Meet the Regulars: Kenie (and C)

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

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

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

Occupation:
Director, Content Marketing at Teach For America

Hometown:
New Port Richey, FL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

crappyquality-engagement

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

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

Photo by Prisca Edwards.

Photo by Prisca Edwards.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dropping In On Cafe Volan, Asbury Park, NJ

Though it’s been a cooler summer than we expected, farm-and-city people like us can’t help but be enthralled with all things beachy. To that end, we met up with our friends and coffee brewing partners at Cafe Volan, a surf-inspired coffee bar in Asbury Park, NJ. We chatted with co-owner Paul Cali about the wonderful world of coffee paired with an ocean view. 

Cafe Volan, Asbury Park NJ

Cafe Volan, Asbury Park NJ

Tell us about Cafe Volan? Where’d the name come from? How long have you been open? What’s the vibe?

The name isn’t anything as glamorous as it might appear. Doug [Parent, co-owner] and I both love to surf and that was a big influence in becoming our own bosses. Volan is a type of fiberglass typically used on heavy long boards, which we both really enjoy riding. Living at the beach and incorporating surfing into your business can be very very hokey, so we figured a subtle name that people outside of the surf community might not even understand was a good way to do that and not be obvious.

We have now been open for 3 years and one week! Time flies when you’re having fun!!!!

I think the vibe at Volan is totally relaxed and easygoing. It’s a comfortable place where you can get some work done or hang out with friends, or hang out alone and never feel out of place. We have a really fantastic local community that likes to meet up, whether or not it is intentional.

When did you first get interested in coffee? What made you start to take it seriously?

I’d say I got into coffee the way many people did…at 1am in a diner talking about books and music and girls (the lack thereof back then) with friends. We’re pretty famous for our diners in New Jersey, subsequently diners are famous for poor quality coffee. But back then it was the greatest thing…

About 12 years ago my brother and I took over a coffee shop that was closing and turned it into this total 1960’s Greenwich Village flashback…a dark room, late nights with poetry and art and music. It was amazing but our grasp of coffee was lacking. But thats when i started to take it seriously. After that had run its course I managed a small cafe in a town called Red Bank. I took that time to pay more attention to what I was doing and what I was serving. I was having fun and the better I was able to make the coffee taste, the happier my customers were. I think that’s what really made me start taking it seriously.

What was most important to you when planning for it/building it out?

Location! Location was key. We really were anxious and excited to get a cafe going but we weren’t going to settle just anywhere. Being in downtown Asbury Park was number one on the list. From there we wanted to be slightly off the beaten path. At the time we were building out, our street, Bangs Ave., was super quiet and overlooked. To me that was perfect. The locals would hear about us and search us out. The summer out-of-towners would ask a local where to get some coffee and they would be directed to us…hopefully…which seems to have been the case in the past few years. So it worked out great.

What are you most proud of about your shop now? as its grown?

Honestly I’m so proud of everything but especially the community that it has sprouted. I think one of the moments I really felt proud and noticed how big an impact on the community we had made was after Hurricane Sandy. Power had been out for a week and once it came back on, I felt compelled to open and see if anyone needed a place to get some power and just somewhere to get away from the craziness… What I ended up providing was a place for people to meet up and figure out where to go help. At first I felt like I should just close the doors and go help as well, until I realized that Cafe Volan was being used as a central meeting point. Seeing that my friends and neighbors knew that they could come to Volan and find other people to go help really made me feel good about the atmosphere we have developed.

Cafe Volan, Asbury Park NJ

The Cafe Volan team.

What’s going on in Asbury Park these days? Springsteen still big?

There’s a ton of great stuff going on in Asbury every day. There are amazing stores and restaurants opening all the time. Our new(ish) neighbors at Glide Surf Co. and Red Moon Life & Home and Pascal & Sabine (as well as dear old friends at Sweet Joey’s) have added a lot of excitement to Bangs Ave. and our beach front is always entertaining. I think Springsteen is probably bigger outside of the borders of Asbury Park. Though most people here sure do appreciate him. I mean heck I have his lyrics tattooed on me…TWICE! but you’ll never hear him playing in the cafe. I just can’t be that guy…its too expected.

