Our Director of Coffee, Byron Holcomb, recently got back from a relationship-building trip to Guatemala and Costa Rica. Here is Part Three of his letters home.
They say that for everything here. Hello. Goodbye. Thanks. Whats up? It is kinda catchy. But I’m more likely to pick up what our host kept saying about how challenging this crop will be for both Costa Rica and Guatemala. “Hijo de Gran Puta!” (Son of a b—). Guatemala’s harvest is early. Costa Rica is late. Both have really irregular maturation because of rain, cold and all around strange weather.
I love how honest farmers are. “Yeah, this harvest isn’t going to be our best. Sometimes because of the rain we have to pick pintones” (half-ripes). In general this means a more under-ripes, less quality drying, and more expensive pickings (doing 4-5 pickings when they used to do 3).
That said we (finally) found a cupping table that rocked our world. Yesterday we left the hotel at 6:20am and headed back to Terrazu to meet with an Association that won 6 places in the Cup of Excellence last year and has been placing in the top ranks for the last 4 years. They are going super fast because they pay great prices and seem to be packed with awesome people.
There is one family that we visited two of their farms. They have five farms that range from 2-15 hectares. The two hectare farm at 1,500 meters won 8th place last year in CoE. The family is in its third generation and the six young family members (from 35-22ish) are all really sweet and kind. After seeing their farms, we went to their house for breakfast and shots of Black Label whiskey. Let me explain. The father who was 65 and looked 80 was so moved by the fact that roasters came to his house he forced them to take a shot of whiskey with him, (before we ate breakfast). I smiled and raised my empty hand while they grimaced. The reason it was a big event is that no roaster has ever been to their house. The Senor was sure he would die before he actually met someone who purchased his coffee. They sell to La Minita and others etc. They don’t even know who bought their CoE lot!
Of course, it is tempting to buy some just to make everyone happy. I told them my hope was that the coffee was as beautiful as my experience. We should be able to cup some of it in the next couple months. If the coffee is crazy brilliant, game on.
Speaking of crazy brilliant, after four tables of stock lots, we finally tasted some coffee and shared numbers like 91, 88, 87 etc. Some of them tasted super fresh and will settle really nicely. Others were Geisha, others were sweet sweet honeyed coffees. One tasted just like a Pacamara. They only represent a few farms and some were first pickings (not the best quality). At least we were rather calibrated and left excited. Incredible diversity and some really top notch coffees.
Today was my catch up day. Laundry, hair-cut, email, buy coffee for Korea, lots of email.
Tomorrow, I will head off with Tim O’Brien to visit some more micro-mills and find some brilliant coffees (when they are ready).
Our Director of Coffee, Byron Holcomb, recently got back from a relationship-building trip to Guatemala and Costa Rica. Here is Part Two of his letters home.
My night visit to La Tacita was amazing. Very high altitude (very cold at night), wonderful people, great looking farm, huge amounts of history. They separate the farm by tablones but weren’t as keen on the idea of keeping them separated. They might send me samples.
Yesterday was amazing and long. We left the hotel just after 3am, made a connection in Panama where my sweet-talking the immigration agent didn’t pay off because he forgot to give me my customs form. Customs only made me fill out another one. Then I got to the hotel and they charged my credit card $8000. It was not my day for smooth traveling.
We got to San Jose, Costa Rica and what a different country this is. Everyone is tan and looks like they shop in Southern California. Surfer style rules here. Our cab driver had enough gel in his hear to look like Sonic the Hedeghog.
We ate lunch and tore off to Terrazu to visit a farm. The farm is 9 brothers that all own farms and work in different areas of production. The farms are really well managed, and they have had great success selling to top buyers and differentiating lots per the buyers demands.
They are truly at the front of the top micro mills out there. They keep a small “simple” operation. No massive patios, no 200 raised beds. Just a really small-capacity wet mill, some raised beds, a concrete patio. They have been one of the front runners in the micro-mill movement in Costa Rica. They do all different types of honey coffee, keep varieties separate, keep specific farms apart, they pay the attention to detail like you would imagine any professional craftsman would pay. They are really doing amazing work with varieties: I tasted the cherries from SL-28 (orange, spicy sweet with a savory finish), Geisha (all floral but not as sweet as I imagined), Red Catuai and Caturra (crazy sweet, kinda like Hi-C Red flavor).
