Behind the Production Lines: An Interview with Clark LeComte

Michael Sadler: Tell me about your coffee background.

Clark LeComte: From part time barista and store manager, to US Brewer’s Cup Champion, Q grader, head roaster, SCA board member, on to consultant, green buyer, and now production director – my career has spanned many roles in a variety of locations. 

Tell me about your role with Irving Farm.

I am responsible for the quality, consistency, timeliness and cost of getting coffee to each person that orders. The way to do this effectively is through good leadership, and that is my primary focus. I clear the obstacles so the production team can focus on each person’s order. From a single bag purchase through the website, to a multi-thousand bag order from private label clients, each is important and affects the client’s day. We can make your day go better by receiving and filling your order accurately and on time, or cause a lot of headaches due to error and miscommunication – and I always prefer the former.

What excites you about this work?

Seeing the production team grow in leadership, autonomy and pride in their work. Watching our products go from raw, green coffee seeds to roasted beans into bags, then boxed, put onto pallets, shrink wrapped and loaded with a forklift into semi trucks. 

What are the major challenges of operating a specialty coffee roastery? In general, and specifically in 2022?

Communication and timelines. We can do a lot and have a varied skill set, so long as our objectives are clear and we have the runway for proper planning and execution. We get into trouble and added expense when our teams or customers are unprepared or change objectives midway through a project. The hardest element to communicate to others is that we deal in a very physical world and it takes time and money to move any physical object, be it across the room or across borders. Because we are so efficient a client may get their order the next day and it all seems so magical and easy, and that is exactly what we want clients to think, but in reality all those parts took a great deal of planning and coordination to arrive at the facility and then be made into the order a client receives.  

Production entails a lot of moving parts. How do you keep things running smoothly?

It takes a team. Parsing tasks to individuals then supporting their success in those objectives.

How do you manage a crisis?

Much of my job is good planning so I don't have to be in crises. The skill comes in anticipating the next crisis and jumping ahead of the issue before it arises. If there is one thing I've learned from working with the IF executive team, it's to take the needed time to drill into the root cause of problems and solve it from the foundation. If you really do this then you don't get many crises. But when things go unexpectedly: breathe, step back and assess, ask for second opinions, confirm with the team, and let people know preemptively that something has happened and orders may be delayed. With forward communication I find most people can adjust. 

How have you managed rising costs? Materials, shipping, logistics, etc 

Wring my hands, pace around the roastery and lay awake at night! Honestly, it's just something you have to do, we still need bags, coffee, tape, gas etc. At the end of the day all you can do is cut the check and accept the changes. What I do have control over is labor and improved efficiencies. I question every movement a person makes at the roastery. We try to handle the bags as little as possible and try to streamline our orders to maximize efficiency. 

If you could share one thing about your corner of the coffee world with others, what would it be?

To all our clients; you are in very good hands with this team. The expansive and detailed knowledge set from our executive team, sales persons and production crew means you are getting the very best in product and knowledge so you can focus on running your business. 

Anything exciting in store for Irving Farm?

Our growth. It is exciting when each day we send orders out by the pallet and overflow the delivery trucks. It's a problem I'm delighted to solve!

Coffee With Culture: An Interview with Yuki Izumi from Hi-Collar

MS: Tell me a little about yourself, and how you first got into coffee.

YI: I was born in Osaka, Japan. I started working at a Kissaten when I was in high school because I wanted to get a nice bike. This was my first job.  

Tell me a little about Hi-Collar. Where did the idea come from? What is your mission with the cafe?

Hi-Collar is a Kissaten style cafe by day, Japanese bar at night. The idea came from our owner Bon Yagi. He wanted to create a Jazz Age (early 1900s) cafe/bar .

My original mission for coffee was, “Hey, New Yorkers, chill out and slow down. If you don’t have time for a cup of coffee, your life sucks.” (Now that I’ve become a New Yorker, I need to chill out. Hahaha.)

What do you love about coffee?

Every morning when I wake up and brew a pour-over coffee (when I have time), it is like a meditation. To think about the day, or what happened yesterday, or nothing. It makes me calm.

