AS THEFLIES


Gracie's Photo Diary: Las Capucas, Copan, Honduras

Gracie Pizzo has been with Irving Farm since her barista days in 2008, and is now the company's Creative Director.

In February, I was invited to visit the Las Capucas Co-op in Copan, Honduras — one of Irving Farm’s longest-standing relationships — to learn more about how we directly source coffee. It was my first trip to coffee's origin, and it was amazing to see the very coffee we just received at our Roastery in its earliest stages of life. I had the opportunity to meet the producers and visit the homes and farms of our Los Lirios and Platanares coffees. Our super-popular Capucas coffee is a blend of coffees from multiple farmers at the co-op. Buying from Capucas supports the organization's own school and clinic, and their commitment to organic farming and sustainable community initiatives.

 

I’ll never forget this experience! Here are a few photos from the trip:

las capucas copan honduras irving farm coffee roasters new york origin beans sustainability direct trade

las capucas copan honduras irving farm coffee roasters new york origin beans sustainability direct trade

las capucas copan honduras irving farm coffee roasters new york origin beans sustainability direct trade

las capucas copan honduras irving farm coffee roasters new york origin beans sustainability direct trade

las capucas copan honduras irving farm coffee roasters new york origin beans sustainability direct trade
las capucas copan honduras irving farm coffee roasters new york origin beans sustainability direct trade

las capucas copan honduras irving farm coffee roasters new york origin beans sustainability direct trade
Coffee from field to the cupping room in Copan, Honduras

las capucas copan honduras irving farm coffee roasters new york origin beans sustainability direct trade

las capucas copan honduras irving farm coffee roasters new york origin beans sustainability direct trade

las capucas copan honduras irving farm coffee roasters new york origin beans sustainability direct trade
José Francisco, aka "Pancho". Coffee Producer: Platanares

 

las capucas copan honduras irving farm coffee roasters new york origin beans sustainability direct trade
Pancho's daughter, Lourdes Villeda, and her daughter.
Lourdes is a barista at Café Capucas, where they serve their own coffee.
 las capucas copan honduras irving farm coffee roasters new york origin beans sustainability direct trade
Inside Jose Luis Rivera's solar dryer.  Coffee Producer: Los Lirios
Jose Luis's daughter is pictured in front.
las capucas copan honduras irving farm coffee roasters new york origin beans sustainability direct trade
Jose Luis's house

las capucas copan honduras irving farm coffee roasters new york origin beans sustainability direct trade

las capucas copan honduras irving farm coffee roasters new york origin beans sustainability direct trade

las capucas copan honduras irving farm coffee roasters new york origin beans sustainability direct trade

las capucas copan honduras irving farm coffee roasters new york origin beans sustainability direct trade
Exploring the Co-op

las capucas copan honduras irving farm coffee roasters new york origin beans sustainability direct trade

las capucas copan honduras irving farm coffee roasters new york origin beans sustainability direct trade
Driving through Santa Rosa, Honduras to visit the Beneficio (mill) from which the coffee is shipped 

las capucas copan honduras irving farm coffee roasters new york origin beans sustainability direct trade
Cupping at the Beneficio Santa Rosa, Honduras

 las capucas copan honduras irving farm coffee roasters new york origin beans sustainability direct trade

las capucas copan honduras irving farm coffee roasters new york origin beans sustainability direct trade

Coffee waiting to be milled and shipped. Pictured: Dan Streetman, our green coffee buyer, with Omar Rodriguez, manager of Las Capucas

- -

photos by Gracie Pizzo (pictured second from left)

las capucas copan honduras irving farm coffee roasters new york origin beans sustainability direct trade

 2016

 

 



9 Things We Learned in Nicaragua

One of the most rewarding things about being a coffee roasting company is visiting the farms we work directly with to purchase our coffees. What's even more fun? Sending city folk, like our cafe managers and head office staff, down to these farms to have their minds blown. Here are nine things about visiting coffee farms we learned in Nicaragua, the native home of our La Bendicion, La Peña, and La Pradera coffees, earlier this year.  

