Pastry Chef Laurie Jon Moran on Coffee as a Dessert Ingredient

Pastry Chef Laurie Jon  Moran in the kitchen at Le Bernardin.

Pastry Chef Laurie Jon Moran in the kitchen at Le Bernardin.

In this third in a series of interviews by Irving Farm to the talented food and drink professionals we work in partnership with, we take a minute with Executive Pastry Chef Laurie Jon Moran of Le Bernardin.
How did you get started in the food and beverage industry? and What’s your role now?
I knew I wanted to be a chef when I was about 14 years old, so after high school I went to culinary school rather than college. Now I’m lucky enough to be the Executive Pastry Chef at Le Bernardin.

What led you to pastry in your career?
While I was in culinary school I enjoyed pastry more and was more attracted to it because of the precision and technicality.

Tell us more about how you use coffee in creating your dessert menu? How do the individual flavor profiles of each coffee affect how you approach them?
The approach is generally to get as much of the natural flavor profile of the coffee beans into the dessert as we can, especially the lighter more floral notes that often get lost in dessert preparations.

What’s the most successful dessert you’ve ever made incorporating coffee?
The coffee dessert that we have on the menu right now is quite popular. It’s a play on a tiramisu but with coffee being the main flavor, supported by mascarpone and salted caramel. We try to make the quality and flavor of the coffee beans the thing that makes the dessert special and infuse them into most of the components.

What coffee/s are you currently working with? What interests or excites you about them?
We are currently using beans from Los Lirios, Honduras in our coffee dessert. I love its balance and fruity acidity. It is also one of my favourite coffees as an espresso, although for me, nothing has beaten the Amaro Gayo beans from Ethiopia.

What’s been the most interesting thing you’ve learned about coffee?
I didn’t realize how unique different coffees can be and how big the range of flavor profiles is. Trying different coffees as the selections changed at the Irving Farm 79th street shop really opened my eyes to that, then doing a cupping at the training lab really blew me away.

 

Blue Hill’s Chef Dan Barber on the G9…and the Perfect Cup of Coffee

Blue Hill Chef Dan Barber

Blue Hill Chef Dan Barber

The G9 Chef’s Summit, an annual meeting of the  International Advisory Council of the Basque Culinary Center, aka nine of the world’s top chefs, met close to our home this year in Pocantico Hills, NY, at the revered Blue Hill at Stone Barns farm and restaurant. We spoke with Blue Hill chef and G9 member Dan Barber about what the meeting was all about…and how the world’s top chefs liked our coffee.

What was this year’s G9 conference all about?
This year’s G9 was about bringing together the original producers of grains and seeds together with chefs to get them to think about the products and produce we use before they even hit the field. We all think about sourcing ingredients, and the further back along the chain we go when we think about it, the better. If we get to know the people who are imagining the flavors and textures of the future, we can work together to create that future.

What thing struck you most about this years’ conference?
Mostly the recognition that we may have overlooked breeders in our pursuit to eke out specific flavors and textures. That, and the chance to facilitate the meeting of so many incredible artisans.

So we have to ask, as we talk about the specific ingredients you choose to use at Blue Hill, how does coffee fit into your master plans?
The same way it fit into the conference this year. You have a collection of incredible chefs, breeders, this room full of incredible tasters and people driven by the pursuit of great flavor and we wanted to fuel them with great flavors in their cups. In our restaurant, it’s the diners who we want to provide the best possible tastes. And when we don’t screw it up, I think that’s what we do with your coffee.

 I was really happy at this year’s conference to be able to introduce so many people to Irving Farm and the work you all do. So many people came up to me and said they couldn’t believe Irving Farm Coffee tasted like that.

What’s on your mind, and what are you most excited to work on for this coming year? In terms of seeds/your restaurant/anything?
I’m most excited for good coffee!

Here’s to that!

Read more about some of the farms Blue Hill is inspired by here on their website.