Do you really surf to work everyday?

Its like Weezer sings… “you take your car to work, I’ll take my board… and when you’re out of fuel, i’m still afloat.”

How did you first hear about Irving Farm?

Irving Farm was a coffee I only knew about visually at first. I’d seen the bags and logos over the years but I was otherwise unfamiliar. I attended the MANE conference in Rhode Island a few years back and went to have some lunch before things kicked off. A handful of coffee people were out to get some tacos and I somehow ended up at a table of strangers including the ever impressive Teresa von Fuchs. We seemed to hit it off quite well and by the end of the weekend I not only loved Irving Farm for its coffee but for its personnel as well. Getting to work with and hang with Teresa and Tam and everyone else I’ve met from Irving Farm really epitomizes the best part of this industry…the people.

What’s your favorite IFCR coffee and how did you make it?

I LOVE the Blackstrap Espresso 19g dose with a 33g yield. Mmm. I’m also really loving a V60 of the El Salvador El Molino right now.

What would you say the are the benefits of working with different roasters?

We like to incorporate different coffee roasters into our lineup all the time! It allows us to expose our customers to a number of new brands they might not otherwise come across and we get to help support so many of the great people trying to add their touch to this industry.

What’s on the coffee horizon for you and Cafe Volan?

Cafe Volan has done a pretty great job at a slow steady growth. Our approach has ensured that all decisions really work. We will get to the horizon, whatever it may be, slowly.

Anything else you want to add?

Shoes are for kooks.

Thanks!

Visit Cafe Volan just off the beaten path at 510 Bangs Ave, Asbury Park, NJ 07712

Slowing Down and Cooling Down With Slow Food NYC

Slow Food NYC at Irving Farm Training Lab

We who love coffee know that without food, there would be no coffee, because we all would have starved to death. Sustainable food, then, goes hand in hand with sustainable coffee, and it was with excited hearts that we welcomed our friends at Slow Food NYC to our Flatiron training lab last Monday for a hot summer night that was all about staying cool.

Slow Food NYC at Irving Farm Training Lab

We led a class of 14 Slow Foodies on a guided adventure of cold brewing, icy pouring-over, and of course…cool coffee cocktails, all based on our summery sweet Amaro Gayo coffee from Ethiopia.

Slow Food NYC at Irving Farm Training Lab

This was our first time teaming up with Slow Food NYC…and definitely not our last. We’re looking forward to more collabos and classes in the future, and we’ll be sure to let you know.

In the meantime, here’s a peek at our night with Teresa, Josh and Angelika schoolin’ Slow Food on cool coffee.
Iced Pour-Over (Japanese-style)
Cold Brew (24 hours)
Affogato (espresso over fresh ice cream)
Amaro Gayo Egg Cream (espresso, chocolate & vanilla syrups shaken and topped with soda water)
Purple Reign (Amaro Gayo, Aperol orange bitters, dry vermouth, grapefruit. Served neat or over ice.)
Espresso & Clouds (espresso over citrus simple syrup foam)

Slow Food NYC at Irving Farm Training Lab

We had a blast cooling off these true food enthusiasts, and can’t wait to start warming up for the next class soon!

On the Road: Lay’s Cappuccino Flavored Potato Chips

In the line of duty, we who work at Irving Farm are occasionally sent to the far reaches of civilization in pursuit of our coffee passions. Here’s a dispatch from Josh Littlefield, who came upon a highly unusual specimen while traveling this week.

Cappucino Lay's Potato Chips

Variety: Lay’s Cappuccino Flavored Potato Chips

Origin: Gas station, northeast corner of Tennessee.

