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!

Meet The Farmers: Liz Dean

Meet the Farmers Liz Dean Irving Farm

Irving Farm’s John Henry Summerour sits down with Liz Dean, Manager of our 79th Street cafe, to discuss nature, coffee, crime, education and life.

There seems to be a formative experience in Liz Dean’s childhood, a distant memory not pinned down by a specific date or singular event, but one that exists in a dream state, floating along the liquid timeline that links one’s birth to the moment when life gets colored in with bolder lines and harder edges. Liz was born in Albuquerque, NM, where she lived until she was 6 years old. Her early childhood memories are dotted with green chiles, mountain hikes, hot air balloon festivals and hard rains, after which the toads would sing into the night as worms slowly rose to the earth’s surface. Her mom would take Liz and her sister into the backyard where they’d collect worms and feed them to the hungry toads. This connection to nature, its structures and systems, the unspoken order of things, established a lifelong relationship to curiosity and discovery.

Meet the Farmers Liz Dean Irving Farm

Liz is a seeker, which is easy to understand when you consider her father’s vivid trajectory, both personal (born in Pittsburgh; lived in Lexington, MA; moved to New Mexico; studied at Tulane and Cornell) and professional (stockbroker, corporate lawyer, yoga instructor, contributing writer for Feminism & Religion). Her practical nature might be passed down from her mother, a book designer at Columbia University Press, who was raised by immigrant parents escaping North Korea and settling in Missouri—at the suggestion of an American colonel—where they reared seven children.

Meet the Farmers Liz Dean Irving Farm

When Liz moved from New Mexico to Ithaca, the worms and toads were replaced by crayfish and neighboring forests inhabited by Romanian and Polish farmers who would catch rabbits with their bare hands to share with Liz and her sister. Conversation in the Dean household circled around philosophy, spirituality and the social responsibility of privilege, while the rooms bustled with dogs, cats, guinea pigs, birds, frogs (one of which is still living and nearly 20-years-old) and a diaper-wearing duck that was in love with their 120 lb German Shepherd. She started riding horses and participating in eventing. She began drinking coffee in high school because that’s what adults did. Her determination to achieve led her to the hallowed campus of Mount Holyoke where she majored in Sociology and Philosophy. It was at Rao’s Coffee, in the Holyoke library atrium (modeled after the Medici Library in Florence, Italy), that she began to understand coffee as a meeting ground, a tool for discussion and debate, an experience that is linked to community and aesthetics as much as flavor.

Her ideals brought her to New York City to participate in the Teach For America program where she led high school ESL classes for two years, but after she was asked to give passing grades to absentee students just to keep them moving through the system (among many other institutional compromises which prioritized numbers over learning) the disillusionment proved too great. Liz began walking dogs in an effort to simplify her life and reconnect to a love of animals. Two of her clients, a pit bull and a Bernese Mountain puppy, lived in Gramercy Park, and even though she was walking up to eight dogs, she was having trouble making ends meet. A friend recommended that she check out 71 Irving Place for good coffee, and she quickly developed a ritual of ordering a small coffee and bagel with butter which would constitute her breakfast and lunch for the day. It wasn’t long before she heard they were hiring…

Meet the Farmers Liz Dean Irving Farm

It’s not unusual for customers to cross the line and start working behind the counter, nor is it odd for your average barista to possess countless stories and complex histories as she crafts your drink. What’s unusual is that the coffee industry is no longer a pit stop for people who are trying to figure out the next step. Liz is now managing our 79th Street cafe where she’s vigilant about sourcing local, quality ingredients. She attends community board meetings to create a bike lane on Amsterdam Avenue. She travels to barista competitions all over the country. She even helps one of her regulars by walking his dog. Most unexpectedly, she recently worked with the NYPD to apprehend neighborhood thieves, going above and beyond her duties as the manager of a coffee shop.

Sometimes life can seem like a collection of disparate puzzle pieces, lacking a cohesive or linear structure, but Liz’s journey is the embodiment of existence as a work in progress, each experience informing the next, the collective whole reflecting a deep engagement with exploration and the application of lessons learned.