They do many different types of Typica processing. And they have been doing selections of plantings of Geisha based on cherry sweetness and will launch an improved Geisha variety lot this year or the next. We have the chance to buy some of this coffee this year, which really is an honor considering most everything they have is long-term relationships. They are also environmentally responsible and really great people to be around.
One of my favorite parts of meeting them was how eloquent the farmer was when describing how different markets demand different profiles, and what he needs from his buyers in direction. For example, if we want a sweetness driven coffee (based on a sample) then he will craft one to our needs. I haven’t cupped it yet, but according to them, these guys can create a lot based on a requested profile. For example, I could say I want a coffee that is very bright and very sweet with notes of citrus, red cherries and passion fruit. They would run an experiment, send me a sample for feed back then custom craft the lot.
Of course we haven’t cupped it yet but we will on Monday.
We also visited another farm which has planted a really cool variety they will probably keep separate for next year. And the most impressive part is how they use an organic system of foliar spray that has reduced the need for herbicide on the farm and eliminated the need to use fungicide completely on the farm for the last 7 years. This was all done through the use of pulp, molasses, efficient micro-organisms, salts, etc.
That is a lot of information. From the farm side, I’m totally excited, lets just cross our fingers the cups are as impressive.
Our Director of Coffee, Byron Holcomb, recently got back from a relationship-building trip to Guatemala and Costa Rica. Here is Part One of his letters home.
The weather has been perfect. The nights are cool and the mid day sun intense. The first day we spent our time cupping a couple different tables and visiting the a dry mill and one advanced farm. The dry mill has an impressive operation and incredible traceability once a coffee arrives to the mill. They set all lots to a bar code system. The coffees are cupped every two weeks to monitor the qualiy and look for defects. Then in the headquarters lab they are cupped again with only the bar code visible, then the coffee is judged and classified to fill basic stock grades: Extra Prime, Hard Bean, Strictly Hard Bean, Strictly Hard Bean Huehue and Robusta, just to name a few.
There is a bit of everything here: body driven coffees that are “cheap”, pointed bright coffees, pickers who barely speak Spanish because they are “Naturales” — a local word that refers to indigenous populations, beautifully painted “chicken buses” (old American school buses), really tasty meats, lots of guards everywhere with guns. Every single mill we visited has at least 12ft barbed wire fences, two or three armed guards who grill our drivers for info and names before they crack a smile. Why? because people steal coffee.
It is funny what happens when I read commodity reports that are saying, “Central America will ship late.” Then when I use my personal knowledge of farms and weather, I get different results – Central America should be early. And both Honduras and Guatemala are both about a month ahead of schedule. Humm… This is from the incredibly heavy rains this season. They accelerate the maturation of the cherries. I’ve lived it. It should also decrease the volume. Again the commodity reports said, volumes should be fine, maybe a touch low. And yet from what I hear and see it looks like the volumes will be greatly affected.
Today we left early and headed to the Santa Rosa area. The coffees were solid and they actually had a nice natural. The farm is massive. 700 hectares and all organic certified and Rainforest Alliance as well. When the Pacamara was blended with one of the better lots, it was incredibly balanced and delish.
I’m writing this in a truck on my way to La Tacita. Tomorrow we check out of the hotel at 3am for a 5am flight to Costa Rica. Night night.
Showcasing the best a nation has to offer, Cup of Excellence is a rare program that allows a truly vibrant spectrum of a country’s coffees to be compared and given the honors they deserve. This sunny, warm coffee is tangy sweet with golden raisin and pineapple notes—truly among the best of Honduras.
At Dallis Bros. Coffee we are huge supporters of the Cup of Excellence (CoE) Program. For several years we have sent one or two of our Q Graders to judge at the competitions, which take place in different coffee growing nations. It is a privilege to be invited to judge the crown jewels of a producing country. In 2011, Dallis Bros. Coffee was invited to both Honduras and Brasil.
