Meet the Regulars: Richard & Lynne


Irving Farm’s John Henry Summerour sat down with Richard Lewis and Lynne Koehler-Lewis, longtime patrons of our 71 Irving Place cafe, to discuss their dual lives as DJs, their Icelandic connection, and their involvement in the incredible Dig Deeper series, a monthly event that brings soul legends back to New York City for an unforgettable celebration of music, dance and life. The next Dig Deeper will go down on Saturday, February 21st, at Brooklyn’s Littlefield, featuring Georgia artist Roy Lee Johnson who will be performing in NYC for the first time in 40 years, backed by the Brooklyn Rhythm Band! Get your tickets and dig deep into this 1960s soul experience with Richard and Lynne. They’ll see you on the dance floor.
In my twelve years working the counter at 71 there were plenty of regulars I enjoyed seeing. When I was in the zone on a busy morning shift I could scan a line of customers and catalogue up to thirty approaching orders:
Small black coffee flat top, Skim latte paper cup, Decaf latte cold milk flat top paper bag with handles, Tourist, Tourist, Large hot tea no milk two croissants paper bag no handle, Waiter from next door recently married just got back from honeymoon, Black iced coffee light ice topless…

I would continue adding to this list while reaching behind with my right hand to grab a large cup and begin filling it with hot coffee, punching the current order into the register with my left, grabbing a lid and topping the coffee just before it brimmed, asking a coworker for six specific pastry items, calling to the back for more cups and lids and ice and whole milk, making a mental note that we were about to run out of $1s so I needed to dump the tip jar and make change, tossing beans into the grinder to prep the next brew, the whole time maintaining eye contact with the customer directly in front of me, trying to smile and speak calmly, as though we were the only two people in the room. You could call it a ballet except there’s very little grace involved. It’s frenetic at best, yielding to utter chaos at the slightest hiccup in rhythm. So much of being a successful barista comes down to rhythm.

While I liked plenty of customers, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have favorites. On a crazy Saturday morning with the line stretching out to the sidewalk, I could quickly review the string of waiting faces, lock eyes with Richard and Lynne, and I swear every time I would feel 1% calmer. In the coffee industry, 1% is EPIC. It’s the difference between executing a very simple task, like placing a cranberry banana muffin on a plate, and accidentally fumbling the muffin to the floor which triggers the apocalypse. Muffins roll. Coffee overflows. Cupcakes slip from the sugary palms of children. Banshees howl. Glass jugs of milk jump off the counter and shatter, drowning everyone in a river of sticky, sweet calcium. I run to the back of the building and squeeze myself into the darkest, furthest corner, where I hold myself and whisper, “I can’t do this anymore,” over and over like the prayer of a broken man.

Richard and Lynne, with their gentle, calming aura, can prevent this from happening. And they know a thing or two about rhythm.

Born and raised in Houston, TX, Richard relocated to NYC from LA in 2005, and this year marks twenty years working as an analyst for a mutual fund company covering the oil and tech industries. Lynne, who is Brooklyn born and bred, decided to walk away from a decade-long career at the Wall Street Journal to study speech pathology at NYU, graduating last year.

At this point I should tell you that Richard and Lynne also have alter egos: DJ Honky and Lynne K. Upstanding professionals by day, rump-shaking sorcerers by night, Richard and Lynne had quite different paths to the DJ booth.

Richard grew up playing piano and riding in the car with his mother who listened to the Kingston Trio and Broadway show tunes. As a teenager he would scour the record stores for prog rock, developing an early interest in rare recordings and forgotten artists. His first real gig was in Reykjavík, Iceland (cuz you know, that’s what you do when you’re nervous about doing a good job and need an anonymous, safe space to practice your craft). He flew over with a box of 45s and started inquiring at coffee shops, some of which turned into clubs at night, until he found a promoter who gave him the “warm up” slot at a biker bar from 11pm-12am. That night he played his very best soul records for an audience of two drunks who spent the entire set heckling the American. He figured it couldn’t get any worse, so when he returned to LA he started spinning around town and producing mix CDs of his favorite tracks.

