AS THEFLIES


The Road To The Brewers Cup

the road to the brewers cup  

Irving Farm's Brandon Epting recently competed at the US Coffee Championships in Long Beach, CA, in the Brewers Cup competition. We asked him about what it took to train for an event like this, and, like most things in coffee, it goes far beyond brewing a perfect cup.

Condensing months of learning, testing, applying, and redoing is difficult. Add to that the experience of meeting extended coffee family—brothers and sisters in the Northeast, cousins along the East Coast, and seldom-seen uncles who offer wisdom and encouragement. This is enough for a person to handle in a short few months: overwhelming activity and emotions, layered on top of the day-to-day mechanics of co-running a coffee shop and being a person...and then competition must be peppered in. After all, that’s the event. People have asked me about the process of preparing for and going through regional and national competitions in the United States Brewers Cup Championship. Mostly, I answer that I thought it’d be a fun thing to try, that competition would increase my knowledge and abilities, and would be a fun way to get paid to brew delicious coffees all the time. These are all true, but they’re the answers I give when I think people don’t want to listen or would like a shorter answer. This is probably why they’re in my second paragraph. 

Brewers Cup

I could also tell them how we at Irving Farm chose to approach the competition this year: mostly for educational growth and the application of quality assurance. When one prepares to go this deep into coffee brewing and assessment, all nuances are scrutinized. Our team learned heaps and could write volumes about our entire process, how it’s changing, and how we hope to apply it from farm to cup. These are the practical applications that are easy to grasp and quantify. They’re also good ways to justify cost and time, as they could easily yield even higher quality than we currently possess. However, I’m convinced that these are not the most valuable take-aways from the process of competition. At least, they’re not what I felt vibrate in my bones. Community and camaraderie, the inspiration of other people and places, the ideas of bringing delicious coffee to the table—these are incredibly valuable. It’s like art, though: how do we express the value of inspiration and excitement? How do we express the experience of giving someone paper and paint, a story and a stage, or a coffee and a friend? You can’t. You can only watch as joy and sunlight stream out of their eyes.

***

Competition required six months of my attention when all was said and done. Some of the associated memories stick out more explicitly than others. One in snow-covered Rhode Island with the kids from New Harvest Coffee. Erick Armbrust and I met when we competed at the regional competition last fall. I’ve met one other person who I knew was family at first handshake, and I hope that one day Erick and I will get to work with each other in coffee or any other thing that requires heart and craft. Erick brought a solid knowledge of coffee and brewing to the table and was also headed to the nationals, so Josh Littlefield and I went to practice run-throughs with him in Providence. We tasted coffee, shared doughnuts, tasted more coffee, and ate Mexican food while Erick told us about the wood shop he wants to build in his living room. I expect a new wallet from him this spring because he's clever with fabrics and sewing machines, too.

 Brewers Cup

In California, during the trip to the nationals, I had a paralyzing emotional reaction that made me a horrible person to be around for much of the trip. Walls went up and I lashed out at friends. I had little control and no idea why I’d shifted into this terror, but it happened—and realizing this only made me more uncomfortable. About five days in, everything clicked. Reliving some parts of our lives is miserable. Fortunately, my teammate Josh Littlefield can mitigate that misery and be gentle and kind, if not a full-on buffer, and can take you around to drink good coffee served by people who give a damn. And my friend Matt Lauria can share apples and clothes, while listening intently about coffee brewing, even though he’s more of a water drinker.

 Brewers Cup 

Brewers Cup

Lastly, and on the day Josh and I were to fly home to NY, our friend Tyler from Wilbur Curtis asked us to meet at Blacktop Coffee. We drank several beautiful coffees poured into turquoise mugs, plated on wooden slats with reserves of coffee in small glass bottles, and ate stunning salmon and eggs that Instagram would swoon over—if you're into that sort of thing. After, we appropriated Tyler from his work and drove to Joshua Tree. Tyler, a new friend, is wildy comfortable to be around, so there was a lot for us all to share. We spoke about where we came from and where we are, our perspectives of the “state of coffee” and our dreams of where we hope it will go. We spoke about relationships and families, business models, cremated rockstars, and drank rainwater on top of huge rocks in the middle of a desert. There’s a decent chance it was actually urine from a well-hydrated desert animal, but we’re still alive and all the better from the experience. 