I always think coffee’s character is like people. Each coffee from a different origin has a different profile. For example, if you do a blind tasting, most of the time you know which beans are from Ethiopia or Central America. They have different characters. But some of the beans have unexpected character because of circumstances … could be because of the elevation, soil, farmer’s technique, or the way it’s roasted, or something else. With people, somehow you can tell the person is from New York because of the person’s character, behavior, or accent. And when an American speaks perfect Japanese, we get surprised. So I like to imagine how these beans grow up and how they came here.

And coffee culture. Through the coffee, you can meet people from different backgrounds. That is a big plus.

In your experience, what are the differences between US coffee culture and Japanese coffee culture? What are the similarities?

In New York, I don’t see much difference these days. Of course, Japan has many coffee vending machines, varieties of canned coffee & instant coffee. Most of the convenience stores are 24/7 and have self-service, fresh brew coffee machines. More access to coffee anytime.

At Hi-Collar, American people like to drink coffee before their meal. People from East Asia like to drink coffee after their meal.

Why do you think Hi-Collar has been successful in New York City?

I’m not sure we are successful but we are more authentic, I guess. We offer coffee with culture. 

Hi-Collar offers a few different methods of coffee preparation. Do you have a favorite way to prepare coffee?

I do like to prepare with Aeropress. Aeropress has many ways to brew. Easy to customize.

I like pour-over to get to know the new beans. For me, siphon coffee is like afternoon coffee, but so annoying to prepare and wash!

Your food offerings are also exceptional. How do coffee and food work together on your menu?

Our food menu is a typical Kissaten menu in Japan. We call it “Keishoku”. “Kei” means light, and “Shoku” means “to eat” or “food”. Direct translation is “a light meal”. Something easy to prepare and easy to eat, a quick bite.

Customers order only coffee or only food, or both. So we meet a variety of customers’ needs.   

What are the biggest challenges you face as a cafe operator? How do you deal with these challenges?

We make each cup one at a time by hand, so it takes longer than usual. In our old location, our customers could see what was going on behind the bar and we could explain. But now we have a much bigger space and we are a mess! I’m still trying to figure it out… 

What issues do you care most about in coffee?

Climate change will affect coffee farms. Without them, we can’t exist. We are much smaller than our Earth. I’m aging and the earth is aging too. We have to accept these changes, and also do what we can do to lessen the negative impact on the farmers' lives. New technology or new research might help. That’s why we need to keep educating ourselves. 

I was so into when Jay was talking about biodynamics at our coffee tasting. We have to keep learning and keep experimenting and keep trying and failing and keep going.  

What is the future of the coffee industry? 

I wish I knew! It seems like history is repeating in a fashion, and coffee is trending in a new way.  

If you had one message to share with other people in the coffee industry, what would it be?

I want to share a quote from Konosuke Matsushita (founder of Panasonic, he is also from Osaka, Japan):

“The business is to move the emotions.” 


Hi-Collar is located at 231 E 9th St. in the East Village. You can try our select single origin offerings there on pour-over, Aeropress, or siphon while supplies last.

Training: A Two-Way Street

For me, the trajectory of a training process is always oriented toward achieving the best results in practice. This means that every step of the process is shaped by the overarching goal of bringing staff members to the point at which they are clear and calibrated on the expected results, and have the right tools and processes in place to achieve those results consistently. In trying to get staff members to that point, these are the questions that I routinely ask myself:


This may go without saying, but before I train others, it’s important for me to have a clear idea of the results I expect and why. I have to be able to explain and demonstrate how staff should interact with guests, how the product should look and taste, how it should be served, etc. I try to keep in mind that I’m always demonstrating to others, and as the standard-bearer, I’m always setting the example for others to learn from.


When I train baristas, my goal is to bring them to the point where they can make independent, informed judgments about the job they are doing by drawing from their own knowledge of what good results are. To me, this means that I need to verbally express, visually demonstrate, and hold trainees’ hands (sometimes literally) through the practical steps to achieve those results. Ultimately, trainees should be calibrated to the standards we’ve practiced together, whether that’s rote memorization of espresso parameters, the more involved sensory practice of tasting and fine-tuning espresso, or the fine motor skills involved in pouring latte art. The result of foundational training should be a mutual understanding of the expected results.