As a New Yorker, Lynne had the enviable experience of following her brother’s recommendation to pay $15 and catch James Brown in concert. She was 15 years old and this was her very first club show. Having just picked up the trumpet, this night wound up being a major cultural turning point as she fell in love with soul and early funk. She attended various soul nights and parties around town, making her own mixtapes and CDs, which eventually caught the ear of a promoter who asked her to spin in between live acts at Brooklyn’s Polish National Home/Warsaw in 2001. Bringing a party from a complete standstill to ecstatic mayhem with the drop of one record became her favorite thrill.

It’s unclear how Lynne would have fared in the Icelandic biker bar, but in 2006 she entered a contest through Icelandair to win a free trip. She wrote an impassioned entry about why Iceland needed soul music and why she was the person to rescue them, and although she didn’t win the trip, the experience made for good conversation with the quiet guy standing near the turntables at Rififi’s Subway Soul Club in the East Village. The next time they ran into each other at Botanica, Richard gave her some of his mix CDs, and that was that, leading to their eventual nuptials in 2009.

Another important connection born out of the Rififi scene was Richard’s friendship with Mr. Robinson (also known by day, and probably by his mother, as Michael). They were interested in collaborating on an event as DJs, but New York had no shortage of nights featuring two white guys at a bar spinning obscure record collections. Inspired by concerts that celebrate music heritage, like the Ponderosa Stomp in New Orleans, they began spitballing ideas. What if they could produce live events with legendary soul musicians? Where were their heroes now? Do any of them still play live? Would these artists, many of whom are in their late 70s and early 80s, be willing and able to relearn their old hits, and then travel miles from home for their first NYC gig in over 40 years? DJ Honky and Mr. Robinson had no experience booking shows, but the concept was too thrilling, the mission too important, to not give it a whirl, and thus Dig Deeper came into being.

Their first set of shows was at the Five Spot in Fort Greene, and as their audience grew through grassroots marketing efforts like email blasts, dynamite fliers and word of mouth, the events moved around Brooklyn to venues like Southpaw, the Bell House, and finally their current home at Littlefield, a progressive arts space in a former textile warehouse in Gowanus with walls constructed from recycled rubber tires and chairs made out of repurposed cork.

To this day, Dig Deeper is a labor of love. The booking of Paul Sindab is a good case study of how an event generally comes together. In his heyday, Paul Sindab performed with Sammy Davis Jr., Dionne Warwick, Wilson Pickett and Jackie Wilson. The Temptations even served as his opening act once upon a time. When Richard and Michael began looking for him, they knew he was living in Austin, TX, but had no way of contacting him. Richard combed through the White Pages and started making calls, guided by the rule of six degrees of separation, but to no avail. After years of dead ends, a friend who was a fan of the music and loved doing research happened to type “Paul Sindab” into Facebook, and voila! Paul was driving a school bus at the time and hadn’t played his classic songs in 45 years. Richard was able to convince him to give it a shot and made a CD of his old recordings so that Paul could learn to sing his entire catalogue all over again. They also discovered—and Paul had to be reminded—that he had recorded under another name, E.J. Rush, so he learned those songs as well. Another friend from the Rififi days, J.B. Flatt, served as the Dig Deeper bandleader and personally transcribed all the charts for horns, rhythm, backing vocals, guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, etc. Travel arrangements were made. Tickets were sold. People came, and they danced. They danced hard, and Paul sang harder, and just like that, a moment jumped out of the footnotes of music history to become thrillingly, achingly reborn.

After Superstorm Sandy, they threw a benefit with Rye Coalition and ’60s garage group The Sonics for Norton Records, the legendary label that was completely flooded during the storm. Dig Deeper also hosts Jamaican music nights that have drawn fans from the UK, Japan and Puerto Rico. DJ Honky and Lynne K can be found at Union Pool once a month, spinning records before a mass of spinning bodies. And there’s more… They chose to completely renovate their apartment and live out of one small bedroom lined with multiple extension cords, where they prepared all their meals in a slow cooker. Dishes were washed in the bathroom sink. They would take pictures of their dinners as a source of encouragement. “Look what we managed to create out of incredibly challenging circumstances!” This spirit infuses everything they do, and it mirrors the lives and journeys of the artists they showcase.

