

Love philosophy in one sentence:
Be brave. I say this here because that’s what it takes, I think. You’ve got to be brave to be your best for that other person, you’ve got to be brave to keep trying new things together, and you have to be brave every day to love them fully even when it scares you.

Thanks, Kenie! Best of luck to you and Catherine in Seattle; we’ll miss you!

Chilling With The Pantry in Cold Spring, NY

 

The Pantry in Cold Spring New York

Coffee, to us, is about exposure. Exposure to a broad variety of cultures, flavors, people and ways of working. Our friends upstate at The Pantry in Cold Spring are right on our level: they, too, embrace the spirit of variety and community all wrapped up in the delicious flavors of every kind of beverage. We sat down with The Pantry’s Samantha Lutzer to talk about coffee, indoor cycling, popping up and what it’s like to brew in the Hudson Valley.

Tell us about the Pantry. What were you hoping to bring to the Cold Spring community?

The mid-Hudson Valley is home to many former NYC dwellers who are part of the great northern migration to the Hudson Valley. They have very demanding and discerning palates, and I knew they would appreciate handcrafted artisanal coffee. Unlike my first shop in Brooklyn, which was single roaster-oriented, I wanted to bring a library of some of my favorite roasters that I enjoyed when I lived in the city. Right now, we have eight roasters but we’ll have three new ones soon. We also have a craft beer library with over 100 types of craft beer. You can fill up our growlers with iced coffee concentrate or beer.

Craft beer at the Pantry Cold Spring New York

When did you first get interested in coffee?

Sadly, when I had my first Frappuccino in the mid-’90s. My friends in college called me the “classic reheat” because I always had a cup of coffee in my hand. I knew I loved artisanal coffee only within the last ten years, and I decided to get more serious about it when Ost Cafe opened on my corner in the East Village. And I took training classes at Intelligentsia’s training lab in SoHo.

How did a cycling studio fit into your business plan?

The Pantry is essentially the cafe adjacent to our cross-training and spinning facility. In the city, my gym was by my office. I never had the luxury of enjoying my favorite coffee shops and the gym in the same day without a lengthy commute. Total bummer. So now I can spin, get a fresh pressed juice, and then make myself an amazing cup of coffee. #livingthedream

Tell us about the other cool spot where the Pantry is popping up.

The Pantry is co-sponsoring Bazaar-on-Hudson with the Living Room, an events space on Main Street, to bring a Brooklyn Flea-style event to the mid-Hudson Valley. It features largely Hudson Valley makers, but we have some courageous NYC artisans who come up for it. We do a multi-roaster, pop-up pour over bar, and we sell our iced coffee concentrate growlers. We did a similar program for the local farmers market in the winter, exclusively with our dear friends at Irving Farm.

The Pantry Cold Spring New York Iced Irving Farm Coffee Growler

Growlers of iced Irving Farm coffee concentrate for sale by The Pantry at Bazaar on Hudson, via Instagram.

Do you really handcraft each individual cup of coffee?

At the space in Brooklyn, we handcrafted French Press, but it was challenging at times with consistency and flow. Plus, you would have a super beautiful coffee, but you can’t get a lot of range on a French Press, no matter if you do a three or four-minute brew, agitate or not agitate, clean the crema, etc. When I was opening The Pantry, I wanted to stay true to my purist ideals and only do handcrafted coffee, but I wanted to experience the coffee more. Teresa at Irving Farm understood my commitment and worked with me to find the right pour over method for our needs. We do every single cup of coffee as a pour over using flat bottom drippers, including iced coffee. I actually can’t even drink French Press or iced coffee from a Toddy enjoyably. It all tastes the same, which is a shame for how unique the coffees are.

What Irving Farm coffee are you currently most excited about?

Our community generally prefers pretty comfortable flavor profiles as pour overs, so what I am excited about is not always the same as what they are excited about. We generally get less requests for fruit-forward, brighter coffees, so we sneak them in as iced coffee or on the espresso bar so we can prove the naysayers wrong. We have had a lot of different Irving Farm coffees in all year. The chocolaty, round ones are an easy sell, but I really loved the oaky Rwanda when we had it (it destroyed as an iced pour-over), and we are currently finishing up Amaro Gayo from Ethiopia.