irving farm nicaragua origin trip la pradera bendicion platanares

1. Your ride into the fields is a little more exciting than your usual commute into the city. "The hills of La Peña are not only one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen, but they're surely not for the faint of heart. In many spots the hills are around 75 degrees steep, made even more treacherous by the constant winds and misty clouds that rush through the surrounding mountains. If you slip there's not much stopping you from a 100+ foot tumble to the bottom." — Josh Littlefield, Director of Education.

irving farm nicaragua origin trip la pradera bendicion platanares   

2. Picking coffee is a LOT harder than it looks. "Josh and Amarys insisted that we pick coffee, so out came the baskets. We only had about 1 hour to pick before we needed to head over to the wet mill to watch the processing. The trees were quite difficult to pick as you had to wander in search of ripe cherry, and even then you may only find a handful of beans to pick from one tree. We were only able to pick about 30 lbs between the 3 of us." — Dan Streetman, Green Coffee Buyer.

irving farm nicaragua origin trip la pradera bendicion platanares

 

3. And you have to only pick the good ones. "Being able to pick our own coffee was life changing and actually pretty difficult! It was tough trying to find the perfectly ripe and purple (like jamaica iced tea) colored cherries. We picked for an hour but didn't get too many baskets filled, maybe like 1 and 1/2 (if that)." — Amarys Serrano, Manager, Irving Farm Grand Central Terminal  

irving farm nicaragua origin trip la pradera bendicion platanares

 

4. De-Pulping machines are a lot like Taylor Swift. "We visited the brand new wet mill that Luis Alberto started building in November of last year. He showed us the machinery that de-pulps the coffee. It was all pretty advanced, although the machines were just 'shaking it off'". —Amarys  

irving farm nicaragua origin trip la pradera bendicion platanares

 

5. The professionals work way faster than us city folk. And they have to. "We watched as all the coffee picked by the workers today, about 1600 lbs, was sent through the wet mill. Afterwards we raced the 2 hours back to the dry mill so that we could spread out our coffee on the raised beds before it would ferment." — Dan

irving farm nicaragua origin trip la pradera bendicion platanares

 

6. Coffee processing can be a Zen-like experience. "We chose to have our coffee as honey processed so we took the coffee to the raised beds and spread them out with a rake and our hands. It was so sticky, just like honey! We spread them out as much as we could and I went to work with Dan trying to take out the leftover pulp in our green coffee. It was actually kind of relaxing and I was determined to save all the beans stuck to the pulp!" —Amarys  

irving farm nicaragua origin trip la pradera bendicion platanares

 

7. Nevermind.  

irving farm nicaragua origin trip la pradera bendicion platanares

 

8. Being actually there really makes you appreciate something.

"Today has shown me the beginning stage of coffee productions and it has made me appreciate it so much more. These men are on a MOUNTAIN SIDE picking coffee for 8 hrs. They risk their lives all to provide us with the delicious product that many many people might  take advantage of. I will be a hawk on my staff for how much coffee they waste from now on!" — Amarys

irving farm nicaragua origin trip la pradera bendicion platanares

 

9. At the end of the day, every part of the coffee chain matters. "La Peña was the coffee I competed with for Big Eastern, so just the mention of having the chance to see this plot in person was already surreal. When we tasted the ripe yellow catuai off the branches (which are actually more orange when fully ripe) they were noticeably sweeter than the varietals we had tried previously. What was also really interesting for me is that coffee thrived in this climate. The hills are constantly cool, moist and shadowed by cloud cover. In this pretty harsh environment the trees were full, healthy and lush. So cool!" —Josh

On Amaro Gayo

Irving Farm's Director of Wholesale, Teresa von Fuchs, has had the opportunity to visit coffee farms in a few different parts of the world—it's not, as they say, her first rodeo. But a recent trip to Ethiopia with our Coffee Buyer, Dan Streetman, to visit the Amaro Gayo coffee farms belonging to our producing partner Asnakech Thomas, opened her eyes into the past and future of coffee as just part of the greater social and agricultural landscape. Read on... 