The competition itself was a mixture of frustration and excitement. With Brewers Cup being so young, there's still confusion of what we're rewarding and penalizing, and whether it's a sourcing or a brewing competition. There's a formula to follow if you're after points, but honestly, these tend to be the least interesting presentations, although often the most expensive and different (read weird and uncommon) coffees. It's a competition after all, so who can blame anyone for collecting points? I took two risky routes out of interest in where I was personally and professionally. Education and progress were my starting blocks, so I explored how isolated brewing variables work collaboratively and made analogies of escaped dinosaurs from Jurassic Park for regionals. At the nationals, I spoke about the choices we have to make as an industry, as roasters, brewers, and drinkers, then offered the judges a choice of two coffees and asked them to choose which they wanted me to brew on the spot. Both of these were a little more involved than the judges liked, but I had a blast doing them. It certainly pushed my boundaries and brought a lot of excitement to the people around me and the audience. We started thinking and discussing and sharing, and that excited me.

Brewers Cup

Brewers Cup

One of my great joys is learning. Another is people, although I'm incredibly uncomfortable around them. Pairing the two and hoping to invest in both brought me to coffee and presented me with one of my best friends, a home, the woman I am dating, and a place to learn better the fullness of relationships, community, and craft. It's also a place I've poured time, blood, sweat, and money into. So, I guess this is really the root of the competition process for me: a coffee and a friend, with a hefty dose of craft.

Coffee Postcards From El Salvador: January 2015

El Salvador

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

Day 1: Yesterday was basically a travel day. We got to the wet mill here at Beneficio Las Cruces around 4pm yesterday, and saw some coffee being unloaded and processed. After dinner we came back to the mill and watched the guys unload all the cherry from the day's picking. The farmers usually start around six in the morning and pick until 2-3pm. Afterwards everything gets sorted and weighed at the farm. Depending on the farm, the best quality will be sorted for microlots while the less ripe cherry will be separated and marked to go into the larger lots, or generic Strictly High Grade (SHG) lots. After the trucks are loaded they have to drive to the wet mill, which can be up to two hours of travel. Once at the wet mill all the trucks are weighed to verify that the same weights arrive at the mill that were picked in the farm. This process takes some time, and there is usually a line of trucks waiting to get their weight verified, and then be unloaded. Each truck takes about two hours to unload, especially as they have to move around to unload different lots into the designated bins so they can be processed separately. El Salvador

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

Day 2: Yesterday morning we went over to visit the Guadalupe and El Molino farm sites. We did a rather extensive walk of Guadalupe and examined some different plots. Specifically, Andres and Jose Antonio showed me how they are continuing to convert Guadalupe to the agobio parras system. This method takes the vertical Bourbon trees and bends them sideways. They have found that this method is working to help the trees fight rust because it uses a more developed root system to support the tree. Also, it is very beneficial for another problem they have been having in the farms recently which is WIND. Wind storms are very common to this part of El Salvador, but this year the wind has been especially bad. Usually the storms only last for the month of October but this year they have been seeing windstorms every other week from October until now. The Bourbon is especially susceptible to the wind because of its height, as it can grow up to 10-12 feet. By bending the tree you bring the height down to 6-7 feet, the wind can more easily pass over the trees. It was pretty incredible to watch the tall trees shaking profusely in the wind and the parras barely be touched. After we went and saw El Molino drying on the patios at the old abandoned mill on that farm. 

We also examined a plot of Catuai variety coffee growing on Guadalupe. Afterwards, Andres and Jose Antonio showed me the nursery and some of the varieties they are working with. This year they are working on a project to plant 8 different varieties in one farm, as a test for what types they will plant in the future. Specifically they are working to find the best variety for each plot on each farm, by understanding what characteristics each will have. They are planting SL-28, Geisha, Pink Bourbon, Yellow Caturra, Batian, and SL-32 along with Castillo and a few other Catimor types. We had lunch with Jose Antonio Sr. (Andres and Jose Antonio's father). It was great to see him, the first year that I was here was his last year managing the farms. This is my 5th trip. After lunch we did some cupping. We cupped 30 coffees. I am very excited because both the Guadalupe and El Molino cupped well, even though they are extremely fresh from the patios. We also cupped a lot of Catuai and Catimor from the same farm, neighboring plots. I was surprised how well the Catimor cupped. Jose Antonio explained to me that they are planning to plant more Catimor at lower elevations and for their more generic coffees. We also cupped some coffees with different processing methods, like some which were soaked after being washed, some pulp naturals, and some naturals. It is early in the harvest but across the board they are showing the consistency and quality I have come to expect. Later we went to visit the Santa Rita farms, and Jose Antonio had me demonstrate two different types of parras. A parra is when you allow the tree to grow vertically for 5-10 years, and then you bend the tree so that the vertical trunk, becomes horizontal. Since you learn by doing, Jose Antonio had me demonstrate the techniques on a few trees so that I could practice. 