The process can start with hundreds of coffees. The National Jury narrows the pool down to 40 or 50 great coffees, then awaits the arrival of the International Jury (that’s us!) to cup and score. Only coffees that have average scores of 84 points or higher can advance.
After the 2011 Honduras CoE, our Coffee Director returned to Ozone Park raving about the diversity and quality of the top coffees. Some were incredibly floral, others were citric. Others had a lovely tartaric acidity.
This particular coffee was hard to miss. It scored high enough to make it into the top ten coffees produced in Honduras’ last harvest. When we cupped it in Honduras, it jumped off the table with exceptional balance and beauty. Back home at Dallis Bros., we cupped each sample from the Cup of Excellence in Honduras and fell in love again. This coffee was awarded #8 in the 2011 competition.
Much of the coffee from the small town El Pinal isn’t sold as Honduran coffee. It is exported and relabeled with a different country’s name, because of the higher prices available. Through programs like CoE, we hope to highlight beautiful coffees from Honduras and help Honduran farmers return to selling them as the country’s own.
Sharing resources in coffee production allows smaller landholding farmers access to technology they might not otherwise be able to afford. This coffee from Kenya’s Muburi Coffee Factory is a sweet, tangy, stone-fruit example of individual farmers cooperatively working together to process their coffee and deliver it, deliciously, to you.
Where water flows across a low-lying place is “muburi” to the Kikuyu people. About 200,000 coffee trees grow along the southern slopes of Mount Kenya, and are handpicked and sorted for size and quality here. The members of the Rwama Farmers Cooperative Society individually own their land, and collectively deliver their coffee cherries to the Muburi Coffee Factory. We are pleased to deliver it to you.
Long before this coffee got on a boat to New York City, our own Byron Holcomb went to Kenya to calibrate with an exporter and miller in Nairobi named Ibero. The calibration was easier than getting there — with all the major roads under construction, getting around Nairobi isn’t easy, nor is getting there on two red-eye flights. The head cupper in Nairobi is, like Byron, a Q-grader. Byron was easily able to articulate to her the exact type of Kenyan coffees Dallis Bros. was looking for: bright and sweet, full of nuanced flavor and body.
The auction system in Kenya doesn’t easily allow us to taste coffee samples before they go to auction. Ibero helped us find this delicious lot and set it aside for us, knowing exactly what flavors we were looking for based on our calibrated palates. When the sample arrived here in Queens, its sweet, fruity and clean acidic character charmed us on the cupping table.
The tropical character of this coffee is really a treat in the morning. A savory apricot undertone and sweet guava note with juicy round acidity make this coffee beautifully balanced.
The 2011 El Salvador Cup of Excellence competition brought forward more incredible coffees than ever before, this complex, fruity and candy-sweet coffee from Finca Andalucía one of them. This organically certified coffee balances tangy acidity and smooth chocolate finish, and we’re honored to be able to showcase it.
The Lima y Hermanos family farm known as Finca Andalucía is long known for its quality production of organic coffees. From Bourbon to Pacamara to new varieties, the farm has grown coffee conscientiously for around 70 years, earning the Mayacert organic certification and working locally to conserve natural rainforest lands and animal habitats. Its altitude, volcanic soil and carefully shaded growing areas are just some of the factors that contribute to the success of this great coffee.
This year at the Cup of Excellence El Salvador, there were an unprecedented number of coffees that scored well and were accepted as winners by the International Jury. At Dallis Bros Coffee we stay very connected to the Cup of Excellence program because of the coffee quality that is highlighted from the competition, and the way it helps encourage regions and growers. This coffee placed 34th in the competition, out of more than 40 coffees to score high enough (84) for the Cup of Excellence award, and 165 total samples submitted.
Why so many great coffees this year? One theory centers on the eruption of Ilamatepec in the Santa Ana region five years ago. The eruption killed several people and evacuated thousands from the area. Yet the volcanic ash which covered the entire area can be an interesting fertilizer. Its mineral components are absorbed slowly into the soil over time, and coffee trees producing fruit years later may be only now seeing the benefits.
We’ve long been fans of coffee from this part of Honduras, incorporating it into our favorite blends. But Jose Isidro Lara’s prolific, organic farm begged to be highlighted as a single origin coffee, with all the sweet, tangy complexity that can open minds about coffee.
