Coffee Travel Diaries: Winter 2014 Part II

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jose Luis. Photo by Dan Streetman.

Jose Luis. Photo by Mayita Mendez.

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

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

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

Tomorrow, on to Costa Rica.

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

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

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

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

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

Marcia on La Candelilla. Photo by Dan Streetman.

Marcia on La Candelilla. Photo by Mayita Mendez.

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

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

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

Coffee Travel Diaries: Winter 2014

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

dan_elsal_landscape

El Salvador. Photo by Dan Streetman.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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Alex Keller on the farm. Photo by Dan Streetman.

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

 

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

I have very good email access here.

 

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

Jose Antonio & Andres

Jose Antonio & Andres. Photo by Dan Streetman.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday morning we will head to Honduras!

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

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!

Nice is Nice, and so are Coffee People

The French Riviera beckons. Photo by Dan Streetman.

The French Riviera beckons. Photo by Dan Streetman.

Our Coffee Director, Dan Streetman, recently traveled to Nice, France, for the 2013 Specialty Coffee Association of Europe conference. While he wasn’t tanning on the beach, he took the time to meet with some coffee colleagues and producers and to judge some rigorous competitions. Here is his recap of the week.

The South of France might be one of the most universally exciting travel destinations in the world, especially in June. When I was invited to attend this year’s Specialty Coffee Association of Europe show, I jumped at the chance. Spending a week in the Riviera was just too enticing, even if it meant a week of trade show activities.

Arriving in France, the plane took a sweep off the coast of the city. Nothing but crystal azure water and terracotta roofs extending from the beach to the foothills in the distance. Even a view of the distant Alps made for quite the introduction. After dropping bags at the hotel and a quick breakfast, I headed over to the convention center for judges’ calibration for the World Latte Art and World Coffee in Good Spirits competitions. We do not conduct national competitions for these events in the United States, so I was especially interested to participate.

The next few days would prove to be a whirlwind of activity, just like every other trade show. I was observing SCAE education classes, judging Coffee in Good Spirits as a sensory judge and walking the show floor in between. I was a little skeptical about Coffee in Good Spirits—a contest involving signature drinks combining coffee and alcohol—because as a coffee purist I have never been a fan of people putting things in my coffee. However the drinks in the competition made me a believer, as all of them were far superior to anything I had tried before in the way of coffee cocktails. This was especially true of the drinks in the final round, with some especially delicious drinks.  France took home the crown with their competitor making a drink that included coffee, Cognac, and a cigar whose smoke was trapped under a cloche and released just before drinking.

Working with SCAE Education folks was equally rewarding, as being so heavily involved with the Barista Guild and SCAA espresso curriculum it is always nice to share war stories with another group that faces similar challenges.

The best surprise of the show however was running into a few of our friends from producing countries. Andres Salaverria, whose family owns the farms of Guadalupe and El Molino in El Salvador was in attendance to facilitate some cuppings at the show with their European clients Nordic Approach. It is always great to see Andres, and especially so when it is unexpected. He informed me that the farms are doing very well, and they have almost defeated the leaf rust scare, reducing the infection from 40% of the farms to 1%. This news came as quite a surprise to me, as there has not been any news like this out of Central America in regards to the leaf rust epidemic.  Andres explained however that careful pruning and a lot of management had been the secret to their success—along with favorable weather.

I was also lucky enough to see Omar Rodriguez, who is President of the Capucas Co-op. He was excited to hear that we had just received our coffees, and that we were looking forward to releasing them (our fresh crop of Capucas is now available). Omar also had surprisingly good reports in regards to leaf rust in regards to our other producers from Capucas: Jose Francisco and Jose Luis who own Los Plantanares and Los Lirios.

My third encounter was with Tsion Taye who was my guide in Ethiopia this year.  We chatted business briefly, and talked about the complexities of Ethiopia. I also got some advice on how to get some very exciting coffees for next year.

Judge Streetman rigging another contest...

Judge Streetman rigging another contest…

After the event, I was energized by the interactions of the show. Volunteering at these events always drives home that coffee is about people—particularly those people who  you may not even expect to run into but who make all the difference. Working and collaborating with these people is my favorite part of working in coffee.

 

Fresh Spring Changes at Millerton Coffee House

Millerton Coffee House
It’s been nearly a year since we had the unique pleasure of taking back the original Irving Farm Coffee House in Millerton, NY into the Irving Farm Family. We gave the Coffee House a face lift last June, but we’re really excited to have had a moment this spring—okay, more than a week—to make bigger improvements.

Right away, customers will notice the new seating—cozy sage green banquette seating along one wall—but look down at the completely refinished floors, or walk to the reclaimed wood bar with a more open flow, easier for the customer and barista both.