Amaro Gayo

When I teach classes or conduct trainings about coffee, I always stress that coffee comes from far away, that it’s exotic and we shouldn’t take it for every-day-granted. When I had the opportunity earlier this year to travel to Ethiopia, and specifically to visit coffee producer Asnakech Thomas at Amaro Gayo, this truth was so clear. And although I’d been to other coffee-growing countries, Ethiopia was truly like nothing I’d ever seen before. It took almost 3 hours to drive to Amaro Gayo from Yirgacheffe, a distance of only about 50 kilometers (as the crow flies) along rough, dirt and gravel roads. The landscape alternated from lush and green to dry rolling desert then back again. The spare number of buildings we passed were mostly hand-constructed in the local style from organic materials, and some had intricate designs carved into the wooden windows. We passed beautiful mosques and Christian churches, built out of corrugated metal, or occasionally stone. Our fellow travelers along the road were almost all on foot herding cattle, sheep, or goats, or leading a mule piled with water, or sacks of grain, or coffee. Some rode handmade carts attached to mules piled with building materials, like long sticks, or more sacks of grain or firewood, or more people. We passed motorbikes with up to three or four riders, also carrying goods.

On Amaro Gayo

Wearing two pairs of glasses on her head, Asnakech was sorting coffee with about 20 other women on the porch of her coffee storage facility when we arrived. She shared that they were resorting 40,000 lbs (one container's worth) of coffee because she had been unsatisfied by the sorting done by the processor in Addis. The women were seated, with large metal trays on their laps with small piles of green coffee. They sorted out the defects and rejects into smaller pails and the newly sorted coffee into separate bags. They had removed their shoes before coming onto the porch and a large piece of burlap covered their feet. The material was to ensure that no coffee was dropped onto the floor of the porch and that anything that was dropped could be added back to one of the sacks in the center of the porch to be sorted. Asnakech estimated it would take them all about 20 days to sort through this last container. From there she switched the sunglasses from the top of her head to her eyes and invited us to walk through the mill and then her farm.  We were late in the season, and the harvest had happened earlier in the year than usual. Mill workers were already cleaning up the raised beds, replacing older posts, and cleaning the mill. From the mill, we walked through parts of the farm and she explained that the rains stopped too early this year, and sadly many of the cherries on the trees were not able to fully mature. Total production was down nearly 50% because of this and had increased her costs with the extra sorting. She told us that it was the hardest year of her 11 on the farm so far, but "c’est la vie" she shrugged—what could she do? 

Amaro Gayo

Well, actually, during the rest of the walk and the day, we learned how much she was doing. We walked down to the river just outside the lowest part of her farm. She explained that this was the primary water source for this area and though it was running strong now, by the time her trees needed the water, it would dry up. So she’s building an irrigation project at the top of the hill. She was still working on funding to build it when we visited, but the hope is that building the irrigation system and rain collection tanks will allow for a backup water supply so the trees and her harvest don’t suffer like they did this year. She also showed us the pruning techniques she had been developing, the fertilizer they create from the coffee pulp byproducts in the wet process, how they dry and package coffee leaves, and the husks they save from the naturally processed coffee to sell to the local market as teas. She then walked us through a small nursery that was planted by some of her trainees.  Asnakech hosts trainings once per year for other local farmers, on everything from farm management to how to produce coffee for quality, not just quantity.

On Amaro Gayo

We walked back to the porch and coffee storage building and shared a lunch of injera, lentils and many small cups of coffee with her and her workers while she told us about all the other projects she’s working on. Along with training other local farmers, Asnakech also trains the women in her area, many of whom are the farmer’s wives who end up doing much of the farm work. She trains them not just in farming, but in banking. In her region there had never been a bank and not much reason for a bank to open, because no one wanted to use one. She convinced a bank to open in her town, and in her trainings she created an ID system where husband and wife both get cards and she pays them separately for the cherry that meets her quality spec. This way the women have an income and, potentially, savings. She stressed the importance of this because in her area women have no property rights to their husband’s land. Typically if something happens to a woman’s husband they cannot keep their land and thereby lose their income. With the bank, they can at least save a share. Since the bank has opened she’s also working with all the locals to open accounts and use the bank to secure funding for projects that could help them create more profitable futures. She said even small things, like the capital needed for an out-building to store their coffee and protect it from the elements and animals, can make a huge impact on a small landholders' earning potential. 