Anything else you want to add?

Yes, I’d love for the owners of Anthropologie to come see The Pantry. It’s my dream to have one of my stores in every one of their major urban locations.

Thank you, Samantha! See you at the Bazaar on Hudson or at your beautiful cafe very soon!

Meet the Farmers: Kathy

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Though we’re spread out across two cities, five cafes, one farmhouse roastery and one office, all of us at Irving Farm consider ourselves one big, pretty darn happy Farmily. In this new series, we’re going to introduce you to the people behind your daily cup. First up? Kathy Shapiro, who runs our Irving Farm Coffee House in Millerton, New York. Next time you’re in beautiful Dutchess County, pop in and say hello to Kathy!

Who are you?
Kathy.

How long have you been at Irving Farm?
Almost four years.

What position did you start in?
I was working at the roaster. Processing orders, packing, tasting, playing, swimming—don’t put that.

What’s your role now?
I’m the manager of the Millerton store.

What was your first coffee job?
Working at the roaster.

What’s your favorite coffee?
Of all time? The Idido Misty Valley. We used to have a Kenya that was really great with chocolate!

What do you love about Irving Farm/your role/coffee?
What I love about my role at Irving Farm is moving people to their next coffee level, as in customers. It happens a couple of times a week, someone comes in every day and gets the same thing and eventually…

How long have you been in Millerton?
20 years.

How did you get here?
I grew up in Southern Connecticut, but I was living in New York City, trying to leave the city, and slowly moved north.

When you were 5 what did you want to be when you grew up?
It was my understanding that no one had ridden a zebra and I wanted to train zebras to be ridden.

Did you ever meet a zebra?
I’ve never touched one. So meeting, no.

What do you do outside of work/coffee?
I tend my child and family and garden and knit. I have a side job where I make knitting needle cases, last fall I had a booth at the Sheep and Wool Festival.

What’s your favorite embarrassing story about David or Steve, the owners of Irving Farm?
Well I knew them personally before I worked here. I guess it’s not embarrassing, but I feel like I endlessly have to explain that they’re not a couple. That’s not embarrassing, but I don’t really have an embarrassing story. Nothing embarrasses them.

If one of our coffees was your spirit animal which one would it be? Why? How is it prepared?
When I used to come here before I worked here, I would always get the feature roast because it was different every day, and I like to mix it up. So a chameleon!

We were hoping you’d say zebra. Do you have a dream coffee job, at Irving Farm or in any other part of the coffee world?
What I do really like, and  what I like about operating a bakery here, is that we bake different things and taste them with the coffees, to see how best they pair.

The first time I drank coffee I was 25, I was living in France, working as an au pair on a brood farm [breeding horse farm]. The husband and wife both worked at home, and the children were all in school, and every day we would all have lunch together and we’d drink two bottles of wine. So I’d have to start drinking espresso so we could go tend the horses. That’s the start of a dream job!

 

Thanks, Kathy! Stay tuned for more Meet the Farmers coming soon to an Irving Farm blog space near you!

Creating a Coffee Blend With a Community at Table on Ten

Table on Ten, Bloomfield, NY. Photo by Ingalls Photography.

Table on Ten, Bloomfield, NY. Photo by Ingalls Photography.

Relationships make great coffee. From the farmers, to the roasters, specialty coffee folk speak reverently of relationship coffee, emphasizing the bonds that bring us closer to the origins of coffee. But there are relationships on the other side of the coffee economy, closer to the point of consumption. But once a coffee has reached our roasting facility the number of people directly engaged in fashioning a finished product—say, a new blend or a roast profile for instance—is limited. Most of our customers, as they come to understand more of the labor that goes into roasting, profiling, and blending, are satisfied to choose from the coffees on a cupping table. We seek out—and work best—with partners who are as dedicated to their crafts as we are to our coffees. And they treat our, now their, coffee the way they treat everything else on their menus. But now and then a special customer comes along who wants to go deeper into the process with us.