Out and About This Fall With Irving Farm

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

 

Fall in Millerton, New York

Fall in Millerton, New York

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

Taste of Hudson Valley Bounty

Taste of Hudson Valley Bounty

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

Harvest in the Square 2013

Harvest in the Square 2013

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

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

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

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

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

Kai holding down the fort at Taste of Gramercy.

Kai holding down the fort at Taste of Gramercy.

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

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

Ethiopia Diaries: Part III

Irving Farm’s Coffee Director, Dan Streetman, travelled to Ethiopia earlier this year as part of his ongoing coffee journeys. Here is the final installment of his adventures.

Yirgacheffe

Yirgacheffe. Photo by Dan Streetman.

Day 7
Morning came early, especially for a Sunday. However, today was the day we were going to visit Yirgacheffe. After being in Amaro the gilding was slightly off the lily, but there was still plenty of excitement to go around. The itinerary for the day included two washing station visits both of which are members of the Yirgacheffe Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union (YCFCU). The YCFCU is significantly smaller than the Oromia Union, but still sizeable. The YCFCU however only has members in the zone of Gedeo where Yirgacheffe is, and a lot of famous coffee gets sold under that name. The first mill we would visit is called Koke and sits just outside the main town of Yirgacheffe. Upon arrival it is clear that the mill sits directly in the center of a community of small farms. We met with the leader of the cooperative, who was dressed in his Sunday best, to explain to us the history and plans of the Koke washing station and YCFCU.

Yirgacheffe Meeting

Meeting at YUCFU Co-Op. Photo by Dan Streetman.

There were a lot of questions about how the cooperative works within the union, and how that impacts the small farmers. It took us several hours to comprehend how the Unions and Cooperatives vote on the distribution of money, and how that gets back to the individual members. I think most of the confusion was centered around paying for coffee specifically: we the buyers being obsessed with how money paid for coffee gets back exclusively to the people who grew it. But it would seem the Union functions more as a business with the cooperative members as share-holders, returning the profits to them at the end of the year. After our questions were sufficiently answered we toured a few of the farms. Very small plots, and clearly outlined around the houses in the village, these producers were growing root vegetables like cassava along side their coffee. We were led to believe that most of the people here were subsistence farmers living off their vegetable crops and animal herds, while selling coffee for cash.

After Koke, we headed to another mill/cooperative called Harfusa. We encountered a very similar structure, and this time, equipped with our new knowledge, we were able to much more easily digest how things worked. Afterwards, we toured the wet mill and got more information on how coffee is processed in this area. Before we left, the community kids insisted on getting their photos taken. They were very entertaining and seemed to consider posing and viewing the photos an excellent game.

Trucks full of Coffee

Trucks full of coffee! Photo by Dan Streetman.

Day 8
Another early morning, this time bittersweet, as it marked our trek back to Addis and the beginnings of my journey back to New York. The trip to Ethiopia had conjured more questions than it answered, but there is nothing like a long drive to digest events. We stopped mid-day to visit an ECX warehouse. The operation was pretty intense, as there were many trucks waiting to get unloaded, and people everywhere. We were taken inside a cinder block building that functioned as the lab and offices. Inside we were met with the certificates of six Q grader licensed cuppers posted on the wall. It was pretty incredible to see that the QC functions of this lab halfway around the world used the exact same standards. We were taken through the entire process, and I was amazed at the sheer volume of coffee and work that got done in this small lab.

Day 9
Last day of the trip, and with an evening flight, we had time for one final cupping. It was great to bookend the trip with this, as we cupped many of the same coffees as the first day, but we also had an opportunity to taste coffees we had picked up along the way. It was especially surprising to see that a coffee we had bought on the side of the road scored an 84/100. We ate a late lunch and then went to the airport. I couldn’t but help shake the feeling that this would not be my last trip to Ethiopia.

 

Postcards from MANE

MANE relaxing.
Taking a load off at MANE. Photos by Joshua Littlefield.

