Kenya – Kiamabara

About 150km (93 miles) north of Nairobi is a small town called Nyeri.  If you try and drive the route it might take three to four hours.  It seemed like every road in the country was under construction last October when I was there.  Like much of East Africa, most Kenyan farmers only own an acre or two. This distribution of ownership makes quality coffee production difficult in some countries, but in Kenya systems are in place that actually support some of the small famers and coffee co-ops.

Farms less than 6 acres are not allowed to process their own coffee. They must deliver the coffee to a wet mill where it will be managed with professional care and attention. This single step secures coffee quality starting at the cherry. Immediately after de-pulping, the coffee sorting begins with washing channels, and then with size sorting.  As soon as the coffee hits the drying beds, workers hand pick out any defective looking parchment coffee. At this stage, the coffee is called P1, P2, P3, and P4. P1 is the best quality and P4 is the lower quality. (Coffees I buy come from P1 and P2). Once the coffee is fully dried the coffee is rested in specific resting areas that control the airflow over the coffee.  Often times the best coffees from these small mills might only be 15 bags weighing 60kgs or 132lbs.

The auction system allows those 15 bags to be sold independently without blending.  Each lot is auctioned individually to a host of buyers. The buyer who bids the most by pushing their red button wins. As I saw in Kenya some farmers set their base price above the auction price and hence actually can reject the auction price offer, which is yet another reason Kenyan coffees can be very expensive.

This Lot comes from the Mugaga Farmers Society and it processed at the Kiambara mill. As I said above sometimes farmers own small plots of land. The average number of coffee trees per family is only 200. Kiamabara is not going to be found on any maps but I can tell you where it is. Between Nyeri and Mt. Kenya National Park you will find 910 members that deliver their coffee cherries for good prices.

When buying Kenyan coffees I look for areas that have heirloom varieties planted. The trees that give us this beautiful coffee are SL-28 and SL-34 varieties.

In the cup, this coffee is crisp, clean and vibrant with notes of raspberry with a tart lemony brightness. The silky smooth body and deep chocolate notes round out a beautiful and lively cup.

Byron Holcomb

Coffee Director – Dallis Bros Coffee

Los Idolos

Out of the shadows of illicit agriculture springs the beautiful Los Idolos, a beguilingly soft, citrusy coffee from Colombia’s flavorful Huila region. Though farmers in the area used to produce somewhat less…legal…crops, they now farm coffee, like this this butterscotch-sweet-and-savory microlot we’re proud to offer you.

Los Idolos comes from the region La Vereda de Los Cauchos in southern Colombia, in the Department of Huila (whee-la). The area’s rich history is still present today in the ancient statuary high on the hilltops, known to locals as “El Altos de Los Idolos”.

This coffee is brought to us by the Grupo Asociativo San Agustin Los Cauchos co-op. Like many remote regions in Colombia, coffee is not as lucrative as some more illicit crops. Since 2002 the co-op has committed to not growing such crops because of the tension that followed. The members made the conversion to producing quality coffee and have been rewarded with prices 35%-50% above the internal market. The premiums have helped them improve infrastructure in the community and improve their quality of life all while producing a legal (and safer) product.

This coffee is grown very near the microlot Andino. However, the farms in La Vereda de Los Cauchos differ in aspect. It is a mountainous region and the general aspect of the farms face east, meaning morning dew is burned off early and coffee trees spend more of the day in slightly hotter temperatures than the west-facing Andino. Both co-ops are very near San Agustin and yet the coffees taste distinctly different.

This uniquely sweet and savory coffee has overwhelming sweet caramel notes. The mandarin-orange-like acidity is soft and balanced, and brings out the depth in this coffee. Try it alongside our Andino to get a nuanced flavor comparison.

Andino Especial Micro-Lot

This fruity, floral coffee is just one result of our relationships in Colombia. A partnered investment in our coffee’s production allows us not only a connection to the farm, but the ability to learn from real agricultural innovation. As such, we’re proud to offer the Andino Especial Micro-Lot.

As we strive for transparency in coffee, we are faced with real challenges accessing the true farmers that produce our coffees in remote areas. Through a multi-year personal relationship with an exporter in Colombia, we were able to source a special micro-lot from Andino, near the town of Bruselas, that seven farmers contributed to assemble: Albiero Calambas, Norbey Macias, Ana Nelly Luna, Sergio Daza, Arnoldo Hernandez, Edilma Piedrahita and Helio Roco. They are all members of Grupo Asociativo Café Andino Especial, which cooperatively produces about 1,000 bags per year. These seven producers are clearly managing their coffee right from pruning, development, harvesting and wet-processing.