Photo by Ugo Aniukwu

Photos by Ugo Aniukwu

Our friends at Table on Ten in Bloomville, NY—who seem to have direct lines of communication not just with their local producers, but with the produce itself—are one team for whom buying great coffees was not enough. They expressed to us their desire to be more involved in the production of the coffee they feature in their cafe. And not just for themselves—they wanted the opportunity to involve their local community in the process, to get the whole town together to create a blend. We were admittedly scratching our heads at the prospect of formally presenting, judging, soliciting and recording public feedback on the half-dozen coffees being considered for a Table on Ten blend. Such exercises are usually conducted at the roastery or in our training lab, so we were a bit out of our comfort zone, but excited about the adventure nonetheless.

So, one Saturday in early October, Teresa von Fuchs and I drove out of Manhattan and north into the western Catskills, nervous, excited and uncertain about what we were getting into. Neither of us had been to Bloomville before. But what we walked into that night was one of the most immediately familiar and welcoming communities either of us have had the good fortune to be introduced to. We were greeted warmly as “the coffee people” about whom Inez and Julian had told them so much. We never expected our presence to be so celebrated as it was that weekend in Bloomville. We sat down to a dizzying array of five or six pizzas, each a different recipe, and each incredibly delicious. We shared our table with Julian’s neighbors Cay Sophie and Christian, and it wasn’t until the end of the meal that we realized Cay Sophie and Christian would also be our hosts for the night, after taking us to a bonfire, where we met more travelers who were also in the process of falling in love with this place.

Bewildered as we were by the welcome we received and by the wonderful sense of community crowded into this unassuming house on the side the road, we very quickly began to make sense of what Table on Ten was looking for when they asked if we’d help them and their town create their own coffee blend.

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In the morning we set up on a table taking up much of of the microshop/cafe and began brewing. Table on Ten’s only criteria for coffees to be considered were that they come from producers with whom we have strong relationships, and that their town tended to favor darker roasts, which reminded Inez of the coffees she grew up on. We had three coffees roasted with two different profiles and we brewed up batches of all six for any and all who ventured to taste.

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There were lots of opinions and votes and tasting notes and smells and stories of coffees shared and loved and longed for. There was a whole family who came in for breakfast after celebrating a son’s wedding the night before. There was a couple visiting from Holland. There were quite a few folks from the city who swore they’d have to move to Bloomville after spending a weekend in its thrall. After all the votes were tallied (maybe we weighted Inez and the Table’s teams input a little heavier…) we blended the remaining small bags of coffee and A3 blend was born.

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After much cleaning and shaking of hands, we set back out on the road. With tummies stuffed full of pizza, made from scratch, with ingredients grown by friends and family, baked in an oven built by hand, off tables made from the woods and falling-down barns nearby–we understood the meaning of relationships and local production to the very heart of the cafe, and were proud that our coffee had the extra touch of relationship-building tucked inside. In Bloomville we were reminded of the other beautiful of face of relationship coffee. For this and all our relationships in coffee, we are grateful to no end.

Out and About This Fall With Irving Farm

If you’ve tasted Irving Farm coffee being served at a food event, charity food event, farmer’s food event or anything in between, chances are you’ve met our Directof of Wholesale, Teresa von Fuchs. Sometime in between working directly with those who proudly brew and serve Irving Farm, and attending all of these amazing events, Teresa managed to write a little recap for us of what she’s been up to. Suddenly the rest of us feel like massive underachievers.

 

Fall in Millerton, New York

Fall in Millerton, New York

Fall is a busy time of year for us at Irving Farm. It’s a time of bounty and harvest and celebrating the ripening of all the the seeds sown during the spring and summer. Though we don’t actually ‘grow’ our coffee on our farm, we’re pleased to be invited to participate in celebrating the bounty of harvest time with our many partners and friends in the food community. Here’s a quick wrap up of the celebrations we’ve been proud to share in—and share our coffee at. We started summer off right, making coffee for the Chef Farmer Brunch, hosted by No 9 to benefit the North East Community Center in Millerton. We made Kalitas of the fruit-forward Amaro Gayo in the beautiful Silver Barn—though we missed the evening barn dance, we’ll be there next year with our boots on!