No one can achieve good results without having the right tools for the job. The need for some tools is obvious—we need scales to weigh, timers to measure extraction time, etc. But the right tools also include ready to hand resources that reinforce the standards and make it as easy as possible to achieve the best results. A big part of training is making sure there are clear, concise, and organized resources available so that staff members can independently find the answers to their questions when they arise.


If I feel like I’ve trained staff members and provided the right tools, but the right results still aren’t there, the last step is coaching, which involves fine-tuning processes and highlighting the details novices tend to overlook. Coaching is a remedial step that often looks like an extension, or a reminder of the desired results outlined in training, but it’s also a learning opportunity for me as a trainer. When I coach staff members, my goal is to understand, from their perspective, why the observed results aren’t matching up with the expectations. It's important to get this input from staff because the remedial nature of coaching goes both ways—it’s often how I find out that there are standards that aren’t clear, that something wasn’t communicated in training, or that the tools aren’t quite right. 

Following this strategy, the training process not only tends to orient staff members toward achieving the best results, it also becomes a reflexive process of results-oriented self-training. In training others, I also continually refine my understanding of the results I’m looking for and how to articulate them, I build and hone my stock of helpful tools, and I fine-tune my own ability to guide others in narrowing the gap between expectations and reality.

Knowing your numbers, knowing your business: A Conversation with Kareena Thakur, Director of Financial Planning & Analysis

Selling specialty coffee? In this economy? Kareena Thakur, our Director of Financial Planning & Analysis, shows how it's possible for businesses of all size to financially survive - and thrive - in the current climate.

Michael Sadler: How did you get interested in finance?

Kareena Thakur: I've always been interested in quantifying items and trying to make sense of them on a numerical scale. So I always felt I would end up either doing economics, accounting or finance. I studied economics for my first two years of college, and I love economics to this day. But economics is more about observing micro- and macro-economic trends without the opportunity to change or control any of those factors. I really like to tinker with things and problem solve, and with finance I believe you can control some of your inputs to help you get to the place you need to be!

MS: Why is financial health critical to businesses of any size?

KT: Just like it's important to know your heart rate while working out, it's critical to know your numbers related to the core of your business so you can make decisions based on the financial health of your business irrespective of your size. Even if you just have a lemonade stand,  I believe it is always imperative to know if the entire project is costing you more than you would net from it. 

MS: What are the unique financial challenges for businesses in our industry?

KT: With the cost of goods constantly increasing, labor shortages, rising green coffee prices, supply chain issues and more, there isn't a shortage of challenges our industry is currently facing. I think the unique challenge our industry will be facing moving forward is definitely the cost of coffee. The C-Market (that dictates the base price of all coffee contracts) has been on an upward trajectory for the past two years. Add with climate change - with droughts and irregular rain patterns that are reducing the yield of coffee crops and raising prices per pound even further -  I'd say we have a tough battle ahead of us.

MS: What advice would you give to businesses trying to make sound decisions with their money?

KT: I know I just mentioned a whole bunch of problems that our industry is facing, but I like to focus on the problems we can control. To me, numbers help you in making decisions, and analysis can be your best friend. We've been able to reduce our labor costs by analyzing the number of customers we get per hour, to then model hourly labor on a weekly basis. By running a store, you know how many customers an employee can handle per hour. We use that knowledge to see if we are utilizing our throughput efficiently and reduce our hourly staffing based on the hourly foot traffic data for each store. This is a tool that I think can help any business streamline their labor model. I also think just being aware of all your operating costs and looking out for any changes on a month to month basis can help you catch surprise or bogus charges, increases in costs from vendors etc. Knowing your numbers is just another way of knowing your business!

MS: Where do finance and sustainability intersect?

KT: A lot of finance (at least in my world) is analysis based. Running weekly/monthly analyses on our pastry and food programs has helped us realize and quantify our waste. Based on those inputs we've adjusted our ordering such that our waste is truly minimal. This has helped reduce our COGS and reduce our waste, which I feel like is the perfect example of the intersection of finance and sustainability. I do think being able to quantify the decisions and mistakes we are making through finance can help us be more sustainable in both the financial and environmental sense!