Tasting notes: Essence of scrapings from crusty cappuccino cups from bus tubs all across America, potato chips soaked in airy milk foam, chemical cinnamon.

When I ate the first Lay’s Cappuccino chip in front of the gas station attendant, she asked me if I was alright and if I wanted to trade them for something else.

Also, I was offended that there was no latte art on the chips or in the bottom of the bag as the packaging has advertised.

If you don’t believe me try for yourself but I wouldnt wish this evil upon any of you.

Have a great week,
Josh

Chilling With The Pantry in Cold Spring, NY

 

The Pantry in Cold Spring New York

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

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

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

Craft beer at the Pantry Cold Spring New York

When did you first get interested in coffee?

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

How did a cycling studio fit into your business plan?

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

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

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

The Pantry Cold Spring New York Iced Irving Farm Coffee Growler

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

Do you really handcraft each individual cup of coffee?

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

What Irving Farm coffee are you currently most excited about?

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

Anything else you want to add?

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

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

A Trip to Barista Camp for Irving Farm

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As much as we like to sell bags of coffee and talk about how great it is to brew at home, there’s one thing home brewing can never replicate: the energy of a cafe, and the spirit of a barista. We know that part of creating our home-away-from-home experience for people who visit Irving Farm has much to do with the spirit of those who make up our crew–and there’s no better way to keep people engaged and enthusiastic, passionate and curious, than to surround them with like-minded professionals.

It’s this thinking that keeps us sending Irving Farm folk to Barista Camp, a twice-a-year training camp held by the Barista Guild of America that brings together all experience levels to learn from and meet one another–while receiving professional certifications and hands-on training. This spring, we sent two of our team–Ben from 71 Irving and David from 79th Street–to sleepaway barista camp in Wisconsin. When not busy having fun, or recovering from it, they were thoughtful enough to send some postcards home.

“David and I were sent to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin for Barista Camp. Camp activities included things like cupping coffee and tea and milk steaming classes, and within all of that time were great moments with some really great people in the coffee industry. While we had several hours of coursework on espresso and brewing, we also had time to practice on the espresso machines. Being able to spend time with machines I’ve never seen was a real plus. Even with all of the aforementioned machine playtime and three meals a day, I’m most grateful for the human element. Having the opportunity to interact with people within our community that have such care and passion for what we do, and representing a company that cares about education to the extent that it does, made my camp experience so enlivening.”
– Ben

“It was such a memorable experience! When I imagined barista camp, in my mind I had this picture of people getting up early from bed, and going to sleep late at night, and learning all day. (In other words: boring.) And this is exactly what happened—but there was a big difference at this camp. We learned a lot of things about coffee and the art of making an excellent cup of coffee, but at the same time, the more I learned about coffee, the more I craved more knowledge, and the time kept getting shorter each day.

Lectures were given by some of the most experienced instructors in the industry, and there were opportunities for everyone who was there to experiment with different kinds of machines and equipment. My favorite equipment was the siphon, which gives a very distinct cup of coffee. Rich in flavor, but also clean, uninterrupted flavor. The espresso machines were of all kinds, including the famous La Marzocco Strada, similar to the one we have at 79, which I was able to practice on.

Though we were at the barista camp, we had an opportunity to attend a lecture about tea as well, which was taught by the best instructors from Rishi Tea company, and we also had a tea cupping session. We attended more classes, and learned more about measurements and qualities of coffee, and how to identify different kinds of flavor notes in espresso shots. We learned a lot about milk, and how different types of milks affect the quality of coffee drinks–including different kinds of cows, and the way they are taken care of, and how the kinds of grass they eat can make a huge difference in the cup. We had a milk cupping session which gave me a whole new perspective in the way I see milk.

Just as importantly, we had enough time to interact with each other and exchange knowledge. I was able to tell them about Irving Farm Coffee, which made a few people interested in coming to New York, and I got to learn about other coffee companies as well. It was nice to know that many people knew our own Tam, and I was glad to talk about her behind her back. And in the end I was able to take my level one certificate barista test, and I hope to receive my certificate soon.”
–David

To get involved with the next Barista Camp taking place October 6-9 in Rancho Mirage, California, visit the Barista Guild of America website. Registration opens July 15!