Dig Deeper has hosted over 50 musicians since 2008, and each time it’s an incredibly emotional experience for all involved. Most of these artists were not fairly compensated when they were recording, and many were left to feel chewed up and discarded by an industry that often prizes youth, units and dollars over longevity and legacy. To be invited to perform again, to be respected and cared for, to be honored for their artistic contributions in their latter years can be a cathartic experience. After suffering a stroke, Marva Whitney traveled to New York with an oxygen tank, and even though she had to remain seated to perform, she absolutely rocked Dig Deeper’s New Year’s Eve concert. Lou Pride took a break from dialysis to do his show. Jimmy “Preacher” Ellis was almost 80 years old when he participated. It was his very first time playing NYC and he had to be carried onto the stage. Lynne sat in the sound booth with Jimmy’s daughter who had never seen her dad perform. Marva and Lou passed away in 2012, and the urgency of this series is not lost on its organizers.

When I ask Richard and Lynne how they manage to juggle full-time day jobs with full-time nights and everything in between, they credit their love of the music and lots of coffee, which they affectionately call “magic juice”. Lynne tells me that she started drinking iced coffee with her grandmother when she was 5 years old, and I’m reminded of drinking coffee in my grandmother’s kitchen as a kid. I’m reminded of my grandfather playing his prized collection of gospel tapes by the Rangers Quartet. I remember the profound importance of shared experience, sensory connections that carry us deeper into the rhythm of living, of being. I think about that special quality Richard and Lynne possess, their ability to introduce calm into a chaotic environment. And then I realize that what I see in their eyes—what I imagine the Dig Deeper artists see as well—is empathy. To be seen and heard can be simply miraculous in this busy, quick world. And that’s what soul and funk is all about.

Are you hurting? Is your heart in pain? Do you wanna cry out?

Are you happy? Is your heart about to burst? Do you wanna shake and sway and shout?

You are seen. You are heard. You are not alone. Let’s dance.

Join us this Saturday, February 21, at 9pm as we catch some Georgia soul with Roy Lee Johnson, DJ Honky, Mr. Robinson and special guest DJ Brian Poust. It’s all going down at Brooklyn’s Littlefield. Tickets here!

Coffee Postcards From El Salvador: January 2015

Irving Farm Coffee Roasters

When not tasting coffees in our brand new 19th street training lab, and tracking shipments of beautiful coffees across the seas, Irving Farm’s Coffee Director, Dan Streetman, likes to check in on the farms with whom we have relationships. This January, he had the opportunity to travel to El Salvador, along with a few other Irving Farmers, like Liz Dean, our Upper West Side cafe manager, our technical wizard Bill McAllister, and El Salvador native Mayita Mendez, who works with us on our sales team.

As always, Dan wrote some letters home to his Irving Farm “farmily”, and also as always, we now share them with you.

 

Day 1:

Yesterday was basically a travel day. We got to the wet mill here at Beneficio Las Cruces around 4pm yesterday, and saw some coffee being unloaded and processed.

After dinner we came back to the mill and watched the guys unload all the cherry from the day’s picking. The farmers usually start around six in the morning and pick until 2-3pm. Afterwards everything gets sorted and weighed at the farm. Depending on the farm, the best quality will be sorted for microlots while the less ripe cherry will be separated and marked to go into the larger lots, or generic Strictly High Grade (SHG) lots. After the trucks are loaded they have to drive to the wet mill, which can be up to two hours of travel. Once at the wet mill all the trucks are weighed to verify that the same weights arrive at the mill that were picked in the farm. This process takes some time, and there is usually a line of trucks waiting to get their weight verified, and then be unloaded. Each truck takes about two hours to unload, especially as they have to move around to unload different lots into the designated bins so they can be processed separately.

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We watched until midnight, as they unloaded five truckloads. It was crazy to watch, as they had just finished one microlot when we arrived and immediately started dumping cherry into the bins. Meanwhile they started processing the SHG coffee while they unloaded two more trucks into the tank. Each truck had some of each type, generic SHG, and microlots so it was a ballet of rearranging the trucks every 20 mins or so to get it in the right spot to sort the coffee into the right bin: six different microlots, an SHG and a commercial grade bin. At the end of the night they totaled 180,000 lbs of cherry, which will be processed into about 250 bags of exportable green coffee. (The equivalent of how much Guadalupe Irving Farm buy for a whole year.)

Next, we’ll head to Guadalupe and El Molino.