The topography of Colombia is packed with vertical running valleys called veredas (ver-A-das). Andino comes from the west-facing side of the valley, which gets most of its sun late in the day, keeping the trees cooler longer — which in our experience leads to a wonderful acidity in the cup. Our Coffee Director, Byron Holcomb, is a farmer himself and has cupped aspect-specific lots to study this pattern.

The coffee is picked and wet milled on each individual farm. The coffee is then dried in raised beds called Parabolic Drying Beds. This process helps to prolong the life of the green beans while developing that beautiful clean and balanced acidity. To keep the cup tasting clean, we had the coffee shipped in vacuum-sealed boxes to preserve its freshness.

Colombia is a large country, so we chose two different profiles from Huila to explore the flavors of a region. Try Andino alongside the beautiful Los Idolos to get a sense of the nuance available lot to lot.

We find this coffee to be sweet and bright with beautiful clarity and floral notes of orange that fill out a supple and round body.

Finca Siberia

When we select a coffee at Dallis Bros. Coffee, there is one requirement that must be met: it must make us say, “wow”. When our Director of Coffee, Byron Holcomb, first cupped this Pacamara, it was set among a selection of fantastic Central American microlots. This coffee was so beautiful, complex and intriguing that it stopped him in his tracks. Farmed near the birthplace of the Pacamara variety, this coffee is an exemplary offering of how sweet, acidic and balanced a Pacamara can be.

Luis Silva’s Finca Siberia is known to offer some of the best 100% Bourbon and 100% Pacamara coffees in El Salvador. Since 1870, the farm has been passed down through generations. We at Dallis Bros. Coffee can relate on a personal level to a commitment to sustainability that spans generations. Year after year, harvest after harvest, decisions are made to maintain quality and the environment.

Roasting a Pacamara is an art. The beans are exceptionally large due to their paternal genes from the Maragogype variety, dwarfing most other beans produced in Central America. The next consideration is density. Pacamara beans tend to be rather soft. The trick to roasting Pacamara is to get enough heat to the center of the bean without damaging the outside. Lucky for us we have talented roasters and a Probat G-45 that can make this coffee sing.

Christmas stories from back in the day

It was a dark and cold night in December of 2010. In a lost corner of Brooklyn, NY, a Christmas latte art throwdown would decide the fate of our then recently hired team members!

Style was mandatory. Check out the coffee cupping spoon tie clip:

Madame Von Fuchs succumbing to Mr Search’s impressive Fire Spitting Dragon!

And here the finals, the back pours on top of a chair:

And the designs were not that bad!

Those were the days!

this coffee market. . .

Last week I was able to participate in the SCAA Symposium in Houston Texas. In my job as a green buyer for Dallis Bros, managing our risk and quality are priorities number one and number one. Really. Both are related.

The global perspective shown in the Symposium was really refreshing to hear. The attitude seemed to be, “we are all in this together”. One of the positives from this market is that all of us buyers are dealing with the same NYBOT_KC ticker. I want to share a bit of what I understand as of now:

1) The paradigm shift that recently happened (maybe 9 months ago) was the fundamental driver of the coffee C market switching from Supply driven to Demand driven. Demand is nearly impossible to quantify and “visible coffee stocks are at the lowest recorded levels”.

2) Emerging markets: Brazil, China and India are consuming much more coffee than they did before. Brazil’s consumption (from the graphs I’ve seen) is increasing almost 1million bags (60kg) a year.

3) In general the demand has gone up and supply has also increased. But consumers are demanding more and more quality coffee (Specialty Grade). The Specialty supply hasn’t kept up with the increased demand.

4) Foreign Currency rates are pushing the market around, especially as the dollar has weakened. For example, today the market fell about 12 points over the period of about 30 minutes. . . Word on the street is a weak report on the Brazilian Real caused a sell-off.

It is chaotic. The coffee market has always been chaotic. I hope this at least explains a bit of the chaos. There is plenty more to come.

Koke is back . . .

So, we had run out of washed Koke in our warehouse.  Now we have it bit left here until fresh crop arrives.

Take it while you can!

Byron-

 

Gearing Up to Wind Down

Today marks the final day of the Specialty Coffee Association of America’s annual Event.  On this day we’ll honor our new ambassador to the world coffee stage that will represent our country in the World Barista Championships in Bogota, Colombia.  At the same time we shall crown the first-ever national champion manual brewer to represent the United States in the World Brewers Cup in Maastricht, Netherlands.