One method is the traditional parras where the vertical tree is bent to become a horizontal branch, which will eventually sprout 4 more verticals. In this system it is very important to give adequate space to the verticals so that the branches don't all grow into a tangle. It takes quite a bit of forethought to do this well, especially considering that this will be a 10-40 year project to complete. Thinking that far ahead is definitely a challenge. We also walked through the parra de raiz, or root parra, where the tree is dug up and reburied at an angle. A different method of achieving the same result. Only in this system, the roots will not support 4 bent verticals like in the traditional parra. Afterwards, Bill, Liz and Mayita arrived and we gave them a tour of the wet and dry mills before leaving to stay at Talnamica, Mayita's family farm. It was a memorable visit for all of us.  

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

Notes From Colombia

Irving Farm Columbian Coffee

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

Irving Farm Columbian Coffee 

Day 1 Today is the first day in Colombia. I got into Bogota last night around 11pm, and we went back to the airport at about 4am to catch our flight to Huila. We landed in Neiva after a short flight on a propeller plane. On the way, we hit some fairly weird turbulence, and I think it was the closest I have ever been to puking in flight... however, our sunglass-wearing flight attendant helped me keep it together with her dark wire-frame Ray-Bans and serious poker face a la Lady Gaga. We had a two hour drive to the town of Timana (Tee-ma-NAH), which is the oldest municipality in Huila. A beautiful little town with a quaint central square and historic old church/cathedral. In Timana, we met with a grower's association called Aspro Timana. They are essentially a co-op with about 100 members, 30 of whom are female. They are doing some very cool stuff especially in terms of Colombia. They have a Q-certified cupper on staff, and are cupping every lot that comes into the warehouse, and maintain price premiums for coffees that score 83+ or 85+. They are also working very hard between their cupping team and technical assistance team to work with the growers to improve their quality. We cupped 9 coffees from this group, all were solid 82-83 coffees with the best being in the 86-87 range. I was mostly impressed by how consistently good the coffees were. Also cool about the cupping was that we tasted two different fermentation processes by one producer, one a normal 16-20 hour fermentation, and the other a 72 hour anaerobic fermentation without water. The 72 hour fermentation was one of the clear favorites on the table. Afterward, we went up to the producer's farm for lunch. When we arrived we were across a ravine and down from the house where we would be eating lunch, and the ravine had a zip-line running across it. Someone said, "we're riding the zip-line across the gorge," at which point I noticed a large wooden/metal frame hanging from the zip-line. 

Irving Farm Columbian Coffee 

Irving Farm Columbian Coffee

"Who wants to go first?" we were asked. I promptly got into the frame, and got hoisted across this at least 100ft drop by an electric motor. The farm was beautiful and lunch was delicious—a local version of chicken soup called "salcocho" in which they make broth and then serve it with TOUGH old hen, plantains, yucca, and starchy corn. The farm is 1,750 meters above sea level, which made it quite cool temperature-wise, especially once it started drizzling rain. After lunch we hiked up to the top of the farm, which is 1,850 masl, and noted the mix of Castillo and Caturra varieties. He had "la roya" (leaf rust) up to about 1800 meters, but the very top was untouched. We also saw one Typica tree. After the farm tour we piled back in Jeeps to get back to town. Our driver's green Jeep was lovingly entitled "El Loco", and it was in El Loco in which we jammed to reggaeton all the way down the dirt roads back to Tamina. Irving Farm Columbian Coffee

