Farm Diaries: Finca La Paz Part Two

The second installment from our Coffee Director, Byron Jackson Holcomb, on his recent trip to his own coffee farm, Finca La Paz, in the Dominican Republic.

27 September 2011: Lessons

Chop dem weeds. Have any of you ever trained some one to use a computer for the first time? It is painful. No, the mouse is that little thing there. That is a folder, click and drag. No click. No click with the other button. No hold the button down. I did a class down here years ago, it taught me a lot of patience.

Today I had a massive list of projects for Antonio. But before we could do the fun stuff we did some more weed wackin training. He changed the head to a blade that looked like a saw blade. Antonio has great hands, but when it comes to wrenching it takes him a very very long time to get it right.  It seemed like an hour to change the head from the nylon to the saw. I saw that he put it on backwards, I figured the practice was a good thing.

He started it and it just pushed the weeds around. I pointed out that it was on backwards. It only took him 20 minutes to put it on right this time. I was really glad that we did this follow-up training. Antonio is brilliant with what he knows. With small motors and that type of mechanics, it is like a new language.

My thoughts are mixed on the weed eater. I can’t use it on really steep sections (40% of the farm). And the nylon only works on lighter brush, but you can get really close to the dirt. The blades are great for thick brush but we can’t use the guard (more likely to fall coffee trees) or cut that close to the dirt (so the weeds grow really fast and the work needs to be done again).

We spent the rest of the day planning out all the projects: Lemon Persa, Passion Fruit, Yucca, Banana, styrofoam plates soaked in oil to attract and drow broca, broca traps with ground coffee and rum, pruning planning and fertilizer application. I tried to explain how we plan work on Nossa Senhora with precision agro product application (each section with different needs). In a very simplified way that is what today was like.

There is still plenty of work to do. The next few months will be very busy for Antonio.

It is bed time. It is raining. The heat is not appropriate for the season. The harvest is soon to arrive. The cockroaches are roaming the bathroom. And the dogs are eating chicken bones. Nighty night.

29 September 2011: Beginning to Build

Yesterday and today were pretty dandy. Yesterday we spent most of the day drilling holes in metal tubes for the new roof of the parabolic drying bed (the wood roof tore the plastic sheeting every year). The generator wouldn’t start. So we used what did work: two car batteries and an inverter.

There is one guy in these 9 towns who has a drill and a few metal bits. Jose. He is a total clown, and thinks his drill is really manly. I like Jose a lot.

We assembled and drilled one side of the roof. Then the sky fell out and dumped gallons of violent water and lightning that struck really close.

When the lightning slowed to a roll, we turned the inverter back on and it smoked and sparks flew. I borrowed an inverter from Antonio and we finished the job just before nightfall, and the two batteries lost their charge.

Today we headed to the farm with the tubes bundled and shouldered, nails, screws, saws and the omnipresent machetes on our hips. We assembled each side of the roof and put it in place. It was crazy hot all morning. The clouds were low and threatened rain after breakfast. It drizzled a bit but we got the new roof installed and tied to the wood frame. Hopefully this will last us a few more years.

It was 4pm before we started the long walk up the hill.  The rain roared in the distance and I was sure our good luck ran out. It drizzled on us the whole way up the hill to Antonio’s house. Apparently there is a tropical storm in the area. I’ve lived through enough of these seasons (basically since 2003) to know that if it is supposed to be bad, nothing will happen. And if there is no news, it could be the worst of the whole year. Some news means it might rain. It is the end of the rainy season here. So it might rain every day.

This year’s crop was supposed to be massive because of the flowering. However cold dry air didn’t allow the April flowering, which was the biggest, to take, and the crop is smaller than it should have been. Much like is about to happen in Brazil if they don’t get some steady rains soon.

to be continued…

Farm Diaries: Finca La Paz Part One

Besides being our esteemed Director of Coffee, Byron Jackson Holcomb is a licensed Q grader, meaning he’s able to evaluate cofeees and calibrate his palate with the best in the world. And when he’s not in Ozone Park, he’s managing his own coffee farm, Finca La Paz, in the Dominican Republic. Byron recently checked in from Finca La Paz and sent us these dispatches from the front lines of coffee. Keep checking back for further installments.

23 September 2011: The Journey

I got the bump to First Class. The weed eater got through security. I took a public bus to San Juan and listened to the usual loud hilarious conversations that happen on those buses. It all started because the guys who sell roasted corn apparently don’t wash their hands after going pee. Then a guy accused all women of using all 5 fingers to wipe. The woman (about 40 yrs) who started the gender war demanded to be called Senorita. A name reserved for young virgins. I will spare you what the bus discussed after that.

It was hilarious.

Now I’m at a hotel in San Juan, tomorrow I take the weeder to a welder’s shop to get a metal guard fitted. I need to buy some supplies for the parabolic drying bed then catch the only truck to Los Frios in the market at 12 noon.