MS: Have you read or seen anything interesting lately?

KT: I recently read the book Atomic Habits by James Clear. It's quite a popular book and honestly totally worth the hype in my opinion. It focuses on how small habits compound over time and can help us lead a better life, as well as work towards our goals. There are no lofty goals or to-do lists, but instead tiny goals that are actually doable, which is one of the things that I really liked about this book.

MS: What are you drinking these days?

KT: I am currently drinking our Santa Isabel coffee, and it is definitely one of my favorites. I am super excited to try out our Los Alisos from Peru which should come out in May. 

Out Of The Box: A Conversation with CJ Croll, our Procurement Manager

CJ Croll's coffee career began as a detour from one in law. Now he applies his analytical aptitudes to keeping our stores stocked for the next rush. In this conversation, CJ shares his tips on building a rapport with vendors, strategies for dealing with that notorious "chain", and what's got him excited for the future of coffee.

Michael Sadler: Tell me how you got into coffee.

CJ Croll: I got into coffee after I graduated law school and took the bar exam. I realized that practicing law was not going to be a good profession for me, so I originally just wanted to find something to do in the interim while I thought about what I wanted to do. I worked at a very busy cafe in Cambridge, MA and fell in love with coffee culture. I had my first phenomenal cup of coffee and decided I wanted to learn as much as I could about the coffee industry, and coffee in general. And so I transitioned into the coffee industry because of my passion for learning, and also really enjoyed what I was doing. 

I became a barista, and have since moved into different positions throughout coffee. In management, and with different companies. It’s been a really fun industry to be a part of, and every once in a while the industry will do something really extraordinary that makes me really happy to be a part of it. Like, when there’s a natural disaster in a coffee producing country, every specialty coffee company in the world gets together to help fund disaster relief. It’s one of the only industries that we have the end users trying to help the beginning producers as much as we do.

I went into law school because I’ve always enjoyed learning, there’s a lot to learn there. And that passion for learning has continued into the present day. I’ve been working in coffee for eight years now, and I feel like I'm only scratching the surface. It’s such a tremendous place to be, we’re learning so much on a daily basis as an industry.

MS: Tell me about your role at Irving Farm.

CJC: I am our Retail Procurement Manager. I do orders and inventory for all of our cafes in the city. With Covid, our leadership team decided to change the way we were managing our cafes. With much lower volumes and much higher costs, we took single store managers out of the stores and instead built a management team that oversees all of the stores. As we started picking up, we realized we needed somebody who wasn’t going to be managing baristas and instead was just going to be focused on ordering and inventory so that we could really get our cost of goods in line with what we’re using on a day-to-day basis. Every single week, I'm going to every one of our stores and doing inventories and placing a ton of orders.

What really made me interested when I was approached with this role was one: after working through the height of Covid, it was a good opportunity for me to leave bar. The other was that it was an interesting way to use some of the analytical skills I developed in school. And I have not been disappointed! I get to critically think about what sales we’re making every week, and change the processes with which I place orders, and be very cognizant of how we’re selling each product that we sell. And how I can make what I'm ordering match it identically so that we never have too much product, but we’re also never running out of product. It’s fascinating.

MS: What do you consider success in what you do?

CJC: I consider success to be: that nobody in the company ever has to worry about whether we’re going to have something or not. But I also don’t want to see a lot of product being wasted either. There’s a line of acceptable waste versus unacceptable waste. You are inevitably going to have some waste because if you’re not, you have lost opportunity sales. So there’s always going to be some waste. When I first started the position, I was very against any sort of waste. So I found myself being a little too lean on some of my orders. As I’ve accepted acceptable waste, I’ve found what we can waste on and what we shouldn’t be wasting on. 

So success is other people not worrying about it at all. 

MS: What’s your strategy for achieving that?

CJC: My strategy is I look at our item by item sales very, very closely and compare it week to week, and try to match product to inventory as much as possible. 

MS: What do you see as the biggest challenges facing cafes right now?