Meet the Farmers Liz Dean Irving Farm

This summer she was sitting outside the cafe taking a break from payroll, and for a moment she looked off, quietly considering a thought, and then she said, “I like to feel like I’m part of something,” calling to mind the image of her pinching those wet, wriggling bodies and extending them to the open, croaking mouths in that New Mexico night, making a direct link to the substance of life, the song of survival.

Meet the Farmers: Ugo

MeettheFarmersUgo

 

Who are you?
I’m Ugo. They call me Google, sometimes… only sort of endearingly.

How long have you been at Irving Farm?
In one capacity or another, I’ve been here a little over four years.

What position did you start in?
I was first hired to work behind the counter at 56 Seventh Ave—a cafe that we closed a couple years ago—making sandwiches. I trained to become a barista but never made it full time. Let’s just say that, at that time, you wouldn’t have wanted me on the espresso machine during a morning rush hour on Seventh Avenue. I wouldn’t have cut it.

But you could cut sandwiches in half! What’s your role now?
More recently, I’ve taken on the role of Director of Technology. Here, at least, that’s an over-glorified computer geek. I’m the person most willing to take on the computer headaches around the company. I guess I’m the person, also, who—probably most annoyingly—brings up all the new gadgets and apps and new ways of doing things that I’d like everybody to try out. Yup. That’s me! But seriously, my workdays are mostly spent planning, upgrading, and maintaining the IT infrastructure across all the Irving Farm locations. Given the various wholesale and retail operations of the company, I get to work on a really wide range of projects, and in several different environments. It’s been especially cool to work with Steve and Muffin in the building and renovations of Irving Farm cafes. Over the course of about a year-and-a-half, after closing up shop on Seventh Avenue, the company expanded its retail presence from one cafe to five. In that same time frame, we also executed a complete rebranding of the company and rolled out a new website. Irving Farm has changed drastically, over the past few years. So, my primary responsibility has been to make sure that Irving Farm’s technological capabilities (i.e., all the things) keep up with all of the company’s changing needs. It’s been great having such variety in my work here, and it’s great having a hand in providing for experiences that people tend to love.

What was your first coffee job?
I worked for a small cafe back home in Alabama, for maybe a year. I think we bought coffee from some Seattle roaster. At the time, my palate could only discern the difference between coffees from Starbucks, Krispy Kreme, and Dunkin Donuts. The term “specialty coffee” wasn’t really in my lexicon. So, I can’t really comment on the quality of coffee we served, but it was a great little mom and pop shop.

What’s your favorite coffee right now?
We just got a new crop of the Amaro Gayo, that s— is delicious!

What’s your favorite way to prepare it?
Iced pour over! It’s better than iced tea + lemonade on a hot summer day. But maybe I’ve just been away from Alabama for too long…

What do you love about Irving Farm or your role?
I’ve loved being able to sort of define a role, and be a part of a company that’s growing and willing and able to do new things. It’s not just trying to remain what it is, what it has been. And I guess the first year or so that I was with the company I could definitely see that big things were going to happen–I just couldn’t really tell how or when. Since things really kicked into high gear over the last couple years, it’s been pretty demanding. With exciting things on so many horizons, there’s always lots to do. It’s been great to be part of that, and part of an organization that’s not just trying to roll out cookie cutter cafes and coffee.

Also, Irving Farm is the most diverse place that I’ve worked. When I was a kid, I wanted to live in New York City to be immersed in the most diverse mix of people in the country. That remains a priority for me, and Irving Farmers really represent a broad range of ages, ethnicities, genders…basically, we represent the whole spectrum here. Irving Farm has always felt like a company with opportunities for everyone. Steve and David lead the team with that openness. And everyone here really is much more interested in who’s willing to help build things and get the job done than in who someone is and where someone comes from. Irving Farm’s diversity is probably one of its more unsung virtues.