It’s been a long road for everyone involved in this years’ competition circuit, but with along with the eventual exhaustion we all experience towards the end of the year lingers a sense of nostalgia.  Over the past few months we as an industry have shown progression in craft, rapt attention towards the future and a resolve to face the challenges of that future head-on.  Along the road we’ve all forged new friendships, drank some awesome coffees and maybe even learned a thing or two.

Now, it may have come to the readers’ attentions that we at Dallis Bros. Coffee were somewhat light on updates at this particular event, but rest assured that we weren’t resting on our laurels!  Our Flickr account is rife with photos from every aspect of the event.  If you want to see the competitors in (semi)action, or just scope out some of the latest and greatest in coffee-related paraphernalia, shoot on over to our Flickr and give our photos a gander.

Also, we have plenty more material we will be posting up in the next couple of days, so make sure to check back often for a deeper look into the lives of coffee professionals in the modern world!

See and be USB-seen!

A new day in Houston, TX brought with it sunny skies, a nice breeze and an overwhelming need for bananas.  As the day winds down we’ve witnessed some of the best coffee this great country has to offer.  Whether you came for the semifinals of the prestigious United States Barista Championships,  the same round of the still-fresh Brewers Cup, the immense specialty coffee trade show or any of the other myriad educational, developmental or recreational goings-on at the Specialty Coffee Association of America’s annual Event, attendees had no shortage of coffee geekery to amuse themselves with.

Front and center for The Event was the United States Barista Championship semifinals.  The presentations this year were heavy on the close relationships that modern roasters are developing with the farms they support, and how those relationships benefit an industry in the midst of crisis.  Never before has this industry looked to the coming years with more uncertainty, but also never before has this industry looked to our partners overseas and in distant lands and thought that maybe that distance wasn’t quite as ominous as it ONCE was.  More and more we look towards the future and see not just our shops or our superstar baristi glowing in the halo of glory, but we now see that limelight shared with the farmers, processors and importers that provide us with those sweet, sweet beans that we’ve sworn our lives to.

Amongst the rumblings and hushed but urgent conversation buzzing about the convention space were spoken fears about rising C-Market prices, harsh global swings in supply and demand and the eventual stabilization of global coffee culture.  Are these problems that we as an industry have the ability to change?  What lasting impact will these crises have on the industry as a whole?  Do current coffee prices and demand even leave room for Specialty Coffee.  The answer to all these questions is, of course, a resounding “YES!”

The coffee industry on the whole has seen it’s share of cyclical ups and downs, but that unpredictability simply cannot stand any longer.  With drastically increasing green coffee prices showing no signs of slowing their meteoric rise, retail coffee prices are reaching a critical psychological threshold in the eyes of the consumer that, once passed, demand a greater contribution on the part of all involved in the distribution chain.  That means that growers must grow better coffee, and more of it.  It means that roasters must delve deeper into the science and art of their craft to roast coffees that defy and exceed expectation.  It means that the superstar baristi mentioned above must give their lives to their craft, not just pursuing that elusive perfect cup but achieving it, over and over again.

What’s so special about this years’ USBC is that more than ever, we as an industry are beginning to see these goals come into fruition.  The competitors this year are showing more and more the value of supporting the supply chain to a fault.  Local sourcing, fanatical and loving care for the final cup, an emphasis on hospitality and stewardship to the almighty brown bean are all hallmarks of this competition.

It’s an exciting time for our industry and all the billions around the world that rely on the beverage to add value to their lives.  The bad news is that the future does hold uncertainty.  The good news is that we, as an industry, are intrepidly gearing up to face down the greatest challenge we have ever faced.  The consumer can rest assured that the next few years MUST produce the finest coffees the world has ever seen, or we shall simply cease to be relevant.

And by golly, we all know that can’t happen.

Dallis Bros Coffee is thrilled by the coming challenges we face, but we want to know what the consumers are thinking.  Drop us a line and give us your thoughts.  Leave a comment.  Check out our Twitter and Flickr feeds.  Most importantly, just get involved.  Without the guy or gal on the other end of this whole thing drinking these coffees that we pour our hearts into, there wouldn’t be much of an industry to worry about, would there.

The competition is still in full swing, with a whole other day of finals rounds to look forward to, so keep tuned and let us know what you’re thinking.

 

See you out there!

Interview with our own USBC Semifinalist Philip Search!