Amaro Gayo Africa

She’s also working with her community to create alternative revenue streams, such as setting up honeybee hives and teaching people how to collect and sell the honey. She worked with a group of local women to produce pottery that she hopes they’ll be able to bring to market next year.  And she’s working on introducing new crops to her area like adzuki beans. She has also worked with a partner to create an HIV awareness program. She explained that though HIV is a huge health issue in her region, there was no local knowledge of what the disease is and how it is transmitted. She runs the program during her employees’ work days at no cost to them and incentivizes that everyone in her area go through the program yearly. Another project she’d like to complete is to build a hospital. The closest facility is hours away. It could take an ambulance days to arrive and almost no locals have vehicles. Asnakech has dreamed about being able to open a hospital in Amaro since she was a little girl and listened to her older sister suffer for days and finally die in childbirth. When we were there she’d secured a site but had been disappointed as funding kept falling through. 

Amaro Gayo Africa

What was most obvious and moving to me was that Asnakech’s passion for her coffee was a larger expression of her passion and pride in her region and people. She spent years lobbying the agriculture minister in Addis to study her area’s coffee trees. Every time they refused, saying that her trees were most likely the same as the ones 40 kilometers away. She insisted they weren’t and finally offered to pay for the research project herself. Once there, the scientists discovered 58 new varieties which had never been seen before. She continues to pay for the project to study and cultivate her unique varieties. She named her farm for her region and her tribe, Amaro—which she said no one had really heard of until coffee people started traveling to visit her and discover why her coffee is so unique—and Gayo, a waterfall in the area.  The legend is that Gayo is the place where sacred water collects into a waterfall, and this water was used to anoint the king of her tribe. When I caught the first aroma of this latest crop of Amaro Gayo coming off the grinder, it made me think that all of Asnakech’s work is like the sacred water collecting, ready to spill over,  her beautiful coffee, like her spirit, anointing the world.

Thoughts on El Salvador

In these pages, we've been proud to share occasional travel journals from Irving Farm family members like our Green Buyer Dan Streetman, or this wonderful Honduras reflection by longtime staffer and all-around-talent John Summerour. Now, we're thrilled to share words from Liz Dean, manager of our Upper West Side Cafe, who we profiled here last fall. Earlier this year, Liz took a trip along with some other Irving Farmers to visit some of the farms we have relationships with in El Salvador. Here are her impressions, along with her photographs.

 El Salvador

One of the things that makes Irving Farm special is its commitment to truly investing in the professional development and education of its staff, and one of the ways in which we’re doing this is by selecting a few staff members every year to travel to one of the countries we get our coffee from. Earlier this year, I was fortunate enough to be one of the people chosen to go on the trip of a lifetime to travel to El Salvador to visit some of the farms and mills we work with to supply our coffee. The purpose of taking what is referred to as a “trip to origin”—a sort of rite of passage in which a coffee professional visits a country, like El Salvador, where coffee is grown—is to try and understand the place on its own terms. The word “origin” is deliberate—it implies something prehistoric, knowledge a priori, or things that exist outside of our own experience of them. For those of us who work in a cafe setting, we are required to surrender that we're actually only the last step in a very long chain that begins somewhere far away. It’s because of this that taking a trip to origin is the dream of many serious coffee professionals—it’s the only way to fully understand our role and, ultimately, our responsibility, within our industry. I knew that this trip would likely be one of the most formative and defining parts of my career as a coffee professional. El Salvador

When I got back from El Salvador, I was asked to share some thoughts about my experience there. I discovered that I had a hard time figuring out what to write, which wasn’t because I didn’t have anything to say. It’s a well known and very bad habit of Americans like myself (of a certain education and income level) to travel to foreign countries—especially those seen as impoverished or lacking in resources—and then use our very Americanized lens to describe and dictate, in pictures and blog posts, the terms in which other people live. It can be a kind of gross exercise that usually says more about the person visiting than about the place visited. It was important to me that I give proper tribute to the country and people who had graciously shown me so much during my short time there. I wanted to try and present El Salvador as authentically as I could, and to seize moments of surprise as opportunities to examine the assumptions I came in with. 