Chris Davidson of Atlas Coffee leading cupping comments.[/caption] Day 2 A slightly less adventurous day here in Colombia. We stayed in Garcon last night, so this morning we woke up and got breakfast in the hotel before walking over to the co-op offices of CooCentral. CooCentral is a larger co-op in Huila which operates in about 6 municipalities. They have 4,000 members. We got briefed on the co-op programs, which are quite impressive, before cupping 22 coffees. We saw some solid quality, up to 86.75, and nothing was below 83—so very good in terms of quality, but a little disappointing for us, as we are looking for the Super WOW coffees. After lunch we went up the mountain to visit a producer which is working with CooCentral. They were located at a fork in the road so our van-bus had to go up and turn around... at which point we got stuck. After a little worrying, and some digging, along with some bamboo, ingenuity and elbow grease, we got the van turned around. At the farm, we met a female producer who is part of a program which focuses on providing assistance to women farmers. Her family actually was displaced by a dam project in a nearby valley. Her family was asked if they wanted land or money by the power company, and they chose land, eventually taking over an abandoned coffee farm about 18 months ago. So far they are doing very well, mostly because they have little experience in coffee and they are following the advice of the co-op very rigorously. After our farm tour we tried an original dessert of candied coffee pulp along with coffee panna cotta and goat cheese. The flavor was quite good, but at this point my eyes were twitching from all the caffeine. Tomorrow we head to La Plata to cup coffees from the Monserrate region. This is where our Willer Rivera, Luis Rivera, El Jigual, lots have come from in past years. I am hoping that we will find some coffees from here again. Only time will tell.

Irving Farm Columbian Coffee

Day 3 In La Plata, we cupped 40 coffees for the "Monserrate Microlot Competition" This is the 6th year they have held the competition, and Monserrate is where all of our Colombian coffees have come from. Think Capucas, but smaller (in overall people), and less organized (even though the average farm size is a little larger). There were some awesome coffees; I scored the winner 92.5. After the 2nd day of cupping we had an awards ceremony for the winners, afterwards, all the buyers played the local kids in a game of soccer. We got trounced 6-2. Although we put up a good fight, it was a 2-2 tie after 20 minutes... I even scored the first goal of the game, however... a mentally egregious error of a handball set up the Penalty Kick that put the kids up 3-2 and they never looked back. After the soccer game, we headed back to Bogota, and I caught my flight early Monday morning. Still waiting to hear from our from our friends in Colombia about getting samples sent so we can finalize coffees for this year, but I am definitely excited about the prospects. 

Irving Farm Columbian Coffee

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

Coffee, Cacao & Connection

Talnamica Farm

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

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

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

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

Coffee, Cacoa & Connection

What is the story and history behind Talnamica specifically?

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

alfredo_ortiz_mancia

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

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

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

Talnamica

Dan Streetman at Talnamica

When did the farm start growing cacao?

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

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

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

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

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

What is your favorite part of the coffee growing process?

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

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

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

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

Ask Us About Our Black Eagle

Black Eagle

One of the best things about making a job out of something as fun as coffee is that everyone understands how important the toys are. We won't deny it—getting our hands on the newest and sleekest equipment sends a little thrill up the collective spines of everyone at Irving Farm, and even more so when we're part of a select few stores able to put new coffee equipment to the real-world tests of demanding NYC customers. 

Black Eagle

Our busy Upper West Side cafe got a special treat this spring when we welcomed a state-of-the-art espresso machine, the Victoria Arduino Black Eagle manufactured by Nuova Simonelli, known to many only by reputation and legend. Only about two dozen Black Eagles have landed in cafe environments right now, and we're still reeling from the joy of its quality-of-barista-and-cafe-life improvements like consistent pressure and temperature stability, energy-saving, auto-cleaning, and low maintenance. Black Eagle Coffee

Barista experience—from ergonomics to our ability to work better, faster—has been enlightening and humbling. And for the customers? Seeing the renewed passion we have for combining our own great ingredients—coffee we truly care about—and beautiful tools that constantly evolve, making it easier for us to showcase the inherent beauty in the coffees we're presenting. And, hey—we'll admit it. It's one hot and steamy conversation piece.

Black EagleBlack EaglBlack Eagle

Check out the Victoria Arduino Black Eagle at our 224 W. 79th Street cafe in New York City, or on the competition stage at all of this year's United States Barista Championship regional and national events!