“The experience I gained at MANE is invaluable. During those three days, I was able to attend several courses, including a cupping with winning farms from Rwanda/Burundi. What I realized is that Cup of Excellence isn’t always exactly what you’d expect (i.e. we tasted lots of potato defects.) What I also learned is the importance of quality control and thinking through the aspects of sensory analysis. Nevertheless, the true highlights for me were hearing George Howell’s speech on the ability to thrive and learn about what seems to be the never-ending science of coffee. What was also wonderful to see were the abundance of varietals and cultivars in a class given by Matt Brown of Cafe Imports. Given this experience, I have tremendous gratitude for the opportunity to be able to go to MANE. And I’m looking forward to sharing this newfound knowledge at Irving Farm!

— Kai, 71 Irving Place

 

Teresa training and MANEing.
Teresa training and MANEing.

“I had so much fun at MANE and was so happy to have had the opportunity to go! The thing that stood out to me the most was being able to see all the different paths that you could go within coffee. From growers to buyers, baristas and sales reps, the coffee community itself is a very large but connected community. At the “How Did They Get Here” panel, all of the coffee professionals talked about how they started out, mostly barista jobs but not looking to stay in coffee. No matter how many times they left coffee, because of personal lives, financial reasons, or relocating, they always somehow found their way back to the coffee. They all seemed to have a true passion for coffee not just in their jobs but in their own lives. My favorite class I took was deconstructing espresso machines. There, I gained a whole new respect for the machines and the techs that work on them after finding out just how electrical and explosive the machines really are. It also gave me a better understanding of their internal mechanics and how each part works. MANE was a great experience and it helped me to better understand just how big the coffee world is. I am so greatful and thankful to have gone with such an amazing team. And even though the po-po shut down the latte art throwdown, they couldn’t keep us from killin it on the dance floor.”

— Hannah, Millerton Coffee House

Tamara tearing up the floor at MANE.
Tamara tearing up the floor at MANE.

“I became a barista originally because I just needed a job to make money, and about a year ago I actually tried to leave because I thought it was time for me to grow up and get a ‘real’ job. But one of the things that had stuck out to me during my time at Irving Farm—and what eventually brought me back—was the strong sense of community and family. Working for Irving Farm, as a barista, was actually one of the few times in my professional life that I had felt truly supported, respected, and cared for by the people I worked with. And it was that sense of community, and sense of family, that beckoned my return to being a barista. I can’t think of many other people I know who work in a profession where they have such a strong and immediate bond with others in their field. Since then I’ve learned that that sense of community, and general spirit of camaraderie, extends beyond Irving Farm into the coffee community at large. Having the opportunity to go to events like MANE, and being able to meet and connect with so many people all united by a common passion, and who all seem genuinely and earnestly excited about sharing that passion with other likeminded folks, is truly remarkable. MANE is particularly wonderful for folks more newly joining the coffee scene to get a sense of what’s out there. It’s a smaller event, and less expensive to participate in than some bigger events, so it’s not as daunting of a commitment to go to for anyone in the Northeast who works in the coffee industry. There are just enough people there so that you run into a few familiar faces, but you still meet and exchange ideas with many new ones as well. There was a class or panel for everyone, whether you were a roaster, barista, coffee shop manager, or just someone interested in coffee. One of my favorite classes was on the “flavor wheel”—a comprehensive chart developed to categorize aromas and tastes in coffee. And it was amazing to learn that despite the fact that coffee has been around for a very long time, the science of tasting coffee is still an emerging field, and there’s still a lot to learn and discover. Another class I really enjoyed was on espresso extraction. In that class, we split into small groups and had to dial in a coffee—that we knew nothing about beforehand—to try and optimize the taste of the espresso and drawing out its best qualities in the shot. We played around with dose, time, and grind to see how each of these variables affected the way the espresso tasted. We were delighted to find that the settings we were most happy with matched, almost exactly, the description the coffee roaster had printed on the bag! On the last day of the event, there was a panel featuring a variety of speakers who’d found ways to take their passion for coffee and turn it into a career, which really hammered home the significance of being there. These were people who were once where I was—passionate but still uncertain—and who had taken what they loved and what they were good at, and made it into a meaningful career. Listening to them helped me connect all of the new information I’d gleaned from classes and all of the sharing and exchanges I’d had with different people, and helped me see the myriad possibilities I had for my future in coffee. Which is really, really exciting. I’m looking forward to more opportunities like MANE where I can learn new things and share in new creative ideas with other people who are as passionate and enthusiastic about their work in coffee as I am.
— Liz, 79th & Broadway