Thoughts on El Salvador

Nowhere was this more evident than when I spent several hours picking coffee at Talnamica. This farm was on relatively flat ground, which was unusual for a coffee farm—since coffee grows best at higher elevations, many pickers have to work on steep mountainsides. And even though we had it easy that day, it was still hard work! After we’d picked for just a few hours, we hauled our bags to the patio to have our coffee weighed. While pickers are paid based on the weight of the coffee they picked, there are still incentives to pick properly and not just strip the trees bare in order to get the heaviest bags the fastest. After all, stripping the trees of everything on them would damage them, and picking cherries too soon would also mean fewer ripe cherries to be picked later on. I’d been pretty careful in my picking and while I didn’t pick as much as some of the others in my group, I’d picked well. I was told that the coffee I’d picked would have earned me $1.25 USD. On average, a coffee picker in El Salvador earns about $10/day.

El Salvador Coffee

Several American friends expressed disgust when I told them about this. “That’s appalling," they said. And I’ll admit that my initial reaction was similar, until I realized how much more complicated this issue was, and that this was one of those moments in which I was going to have to step back from my own biases. I spent my week in El Salvador expecting just to learn more about where coffee comes from and instead was given a crash course in the economic and social difficulty of evaluating and comparing quality of life across culture and country. It’s very easy for an American to feel bad for a Salvadoran coffee picker who lives off of $10/day because there’s a value we associate with that money, and what it can and cannot buy. 

El Salvador

This attitude also suggests that the Salvadoran coffee workers are deserving of our pity,  that we should feel bad for their lot in life. Our Americanized lens allows us to chase the narrative of the downtrodden, exploited worker when the reality is more complicated. In fact, while I visited only a handful of farms and mills, the Salvadoran coffee workers  I met seemed to take an extraordinary amount of pride in their work and seemed to see their work as important and meaningful. Many of them also possessed skills that made them invaluable to the process of producing coffee. No one exemplified this more than Wencis Lao. Wencis Lao has been working with coffee for almost his entire life. He has a huge, toothy grin and strong hands rough from work. His job is to oversee the turning of the harvested coffee as it dries, which has to be done at specific timed intervals to ensure that the coffee dries evenly. He told us that he sometimes skipped his lunch break because he was worried about making sure the coffee was being turned properly, on time. It was clear that he cared about and took pride in his work. Coffee has to reach a certain percentage of moisture content before the drying process is considered finished (if the coffee is still too moist, it can spoil and rot). While a moisture meter could be used to scientifically and accurately measure the moisture content of the coffee, Wencis Lao can guess the percentage just with his hands alone. Most of the time, he is just as accurate as the meter. He can also predict how long it will take for coffee to reach the right moisture level, even down to the specific time of day. 

Thoughts on El Salvador

Another problem with how we react to $10/day for Salvadoran coffee pickers is that we are, in fact, part of why they make so little. Coffee is a tremendously undervalued commodity, given how much work and time is required to produce it in the first place, right from when it is first planted to when it reaches its final destination, brewed into a cup. Knowing how much goes into producing, say, hand-brewed pour-over coffee, it’s surprising that it’s as cheap as it is at $4.50. And yet, even at the cafe I manage on the Upper West Side—one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in Manhattan—people balk at this price. “$4.50 for just a cup of coffee?”. But the reality is: it’s not just a cup of coffee. It’s nothing short of a miracle that happens as a result of a very long process involving a lot of labor and time and many different people across different countries. A process that requires painstaking attention to detail every step of the way. And that’s before it even gets to the barista! 

El Salvaldor

For every moment you have shared with a friend over coffee, or for every morning you have woken up and felt grateful for the cup of coffee to help prepare you for the day, you owe thanks to an extraordinary number of people for making that possible. We owe it to every person whose hard work and long hours are part of the process that makes coffee what it is in the first place not just recognition, and gratitude, but also (perhaps more importantly)—fair wages, and a certain standard of living - for the meticulous care and effort that went into its production. Seeing this at work firsthand helped me shed the lens of my own American gaze, but one doesn't have to travel to see the facts of our part of the process.

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.