26 September 2011: Arrival

When the owner isn’t present things take more time. When the owner has no idea what to do things take even more time.

It feels like that, now that my farm is 4 years old, I have a pretty good idea about making this farm work for me. I’ve made almost every mistake so far. Wrong cleaning methods. Paid too much for coffee in the tree. Wrong planting methods. Letting Antonio “prune”. Not planning far enough in advance for farm work.

Anyway. It feels like now I have the horse under control. Aida Battle sent me a picture of a weed-eater-guard her workers use to protect the coffee trees from a renegade weed wacker, which was the missing piece of technology I needed. Now I have one installed on mine. Today Antonio and I covered the basics on how to use the weed wacker that served as my checked bag en route here. This might save me a ton of money in cleanings.

Antonio has put dried bean plants tied up and hung them in different parts of the farm to encourage the growth of a fungus that kills the broca. It actually seems to discourage the growth.

I’ve been told by many that banana is not beneficial to cafe. Wrong. I’ve allowed Antonio to plant many many bananas in the areas we are re-establishing coffee. A friend told me that we need to plant even more. I’m happy to. Fill every inch. I don’t care that I can’t sell the bananas. Let em rot with the rest I can’t sell.

There are a lot more examples, but I will spare you the details of happy lime trees which could pay the rent, and chayote and passion fruit that only cost me money.

No’ vemo’ pronto.

to be continued…

Dallis Bros. and Sisters: Meet the Director of Coffee!

Before a coffee gets to your morning cup, it has to get to Dallis Bros. Coffee, and without a talented, diplomatic, and quality-focused Director of Coffee, we wouldn’t have anything to roast at all. Our Director of Coffee, Byron Jackson Holcomb, is thus a critical part of the team here at Dallis Bros. He’s a licensed Q grader, meaning he’s able to evaluate coffees and calibrate his palate with the best in the world. And when he’s not in Ozone Park, he’s managing his own coffee farm, Finca La Paz, in the Dominican Republic. We took a minute to hear Byron’s coffee story.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in a logging town in Northern California. There was no coffee there. But there were a lot of pine trees, and a lot of dirt, and it was gorgeous. My father was a field hydrologist, which is the study of watersheds, and everyday he’d come home with stories about bears and bobcats and rattlesnakes and king snakes. And that really inspired me to do something environmental, something with biology.

How long have you been at Dallis?

Just over a year. John found me wandering the floor at a coffee trade show, I was consulting at the time. We had known each other before — our paths almost crossed at Counter Culture Coffee — and we had a little chat about possibly doing some work for Dallis Bros. in the Southeast. I met some of the people and was super excited, and said yes! I’ll take the sales job. And then three weeks into it, and after my training, they suggested this position.

How did you get into coffee?

I had this little voice in the back of my head, for the two years while I was in the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic, that said “do more with coffee, do more with coffee”.

I didn’t go into coffee there, but I did see the production cycle, as well as that of avocados, soil erosion barriers, family planning projects, etc. I left the Peace Corps intending to work in the non-profit world, and it was about a year until I got totally burnt out working in a Cuban refugee settlement program — I received people coming off the plane, and I had 24 hours notice to get their apartment ready. I started looking at myself and what I wanted to do with my life, and then I had what I called my coffee epiphany. I wanted to work with something global in scope, use my Spanish, use my skills I learned in Peace Corps, and then I went to a coffee trade show out west, without a job, and had a great conversation with one guy from a roastery in Alaska, who said “Byron, you can do anything you want in coffee! You can travel, you can fix equipment, you can sell equipment, you can buy coffee, you can roast coffee, anything!”

Six months into my first coffee job, at Batdorf & Bronson, I was offered to purchase a coffee farm. I agreed on a price for the farm over the phone, i knew it was an honest price, and went down and bought it, while i was a production employee at Batdorf.

From there I’ve gleaned an immense amount of production and farming knowledge, because it’s very different when I walk into someone’s farm now as a buyer and ask how is this going, how do you do your pruning, etc., that’s very different than being the farmer, and being the one who has to deal with whatever comes in. Because it’s a fruit tree. It’s not something like a cabbage crop that you can spray or move or manipulate or manage very quickly. It’s a tree farm. If you have an infestation of the bean bore from your neighbor’s negligence, you have to deal with it.

What are the biggest challenges in your job?

There are no challenges! Just kidding… the biggest challenge is the fact that I need to sleep. There’s SO MUCH work to do, there’s so much good coffee out there, if I could clone myself and have one person that’s full time on the road at origin, developing relationships at origin, that’d be great. The biggest challenge is just not getting everything done that i want to get done. Maintaining quality, improving quality, training, sourcing. We’re sourcing really great coffees, all that said, there’s so much I still want to do.