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Day 2:

Yesterday morning we went over to visit the Guadalupe and El Molino farm sites. We did a rather extensive walk of Guadalupe and examined some different plots. Specifically, Andres and Jose Antonio showed me how they are continuing to convert Guadalupe to the agobio parras system. This method takes the vertical Bourbon trees and bends them sideways. They have found that this method is working to help the trees fight rust because it uses a more developed root system to support the tree. Also, it is very beneficial for another problem they have been having in the farms recently which is WIND.

Wind storms are very common to this part of El Salvador, but this year the wind has been especially bad. Usually the storms only last for the month of October but this year they have been seeing windstorms every other week from October until now. The Bourbon is especially susceptible to the wind because of its height, as it can grow up to 10-12 feet. By bending the tree you bring the height down to 6-7 feet, the wind can more easily pass over the trees. It was pretty incredible to watch the tall trees shaking profusely in the wind and the parras barely be touched. After we went and saw El Molino drying on the patios at the old abandoned mill on that farm.

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We also examined a plot of Catuai variety coffee growing on Guadalupe.

Afterwards, Andres and Jose Antonio showed me the nursery and some of the varieties they are working with. This year they are working on a project to plant 8 different varieties in one farm, as a test for what types they will plant in the future. Specifically they are working to find the best variety for each plot on each farm, by understanding what characteristics each will have. They are planting SL-28, Geisha, Pink Bourbon, Yellow Caturra, Batian, and SL-32 along with Castillo and a few other Catimor types.

We had lunch with Jose Antonio Sr. (Andres and Jose Antonio’s father). It was great to see him, the first year that I was here was his last year managing the farms. This is my 5th trip.

After lunch we did some cupping. We cupped 30 coffees. I am very excited because both the Guadalupe and El Molino cupped well, even though they are extremely fresh from the patios.

We also cupped a lot of Catuai and Catimor from the same farm, neighboring plots. I was surprised how well the Catimor cupped. Jose Antonio explained to me that they are planning to plant more Catimor at lower elevations and for their more generic coffees. We also cupped some coffees with different processing methods, like some which were soaked after being washed, some pulp naturals, and some naturals. It is early in the harvest but across the board they are showing the consistency and quality I have come to expect.

Later we went to visit the Santa Rita farms, and Jose Antonio had me demonstrate two different types of parras. A parra is when you allow the tree to grow vertically for 5-10 years, and then you bend the tree so that the vertical trunk, becomes horizontal. Since you learn by doing, Jose Antonio had me demonstrate the techniques on a few trees so that I could practice.

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One method is the traditional parras where the vertical tree is bent to become a horizontal branch, which will eventually sprout 4 more verticals. In this system it is very important to give adequate space to the verticals so that the branches don’t all grow into a tangle. It takes quite a bit of forethought to do this well, especially considering that this will be a 10-40 year project to complete. Thinking that far ahead is definitely a challenge.

We also walked through the parra de raiz, or root parra, where the tree is dug up and reburied at an angle. A different method of achieving the same result. Only in this system, the roots will not support 4 bent verticals like in the traditional parra. Afterwards, Bill, Liz and Mayita arrived and we gave them a tour of the wet and dry mills before leaving to stay at Talnamica, Mayita’s family farm. It was a memorable visit for all of us.

 

Stay tuned for our next round of Irving Farm letters home from coffee’s source, next stop, Nicaragua!

True Magic at Krupa Grocery

Irving Farm has a longstanding appreciation for great food—particularly breakfast-oriented foods. Our relationship with Brooklyn’s Krupa Grocery, a restaurant that excels at breakfast-oriented foods as well as all foods from all the other times of day, has been going strong since their opening in April, 2014.

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Alchemy isn’t just about turning matter into gold. At least for Bob Lenartz, co-owner of Krupa Grocery in Windsor Terrace, it’s when things come together to create something greater than the sum of its parts. It’s magical.

Bob had opened Slope Cellars and Windsor Wines, focusing on artisanal wines and spirits, and dreamed of building the kind of neighborhood place where folks could come to celebrate both the everyday and a special occasion. When the old Krupa Grocery on Prospect Park West became available, he saw an opportunity to make his bistro dream a reality. Krupa was a corner store and deli for over 20 years, owned and operated by the Patel family, that also happened to feature a backyard (a form of real estate alchemy in NYC). Locals called it “Love’s” because that was the salutation of endearment that greeted everyone who walked through the door.

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Barista Rex bringing the Irving Farm Coffee to the people at Krupa Grocery.