When you were 5 what did you want to be when you grew up?
Probably a firefighter, like every other kid, because that s— is cool! Other than that, from relatively early on, I really liked drawing things, and I always had an idea that I would design things. I was always drawing cars and soccer cleats. I didn’t really know what a design or a designer was when I was five. But I guess if I could retroactively articulate what I geeked out about most back then, I would’ve thought I’d be doing something in the world of product design. In fact, my mom recently reminded me that I used to daydream about biomedical engineering and designing prosthetic limbs. I guess I’ve always been a geek for new technology. I was a very hands-on kid.

What do you do outside of work/coffee?
I’ve played soccer all my life. Liverpool is a little like church for me. In fact, it’s about time for my quadrennial month-long sabbatical… I also love riding bikes, and I try to go camping as much as possible. My partner and I would probably live in the woods pretty much full-time, if we could both work from a remote “office.” The city’s great, too, of course. It’s an endless—and exhausting—source of fun. And there’s great coffee seemingly everywhere these days. That can’t be taken for granted… although, I know this question was about not-coffee.

What’s your favorite embarrassing story about David or Steve?
Weirdly enough, I can’t really recall stories that are embarrassing for Steve and David. They’re pretty easygoing dudes, even in seemingly stressful situations. But I know some stories that are a bit embarrassing for me. I’ll try to keep it short and sweet with this one: I mentioned at the beginning a royal they who sometimes call me Google. That’s meant much less as a compliment than as a reminder that with most new ideas, I’m probably flying solo in my enthusiasm for experimenting with new tech in new approaches to our work. Probably my first big undertaking that affected everyone across the company was leading Irving Farm to go Google a few years ago. Sure, Google Apps wasn’t really new technology then. By that time, there were still a number of people in the company whom I hadn’t yet met in person. But I sure got familiar really quickly with everyone via feedback on the new services—or, as they probably referred to them, the new headaches. Everyone eventually got around the learning curve with the new apps. And I had to quickly get around the learning curve of providing personalized, and often in-person, tech support for a whole organization, albeit a small organization. Nowadays, everyone’s been collaborating via the core suite of apps for the past few years as naturally as though they’d been using them all along. Overall, it’s been a big win for Irving Farm. So, I guess I don’t mind the nickname.

If one of our coffees was your spirit animal which one would it be? Why? How is it prepared?
Rainforest Foundation Project, just because it’s a cool initiative. The blend was born out of a connection David has to the Foundation in the US, and the intention behind it is to draw attention and support to the protection of the environments from which the coffees in the blend come to us. The last time we were camping, we were drinking Rainforest Foundation Project brewed on a stainless Kalita dripper under a torrential downpour of rain and talking about jaguars in the Amazon—it was a very rain-themed camping trip.

Do you have a dream coffee job, at Irving Farm or in any other part of the coffee world?
As confusing and challenging as it has been doing what I’ve been doing for the past couple years, I’ve only come to like it more and more. The only ways to make it better would be to have more resources and more of a team behind the technology side of the business. It’s not that there’s anything particular to coffee to which technology lends itself. Most small businesses that are trying to grow right now can definitely avail themselves of more technologies that can allow them to work more efficiently and less expensively. It would be great to have more time and resources to figure out really excellent solutions for a lot more of the work that goes on throughout the company. Those are things I like to solve—those seemingly small efficiency problems that add up to big gains. While I’m not very efficient with so many things around here—remember, you don’t want me on an espresso machine in the middle of a rush—I really love observing the way everything works together and helping to improve processes wherever I can.

What’s your favorite treat at the stores?
I’m really happy we started carrying almond milk. I’m lactose intolerant, so I drink almond cappuccinos all the time now! We also have really great producers throughout the company. So it seems the cafes always have new treats to try that are made in-house. There’s currently a tie for my favorite: it’s between Faryl’s spicy hot chocolate brownie, a relative newcomer, and the o.g. face-sized crispy rice treat. Pair either of those with a coffee, and I’m set!

Meet the Farmers: Amarys

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Amarys

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. Please meet the talented Amarys, who knows this company inside and out.

Who are you?
Amarys!

How long have you been at Irving Farm?
It’ll be 8 years in July!