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We’ve also made changes in the kitchen—our baker has a separate area now, we’ve upgraded the water filtration system for even better tasting coffee. Our espresso and drip coffee service has been complemented by a Kalita pourover bar, which you’ll see debuting soon. And—oh yeah—central air conditioning, just in time for summer.

As for the floral arrangements from local Millerton gardens, we’re keeping that our little secret.

Haven’t ever paid a visit to our Hudson Valley location? Now’s the time, it’s better than ever.

We’re back from TED and full of ideas!

Beyond the talks and minds that make TED famous each year is a particular kind of fuel we’re proud to be in the business of: coffee, and the customer service that goes along with it. This year, we were honored to have two of our best coffee professionals, Teresa von Fuchs and Tamara Vigil, selected to help out at the TEDcoffee portion of TED. Here’s Teresa’s firsthand account of what made it so special.

 

Teresa von Fuchs serving coffee at TED2013.

Teresa von Fuchs serving coffee at TED2013.

I first heard about TED when someone sent me the video link of Jill Bolte Taylor detailing her stroke. The story of a Neuroanatomist experiencing her own brain in such a unique way, and then being able to detail that experience just blew me away. The venue for sharing this was TED—and uniquely TED.

So when I was invited, along with 30 other respected coffee professionals, to be a part of this year’s TED, as part of the coffee service program, I was thrilled. Thrilled by the thought of rubbing shoulders with great minds in so many different fields. (And of course there was some of that—I actually met Dr. Bolte Taylor, along with some other very inspiring and smart people). And thrilled by the coffee peers selected with me, and by the way new ideas were able to germinate and bloom so quickly in the simple act of working together. Thrilled by how with even the barest infrastructure, we all took the task of pouring what we loved about coffee so seriously into every cup.

A little background on this year’s #TEDcoffee, as we called it. While serious coffee has always been important to the TED organizers, this was the first year the Barista Guild of America (BGA), the Roasters Guild and the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) had the opportunity to take on the project and present a coffee service as a collaboration.

The Roasters Guild held an open call for coffee submissions, and blind cupped coffees from 36 different roasters. They then selected five coffees to be highlighted as single origins, and created one blend using coffees from three different roasters.

The Barista Guild sent invites to members it had identified as having strong “skills in not only making great coffee but being exceptional ambassadors for specialty coffee.” And the SCAA asked its equipment and smallwares members if they could loan/donate/pitch in to create the seven bars that were open continuously during the event. There’s no overstating what a massive amount of logistical, organizational and plain-old-elbow-grease was required to just set the process in motion, let alone pull it off as a raging success. Huge props, hugs and high fives go out to Chris Schooley, Head of the Roasters Guild, Trevor Corlett, Vice-Chair of the BGA, Julie Housh of World Coffee Events and Peter Giuliano of SCAA Symposium.

The day before TED opened, 30 baristas flew to California from all over the world and met up at SCAA headquarters in Long Beach to get the scoop on the work we had cut out for us during the next week. Our organizing leaders had invited the barista team because they knew we could all make great coffee and spin a good yarn about what makes it special, but they had an even clearer idea of what they wanted service to look like. Ric Rhinehart, Executive Director of the SCAA, started us off by talking about how we’re all here because we love coffee:

“We think it’s really important, but at the end of the day, it’s just coffee. We’re not curing cancer, its not rocket science, there’s no nutritive value. But that’s one of the reasons its special. We don’t need wine or music or love to survive either, but it’s those things that make life richer, sweeter. And coffee has that power too, to enhance our lives not because we need it, but because we love it. And we can share that love with the folks at TED.”

We were encouraged to talk about the coffees by talking about what we were doing, not just the seed-to-cup story, but focusing on the craftsmanship and artistry of making specialty coffee special. In the same vein, Chris Schooley asked that we focus on the actual people who roasted these coffees. We were given info about each coffee, and each roaster detailed how he or she approached this coffee. He asked that we name the roaster, not just the company, for each coffee when we served it.

Trevor Corlett followed this up by reminding us that the story of all of us coming together from competing companies, that we volunteered our time and paid our own ways to be there, could help create the potential “lightbulb” moment for people in attendance.  These were, after all, some of the brightest people in the world, coming together to share ideas: why wouldn’t they want to share some ideas about coffee with some of the brightest coffee pros around?

