Irving Farm Texas Takeover: A Dan Streetman Barista Getaway

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meet the Farmers: Ugo

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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!

Honduras Trip with 71 Irving Place’s John Summerour

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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We’re off to the Races at the United States Barista Championship!

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Coffee stories may start at the farm, but those aren’t the only adventures we love in this industry. This week, we’re packing our bags (and demitasses!) in excitement for an annual gathering of coffee fans and pros in Seattle, Washington: the United States Barista Championship.

This competition pits the best of the best in the nation against one another in a battle of espresso-based deliciousness. Baristas will compete in front of a panel of tasting and technical judges to prepare the nation’s best espresso, cappuccino and signature drink creations, all vying for the chance to become the United States Barista Champion and compete representing the United States of America in the World Barista Championship this June in Rimini, Italy.

Tamara Vigil, who works out of our Manhattan headquarters as our Coffee Educator, is one of the best things that ever happened to us. Her enthusiasm and coffee smarts have raised the game for everyone who works at, and brews coffee roasted by, Irving Farm. She’ll be competing with one of our favorite coffees from Ethiopia, and you can catch her contagious charm (and see serious skills) online next week at the official USBC website at 7:28 PM EST, this Friday, April 25, at this live-streaming link!

What’s more, we’re sending other members of the Farmily, like coffee director Dan Streetman, Teresa von Fuchs and Liz Dean, to volunteer at the competition as judges—and, well, when Tamara is competing, as cheerleaders.

We hope you’ll join us in cheering on Irving Farm—and the whole world of specialty coffee—as we celebrate the professionals who deliver the message of truly wonderful coffee through their talent and passion.

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.

Coffee Travel Diaries: Winter 2014 Part II

We would never let Irving Farm’s Coffee Director, Dan Streetman, visit so many of the beautiful farms with whom we have relationships without promising to write home about it. Here is his second of two travel diaries from his recent winter harvest trip to Central America.

Panchito and Dan looking over the green coffee. Photo by Dan Streetman.

Panchito and Dan looking over the green coffee. Photo by Mayita Mendez.

Day 5:
It has been a great visit. I just spent the whole evening with Panchito of Los Plantanares and we shared our whole life stories, and discussed why we are working so hard. His story is exceptionally inspirational. I also got to watch him de-pulp some coffee, and learn more about how he is processing at his house. I am also really excited because the coffee is exceptional this year.

I also spent about an hour at the house of Jose Luis of Los Lirios today learning about what has happened this year. His coffee is also very good again this year.

The best news, they both have more coffee for us!

Jose Luis. Photo by Dan Streetman.

Jose Luis. Photo by Mayita Mendez.

Yesterday and Saturday I spent cupping looking for our lot from the co-op, and also tasting the coffees from Pancho and Jose Luis. Today, I selected 3 lots for our blend, and our container should probably arrive mid-April, if everything goes well.

The co-op here is continuing to make a lot of improvements, and they have started many new projects to help the producers here control the costs of managing their farms. This is especially important with Roya, because they need to apply a spray every 25 days to keep it under control. The co-op has initiated a program so that they can make these organic sprays in the co-op and reduce the costs of the products. It is really fascinating, especially because most of what they are doing is taking things that are normally treated as trash, and turning them into things that have positive benefits for the farms. Bones, coffee pulp, wood ash, etc… they are all being converted into different types of fertilizers, etc.

It was especially evident at Pancho’s farm that it takes a lot of work to control the Roya. His neighbor has not been working his farm, and it is completely destroyed. Whereas Pancho is working hard, and his farm looks very healthy.

Tomorrow, on to Costa Rica.

Day 6:
We left the Las Capucas farm at 9am and proceeded to Santa Rosa to visit the dry mill, where they prepare the coffee for export. This year they have installed a new line that allows them to run only micro-lots. This is great news, as we will not have to wait to receive our coffee. In the past, it has caused a lot of problems to do the small lots, because it takes the same amount of time to do 20 bags as 275, so we get put at the end of the line to keep their larger customers happy.

Now this is no longer a problem. Afterwards, we proceeded to the airport for the 1 hour flight to Costa Rica. We arrived early, and everything was looking good until we hit traffic and our 2 hour trip to Tarrazu, turned into 3 hours. They were waiting for us at the wet mill of Candelilla but sadly they had already finished processing for the night. We had a quick dinner and went to bed.

This morning, we toured the wet mill and learned about the 5 different processes they do here. Natural, Honey, Semi-Washed, Mechanically Washed, and Traditionally Washed. They use Traditionally Washed the least, as it uses too much water (they ferment in water here, as opposed to dry in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala). Afterward, we walked up to see where they have planted some Geisha, and SL-28 varieties. We tasted the SL-28 and Geisha cherries against the Caturra and Catuai, and the difference is incredible. Geisha tastes like Jasmine tea, and SL-28 tastes like peaches.