Farm to Cup Interview: DTUT

Corey Lopez-Thomas of DTUT

Corey Lopez-Thomas of DTUT

 

In this second in a series of interviews by Irving Farm to the talented food and drink professionals we work in partnership with, we take a minute with Corey Lopez-Thomas of DTUT.

Tell us about “DTUT”. What’s it stand for, if anything?
DTUT (pronounced D-T-U-T) stands for Downtown Uptown. Our goal is just that: to bring a downtown feeling to an uptown location. The Upper East Side needed some vintage couches, reclaimed wood, and good strong coffee.

DTUT Interior

How did you get started in the food and beverage industry?
I started working at the original DTUT when I was 17 (which was open from 1997 to 2002). I was a barista. I fell in love with the feel of the place, and eventually became general manager. I stayed there until I was 22, when DTUT lost its lease. After that I bartended at Biddys pub, another local favorite on the Upper East Side, and became partner there when I was 25. While bartending I really missed the food industry and realized that I wanted to make it my career. I had been a general manager, a barista, a caterer and even a dishwasher – but I had never been behind the scenes cooking in the actual kitchen. So while bartending I began also working part-time as a cook in a restaurant in midtown. After that I knew the food service industry from every perspective, and felt prepared to open my own place.

DTUT Bar

DTUT Bar

What made you want to open a cafe?
As a bartender, I got a good feel for the kind of food and drink experiences that New Yorkers want. It became clear to me that the Upper East Side needed a community space where customers feel welcome to take it easy and enjoy a good cup of coffee. It was a void that hadn’t been filled since the original DTUT closed down.

Handmade Mug
Tell us about the space—and those awesome mugs, are those handmade?
The space is designed so that you can be as comfortable in it as you would be in your living room. We bought a variety of couches and armchairs from thrift stores around the city, mostly in Brooklyn and Queens.

It’s important to us to support and display local, independent artists. All of our mugs are handmade just for us by an artist in the Hudson Valley. She stamped our name on each one, and molded, glazed, and fired them in her small studio. Every mug is different. Our chandeliers were also made specially for us by an artist in Brooklyn. The one close to the bar is actually a reclaimed wooden door that we helped the artist pick out.

What coffee are you currently serving?
La Candelilla.

 Thank you, Corey!

Ethiopia Diaries: Part II

Irving Farm’s Coffee Director, Dan Streetman, travelled to Ethiopia earlier this year as part of his ongoing coffee journeys. Here is the second installment of his adventures.

Ethiopia Road

Lots of driving in Ethiopia!

 

Day 4

Heading back to Addis Ababa, my mind swirled with what we had encountered so far. Ethiopia was proving far more complex than even the nuance I expected to find in a country so steeped in coffee. One thing that struck me was how large the country is and how much road construction crews had laid since we drove out this direction! There must have been 200 miles of freshly paved asphalt on this road (incredible to me as it takes years to lay a few miles in New York City). However it was clear someone was very intent on investing in the infrastructure, as we must have seen 20 pieces of heavy equipment working along the way. While all the driving was drudgery, it was nice to be able to sit and process all we’d seen so far. Though I found my mind crystallizing questions more than it generated answers. Driving in Ethiopia at night proved to be a harrowing adventure—it is very dark, with the only light coming from other cars, and the road is packed with donkey carts, people, and other vehicles and creatures that have no reflective markers or lights. The rest of our drive was like a tense video game, where we were calling out to the driver to watch the donkey cart or animal as we barreled down the road heading for Addis Ababa. We arrived intact, with our knuckles slightly whiter, and agreed to work hard to stay on schedule the rest of the trip to avoid night driving, while reveling in the newly re-found luxuries of running water and pizza.