What’s the funnest thing about your job?

One of the funnest things that I get to do is cup with other people. I love hearing other people’s interpretations of coffees, and I really enjoy working with all of the coffee supply chain. So from importers, exporters, directly with farmers, directly with millers, all the way through to baristas. I really enjoy those conversations. Because those are the gatekeepers of quality, and just to say it’s all about the farmer is completely misinformed and wrong. You have to talk to all the gatekeepers of coffee to help produce and create really phenomenal coffee. And that’s an incredible game of diplomacy, of being assertive, of knowing true value, of being a strong cupper, of respecting their culture. And you have to do all of that.

What’s your favorite thing about Ozone Park?

To be honest? I love hearing snippets of people’s excessively loud music as they drive by on 102nd Street. It’s never the same — sometimes it’s reggaeton, sometimes it’s hip hop, sometimes it’s rap, sometimes it’s incredibly loud Indian music. It’s just so diverse. And so loud! This place is just oozing with culture — and yet none of it is sexy.

What’s your favorite coffee right now, and how do you like to prepare it?

It’s the Kenya Muburi right now, it’s a coffee that is really sweet, it’s really intense, it’s really balanced. Very chocolatey, great tropical fruit notes. It’s not the super typical Kenya, but it is super super coffee. I use a Bonmac pourover with a single hole, 19 grams of coffee, 300 mL, one bloom and then all in.

Dallis Coffee in Edible Queens Magazine

Local Brew
Nancy Davidson in Edible Queens Magazine
Fall 2011 (print only)

Dine out with Dallis Bros. For Hurricane Relief

Join friends of Dallis Bros. Highpoint Bistro and Bar, Tavern, Palo Santo and Greensquare Tavern this coming Sunday at Dine Out Irene, a citywide event organized by Just Food and GrowNYC to benefit local farmers whose crops and livelihood were hit hard by Hurricane Irene.

Participating restaurants (a list is here) will contribute 10% of their sales on Sunday, September 25, 2011 to these organizations who will see that it gets to those farms and farmers most deeply affected. As a company who works directly with farms every day, we understand the impact of natural disasters on crops and economic survival. We’re glad to be able to offer a cup of coffee at the end of a meal — or along with your Sunday brunch — at the above mentioned restaurants in support of a great cause!

Dallis Bros. and Sisters: Meet the Roasters!

Here at Dallis Bros. coffee, we all know that our coffee wouldn’t be as delicious as it is if it weren’t for a few special people who help it get from green to brown. In an effort to help introduce you to the, er, Brothers and Sisters that make up Dallis Bros. coffee, we’d like you to get to know two of the talented roasters working on our beautiful vintage Probat and Burns roasters. Both Ed Kaufmann and Anne Cooper have years of experience from all sides of coffee, and right now they’re roasting our coffee for you.

Roaster Ed Kaufmann

Ed, Where did you grow up?
Red Lodge Montana. It’s a small mountain town. No good coffee.

How did you get into coffee?
I got a job at Cafe Grumpy, upon moving to New York in 2006. I just enjoyed the people, and drinking delicious coffee!

What are the biggest challenges in your job?
Educating the consumer about what coffee can be — a carefully crafted beverage that has been harvested, processed, roasted and brewed with love.

What’s the funnest thing about your job?
Meeting new people!

What’s your favorite thing about Ozone Park?
Luigi’s Italian “cuisine”. Either that or the Halal slaughterhouse across the street.

What’s your favorite coffee right now, and how do you like to prepare it?

The Honduras Las Amazonas COE, through a Chemex!

Roaster Anne Cooper

Anne, where did you grow up?
I actually grew up in Mackay, in Queensland, Australia. We grow coffee there — there’s heaps of coffee growing, especially in North Queensland.

How long have you been at Dallis?
Six months!

How did you get into coffee?
Goodness! I guess it started when I was working in a cafe in college, just to help pay through college, and it started from there.

What are the biggest challenges in your job?
Working with Ed! No… I think it’s probably the pressure that I put on myself, because of the responsibility that I have, especially with roasting on the Probat, the pressure from myself to always make sure I’m roasting consistently and doing a really great job for Dallis.

What’s the funnest thing about your job?
Oh! All of the amazing coffees that I get to drink! The people that I work with, and just the eqipment that I get to work on as well, it’s bloody awesome. I’m just always learning as well, I’ve been in coffee for 20 years and I’m still always learning something new. It’s fantastic.

What’s your favorite thing about Ozone Park?
Oooooh. The deli up at the Met Supermarket has the BEST hero sandwiches.

What’s your favorite coffee right now, and how do you like to prepare it?
Goodness me. I’m going through a really big Kenya phase. And either as espresso or Chemex. So probably the Kiamabara or, now, the Muburi, but I think the Honduras COE is a close close second behind that, too.