Honduras Trip with 71 Irving Place's John Summerour

Honduras - Irving Farm

We've shared travel diaries from our trips to coffee-growing countries before, but every now and then we get to bring along someone extra-special from the Irving Farm team. John Summerour, a filmmaker and longtime Irving Farm employee, has been working at our Irving Place cafe since 2002. He joined coffee director Dan Streetman on a Honduras trip to origin this past harvest season, and was kind enough to let us reprint his reflections here.  When asked if I would be interested in accompanying Dan on a trip to Honduras to meet farmers and sample coffees, I said yes immediately, impulsively. Without knowing anything about what Dan actually does on these trips, I sensed that it would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. In the weeks leading up to the trip, I didn't ask any questions. I had the flight information, and I had traveled to South America and the Caribbean before, so I knew to pack lots of sunscreen for my pasty complexion. Sometimes it's best to throw yourself into an experience free of expectations. Be present, observe, absorb, hang on tight. 

Honduras - Irving Farm

We were driven from the airport in San Pedro Sula to Hotel Finca Las Glorias on the banks of Lake Yojoa, the largest lake in Honduras. After check-in and lunch at the hotel restaurant we went to the coffee mill at San Vicente which looks out on wildly gorgeous foothills, steep and lush, the light falling in golden sheets all around. The air was warm and dense, but not oppressively so. This was my first time seeing coffee drying patios. Workers unloaded bags of freshly washed beans onto a rectangular slab of concrete where they proceeded to neatly spread them out with rakes, allowing the beans to dry naturally in the sunlight. We toured the mill where I saw the mechanical dryers that are used for large batches of commercial coffee, as well as the machine that removes the outer parchment from each bean, creating a powdery byproduct that settled within the folds of my ears. I watched a vibrating panel brilliantly sort the beans by weight, channeling the denser, more desirable nuggets in one direction while the lighter fellows hopped happily to the side. We walked by the tables where workers carefully handpick through the coffee as a final step, removing any defects. At one point I was directed into a room containing a massive computer that was rapidly sorting thousands of beans per minute, quite possibly transmitting them to outer space. Upstairs we convened in a tasting lab where we cupped 40 samples between Sunday evening and Wednesday morning. Back in New York I had participated in a cupping session with Dan and Irving Farm's core of coffee experts, so I had an idea of what to expect, but suddenly I found myself in a room with people who possess superhuman palates, instantly differentiating between the nuanced flavors of Israeli basil and Thai basil, the aromas of tangerine mist and clementine zest. I felt so out of my depth that I was literally mute after the first cupping. Dan encouraged me to speak up and participate, so the trip represented a gradual emergence from total silence to proudly proclaiming that one particular sample had taken me on a picnic with barbecue, lemonade, vanilla cake and freshly cut grass. Seriously. That coffee was dynamic. I had wondered if we would be treated differently as a group of American buyers, perhaps shielded from the "real Honduras." This question was answered as soon as we visited the first of several farms, all the buyers loaded into the back of a pickup truck, clinging for life as we cruised through the bustling town of Pena Blanca where many businesses were guarded by gunmen (a precaution more than a necessity), along the main paved roads that were riddled with potholes, and into the mountains where the truck bounced and lurched up narrow passages of gravel and dirt. 

Honduras - Irving Farm

At each stop we would greet the farmers and chat about their incoming crops. Most farmers had their own drying tables instead of having the mill dry them, increasing the value and quality control of their coffee. They also had bi-level structures for processing the cherries, pouring the ruby fruit down a chute from the top level where they slowly traveled through a de-pulper which resembled a meat grinder/music box. The beans (or "seeds") fell into a concrete tub for fermenting and washing, while the pulp piled at the side to be used for compost. I thought the pulp was delicious, depending on the variety and ripeness, with most of the cherries yielding a sweet fruit that had a touch of bell pepper earthiness. It reminded me of the beach plums on Cape Cod where locals take pride in producing jams in spite of the effort/reward imbalance, and it seemed that there could be an untapped market for turning this byproduct into preserves, infusions and even liquor, but it would require a large outside investment since so many coffee-producing countries still struggle with basic infrastructure. After witnessing the number of people who work tirelessly to plant, grow, pick, process and package the coffee--before the beans even reach Irving Farm for roasting--my initial interest in a coffee cherry-infused sparkling water or spreadable compote slowly faded. 