 

Day 5

Tadesi

Tadesi, a leader in Ethiopian coffee.

The next day was another one spent in the car, this time we were heading South, our destination being Hawassa. From Hawassa we would spend the next two days visiting the famed regions of Amaro and Yirgacheffe. Today at least we get to break up the drive with a visit to Ethiopia’s largest farmer’s union: the Oromia Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union or OCFCU. Farmers who are members of cooperatives can sell their coffee outside of the ECX system, which combined with plantations provide the only two ways to purchase traceable coffees from Ethiopia. Arriving at OCFCU, we are introduced to Tadesi—a legend in Ethiopian coffee. He founded OCFCU, and is its CEO. (He also was featured in the film “Black Gold”.) Tadesi gave us another overview of the entire Ethiopian coffee system. This refresher was helpful, because it is complex enough that working through it again helped clear up the confusion. He also went into detail about the Union. He expounded on the amount of production of the OCFCU and its growth over the past decade. The sheer numbers of producers is daunting, the membership numbering in the tens of thousands.

After Tadesi’s presentation, we toured the dry mill where they prepare coffee for export. We watched the women sort defects out of green coffee. After a bit, I decided to take an empty chair at the end of the sorting table. While I was pondering what it would be like to sort green coffee all day, I noticed one of the women was obviously tickled at the sight of me, sitting there sorting green coffee.   I smiled back at her, and tried to sort  the coffee a little more efficiently.

Sorting green coffee like a pro.

Sorting green coffee like a pro.

We raced the rest of the way to Hawassa, and managed to get to the hotel just as the sun was setting. It was thrilling to run out the back door in attempts to get the photo of the sunset over lake Awasa. (insert photo)

 

Day 6

Today was the day I had most looked forward to. We head to the Amaro Gayo Mill. This place had special significance to me, as we had purchased Natural processed coffee from this mill last year and I was planning to do so again this year, especially after we cupped the samples in Addis Ababa on day 1. To call Amaro Gayo a special coffee is an understatement, I think there is not another coffee like it in the world. The prospect of visiting the mill, and the woman responsible for this coffee had me tweaked. We stopped in the town of Yirgacheffe for coffee about 2 hours into driving. It was intriguing to get a glimpse of what we would be visiting the next day, another coffee holy site, as it were. However I was transfixed by Amaro Gayo. As we left Yirgacheffe we ascended over a range, and down into a large desert valley. We traveled another 1.5 hours on a dirt road through the desert, and I kept trying to see where we were headed—coffee does not grow in this climate! As we started to climb, the mountains on the other side of the valley it appeared, things started to get a little greener. Upon arriving at Amaro Gayo mill, I could see we were right at the boundary: everything below us was desert, everything above was green and lush. There was even a small river running down the mountain right next to the mill. We entered and were promptly introduced to Asnakech Thomas, the owner of Amaro Gayo. She in turn introduced us to her staff at the mill and showed us around the mill, while explaining their processes. Asnakech gave us a history of the mill, and the work she has been doing in Amaro, a small zone (think county) of the Southern Nations Nationalities and Peoples District (think state). Asnakech has a firm conviction that the coffee of Amaro is distinct from coffees of other regions. She explained how she has planted seedlings from other regions, and that they always die, and that “the coffee here must be different, just look at the desert around us.”  Asnakech is a woman of force, conviction and passion, an inspiring presence. She is driven by a mission to have the unique coffees of her region by recognized, and I would say she has achieved a fair deal of success with a sizable following for her coffee, and premium prices.

Harvest in the Square is Upon Us!

Getting ready for Harvest in the Square!

Getting ready for Harvest in the Square!

 

It’s that time again! Irving Farm is once again an excited part of Harvest in the Square, one of New York City’s most esteemed food events, and an integral part of supporting our Union Square community.