Ethiopia Kochere

Ethiopia is known the world over for its beautiful coffee. Not only is it the birthplace of all Arabica coffea (Arabica) coffee, it is home to some of the most diverse regions, varieties and cup profiles. In 2009, the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange was started and coffee was included with other products like, sesame seeds, wheat and corn. The idea was to organize these markets and provide the farmers with greater clarity on how pricing is set.

One effect of the ECX is that there is an incredible amount of control, grading and regulation of coffee. Coffee, after all, is the largest dollar-value export for Ethiopia and therefore critically important to the health of the entire economy. Coffees that are delivered to the ECX lose their traceability upon arrival to the warehouse. The coffee is graded and the “acabi” (miller) is given a ticket. Then the coffee is sold per grade and volume, not per specific farmer or delivery. When coffee is graded there are specific regions and grades given for quality. We can tell you this coffee came from Kochere because there it received a Kochere Grade. Kochere is a high altitude region just south of the small town of Yirgacheffe. This is as close as traceability now gets in Ethiopia.

Buy coffee from Kochere here.

Guatemala Chajulense Fair Trade Organic

We’re huge fans of the big flavor of Guatemalan coffees, and of cooperative farming that truly works, both at the farmer level and the quality in the cup. Hints of Key lime pie and berries drew us in to this beautiful coffee, whose renowned co-op is a great example of farming done right.

Cooperatives can do lots of things at origin. They often provide great social services to their members and they can provide several container loads of coffee to buyers. Chajulense is a co-op that has members in 57 different small communities, with projects as diverse as supporting ecotourism, honey production, and even running their own radio station. When co-ops are large, it is rare that they produce quality levels that could actually meet the standards of Dallis Bros. Coffee. But this coffee is different.

This flavorful coffee is picked by the individual farmers and processed on their farms. It is then fully dried and delivered to the co-op. The Chajulenses are packed with unique culture. Part of their attitude is that the benefits of the coffee should be divided amongst all the members. This means it is unlikely that they will be producing microlots to highlight specific farmers. That said, some containers arrive with wonderful cup scores, depending on when the coffee was picked and which farmers contributed to it. We were able to pick up this lot through our relationship with Chajulense’s importer, and were thrilled with the complexity and comprehensiveness of its flavor – sweet berry fruit, sweet lime, honey, granola, and a creamy body. This coffee really stood out.

Honduras – Liquidambar

The joy of working directly with a farmer is great. The joy of working directly with a great farmer is tremendous. Our relationship with Reina Mercedes Claros Bautista has taught us the simple beauty of farming great coffee: in this case the lush, vibrant, competition-winning, peach-necatar-sweet coffee we know as Finca Liquidambar.

Doña Reina Mercedes Claros Bautista is rather famous in Western Honduras. Dallis Bros. Coffee has had the pleasure of attending both the 2010 and 2011 Cup of Excellence events in Honduras, and were afforded the opportunity to ask Reina Mercedes Claros Bautista how her coffee is so consistent every year.  She explained simply: it starts with good picking. You have to watch your workers to make sure they only pick ripe cherries. From there, coffee is brought to the wet mill and de-pulped the same day, then allowed to ferment for a 12-hour period before it is washed. Bautista actually manages two different farms, which she keeps fully separate: Finca El Durazno and Finca Liquidambar. She also personally manages the drying of the coffee on her own patio. As coffees are drying, she keeps all the coffee of the same moisture contents together. “Remember,” she says.  “I don’t mix coffees together.”

When talking with her, Reina’s tone is humble. When drinking her coffee it is brilliant. She grows 70% Red Catuai and 30% Yellow Catuai on her farm near San Juan in Intibuca Honduras. We were proud to tell her that her coffee was part of a 50% blend of Philip Search’s winning espresso in the 2011 Northeast Regional Barista Competition in New York City. She was moved to hear this good news. This is the second year in a row that we are able to offer her coffee direct from her farm. We hope to continue this into the future.

Beware of fire breathing dragons…

No, we are not talking about some sci-fi computer game.  We are talking about a full four bags of green coffee igniting and send an entire roasting system well over 1000 degrees!

Roaster Fire



















In coffee roasting facilities the question is always not “if” you will have a roaster fire, but “when”.  Although thankfully Irene wasn’t the catastrophic hurricane the press prognosticated for the northeast region, it did dump a few gallons of water into our roasting system.  This kept critical systems from engaging, and caused the beautiful coffee in our Jabez Burns Thermalo roaster to literally self combust!

Thanks to the skill and knowledge of our experienced crew the damage was kept to a minimum and no-one was injured.  Our production team handled most of our orders on the vintage Probats that were unaffected, roasting late into the night.  With the help of John Larkin’s bunch we had the roaster back on line the very next day and orders were going out the door.