Around this time Bob made the acquaintance of Tom Sperduto, another Windsor Terrace resident with dreams of opening a neighborhood oasis. Once an elementary school art teacher who worked summers and weekends at Eleven Madison Park, he eventually moved into food full-time, developing his relationship to “enlightened hospitality” at Clinton Street Baking Company, Community Food & Juice, and Craftbar.

The third piece of the puzzle was Tom’s colleague at Craftbar, Chef Domenick Gianfrancesco, who was ready for a kitchen of his own. Together, they spent over a year building out the former grocery space, salvaging original details such as the tin ceiling which they repurposed as a bar front. It was important for them to build upon the goodwill of the Patel family business (thus keeping the name) and allow the restaurant to reflect their love of food as well as community.

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One of Tom’s chief areas of interest happened to be coffee, as he had spent years developing the coffee programs at his other restaurants. He knew that great coffee was a necessary tool for integrating a new restaurant into neighborhood ritual, whether it’s starting the day with breakfast or the finish to a memorable meal, so he put great care into selecting special coffees and overseeing drink preparation.

Now, after all the hard work and alignment of stars, you can go to Krupa for an expertly prepared cappuccino, breakfast gnocchi with bacon and beet greens, or a hanger steak garnished with bone marrow, and it all tastes like it was prepared just for you, like the food is saying, “Hey Love.”

On a recent visit, Bob was standing near the bar explaining the history behind the hanging cymbal light fixtures, how each one came together piece by piece, slowly making something much more special than he originally thought he was building. Staring up at the cymbals, he realized that’s it. That’s alchemy. That’s Krupa.

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Krupa Grocery is located at 231 Prospect Park West, Brooklyn, NY 11215. They open for coffee at 7am seven days a week.

Notes From Colombia

Irving Farm Coffee Colombia

When not cupping and roasting alongside Roastmaster Clyde in our Hudson Valley roastery and tracking shipments of beautiful coffees across the seas, Irving Farm’s Coffee Director, Dan Streetman, likes to check in on the farms with whom we have relationships. This September, he visited Colombia, one of the world’s most prolific coffee-growing nations, and home to some of our favorite coffees year after year. As always, Dan wrote some letters home to his Irving Farm “farmily”, and also as always, we now share them with you.

Irving Farm Coffee Colombia

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

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

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

Irving Farm Coffee Colombia

Irving Farm Coffee Colombia

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

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

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

Irving Farm Coffee Colombia

Chris Davidson of Atlas Coffee leading cupping comments.

Day 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Irving Farm Coffee Colombia

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

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

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

Irving Farm Coffee Colombia

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

Coffee, Cacao & Connection

 

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

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

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

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

Talnamica Raaka Irving Farm

What is the story and history behind Talnamica specifically?

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

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

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

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

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Dan Streetman at Talnamica

When did the farm start growing cacao?

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

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

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

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

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

Talnamica Raaka Irving Farm

What is your favorite part of the coffee growing process?

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

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

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

Raaka_Talnamica

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

Meet the Farmers: Joshua Littlefield

Josh Littlefield Irving Farm Coffee

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

Josh Littlefield Irving Farm Coffee

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

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

Josh Littlefield Irving Farm Coffee

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

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

Josh Littlefield Irving Farm Coffee

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

lasercatjosh

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

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

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

Book Nook With Teresa von Fuchs

 

Teresa Von Fuchs Irving Farm Coffee

When Irving Farm’s Director of Wholesale, Teresa von Fuchs, told us that she wanted to write a piece for the blog inspired by a French book from the ’70s, we said, “Bring it!” Teresa is a mold breaker and a big inspiration for many people in the coffee industry. Here she reflects on literary theory, wine geekiness and, of course, her love of coffee.

I have always been a voracious reader. My mother joked that she often chided me to put the book down and go play outside.

In college, I was a writing and literature major. I dove deep into pulling apart reading, looking in between the words, thinking about context and authorial bias, about otherness and narrative point of view. New ideas bubbled up everywhere.

Toward the end of my last Literary Theory class, we were assigned The Pleasure of the Text by Roland Barthes. While it is about what the title might imply, it became more important for me as I grew and my span of reading grew. Initially, the book reminded me that part of what had drawn me to reading in the first place was the joy. Some of that joy had been lost in my learning to analyze reading and writing.