This will be the eighteenth year of this memorable evening that celebrates the finest chefs and foods surrounding Union Square Park, the neighborhood where Irving Farm began. Welcome in New York’s most beautiful season, fall, with this evening of exquisite food and drink pairings, music, and celebration.

Harvest in the Square
Tuesday, September 17, 2013
Enter from the South Plaza at 14th Street
Union Square Park, Manhattan

Ethiopia Diaries: Part I

Irving Farm’s Coffee Director, Dan Streetman, travelled to Ethiopia earlier this year as part of his ongoing coffee journeys. Here is the first installment of his adventures.

Ethiopia Tree

 

Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee, the only place on Earth where it grows wild. Coffee professionals speak with hushed excitement about traveling to this “mythical” place. Most ordinary people also get fairly excited about the prospect of traveling to Africa as well, a continent best known for its wildlife, home to elephants, giraffes and lions.

I too was swept with excitement at the prospect of traveling to Ethiopia, but at this point in my job, traveling 30-45 days out of the USA per year, I generally love being at the destination, and much less the getting there part. About a week before I left, everyone I talked to was saying “OH! that is so exciting,” and all I could think was, “It is going to be 27 hours on a plane…” However by 5am at the Amsterdam airport I was starting to feel excited, and by the time we landed in Khartoum, Sudan, our last stop before Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, it had become a rush. 

St George Beer

St. George Ethiopian Beer

Two hours later we landed in Addis Ababa, and instantly my travel instincts started kicking in. Getting ready to clear customs, trying to ascertain how things were going to go etc. It turned out to be unnecessary: while looking disorganized, customs ran entirely smoothly, and I was let in without any hassle. My traveling partners and I had to wait for some other guests at the airport before catching the shuttle to the hotel, so we decided to grab a beer. There was only one choice, St. George.

 

Day 1
We headed to an export office, early in the morning, to meet our hosts and do some cupping. I was thrilled to bump into a colleague, Bruck, from my Q-cupper certification class. I had anticipated my first cupping in Ethiopia to be completely magical—I was hoping we would find many different coffees and new distinct profiles I had never tasted before. I knew that Ethiopia had several regions with which I was fairly unfamiliar, and was excited to see what these unknown coffees would taste like. It turned out to be less than magical—only the recognized regions delivered on their reputations. Overall, that first table was like many others I have experienced in other coffee-producing countries: even the pre-selected coffees proved to be mostly mediocre, some nice ones and only a few gems. I jotted down some notes, and asked about the rest of our travel itinerary. That afternoon we were going to visit the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange (ECX), a confusing and controversial element of the coffee trade in Ethiopia.

 

Ethiopian Commodities Exchange

Ethiopian Commodities Exchange

 

The ECX was launched in 2008, and was met with skepticism by specialty coffee roasters in the United States, and around the world. Mostly this was because coffee in the ECX is not traceable, as it is treated as a “commodity”. The idea behind the exchange is to drive transparent price discovery for types/qualities of coffee. Whereas specialty buyers wanted to buy specific lots from specific suppliers, rather than a commoditized regional “type.” The Exchange has several grades for all of its types, the most recognized being “Yirgacheffe,” “Sidamo” and “Harrar”, which are each regions of Ethiopia. We were not allowed to bring cameras into the building, but we were given a tour by an employee and shown the trade floor. Basically a group of buyers and sellers are locked in the octagon to do battle for an allotted time and bid on coffee. Deals are made when a buyer and a seller high-five to agree on the price. Whenever a deal is struck it is posted on a board over the floor for everyone to see the agreed price and quantity. The floor seems fairly calm until the last few minutes before the bell, and people start frantically trying to buy and sell. At this point I had a fairly rosy overview of how the Exchange worked, thanks to the cheerful employees who were very happy to tout its benefits. Although I was still confused about how the real coffee actually came in and then went back out of the Exchange: that confusion would linger until the end of the trip.