In a little over a week, we’re thrilled to cheer our own Philip Search on to Houston, Texas, where he will compete as a semifinalist in the United States Barista Championship among the best of his profession. Philip took home regional title in this month’s Northeast Regional Barista Competition, and we couldn’t be prouder. We persuaded him to take a break from rigorous training and rehearsal to give the world a bigger preview of what he’ll be doing up there on the USBC stage.

What inspired you to compete in 2011?
I think there are multiple reasons I ended up competing. Every year I go through an internal debate with myself about whether or not I will do this all over again. The truth is though, I love coffee, I love being able to highlight it in this format. It excites me to be able to have unique conversations, and a chance to learn with other coffee professionals. I have to say though, I was truly inspired this competition. It started when I tasted the Liquid Ambar and the Don Mayo in a cupping. They both are compete coffees, unique in their own rights, and totally representative of the work of the families at origin, the cultivars, and the terroir of their regions.
The first time I roasted the Liquid Ambar as espresso, I pulled a shot and we were all floored. Pillowy body, a mind blowing espresso with a unique honey malt flavor I’ve only tasted a few times in 16 years. The Don Mayo was equally impressive. The spice note reminded us all of an Indian curry dessert. These coffees together create a unique combination of flavors that nearly brought me to tears. Completely unique to anything I had ever worked with before. After this, I was hooked. I wanted this coffee, and the risks the farmers took in producing it to be showcased to the world. There were other circumstances that came to light about the coffee. As you know there is a shortage of super high quality coffees in the current market. The coffee from the Don Mayo mill is part of what I believe is a solution to this issue. It is a Villa Sarchi Cultivar, a natural mutation of old Bourbon plants that happened in Costa Rica quite a few years ago. In showing off this coffee as a microlot separated out with its unique cultivar, I hope to encourage farms to begin producing more of this coffee in the Tarrazu region of Costa Rica where the climate and soil lend its self to its best potential.
I also enjoy being able to push our industry forward in unique ways. In the past this involved adding special dose control to things like the Anfim grinder. In this case, I wanted to show people a grinder platform that doesn’t have most of the existing flaws of current espresso grinders, and that there is a different way to pull shots even in a tight time frame. I also believe that in life, and all things coffee, we should aspire to our daily tools being functional works of art. This grinder reflects that aesthetic belief.

You use an unusual grinder setup. What is it?
I wanted a grinder that looks good, and avoids a lot of the dosing, heat, and grind spectrum issues of existing espresso grinders.

What goes into your signature drink, and how did you come up with it?
The sig drink is an infusion that mirrors the flavors of the two coffees I used. This allowed me to stretch out the flavor profile and make the complexities of the coffee more accessible. It involves using nitrogen cavitation, a common tool in the arsenal of cutting-edge mixology, to infuse flavors into liquids. I used a slice of orange, grapefruit peel, tamarind, smoked sea salt, sucrinate (dried unprocessed cane juice), raw orange blossom honey, and lapsong souchong tea, and infused this into water. Then I poured this “deconstructed flavor infusion” into champagne flutes and served it alongside the espresso. This helps people better understand the coffee. The cool thing is that, along with each ingredient as a flavor, there is a chemical reason I used them as well, each represent an acid or other chemical piece of the flavor that is in the coffee as espresso. For example, the Don Mayo had a unique tropical flavor from tartaric acid, this was then achieved in the deconstruction using the tamarind.

Do you find it easy to explain “nitrogen cavitation” to people at parties?
Sure! But I can be a bit of a nerd. Nitrogen bubbles are small, and when put with ingredients under pressure, they attach themselves to cell walls and weaken the cells, when you rapidly release this pressure, the cells burst and you have and instant infusion.  Pretty simple really.

Who else are you watching closely in this year’s United States Barista Championship in Houston, TX?
Well, really there are always a lot of great coffee people, and it can be any ones game, But Pete Licata, from Honolulu Coffee, is another long term veteran with a lot of experience. He is solid, and his coffee has a great story.

What are you doing to refine and perfect your routine before you compete in Texas?
Practice, and trying to master the skills of being a coffee whisperer, also trying to get as much time in talking to people about the coffees as possible. This is key for me, because my routine, and everything I do is based more on being a practicing coffee professional than in just a routine for the great game that Barista Competitions are. I desire to be a coffee ambassador, both to the professional community at large, and to customers. That is my passion, and what I live for.

 

Follow Philip at the USBC on the road to the World Barista Championship this June in Bogota! And follow him personally on Twitter at @phineas984.