Taste of Hudson Valley Bounty

Taste of Hudson Valley Bounty

The next weekend, also near our upstate roastery, we were featured in the delicious art installation Pancakes and Coffee by one of the Wassiac Project’s founders Jeff Barnett-Winsby. The annual weekend long Summer Festival showcases work by the artists in residency at the Wassaic Project as well as other artists, musicians and dancers from the community. The same weekend we were pleased to present some delicious pourovers at the annual Taste of Hudson Valley Bounty event and meet some more of our neighbors in farming and food. All of this inspired us to host one of our own events: in September we held our first coffee launch party, featuring the Ortiz Herrera and Mendez families and their coffees, Natamaya and Talnamica, at our 79th street cafe. There were specialty Salvadorian snacks, lots of coffee and wonderful family.

Harvest in the Square 2013

Harvest in the Square 2013

The next night we made merry with our longtime neighbors around Union Square at the Union Square Partnership’s annual Harvest in the Square. One of the first neighborhood-based tasting events in the city, Harvest in the Square connects the farmers of the city’s many farmers’ markets with the chefs and food artisans who use their beautiful produce and other foods. We felt right at home making coffee for the crowd of 1,000 attendees, vendors and volunteers on a beautiful night in Union Square, just around the way from our flagship cafe at 71 Irving Place. Irving Farm coffee was also fuel for the the James Beard Chef Bootcamp at Glynwood. Attendees enjoyed 71 Irving House Blend during the course of the conference and then selected coffees from some of our closest farm relationships to close out the chef’s signature meals of the final evening.

G9 Summit at Blue Hill at Stone Barns. Photo by Kirra Cheers.

G9 Summit at Blue Hill at Stone Barns. Photo by Kirra Cheers.

We were also honored to be invited by Blue Hill Chef Dan Barber to this year’s G9 (now G11) summit held at Stone Barns. One hundred and twenty chefs, seed breeders and journalists from the around the world were invited to a day of discussion at Stone Barns about “The Future of Flavor.” We were there to keep the crowd energized and delighted with the unique and varied flavors of coffees. We selected coffees from our offerings that showcased a range of varietals, processing methods and terroirs, and the quality and variety of our coffee selection was not missed by the audience.

Fast forward to later that same week and we sent a cadre of Irving Farmers to the annual MANE conference in Pawtucket, RI. Our team taught and attended classes and ruled the dance floor—and I was honored to present on the “How Did You Get Here?” panel, revealing the secrets of how I got where I am today (in coffee—not dance moves).

Kai holding down the fort at Taste of Gramercy.

Kai holding down the fort at Taste of Gramercy.

This fall also marked the inaugural Taste of Gramercy event, held on a beautiful sunday in October on our home turf of Irving Place. We mingled with Gramercy Tavern, Casa Mono and many of our well-known neighbors and met some new ones at well. That same day (!) we packed up our brewing gear and headed out to the Catskills to work with our partners at Table on Ten in Bloomville, NY on a blend that represents their community-driven spirit. We brewed three coffees, each roasted with two different expressions and gave tasting flights all day to anyone and everyone who stopped in. We then created a blend with the two coffees that received the warmest receptions and played best together. We were also so warmed by their community. Everyone made us feel right at home.

It was hard to leave, but we were welcomed back to the Hudson Valley to kick off Hudson Valley Restaurant Week! This is our second year as the official coffee sponsor and we were pleased as punch to spend the day brewing coffee at the Millbrook Winery and warming our bellies with veggie stew from Chef Eric Gabrynowicz of Restaurant North. And so we wrapped up the exciting season appropriately—at our upstate home in Dutchess County. It was our first year at this event and we were struck by how beautiful and bountiful and far-reaching our community is. As fall winds down into the holiday season we are most thankful for our fellow families of artisan producers and lovers of tasty things grown and crafted by hand!