Honduras - Irving Farm

The highlight, and greatest physical challenge, of the trip was hiking amongst the crops. Most farmers would choose to abandon trails and guide us straight through the plants, the larger trees smacking us in the face with thick, waxy leaves. Some farms were planted directly into the crumbling slopes, leaving us with no choice but to descend quickly and precariously as though dirt-surfing. At one point, the truck was parked in a little village and we were led to a trailhead on the side of the road. From there we proceeded to climb steeply and deeply, through mud, over rocks and roots, totally at the mercy of our guide. After much sweating and heaving, we finally reached an isolated plot at the top of the mountain where we were greeted by an old farmer. He had a hose running directly from a mountain spring to water the baby coffee plants. We drank from the hose, and it was the clearest, freshest water I've ever tasted. I marveled as his workers cinched the sacks of freshly picked cherries and roped them to the backs of mules for transport down the same knotty paths we had ascended. We learned that his wife had recently passed away from cancer. The money that he made from last year's crops had afforded him the medicine that kept her alive a few months longer. Nothing could prepare me for that moment, standing on a mountaintop, filthy and exhausted, shaking hands with a farmer whose life had been directly impacted by someone buying his coffee. As I sipped from a cup in New York City, a man in Honduras held his wife's hand, cherishing each moment gained. Honduras - Irving Farm

How do we wrap our heads around something like that as consumers? Drinking coffee is a privilege, a tiny miracle of nature and people coming together, a dance of expertise and passion and communication and serendipity. I don't think that means each coffee purchase needs to be accompanied by a crippling sense of guilt or responsibility. Rather it's a celebration of connection. Each choice we make is directly tied to other lives, whether it's the clothes we wear or the water we drink. To engage with that narrative is empowering. It's an opportunity to emerge from your daily routine and gain perspective, to awaken curiosity and gratitude. We hiked down the mountain by twilight, the gradual darkening punctuated by a luminous pulse of lightning bugs. That night, sated by the immersive and visceral experience of Honduras, I drank a beer before falling asleep to the thrum of ecstatic fauna, a sound that will reverberate in tomorrow morning's cup of coffee, a resonance that will extend throughout the rest of my life. Honduras - Irving Farm

Ethiopia Diaries: Part III

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

Day 7

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

There were a lot of questions about how the cooperative works within the union, and how that impacts the small farmers. It took us several hours to comprehend how the Unions and Cooperatives vote on the distribution of money, and how that gets back to the individual members. I think most of the confusion was centered around paying for coffee specifically: we the buyers being obsessed with how money paid for coffee gets back exclusively to the people who grew it. But it would seem the Union functions more as a business with the cooperative members as share-holders, returning the profits to them at the end of the year. After our questions were sufficiently answered we toured a few of the farms. Very small plots, and clearly outlined around the houses in the village, these producers were growing root vegetables like cassava along side their coffee. We were led to believe that most of the people here were subsistence farmers living off their vegetable crops and animal herds, while selling coffee for cash. After Koke, we headed to another mill/cooperative called Harfusa. We encountered a very similar structure, and this time, equipped with our new knowledge, we were able to much more easily digest how things worked. Afterwards, we toured the wet mill and got more information on how coffee is processed in this area. Before we left, the community kids insisted on getting their photos taken. They were very entertaining and seemed to consider posing and viewing the photos an excellent game.

 

Day 8

Another early morning, this time bittersweet, as it marked our trek back to Addis and the beginnings of my journey back to New York. The trip to Ethiopia had conjured more questions than it answered, but there is nothing like a long drive to digest events. We stopped mid-day to visit an ECX warehouse. The operation was pretty intense, as there were many trucks waiting to get unloaded, and people everywhere. We were taken inside a cinder block building that functioned as the lab and offices. Inside we were met with the certificates of six Q grader licensed cuppers posted on the wall. It was pretty incredible to see that the QC functions of this lab halfway around the world used the exact same standards. We were taken through the entire process, and I was amazed at the sheer volume of coffee and work that got done in this small lab. Day 9 Last day of the trip, and with an evening flight, we had time for one final cupping. It was great to bookend the trip with this, as we cupped many of the same coffees as the first day, but we also had an opportunity to taste coffees we had picked up along the way. It was especially surprising to see that a coffee we had bought on the side of the road scored an 84/100. We ate a late lunch and then went to the airport. I couldn’t but help shake the feeling that this would not be my last trip to Ethiopia.