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All this inspiring talk about service and love eased us into the nitty gritty of schedules: though it was now pushing 10pm, some folks were still needed to finish setting up the bars. And this was basically how the rest of the week would run: morning meetings started at 7am, we started closing the coffee bars down at 7pm, and then all tromped to dinner where we’d discuss the finer points of how these big ideas of service were translating into the day-to-day details.

tedwater

So how did all these big ideas translate into actual service? About as well as they do at home, in all of our best-intentioned specialty coffee businesses. A small percentage of folks already got it and were thrilled with what we were doing and that we were there. A similar percentage commented that they’d come in with a cup of something else and soon realized they couldn’t drink it once they compared it with the deliciousness we were serving. A few folks had their socks blown off for the first time. Most folks said thank you. And a good number barely registered that we weren’t catering staff. And though that reality could seem disheartening, it didn’t kill the love we poured into every cup one bit. It didn’t dampen the collective professional passion, or our ability to remain open to learning something from the person working beside us. There was a really natural and quick evolution of bar/work flow as folks from all different shops and backgrounds worked together during the stampedes to fill every cup, and how we drew together in the slow times to coax attendees into engaging. The story of collaboration, of the three-roaster blend, of working next to someone who at other times is a “competitor” (in business life, or literally your opponent in a barista competition) infused the whole experience, creating real magic. As Peter G. encouraged us in our early meeting, this helped us bring “real humanity into the equation of specialty.”

I don’t mean to downplay the joy or truly incredible experience many attendees had—there were meaningful and rewarding service moments every day, when someone (like former VP Al Gore or the head of Google) started asking questions about the coffee or what we were doing, or why our badges said volunteer when we were clearly working hard, or had that look of pure delight when they took a sip and actually tasted the coffee.

One of my favorite, though silly, moments was overhearing an attendee, or TEDster as we called them, walk by and ask her friend “Did you know the coffee people here are world champion coffee makers? They came just to make us award winning coffee.”  But one of the biggest things I took back with me was how much we can learn about preparation and presentation from the spirit of collaboration—of working with people who you’d otherwise not have the opportunity to work beside. This coming together renewed a focus on the coffee as a whole as special, not just our company or shop or cup or even the coffee producer, but the collective work and passion that goes into the whole equation.

ted1

Along these lines, I want to mention a parallel I’m still chewing on from one of the talks I got to hear during the event. We talked about this and many other ideas from the talks in our clean-up or slow moments, but I’d like to know what you all think about how this idea can relate to our work: musician and performer Amanda Palmer talked about wanting to never lose a direct “intense kind of eye contact” connection with her fans, about how she approaches her art, her life and her music with a daring trust in her fans and collaborators to support and “catch” her.

And from that perspective it looked like maybe the music industry has been asking the wrong question, when it wonders “How do we get people to pay for music?” The question she wants to explore is how can we ask them to pay for music? And in that vein, I’m wondering how we can we ask our customers and coffee drinking people what’s special to them about coffee and in what new ways we can draw them into our love and passion.

Thanks for reading, it was a long, awesome week and this is really only the beginning of the ideas and inspiration bubbling up. For a full list of “winning” coffees, “world champion coffee makers” and partner supporting organizations that made #TEDcoffee possible, check out the BGA blog here.

Colombia Farm Visits


Irving Farm green coffee buyer Dan Streetman just returned from a whirlwind trip to Colombia to visit farms and taste wonderful coffees. He visited Bogota, Garcon, Monserrate, and La Plata, cupping dozens of coffees a day in search for the right flavors — and relationships — to bring back to our roastery in New York State.


Day 1

Just a brief update on what is going on here in Colombia. So far the trip has been really good… we have a diverse group of folks with three coffee buyers (myself, Kaldi’s and Batdorf & Bronson), one cafe manager from Kaldi’s, two folks from Atlas, and a coffee producer from El Salvador. We’ve been having a healthy range of discussions about the biz.

Monserrate was AMAZING.  We went up to Monserrate early this morning, it is about an hour up from La Plata where we are staying even though it is only 30km. I had forgotten how rough the road is, and it was a little worrisome when we came up to a bulldozer pushing giant boulders into the road.  We waited for a bit, and he cleared it for us.  It is great to see them paving the road however, and was much improved from last year.  We started with a calibration cupping, and then had 2 rounds of actual cupping.  We saw some really nice coffees: the highest I scored was an 88.5 which was very Kenya-like…  Also some very nice classic Colombian profiles with refined acidity, and very sweet.

We also had schoolkids around the whole day while we were cupping, as we were using one of the school classrooms for our cupping lab.  There were also some kids who were enrolled in a coffee education program at their high school who came and cupped with us. The kids were very shy at first, but got super excited and began tasting the coffees with us after the last round was finished.  We ended up chatting a lot with them, and they were asking us all kinds of questions.  Where we were from, did we speak Spanish etc, etc, etc.  Then they all started asking for us to take photos with them.