I was happily reminded of The Pleasure of the Text‘s ideas when Irving Farm’s green coffee buyer, Dan Streetman, insisted I read Eric Asimov’s How to Love Wine. While Streetman is a much bigger wine geek than I am, he said what moved him most about the book was that it encapsulated how he feels about coffee: It’s delicious. Appreciate it. Share it with others. Repeat. What’s refreshing and so exciting about Asimov’s book is not that he’s so knowledgeable or has so many years and such breadth of experience with wine, which he does. It’s that he’s most interested in sharing his joy in wine with you, his reader.

Part of my role at Irving Farm and as a coffee professional in general is to dissect what I’m tasting in the cup and why it tastes that way. That goes for crazy delicious tastes as well as off-putting flavors. What both Barthes’ and Asimov’s books reminded me is that though my role is to take coffee seriously, there’s still plenty of room to enjoy it. I can use my knowledge to take pleasure in each cup and to not forget to share my love along with my knowledge.

One of the things that moves me most about coffee is thinking about all the people that had a hand in its existence before it ever gets to mine. Taking a moment each day to immerse myself in that wonder, or better yet, share that wonder with others, only adds to the pleasure in the cup. And pleasure need not be divorced from seriousness. It should enhance it.

Welcome Back TNT Season!

TNT NYC Irving Farm

The new season of TNT (Thursday Night Throwdown) kicks off tonight at Cafe Grumpy, so we sat down with two of the organizers—Maciej Kasperowicz, Director of Coffee for Gregorys, and Bailey Rayne Arnold, their Director of Education—to learn more about what goes into a throwdown, why coffee peeps love to drink beer and spill milk together, and why you might like to join in the festivities.

TNT NYC Irving Farm Cafe Grumpy Halloween

What is a TNT?

MK: It’s a Thursday Night Throwdown, and it’s a magical night during which baristas get together, pour a bunch of latte art, and occasionally win prizes. More importantly (though some of our more competitive competitors might disagree), it’s an easy way to get a bunch of people from a local, specialty coffee community together to hang out, make friends, build relationships and the sense of community that helps make working in this industry so much fun.

BA: According to Google, a “throwdown” is “a performance by or competition between rappers, breakdancers, etc.” (I guess we fall under “etc.”) Another definition refers to a display or contribution of something; to throw down skills/expertise/knowledge, or funds for something. Spinning this in a direction that would be useful in this case, I’d say a TNT is a performance by baristas (and other coffee professionals alike) in which they face off against one another, displaying their expertly honed techniques of pouring textured and heated milk into espresso. 32 people enter, and 1 person leaves. (In the future maybe we should incorporate Thunderdome into the acronym, though I’m sure Maciej would have some technical reason to disagree.)

Who are the judges, and how are they selected?

MK: The judges are usually picked from previous winners, members of our organizing committee, representatives of sponsors and/or hosts, and people we pick out of the crowd who we know will do a good job. We don’t have a screening process, though we do have some basic criteria all the judges should follow at some point.

BA: We attempt to have a three-person judging panel: One judge a representative from whatever venue the TNT is held at, the previous month’s champion, and someone else (could be an organizer, could be a sponsor, could just be a random buddy who can’t tell a rosetta from a swan). The judges don’t necessarily need to meet any qualifications (except probably, like, just don’t be a jerk), but we try to make clear the judging criteria to each person, make sure there will be both men and women on the panel, and there won’t be two judges representing the same company/coffee shop.

Why is it important for coffee folks to spend time together drinking beer and spilling milk?

BA: It’s really important to have a multitude of platforms upon which to share information and experiences and joys and struggles and knowledge in our industry, and the more diverse (and FUN) those platforms, the better! There will always be cuppings, tastings, conferences, and trade shows—and there should always be throwdowns as well. Coffee people are the most fun people!

MK: I feel as we make efforts to grow into a more mature, successful industry, the idea that we’re all supportive of each other—and we get along, share information and get drunk together—sounds a little wide-eyed and naive, but I also think it’s as important as ever. That’s not to say that there isn’t competition in specialty coffee, and that’s not to say that everyone likes (or even should like) each other, but that spirit of community is, for me, a big factor in why I like working in coffee, and I think regular get-togethers help foster that.

Maciej, is it true you keep stats? Is there some inside betting ring involved?