Jose Isidro Lara is an attentive farmer. He loves his coffee trees, but he hates dirt. He’s as fastidious about his patios as he is passionate about coffee. When we visited his farm well after the harvest season, his patio and wet mill remained spotless, like they had been scrubbed the day before.
We asked Jose how he processed his coffee: animatedly talking a million miles an hour, he detailed every step of picking, sorting, fermenting, washing, cleaning, and all the other steps important to Specialty Coffee. He stressed that the slightest degradation in his coffee would pull it off his export list — he would rather sell a coffee locally or not at all than damage his relationships with his buyers in an international market.
The farms in this region, specifically in the town of Capucas, where Jose’s farm and mill are located, are typically very productive and totally organic. The rich black soil, rainfall, and altitude are just perfect for coffee.
Traditionally, the coffee that Dallis Bros. Coffee has purchased from this region is sold in our Red Den and Unisphere blends. After meeting Jose and tasting his coffee it was clear that we needed to highlight this particular farmer and his hard work. His enthusiasm shines in the cup, and so does ours.
Importing coffee from its birthplace, Ethiopia, has become a particular art in the modern age of regulated commodities. Dallis Bros. works closely with trusted pros within the country to help us access the best of the classic, red-berry, huge fruit coffees its growers are most known for, like this one we call Ardi.
Ethiopia is a land of legend, whether it’s the discovery of coffee or the unearthing of a 4.4-million-year-old prehuman fossil nicknamed Ardi. Our friend Samuel Demisse, who has a personal relationship to this mill, began importing this beautifully processed natural coffee from the Guji region around the same time that Ardi-the-skeleton was recognized, and thus his spectacular coffee is named in tribute.
About 60 miles south of the famous small town of Yirgacheffe there is a town called Hagere Maryam. All of the Ardi coffee comes from one mill in this town. Starting next year there will be two more additional mills buying and processing coffee for Samuel.
This is a natural processed coffee, which helps to yield the super typical blueberry and strawberry flavors that are found in the cup. In order to control the drying process of this coffee it is first dried for two weeks on raised beds in the sun. There are several women who clean the coffee as it dries. Any under-ripe cherry (green in color) stands in stark contrast to all the red cherries on the bed. All the under-ripe cherries are removed, and after two weeks, the coffee is set to dry on a concrete patio.
Demisse, who now lives in the United States, comes from a family of coffee producers. His father owned a mill in Ethiopia and a farm as well. Samuel grew up picking coffee and attending coffee ceremonies, and has been selling fine Ethiopian coffees to Dallis Bros. for years now.
A citric-yet-savory coffee with great presence in the cup, El Lagulito is the product of both two special coffees, and our continued interest in rediscovering the huge potential in coffees often overlooked in the Dominican Republic. We’re excited to offer this beautiful blend from farms in two of the best coffee-growing regions in the country.
Nowadays, it’s rare to see Dominican Coffee offered on a roaster’s single origin offering sheet. But in the 1950s, the Dominican Republic was one of the major coffee producers for the United States coffee market. Times have changed.
Our Coffee Director, Byron Holcomb, has particular expertise in the Dominican Republic, having lived there — and owning his own coffee farm there. Through his firsthand experience and his contacts in the DR, Byron has been able to both find great coffees and tell their stories.
El Lagulito is classified as one kind of coffee, Tipo Juncalito, because it meets the elevation and cup characteristics required for this well-known Dominican region. But it comes from two different towns, Las Lagunas and Juncalito. The coffee from Las Lagunas has a brighter, orange-driven acidity while Juncalito has a peach acidity and a bigger body. Both are great on their own. However we decided to combine them, because as they were blended they tasted really beautiful together. The sum of the parts is truly greater than the whole on this one.
Both coffees were picked ripe, fermented and then washed and patio dried. The coffee from Las Lagunas comes from one of the highest growing altitudes in the region, which many say contributes to the coffee’s acidity. Warm tasting notes of cedar are also found, a perfect expression of the romantic cedar trees that shade the region’s coffee trees.