Day 2
The next day we set out for Keffa, a 12-hour drive from Addis Ababa which meant leaving at 6am, as we did not want to drive in the dark. My excitement of being in Ethiopia hadn’t worn off yet, even throughout the 12-hour ride, and even increased as we headed to Keffa, the forest where, the legend goes, coffee originally grew wild.  This in spite of the drive being the type you see on National Geographic complete with pot-hole ridden roads, where there were paved roads at all, baboons, and an endless supply of pedestrians and donkey carts willing to play Frogger. The last stretch of the drive was about 50km of red dirt roads, which were so loose you could literally not see the front of the car our the front window due to the dust kicked up.

Dust-blinded driving condtions.

Dust-blinded driving condtions.

If wasn’t still excited about being in Ethiopia, I was at least amped by the sheer adrenaline of driving in these conditions. We arrived just before dark, which meant a 2-hour journey to the coffee forest would put us there in almost pitch dark conditions.  Combined with the likelihood of seeing almost nothing, and being exhausted from all the traveling meant foregoing the lore, and just enjoying dinner in the hotel courtyard before retiring to bed early.

 

Day 3
I got up at 5:30am hoping for a shower before our 6:30 departure, but the water still wasn’t working from the night before. After breakfast we all piled back in the car, and drove about 2 hours to a farm called “LemKeffa” which is one of few plantations in Ethiopia. Less than one percent of farms here are plantations, defined as more than 30 hectares, and only plantations are allowed to sell to exporters directly. LemKeffa is owned by Addisu, a former cab driver in New York City. Addisu and I hit it off immediately, talking about New York, his time as a cab driver, his family in the US, and, ultimately, his farm. He moved back to Ethiopia about 10 years ago to purchase the farm, and hired an Agronomist farm manager about 5 years ago. Addisu’s farm is very representative of what we saw throughout most of Ethiopia, if a little better managed. We spent a good amount of time talking specifically about how farms are managed in Ethiopia, and about how the government encourages farmers to increase production.

Coffee Hotel in Keffa

Coffee Hotel in Keffa

Currently Ethiopia produces less than half the coffee per hectare compared to Central America. It is unclear exactly why, though Ethiopian farms have little to no access to fertilizers as they are prohibitively expensive. While most farm visits are fairly straightforward—walk through the trees, look around and take some pictures—walking Addisu’s farm was charged with an unusual energy. My excitement of seeing my first farm in Ethiopia, or even Africa, was part of it, but also my realization that even though I’m pretty good at recognizing the more common varieties of coffee tree, as I looked around the farm nothing looked familiar! Even knowing about the genetic diversity of coffee in Ethiopia, it was quite another thing to actually witness it.


After lunch, one of the ladies on Addisu’s farm demonstrated the Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony for us. (The ceremony involves roasting green coffee beans on a pan over coals, mashing them inside a hollowed out log with a large wooden mallet, and brewing them in a gourd-like vessel with boiling water, before being served.) Further demonstrating that coffee here is an integral part of the social fabric, following every meal, and all social gatherings.

 

Stay tuned for Part II of Dan’s Ethiopia Diaries!

We’re moving downtown! Now open at 88 Orchard Street.

1-88_crow-gold

Join us in celebrating the opening of our fourth Manhattan cafe at 88 Orchard on the Lower East Side. This neighborhood cafe in one of the city’s most fascinating historic districts, for years known as simply 88 Orchard, has long been loved by the community, and has for more than a decade been a wonderful showcase for our coffees.

88 Orchard was one of Irving Farm’s first retail outlets to whom we wholesaled our coffee. When it came time for the cafe’s owners to choose a new direction in life, naturally, they turned to us to see if we’d like to take over the space. Naturally, we said yes!

We’re the official caretakers here now, and have spruced it up with the warm, fresh decor you’ve come to associate with Irving Farm, along with the same great coffees—and even more of them to choose from. We’ve added a Daily Single Origin batch brew, microlot coffee on Kalita pourover bar, and more! And we’re still serving wonderful sandwiches, bagels, baked goods and delicious local beer and wine.

Pay us a visit at the corner of Orchard and Broome today!

 

« OlderNewer »