What position did you start in?
I was a dishwasher on Sundays in the summer when I had to work from 9am til closing, which was around 11pm.

What’s your role now?
Manager at our Grand Central Terminal cafe.

What was your first coffee job?
Irving Farm has been my one and only employer.

What’s your favorite coffee right now? Of all time?
My fave coffee right now is Luis Rivera Colombia. Too bad it was gone so fast!

What do you love about Irving Farm/your role/coffee?
I love the diversity of the company, so many people from different walks of life!

Had you ever heard of Millerton before?
No way, but now I LOVE Millerton. It is so beautiful. Definitely would end up at that town or something like it in my future.

When you were 5 what did you want to be when you grew up?
A ballerina or Veterinarian.

What do you do outside of work/coffee?
There’s life after work? Haha! I like to read & spend time with my family especially my puppy Cady!

Cady the Dog

Cady the Dog

If one of our coffees was your spirit animal which one would it be?
Why? How is it prepared? My spirit animal would be a She Wolf, like Shakira. I would say Luis Rivera is like Shakira, cos they are both from Colombia!

Do you have a dream coffee job, at Irving Farm or in any other part of the coffee world?
My dream job is to open my own café, or to help open cafes for other people (including designing cos I love doing that.) This might sound super cheesy but I don’t care! I would say that I am kind of living my dream job because of all the opportunities I’ve gotten working at Irving Farm. I am happy to say that in the last 8 years I have worked at every one of our locations (except for 52 Irving cos I was too young to work when it was at that location!) I hope to continue to help Irving Farm open more cafes in the future.

Meet the Farmers: Mario

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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. This week? Mario, who works at Irving Farm headquarters in Manhattan.

Who are you?

I’m Batman. I’m the controller, I’m the money guy.

How long have you been at Irving Farm?

Since the beginning of time, essentially. Back when time started in ’97.

What position did you start in?

I started as a dishwasher at 52 Irving place.

What’s your role now?

After being dishwasher I started working the counter, I did shift leading, I did assistant manager, once we went into [the space at 71 Irving Place] I did the whole barista thing before there was a “barista thing” I did the register, I did the sandwiches. Dave was doing the finances by himself back when it was only 71, and the wholesale was starting to get started, and I started part-time working at the office to help him with 71. As it went on, I just started working more, fuller time, and now we’re five cafes deep and growing.

What was your first coffee job?

This one. Before, odd jobs, mostly. I washed cars, I waited tables, I did construction.

What’s your favorite coffee?

Whatever Tam’s making!

What do you love about Irving Farm/your role/coffee?

That’s a heavy question, but, what’s not to like? I feel like I know the company inside and out, it’s awesome, I have fun at what I do. And what’s not to like about the coffee, especially when Tam’s making her competition drinks and you’ve got grade-A cappuccinos coming. WHAT! I’m heavy into the quality control and barista judging. That’s part of what the controller does.

Had you ever heard of Millerton?

Nope. I’d never heard of gourmet coffee before I worked at 52 Irving. I thought that whole gourmet coffee and “high-end” coffee was whaaaaat? Starbucks wasn’t even big back then, that was as bougie as my coffee experience got.

When you were 5 what did you want to be when you grew up?

Batman. Actually I wanted to be Bruce Wayne.

What do you do outside of work/coffee?

This is going on the internet? No comment.
I hang out with my son little Mario! That’s definitely my top thing when I’m not here. I like to have fun.

Who controls the office radio?
For the most part, me. I tend to get here first and crank it on, I try to keep it on shuffle so a little bit of everything comes up. Maybe not shuffled enough. We’ll have to talk to Pandora about that.

What’s your favorite embarrassing story about David or Steve, the owners of Irving Farm?

I can’t put that on the interwebs either. I’m not answering that.

If one of our coffees was your spirit animal which one would it be? Why? How is it prepared?

The Colombian SUPREMO!!!!!!

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?

I like to think I’d be running my own place, making my own moves. A topless cafe? By which I mean no lids. It’s more environmental. I’m all about the green.

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

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!