CJC: I think there are two major issues affecting cafes right now. One is staffing. No cafe is back up to the sales they were at pre-Covid. And so labor costs are significantly higher in proportion to sales than they used to be. It’s a huge struggle. And the thing that most customers don’t realize is that most cafes went from having six people on the floor at a time to three, and they’re still expecting the quickness of service that you would expect out of  a six person schedule, and it’s just not possible. So it’s very difficult to manage the labor budget of cafes in comparison to expectations of the customers.  

It’s just going to take some time for cafes to adjust and be able to get it right again. But customers are also going to have to change their expectations a little bit. We heard early on in Covid that a lot of people were going from doing one person’s job to two people’s jobs or three people’s job even, and that’s still how it is in the service environment to a large degree. So that’s one thing. 

The other is supply chain issues. I think it’s a huge issue that we’re not going to solve overnight. So cafes across the board are going to experience supply chain issues at least for the next year, I would guess, as the shipping industry gets back into its groove. Unfortunately there’s nothing we can do about that. It’s entirely in the purview of shipping companies. Demand is back, they’re going to have to find a way to make the supply work in order for all of us to function in the way we used to. 

MS: How have these supply chain issues affected you, and how have you managed this?

CJC: Our suppliers are always out of something. When I took on this role at the end of the summer, the supply chain issue was ice cups. There was a week or two when I wasn't sure if I'd be able to get any iced cups for our stores. So it introduced me to having to think out of the box for supplies. And I have learned that I don't necessarily have to go through the supplier that I think I do in order to get the products. When we were struggling to get iced cups, I spent some time doing research into other iced cups that we could use in case we couldn’t get the ones we wanted. 

But other items have become issues every once in a while. Random outages of say, water bottles. You wouldn’t think that’s something a supplier would run out of, but they do. And so I found a water bottle that was sourced through two of our different suppliers, so that if one was out then the other would have it. I tried to do that as much as I could with every other product we sell. So any time we introduce a new item, or I notice we are selling more of a specific item that we used to, I think about an alternative of what I could source to take its place, or where else I could get it.

MS: What are your other pain points?

CJC: The other thing I run into every once in a while is human error. I don’t expect our suppliers to hit one hundred percent, one hundred percent of the time. We’re all human. I think it’s unreasonable to expect our suppliers to get every one of our orders correct every single time. So with some of our vendors, I have a very dynamic relationship with them where I try to anticipate problems and hedge my bets on it. 

As soon as I place an order, if I know there’s something that I know might get messed up, I’ll reach out to our vendor contact and make sure what I wanted was clearly enunciated. Every once in a while things still happen and the items I ordered don't come, or an extra item gets added, or they deliver the wrong thing. And then it’s a matter of knowing the best way to get in contact with them, and how to get the item switched out, or approach the conversation of “we didn’t order this, we’re not paying for it.”

MS: How do you manage your relationships with vendors?

CJC: I find that the best way is to approach our vendors with what’s going to work for them. Every vendor is a little different, and they like to be reached out to in slightly different ways. The best way for me to maintain our vendor contacts is to approach them how they want to be approached. 

The other thing is, I realize they’re human and they make mistakes, and so I have a level of things I’m willing to accept. Like, for pastries, if we receive an extra box of cookies, I could make a big stink. But I ultimately have to think about it as: are we going to sell the cookies?

What I try to do the most is approach the vendor how I would want to be approached. We’re all human, we’re all making mistakes. If I'm making a big deal about every little thing, they’re going to be unhappy, and then when I make a mistake, they’re going to not want to help me. Whereas now, when I make a mistake, most of my vendors are very accommodating with me, as I'm very accommodating with them.

MS: How do you approach crises when they arise?

CJC: The best way I can work in a crisis is to take a step back, get my head together, and think about the best way to approach the situation. Because also, most crises: they’re not actually that bad. And you can continue to function even if something went wrong. You take a minute, step away from the situation, and come back. 

MS: How do you find personal balance?

CJC: That’s difficult. I come from a background of my family ingraining in me that you work a lot. And it’s something I know I should be better at, clocking out. But I do make sure that even if I’m checking my emails et cetera, that I'm making time for myself, winding down, doing something that I like. I love cooking, I love reading, I make sure that I do one or both every single night to decompress. 