In the Kitchen: Karys Logue, Pastry Chef, Tessa NYC



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In our recurring series In the Kitchen, we sit down with the restaurateurs and culinary pros who’ve partnered with Irving Farm to find out more about their inspirations—and of course, their feelings about coffee. In this installment, our newest Irving Farmer Josh Littlefield—pastry-lover, ice-cream connoisseur, and coffee expert, speaks with Karys Logue, Pastry Chef at Tessa, one of the most exciting new additions to the Upper West Side fine dining landscape. Here’s what Josh found out about the story behind Tessa’s inspired dessert program, and Logue own path to pastry.

Chef Logue almost led a very different life. In high school, she was drawn to the hard sciences, and had been accepted to Brown University’s neuroscience program. But in the months leading to graduation, she noticed she was finding more enjoyment baking for the study groups she had organized, rather than actually studying her soon-to-be major.

She decided to forgo her Ivy League track to follow her culinary passion, and the rest is history. Shortly after graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY, she visited New York City one Friday for what she thought would be just a day-long trial at the restaurant Daniel. After her shift, the pastry chef approached her with an offer.  She would be granted a full-time position on the condition that she began the following Monday. Karys packed her bags, and within two days transplanted into a three-year career at Daniel, working alongside the critically acclaimed Dominique Ansel, creator of the infamous Cronut (of which I am personally guilty of waiting 2 hours in the rain for on one occasion. No regrets). After Daniel, Logue spent time in Australia as the pastry chef for Sepia, consistently regarded as Australia’s finest restaurant, winning Restaurant of The Year in 2014. It was here she learned many of the modernist plating ideas and techniques that she employs today. After returning, she held the position of sous-chef and interim head pastry chef of Cafe Boulud. Recently, Karys took command as pastry chef of Tessa, developing the menu and overseeing its opening.

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What field of pastry are you most passionate about?

For most of my recent memory it has been plated desserts. The opportunity to create an experience in an à la minute way, then seeing the excitement on a customer’s face as it makes it to the table is so rewarding. It makes it pretty personal and I love it.

How did you develop the menu here at Tessa?

Seasonality, approachability, and surprise. I started by following some classical parameters—a light, fruit based dish; a chocolate-centered dessert; and then something in between. After that, seasonality is extremely important to me. Take for example the Spring Apricot Pastiche dish. I started with something as classical as a caramelized puff pastry. We then created an herbes de provence cream to tie it to the restaurant’s French and European influences. I then added the element of surprise—taking a German Halbtrocken Riesling, we created a concentrated poaching liquid to confit fresh apricots. This, paired with a micro-basil garnish gives an explosive, refreshing experience of acidity and brightness.

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Tell us about the process of creating the Irving Farm Pot de Creme—you use both the 71 Irving House Blend and our signature espresso, Blackstrap?

In the menu I wanted to have items that all customers found familiar but then add a surprising twist. For the pot de creme, you would assume it’s just coffee plus chocolate.  Starting with that familiar combination that most everyone knows I let the ingredients such as your coffee speak for themselves then add components to further express. Candied orange zest was added to bring out the coffee’s brighter notes. The darker chocolate in the cake highlights the coffee’s richness. Then, you have the heartiness from the dates complimenting the full body of the espresso, and finally floral aspects and spices from the espresso are brought out through the cardamom.

Thanks so much for your time, Karys!

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Tessa is located at 349 Amsterdam Ave, New York, New York, 10024. They’re open seven days a week for lunch and dinner with a brunch menu so delicious on weekends, it’s very likely that you may run into Josh or another member of Irving Farm enjoying their breakfast offerings—with a pot de creme chaser, of course.

 

 

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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