After the cupping wrapped up we walked the length of the Monserrate village, and gathered a new following of 8-10 year old girls.  They were very amusing, and it helped keep the farm visits light-hearted. Having Emilio Lopez here (farmer from El Salvador) is also especially exciting, as listening to him chat with the farmers, and hearing his thoughts on the coffee production here is very enlightening.  Overall a very rewarding day.

Tomorrow we’re having breakfast at 7:30 at the local bakery Pan Superpan, whose owner today insisted on taking her photo with all of us to put on Facebook. Then we’ll head back up to Monserrate, and we have another 3 rounds of cupping.  I also am excited, as they told me I’ll get to meet Dario Anaya tomorrow, even though we can’t visit his farm, El Jigual. Alto Patico is on another ridge, and apparently very difficult to get to.

Day 2

Back in Bogota tonight, it is really nice to take a hot shower, and relax a little. Yesterday we finished the cupping.  There was an impressive lot of coffees, I scored all of the top 5 very high. We’re buying two lots from the competition, a ~115lb lot from Willer Rivera, which I scored 89.25, and a ~150lb lot from Orlando Osa.  After the cupping we had a meeting with a big group of folks from the village and explained to them how each of our companies was using the coffee and how much we had enjoyed it over the past year. It was really cool to see the community come out and be interested.

Unfortunately it rained most of the day Saturday and it prevented Dario from coming over to Monserrate from Alto Patico. Last year was our first year buying from El Jigual. I loved it’s classic Colombian structure, with flavors of fresh blackberry, wrapped in heavy chocolate body.  It is rich and robust, making it a perfect winter-spring coffee. The good news is Dario has been submitting coffee to our exporter partner here RaCafe, and we should see a sample soon. Our love for El Jigual will hopefully continue into the coming seasons!

Travel Update: Honduras + Nicaragua

Jose Francisco Villeda and family

 

Dan meeting farmers, Hoduras newspaper

 

Omar, Las Capucas Co-op President

 

The view from El Cielito in San Vicente

 

Marcala

 

Coffee flowers in Nicaragua

 

Travel Diary

Dan, our Coffee Director, just returned from a coffee buying trip where he visited some old friend and made new coffee friends; sniffed, swirled and spit coffee; crossed borders and made the newspaper in Honduras…

Here are a few lines from his travel diary:

First stop, Capucas:

I wanted to drop a line about Las Capucas. Everything was amazing when we got here. Our hosts had built cabanas for us to stay in, which was real fun. This year the co-op had 40 new members join and I got to meet some of them. Great news, they all replaced their milling equipment with brand new milling equipment! Best of all, the coffee is improving. This year they had 44 lots in the competition (last year we had 30) and there were only 2 lots that we scored as “non-specialty”. This is an impressive achievement and I’m excited about how things continue to develop here.

On Saturday after the festival, I visited Jose Francisco Villeda (aka Pancho) and his family.  He is a farmer whose coffee we currently buy. It was really awesome to sit down with him and learn more about his farm and family. Pancho and his wife Patricia have 4 daughters and 1 son. This year Pancho is processing much more of his own coffee, instead of selling it to the mill. This is largely because of our commitment to continue buying from him and the prospect of us buying more coffee.

 

Two days in San Vicente:

Now we are in Santa Barbara and working with the San Vicente Dry Mill. Santa Barbara is the most famous part of Honduras to source coffee from right now.  Mostly because many of the “Cup of Excellence” winners come from here. For example the El Sauce coffee we had from CoE in 2010, which I visited today. We cupped 30 coffees in the Mill today, did a few farm visits and tomorrow are doing more farm visits from the coffees that we liked. I found one lot that I like a LOT which wasn’t spoken for and we are going to visit tomorrow.  It is all Bourbon, which is uncommon here with mostly Pacas and Catuai being grown.

 

Two days in Marcala:

We took a side trip to Marcala on the way to Nicaragua.  Marcala is probably the best known of Honduras’ growing regions.  It is a controlled Denomination of Origin by the Honduran Government, which means the coffees must be from the region of Marcala, and meet the quality specs.  This year however was the first year the mill here has separated “micro-lots”.  We cupped 30 coffees and saw some promise.  We also met an amazing young lady named Nancy Contreras, who has been cupping since she was 14 and now owns a coffee shop, roasts and cups at the mill. 


Last stop, Nicaragua:

Yesterday we crossed the border from Honduras to Nicaragua. This morning we are getting up early to head out to visit some farms. We toured around Ocotal (the city where we are) in two coffee growing regions, Dipilto and Mozonte.  The last day we cupped 30 coffees at Beneficio Las Segovias, before heading to the Managua.  Dipilto and Mozonte also showed tons of promise and some amazing producers with very distinct points of view.  

After two weeks on the road I am exhausted but amazed at the great coffees and people I have been introduced to. Looking forward to returning home to NYC.