And having a partner who’s also very busy, we have to make time to be with each other. It’s a really wonderful way to decompress, to find ways to decompress with somebody else.

MS: What’s some advice you’d give to somebody running a coffee business?

CJC: My best advice is to not stress the small stuff. I think the reason we focus on a lot of small issues is because they are easier to address. I think business owners need to not stress those small things. Keep everybody happy, don’t nitpick, instead focus on the bigger issues and find solutions for them rather than picking apart every little small one.

MS: Where do you think the coffee industry is headed this year and beyond?

CJC: I think the coffee industry is headed very much toward sustainability. I think through Covid and everything else that has happened, we realized that sustainability is a bigger issue than we thought. We’ve had issues in parts of the world where they couldn’t sell their coffee, so they have to stop being coffee farmers. That’s an aspect of our industry that most people don’t realize is connected to sustainability. 

Specifically I think what we’re going to see over the next couple of years is earth sustainability, environmental sustainability, where we’re focused on finding ways to produce less waste, and to make waste more compostable. We’re already seeing that as cafes have switched to compostable plastic cups. I think the next step with those is making sure they are actually being composted properly. I think the next step of the coffee industry is going to be to take the levels of sustainability that we’re doing right now, and taking it to the next level.

MS: Is there anything new or fun that’s happening in the cafes right now?

CJC: We always have new stuff going on! But something I’m excited about is that we’re experimenting with some new recipes for summer beverages. If we’re doing something we’re enjoying, the rest of it is more sustainable for us. It’s going to be a good way for us to stay engaged with the company, and for our staff to stay engaged with the company.

We also just rolled out new bagels from Gertie in Brooklyn and I'm really excited to see how they do in the cafes. 

MS: What’s your favorite coffee right now?

CJC: My ideal way to make coffee, and how I make coffee at home, is a pour-over. It seems like the last thing you want to do, first thing in the morning, to put in work when you’re tired. You just want to hit the button. But making your own coffee, standing there doing a pour-over, is so relaxing, and such a phenomenal way to ease into the day.

The coffee that I’m drinking right now is actually our Guatemala Santa Isabel. It’s been my favorite coffee from Irving Farm since before I joined the company. To this day it’s my favorite coffee that we’ve ever served. Every year it’s just gotten better and better. And this year is the cream of the crop as far as Santa Isabel goes, in my opinion. I’m so excited to have it over the next couple of months, and I’m actually going to be sad when it’s gone!

Producer Profile: Nora Nelly Pillimue, Colombia

by Jay Kling, Director of Coffee

      We are so excited to be once again offering a spectacular coffee from one of our favorite producers, Nora Nelly Pillimue. This exceptional coffee was the winner of “Lo Mejor de Monserrate” a coffee competition within the Monserrate cooperative hosted by Atlas coffee. This is Nora’s fourth time winning the competition. Tasting the coffee, it’s easy to see why: this coffee is a standout with its sparkling acidity, juicy body, and tropical flavors. 

      Irving Farm started buying Nora’s coffee in 2016, and it has since become a staff and customer favorite. The juicy tropical profile is unique for Colombian coffees and is a result of the unique varieties that are cultivated on the farm and careful picking and processing. 
      I had the chance to catch up with Nora on the phone this week, just as the coffee was getting offloaded from the ship and arriving into the warehouse. I wanted to share some of that conversation and my reflections on it so that people might get to know Nora better and understand what it’s like to be a coffee producer in 2022. 
      Nora Nelly Pillimue is a generational coffee farmer, like most of the producers in Monserrate, Huila, Colombia. Her parents are coffee farmers, her grandparents were coffee farmers before them, her three sisters are coffee farmers. Nora runs the family farm with husband Freddy and her two children Ruben and Dianna. Their farm is 4 hectares, and produces about 65x 70kg bags of coffee each year, in two harvests. The farm, which is called Los Magallanes, is planted with Tabi, Colombia and Castillo varieties and sits at 1,827 meters above sea level. Like most producers in Huila, Nora processes her coffee herself, wet milling, fermenting, washing and drying the coffee all on the farm. 
      Speaking with Nora, the one thing that’s abundantly clear is how much care and precision goes into the production of coffee at Los Magallanes. The farm is in a nearly perfect place for coffee production, but the spectacular cup quality that you can taste in this Colombia microlot is the result of Nora’s extreme care through every step of the process of picking and processing the coffee. “You have to do things well, you have to do them the right way” Nora told me more than once during our conversation. 