After that, we had lunch…and then it was time to pick. Surprisingly it is cooler in the afternoon here, as they get a lot of afternoon shade being on the Eastern side of the mountain. They gave me a basket and had me pick… I only managed to pick $2 worth of cherry in 2 hours. About 1/3 of what their best pickers do. Picking is pretty hard work, and I kept getting attacked by ants who didn’t want me to take away their sweet fruit clusters.

We finished picking, and went to take a break and have some coffee, however a local station was doing a piece on the mill/family and they interviewed me about what I think is so impressive about Candelilla. Then we talked with Marcia, the mill administrator, about the history of the Mill. She told us that Candelilla is called that because there are many fireflies there, which are called Candelilla here.

Marcia on La Candelilla. Photo by Dan Streetman.

Marcia on La Candelilla. Photo by Mayita Mendez.

The mill is owned cooperatively by Marcia’s family—nine siblings, who each have farms. The Candelilla we buy is a collection from all of the farms (and has some of all the varieties, but is mostly Caturra & Catuai). The family is really cool, we picked with one of the brothers, Mario, and have met at least half of them all now. I have never been on a farm/mill before where the family members are actually doing many of the jobs…. (Picking, turning coffee on the patio, cleaning the mill, etc.)

Next came unloading, and de-pulping all the coffee. It was nearly dusk when we started, and we had to count how much coffee was in each truckload. Afterwards we got some photos of the coffee being de-pulped and transported to the patios. Everything picked today was processed as honey process.

We had dinner with the family at their house, and turned in for the night.

Bikes + Coffee with Red Hook Crit’s David Trimble

 

Bikes + Coffee at 88 Orchard

Photos by David Trimble

 

We’re kicking off this season with a race!

Spring may be struggling to find its footing in New York, but we have friends—and some friendly cut-throat competition—to keep us warm. This Saturday, March 29, 2014, we’ll be at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal with coffee and snacks to fuel racers and spectators at the seventh iteration of the Red Hook Criterium. This year is the first time there will be a separate women’s race, and there will also be men’s and women’s 5k foot races. Lots of action all around!

Earlier this week, we met at 88 Orchard with race organizer David Trimble and one of this year’s first-time RHC participants, Michael Biastoch of Germany. Although there’s still much to do as the race nears, David had a moment to share with us his thoughts on how RHC got started and on the beautiful relationship between coffee and bikes. Check out the conversation, below.

Red Hook Crit's David Trimble with competitor Michael Biastoch at 88 Orchard

RHC’s David Trimble with competitor Michael Biastoch at 88 Orchard

Bikes + Coffee at 88 Orchard with Red Hook Crit competitor Michael Biastoch

Competitor Michael Biastoch with IFCR’s Ugo Aniukwu at 88 Orchard

 


Bikes + Coffee: Our conversation with David Trimble

Tell us about Trimble Racing + the Red Hook Criterium?

Trimble Racing encompasses all of my family’s activity in cycling. My father and (many) siblings all ride and race bikes. We have competed all over the world on many different formats of racing (alleycats, downhill, cross country, road, track, etc). Under the Trimble Racing name I have organized races in Alaska and The Catskills in addition to the RHC. The Red Hook Criterium is a race I first organized in 2008 as part of my birthday party. Since then it has grown into what it is today.

How did you get started in the cycling industry?

My father and uncle were frame builders who invented the modern carbon monocoque frame. Their bikes have won world championships and Olympic Gold medals. I have been around cycling my entire life.

What got you interested in great coffee? And what made you want to have great coffee at your events?

The Red Hook Crit is held at the end of March when it is cold and windy. Qualifying starts in the afternoon with the main races at night. It is a long, long day. We start setting up at 6am. Spectators, volunteers, and athletes need a good warm cup of coffee to keep themselves moving.

What connection do you see between coffee and cycling?

Riding bikes makes you tired. Drinking coffee makes you feel better. The correlation is very strong. Almost every cyclist I know is obsessed with coffee.

Do you have any funny coffee-related stories?

It is always funny speaking to Europeans who are convinced good coffee doesn’t exist in America. Coffee may be consistently better in Italy but the absolute best cup can be found in New York.

 


We wish Michael and all of the competitors the best of luck this weekend. And we hope to see you at the crit. Admission is free for spectators, so check the rest of the details at redhookcrit.com to make sure you don’t miss all the fun!

Remember to come see us at the sidelines near the start and finish line for hot cups of our Monte Cristo, BrazilLa Bendicion, Nicaragua, and of course espressos and macchiatos made with our signature Blackstrap Espresso. Go bikes and coffee!

Meet the Farmers: Mario

script_banner_610pxMario

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!

Coffee Travel Diaries: Winter 2014

We would never let Irving Farm’s Coffee Director, Dan Streetman, visit so many of the beautiful farms with whom we have relationships without promising to write home about it. Here is his first of two coffee travel diaries from his recent winter harvest trip to Central America.