MK: So yeah, at the beginning of the season I try to keep all the brackets and sign-up sheets, and develop some basic stats (total wins, winning percentage, wins per throwdown).

BA: There’s definitely an inside betting ring, but all of the profits go to Coffee Kids. (JK, we’re honest organizers!)

How much money did the community raise for Coffee Kids last season?

MK: $1,619 for Coffee Kids, $585 for the Monkey and the Elephant in Philly and $1,265 for Project ALS (that last one largely due to the Herculean efforts of Sam Penix). Sooooooo many awesome sponsors and people helped us.

What’s your favorite pour?

MK: I tend to be most impressed by rosettas cuz, while I can pour a decent tulip, I am truly awful at rosettas. But a nicely rounded tulip in a tiny cup always makes me happy, too.

BA: The elusive, perfect rosetta, where the base comes back around to the top of the cup, there’s a heart on top, and spaces between the leaves. F*ck all this drunken tulip sh*t! Rosettas forever!

Anything else?

BA: Uhhh, tattoos? We freakin raffled off tattoos. That was pretty rad.

TNT NYC Irving Farm

The TNT season kicks off again tonight, Tuesday, with a very special Tuesday night pre-Halloween Throwdown at the Cafe Grumpy roastery, 199 Diamond Street, Brooklyn.

Meet the Regulars: Trisha Patterson

Tricia Paterson Irving Farm Coffee Latte Art

A few times per week we’ll see a picture of a customer’s morning latte posted to Twitter or Instagram, and it’s a nice compliment to know that our coffee is being showcased as an expression of someone’s joy or comfort or nostalgia or basic functional coherence. And then there’s Trisha Patterson. Director of Local Ad Sales for Fox News Channel, Trisha commutes to work from Larchmont, NY, and she fuels up at the Irving Farm Coffee Grand Central kiosk almost every day, with nearly every visit accompanied by a pic. If latte art could talk, each picture might represent a different facet of her personality: Former dog trainer, craft beer aficionado, sports enthusiast (Yankees, Cubs, Northwestern Wildcats, US Rowing National Team), lover of Megpies lemon tarts, Labrador owner, toddler chaser, angry rock listener (Linkin Park, Queens of the Stone Age, Tool) or self-professed Trekkie. In life, Trisha believes the glass is always half full, and judging from her Twitter feed, every glass is topped with love.

Introducing Las Penas!

Irving Farm Coffee Roasters

You’re in your kitchen, barely awake or clothed, with a bag of Irving Farm coffee standing between an Auto-drip and French press, as though choosing between two lovers. Which one will it be? What are you in the mood for? Which brewing method will produce the perfect cup to make more important decisions seem far less complex than this one?

Add to this the layers and layers of factors that determine how your coffee tastes. You can take the same varietal and plant it on two different continents, or in two different countries, or two regions within the same country, or two farms in the same region, or one farm at different elevations. But what if you took the same coffee and planted it on the same farm at the same elevation and the only difference is that you took the harvest and dried half in the sun as is—just a beautiful, plump coffee cherry catching some rays—and the other half with only the skin removed? How different could the taste possibly be once the beans are roasted and brewed? 

Irving Farm Coffee Roasters La Pena

We’re very lucky to offer you the chance to taste this difference with our brand new Nicaraguan coffees, La Pena Miel and La Pena Natural. This Yellow Catuai variety is grown in northern Nicaragua, near the Honduras border, by Luis Alberto Ballardez. When he dries the coffee au naturel, the sugars from the fruit and skin migrate directly into the seed, producing a very concentrated flavor profile, so La Pena Natural explodes with the intensity of Pixy Stix. It provides a delightful jolt, much in the same way dried fruit can really zing and pop.

Since La Pena Miel is dried with the skin removed, but the sticky mucilage in tact, it’s considered a “pulp natural” or “honey” process. The sugars from the fruit still infuse the seed with sweetness, but it produces a more refined cup in which the deeper notes of chocolate and almond can come through.

Both Las Penas are dynamic and full of personality, and it’s fun to taste firsthand how incredibly unique the same coffee can present under slightly different drying processes. Some days call for the relaxed familiarity of La Pena Miel, and others need La Pena Natural to dance around in that red party dress to get things going.

Your mornings just got way more interesting, and don’t worry, the Auto-drip and French press will be thrilled to have both Las Penas sisters in your cup.

Irving Farm Coffee Roasters

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