Farm to Farm Interview: Madava Farms’ Jacob Griffin

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Crown Maple and Madava Farms’ Jacob Griffin

 

In this first in a series of interviews by Irving Farm to the brilliant food and drink professionals we work in partnership with, we take a minute with Jacob Griffin, chef and Man Behind The Farm Stand at our Dutchess County, NY neighbors Crown Maple and Madava Farms.

 

Tell us about the Farm Stand at Madava Farms, and how it fits in with Crown Maple?
The Farm Stand at Madava Farms is our Café and visitor hub at the Sugarhouse. It is open year-round on weekends for lunch, tours, nature walks, private dinners and many other activities. I prepare a weekly menu utilizing our farm produce and other ingredients grown by local farms in the Hudson Valley.

The forests at Madava Farms produce our quality Crown Maple Syrup. When the sap stops running, the rest of the forest & farm come alive. We grow our own produce for The Farm Stand in our 6.5-acre chef’s garden. And just like our syrup, we work hard to produce unique and high quality fresh produce and turn it into great tasting food.

 

How did you get started in the food and beverage industry?
Like many chef stories begin, I was always cooking up my own creations at home as a child. However, mine began in the northern state of Alaska where the growing season is extremely short and the main entrée for many families is a moose-roast.

My first food and beverage position was for a catering company working front of the house my first year of college. It wasn’t long that I moved to the kitchen and started mixing baked goods and prepping food for our large events. The chef there pulled me aside one day and recommended I consider changing my major and going to culinary school.

With the help of my best friend, I applied and was accepted at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. This is where I began a career which opened up many amazing opportunities for this Alaskan.

 

What are you most excited about/interested in about what you guys are doing at Crown Maple and the Farm Stand?
At Madava Farms, I get to combine my two favorite things: sweets and local fresh produce. For many, sweets and veggies don’t always go together right away, but our maple syrup is the perfect natural sweet balancer. And better, the veggies come from our own garden right outside of our sugarhouse. If I run out of thyme or basil, I grab some shears and head out to the garden.

 

How does coffee fit into your menu?
Coffee fits in two ways: it is the last taste and aroma the guest experiences from a farm-fresh meal. The cup must be well-balanced, flavorful and leave your palate fresh and light in order to ensure a great meal.

Second is my Crown Maple Latte. It is perfect marriage of quality espresso & great maple syrup. I serve just as many maple lattes as I do coffees during the sugaring season.

I love using Irving Farm because they share the same characteristics we have for our syrup and food: sustainability, high quality standards and support of local businesses.

 

What coffee are you currently serving?
This season I selected the Santa Isabel – Guatemala. I chose this coffee because of its fresh earthiness in the aroma and aftertaste. It pairs well with our use of farm-fresh ingredients. I am also one of those people who can smell some of the oddest things in coffee, and this particular origin, I love the subtle taste of pumpkin seeds and multi-grains.

 

Thank you, Chef Griffin!

A Field Trip to Millerton

We couldn’t truly bridge the gap between the country and the city without interchange of ideas between our New York City cafes and the farmhouse roasting operations upstate in Millerton. We recently sent a field trip of lead baristas, including Liz Dean, from the big city up to Dutchess County to get some hands-on education in what it takes to bring amazing coffee to Hudson Valley, New York City, and beyond. Here are Liz’s impressions from our farm.

The team learning about roasting. Photo by Miguel Rios.

City kids learning about farmhouse roasting. Photo by Tamara Vigil.

 

Most of us who live in cities are far removed from the processes that go into producing what we consume, thanks in part to globalization and the industrialization of agriculture. While that’s widely considered an important and integral part of our societal development, this disconnect also creates a chasm in terms of understanding where and how our food—and in this case, our coffee—comes from. Which means, ultimately, that it can be hard to fully appreciate how much time, energy and love go into producing the cup of coffee you order in the morning and sip, bleary-eyed, as you set out for work.

In order to try and close the gap for our customers, a team of Irving Farm’s lead baristas—myself included—headed out to the farm where we roast our coffee, in Millerton, New York, just an easy two-hour train ride from the city. The purpose of our trip was to connect—or really, to reconnect—our work as baristas, to the work that goes into producing the coffee we serve.