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El Salvador. Photo by Dan Streetman.

 

Day 1: Arrive Santa Isabel
I arrived in Guatemala today, and had lunch with Alex Keller, owner of the Santa Isabel farm, and his brother. I have been learning a lot about their family history. We also made a brief stop at ANACAFE, which is the national association of coffee growers. They have a lot of tools for coffee growers, and was very cool to see.

We arrived at the Santa Isabel farm around 5pm tonight, and took a quick tour of the nursery and the mill before it got dark. They are mostly done with harvest but still processing a little bit of cherry.

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Coffee being dried at Santa Isabel. Photo by Dan Streetman.

Alex and I spent the whole day walking the farm, and he was showing me the effects of Roya. They have been really struggling to keep it under control. He is trying many different things with the soil to try and fight it. I saw all of their composting processes, and some other things they are working on. However they, also believe that they need to move towards rust-resistant varieties to fight the infection.

We did a cupping in the afternoon, and 2 of the rust-resistant varieties cupped out ok, but still about .5 to 1 point lower than the coffee that is being shipped to us this year. I am hoping that we can work with Alex to find a solution, so that we can preserve the quality of this coffee in years to come. However, they are already replanting large portions of the farm with rust-resistant varieties.

Alex Keller2

Alex Keller on the farm. Photo by Dan Streetman.

After the cupping Alex and his brother Martin showed me their roasting facility, where they produce coffee for the Guatemalan market. They have 3 custom-built roasters, and I spent some time roasting with them. It was pretty. Their roasters are crazy, and require two people to operate, calling out commands to each other, and running around.

 

Day 3: Arrive Guadalupe and El Molino
Today I arrived in El Salvador, this morning we toured Guadalupe and El Molino. It looks much better here…but I am off to cup right now…so we’ll see how it goes…

I have very good email access here.

 

Day 4: Touring the Guatemalan farms
Brief update from El Salvador. Yesterday I arrived across the border at 8am, to meet Jose Antonio Jr, and Andres. We went from there to Guadalupe and El Molino to visit the farms. Here, they are doing a great job fighting the Roya, and have only suffered about 5% crop loss from last year. You can see that the fungus is present and trying to attack the trees, but they are doing a fantastic job of controlling it. I was probing to find out the biggest difference between here and in Guatemala, and through that, it came out that our long-term commitment, and premium outright prices have enabled them to invest in the farm, without fear of not getting a return. The business proposition of investing lots of money in the farm to fight Roya, with no guaranteed return, seemed to be Alex’s biggest concern.

Jose Antonio & Andres

Jose Antonio & Andres. Photo by Dan Streetman.

Afterwards we came to the wet mill at Las Cruces, and cupped through coffees. I cupped Guadalupe with two different washing processes. Unfortunately I think the roast was a little off, and they were not cupping the way I expected. We are going to re-cup them tomorrow morning. I also cupped the El Molino, and it was tasting fantastic as usual.

Last night another group came in from Royal in California, they have been traveling for 2 weeks, and we swapped “war” stories.

This morning we went to visit San Francisco farm, which we don’t buy any coffee from, but I got to watch the pickers, and shoot some video/photos. I haven’t really watched pickers in action before and it was pretty cool to watch.

After we dropped the other group off, we went to visit an organic farm that they own, as I wanted to see if they were having similar success there. I have considered asking if they could move Guadalupe to organic in the future, if we wanted, and they have always said yes. However I wanted to see the differences in the farm. They are managing the organic farm using a lot of different methods, including planting many different varieties there. Icatu, Pacamara, Bourbon, Catimor, Yellow Icatu, and Sarchimor just to name a few, along with experimenting with the Agobio method on Bourbons.

dan_agobio

A coffee tree grown in the agobio method. Photo by Dan Streetman.

Agobio is when they allow a tree to grow for 3-5 years, and then they bend the tallest part of the tree to run horizontally. This encourages the tree to grow more verticals. Each 5-10 years, they will bend a new vertical to make a new horizontal, and you can have 1 tree that will produce as much as 5 trees. The advantages of this system are that the trees have a much deeper and broader root system, and can pull up more nutrients from the soil. You can also manage the vertical growth, with pruning, and maintain the amount of production coming from each tree. Also, it is easier to apply spray to the leaves which help leaf rust and other diseases. I have seen these trees that are 80-100 years old, and still healthy and producing good harvests. The downside is that it takes a long time to get the system set up. Also you can plant less trees per hectare, so if one of your Agobio trees dies you can potentially lose a lot of production.

Now we are back at Las Cruces, and I’m sure the mill will start whirring any minute now. Tomorrow, I am cupping here and then meeting Mayita to cup this year’s coffee from Natamaya.

Saturday morning we will head to Honduras!

Stay tuned for the second installment of Dan’s winter harvest time diaries!

Meet the Farmers: Kathy

script_banner_610pxkathy_v2

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!

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