      If you’ve never been to a coffee farm, doing things well in coffee production might seem obvious – but coffee production is difficult and tedious. Doing things the right way means picking only ripe cherry, going back over and over, only picking cherry when it’s just right. You run that coffee through your wet mill and then you must pay close attention to the coffee as it ferments, checking the coffee for just the right point and washing it just as it’s ready. Next, the coffee must dry, a process which takes 1-2 weeks. The coffee must be spread out evenly and turned over several times every day until it is just the right moisture content. If a surprise rainstorm comes along (a new phenomenon and an unfortunate result of climate change), the coffee must be protected from the rain to prevent defects. This is only the harvesting portion of doing things the right way – there’s year round maintenance of the trees, fertilization, coffee borer prevention, and countless other small tasks that have to each be done well to make a coffee farm produce at the top of its potential. At Los Magallanes, all of these things get done the right way. 
      We’re so lucky to get to work with producers like Nora Nelly Pillimue. It’s hard to express with words how challenging coffee production is and how precise and hard working a producer has to be to achieve coffee that stands out like Nora’s does.
      I was telling Nora that one of the reasons our baristas get so excited about this coffee is because it’s produced by a woman. On our side of the industry, coffee is often dominated by men, and woman-produced coffees hold a special place among the many beautiful coffees that come and go from our menu. 
I asked Nora about what it was like being a woman producer in Monserrate, and if there were challenges that came along with being a woman farmer. She did not share any challenges with me, instead sharing that she’s one of 20 women farmers in the group of about 70 producers that grow coffee that gets sold through ProAgroMil, the farmer group that we usually refer to as Monserrate. She stated that “there aren’t things that men do or women do, if there’s something heavy to pick up, it can be a woman or a man”. The perspective that she shared with me was that there generally aren’t issues between men and women in the producer group, it’s a coffee producing community and when it’s time to produce coffee, everyone comes together to make it happen. 
      Outside of coffee production, Nora and her family also keep some livestock. Right now they have 16 baby cows, which Nora told me she enjoys taking care of. 
      At the end of our conversation, we talked a little bit about coffee prices. This year, smallholder coffee farmers in the Monserrate group are receiving very good prices for their coffee, because the global price of coffee is the highest it has been in over 10 years. That price increase is driven mostly by a smaller than usual crop from Brazil (the world’s largest exporter of coffee), due to an unusual frost that killed many coffee plants. Supply chain issues have put further pressure on the price, creating the current high price. So, for now, prices are pretty good for Nora and farmers like her. 
      As I’m writing this, the commodities market is fluctuating rapidly, because of global uncertainty around the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. It’s possible that when we go to contract this coffee again, the market will be much lower. But for Nora, her costs will not have changed much, in fact they will almost certainly have increased. The price of fertilizer is around twice of what it was before the pandemic, and will be driven higher by sanctions against Russia. Yet for smallholder coffee farmers, the price they get paid is often tied to the New York “C” market, the global index for the price of commodity coffee. It’s an antiquated system that benefits buyers at the expense of small producers, and for years it has been driving small producers like Nora to the brink.
      As a coffee buying organization, it’s our responsibility to make sure that we’re purchasing coffee sustainably. In this case that means paying a higher price for Nora’s coffee, even if the market retreats. And when we go back to contract this coffee again, that’s what we’ll do. I feel very privileged to be a buyer for a company that purchases coffee this way, always trying hard to form a more equitable supply chain with profits more evenly distributed between each member of the supply chain. At Irving Farm, we feel very fortunate that we have wonderful customers who recognize the incredible work that coffee producers do, and are willing to pay more money to make sure that those producers can make a profit. 
      Speaking with Nora this week was inspiring for me. She reminded me that each of us in the industry has our role to do, and that we must do it well. Producers work extremely hard, and we should be working as hard as we can to honor the work that they do. When this year’s 10 bags of Nora Nelly Pillimue’s coffee arrive at our roastery, I hope that we can all put the same energy into the coffee as Nora did. That we may profile it, market it, roast it, bag it, brew it and enjoy it in keeping with the tireless spirit and positive attitude of one of our favorite producers.