We departed early from Grand Central Terminal—stopping for coffee at our location there, amid the rush of morning commuters, stern in their suits, and the hordes of teenaged European tourists all in matching T-shirts—and arrived at the expansive greenery of the Hudson Valley countryside.

Our roastmaster Clyde Miller greeted us at the train station in his pickup and drove us out to the farm. The actual roasting facilities are inside a renovated barn, and from the outside you’d have no idea what kind of wizardry and science was happening within those walls.

At the farm, Dan Streetman gave us a brief talk on the four phases of roasting, explaining how each of the phases affected the coffee physically and chemically in the process, and how they would affect the way the coffee ultimately tasted.

One of Dan’s jobs at Irving Farm is to select the coffees Irving Farm buys and roasts. He gets sent bags of sample coffees from all over the world, and he conducts small “sample” roasts to determine whether the coffee is something we’d like to carry. Dan let us choose from these bags of samples so that we would have a chance to roast coffee on our own, using the sample roaster.

I selected a bag of coffee from Yemen, only because I’d never had Yemeni coffee before. Some of the other baristas selected their sample coffee based on varietal, or processing style. Dan showed us how to roast on the sample roasters: how to let air in and out of the roaster to either quicken or slow the speed of roasting, and how to adjust the flame in order to control the temperature.

Roastmaster Clyde deep in thought. Photo by Miguel Rios.

Roastmaster Clyde deep in thought. Photo by Miguel Rios.

Much like in cooking or baking, there is an important balance between time and temperature—and there’s a line at which something becomes “overdone” and, regardless of the quality to begin with, not nearly as tasty as it could’ve been. Nearly all of Irving Farm’s coffees are roasted to the “sugar browning” phase, or what’s commonly considered a “medium roast”. Quite a few coffees in the world—and many that are used for espresso—make it all the way past “second crack” into the dry distillation phase (where it’s then considered a “dark roast”), and it’s in that territory that not very good coffee can be masked by the darkness of the roast, and where quality coffee can easily lose its more subtle flavors. When Dan and Clyde develop profiles for the coffees we roast, they find the right combination of measurements of time and temperature in order to draw out and produce a particular coffee’s best qualities. A lot of our coffees are light to medium roasts because they’ve found that those roasts are best at highlighting a coffee’s most outstanding features. The process is both an art and a science of precision.

Under Dan’s instructions, I monitored my little sample coffee carefully, checking the color of the beans with a long-handled spoon—listening for the “first crack”, almost like the sound of popcorn popping—and let it roast a little longer before quickly dumping it out to cool. Cooling is an important part of the process—once the coffee reaches its desired roast, it’s important to stop the roasting process at that point immediately. The whole process doesn’t take much more than 10 minutes, but it feels like a lot of work.

And yet, meanwhile, just steps away from me, Clyde goes about his business for the day, filling orders for the stores and for our wholesale accounts, roasting much larger quantities of coffee in the big Diedrich roaster and checking the process carefully on the computer, using data plotted out as a line graph to indicate the coffee’s roast profile. Later, Dan and Clyde will conduct cuppings to taste the coffees they’ve roasted in order to ensure consistency and quality.

Sample roaster at the farm. Photo by Miguel Rios.

Sample roaster at the farm. Photo by Miguel Rios.

The painstaking level of detail that goes into every step of this process is staggering. At the end of the day, holding a small bag of only a few ounces of coffee that I’d roasted felt like an accomplishment, and so to glance around the barn at the 100lb bags of coffee waiting to be roasted, or the huge bins of freshly roasted coffee, or the retail bags awaiting shipment, really drove home just how much energy and time went into the process of making coffee.

The next morning at work, I watched the caramel-colored drip of espresso into a cup and marveled at how small it seemed, how little there was to show for how much had gone into its production. It was kind of grounding, really, to be so aware of the fact that the coffee I held in my hand was simply the final step in a long process of changing hands, and of changing forms… from farm, to farm, to cup.

Having the chance to really experience this process firsthand lends a kind of beauty and honor to what otherwise seems like an ordinary ritual of having a cup of coffee in the morning before you start your day.