The Los Niños Experiments
Irving Farm’s relationship with El Salvador’s Finca Talnamica and the Ortiz Herrera family has developed into one of our most fruitful, beginning in 2012 when Nena Méndez walked into our 79th Street cafe and noticed a black-and-white mural on the back wall depicting Guadalupe, a coffee farm from her homeland. She inquired about the photographer—who happened to be our Green Coffee Buyer, Dan Streetman—and invited him to visit her family farm on his next trip to El Salvador.
Nena’s mother, Bessita, came from a lineage of Salvadoran coffee farmers dating back to the 1880s, and her father, Alfredo Ortiz Mancia, purchased Talnamica in the 1950s. Today the farm is owned and operated by Nena and her three siblings along with her husband, Hermann, and farm manager Don Hector Vides.
The Los Niños Experiments came about when Nena & Hermann’s daughter, Mayita—a talented photographer who began working for Irving Farm in 2013 as a barista at our 79th Street cafe before transitioning to our wholesale team—suggested that we explore coffee processing by taking one harvest through four unique processing methods, representing the four Ortiz Herrera siblings: Nena, Freddie, Cecil & Carlos.
The coffee is 100% Bourbon variety, grown at an altitude between 1360–1400 meters, and handpicked by 150 workers on the same day from the same part of the farm. The ripe cherry is brought to Talnamica’s award-winning partners at the Cuatro M coffee mill and that is where the experiments begin...
EXPERIMENT #1: Natural Process The harvested coffee is run through the first stage of the wet mill where it’s cleaned of all debris, and the floaters are separated from the sinkers. This fruit, fully encased in its skin, is then placed in a mechanical dryer at a very low temperature for 60–70 hours.
EXPERIMENT #2: Honey Process The coffee is sorted and de-pulped, removing the skin but leaving some sweet, sticky mucilage on the seed. This coffee is then spread onto a patio and left to dry in the sun.
EXPERIMENT #3: Wild Honey Process This is the wild card, so to speak, and a processing method that is new for us and Finca Talnamica. The coffee is de-pulped and placed into fermentation tanks without water until the pH reaches 4.5, which can take 12–16 hours. This allows the remaining mucilage to slowly break down. The coffee is then spread onto a patio to dry in the sun.
EXPERIMENT #4: Washed Process The coffee is de-pulped and left in the fermentation tanks overnight without water. The next morning it’s sent through the mechanical washer to remove any remaining mucilage and then spread onto a patio to sun-dry. This is a standard processing method and one that we might expect with this particular coffee.
It’s a special privilege to work directly with farmers on innovative techniques from planting to harvesting to processing, and we’re very fortunate that the people behind Finca Talnamica (including Mayita, who’s now part of Talnamica’s fifth generation of coffee growers) are so passionate about exploring new ideas. Their collaborative spirit has even extended to the creation of a horchata chocolate bar with Brooklyn’s Raaka Chocolate, and the harvesting of cascara (coffee cherry) specifically for wastED, an experimental pop-up restaurant by Dan Barber at Blue Hill in Manhattan that addressed food waste by transforming scraps and compost into delectable meals.
Irving Farm's Dan Streetman and Mayita Mendez
We look forward to sharing these experiments with you. Come visit us in one of our five cafes, sign up for an Intro to Cupping & Tasting class at our Loft, or purchase all four experiments and create your own tasting lab at home! Hopefully this will be a delicious and surprising journey for our customers as you brew beyond the lingo on a coffee label and develop firsthand knowledge of how process affects flavor.