Insights from Account Management

We sat down with Anders Pierson, our Head of Account Management at Irving Farm, to discuss a range of questions pertaining to his experience working with wholesale customers. See his insights on upcoming challenges in 2022, the best way to improve your coffee programs, trends in the marketplace, and more.

What do you see as the single greatest challenge for wholesale customers in 2022? 

I have been watching the list of challenges change since the beginning of the pandemic so I don't want to answer this and have the 'single greatest' challenge be totally different by the time this is published. If I had to guess, though, I would say that keeping new and existing staff well trained is high on the list. We've put a lot of care into being available to help with the coffee side of this challenge.

How can training help businesses improve their coffee programs?

I believe that even the casual or infrequent coffee drinker can recognize when a shop is invested in their espresso program. Great coffee served consistently is the most obvious result, but there are other things that can provide clues as to whether or not a shop is invested, such as cleanliness of the barista area and whether or not the staff seems to know what they're doing. There's also the loud, squealing milk sounds of improperly steamed milk... Customers pick up on these details, whether they know it or not.

What are some tips for maintaining equipment?

The biggest tip for keeping your equipment good-as-new is to clean, clean, clean! A huge focus of our barista training is on the proper way to keep the machines cleaned - think: purge and wipe steam wands after use so the milk doesn't crust on them or get sucked back up, empty the grinder hoppers at night so coffee oils don't cause problems or introduce bad tastes the next day. 

Have you noticed any recent trends in coffee, or the food and beverage industry at large?

I've been keeping my eye on the ways companies are improving the energy efficiency of their products. Espresso machines have come a long way in terms of temperature stability, using digital controllers to turn on and off the heating elements. There are brewers that heat to order (called "flash heating") so there isn't wasted energy keeping water hot 24/7. It makes me really happy that nerding out on coffee technology is a part of my job. If you see something new and interesting and want to pick my brain, feel free to reach out!

If you had one piece of advice for people building a coffee program, what would it be?

Talk to your roaster! Everyone I've met in specialty coffee has worked as a barista and can hop behind the bar and start making drinks. This kind of passion for what we do means that we've all thought a lot about what the barista experience is like, or seen things from the perspective of a store manager. When there are questions I don't know the answer to I immediately know who to turn to who has a related background and is willing to help.


A Personnel Approach

Would your employees say your business is a good place to work? 

Would they say they get a fair share of the revenue? 

Would they say the workload is fair and manageable? 

Would they say they have a good manager?

If the answer to any of these questions is not a clear yes, then you’ve got some work to do.

      The bottom line is that people have options. Service industry work is hard, and can be incredibly frustrating at times. Our job as employers is not just to offer up the role and pay rate. We need to think about the employee experience from a holistic perspective. And we need to do everything we can to make the relationships with the people who make our businesses possible as equitable as possible. Because at the end of the day that translates to your customer experience, your bottom line, and makes work sustainable for everyone.
      I’ve learned a lot about staffing in the specialty coffee industry over the past 10 years (mostly through making mistakes and suffering the consequences) and although the situation is always dynamic and specific to each business I would offer the following starting points to help you to improve your team member recruiting and retention strategy:

1. Know how you stack up in terms of compensation including tips, benefits and perks compared to your competition so you can have an informed conversation with potential new hires about what to expect.

2. Know your throughput expectations and maximums for each role in your business so you can balance a fair workload and know when it’s time to add new team members.

3. Ask your team members where their friction points are in service and focus on finding solutions that smooth out the wrinkles and let them focus on providing an excellent customer experience. Don’t be afraid to ask if they have recommendations for solutions (they are the experts after all).

4. Do everything you can to maximize compensation. Offer more money to fewer people (as long as it’s physically possible to accomplish the tasks of the roles). Keep in mind that fewer people working also means larger shares of tips.

If you have questions or want to talk more about staffing strategy drop us a line at

Chad Freilino 

CEO, Irving Farm New York