Our coffee director, Byron Holcomb, is frequently called upon to visit coffee-producing countries and report in from the front lines. His latest trip to El Salvador and Honduras brings us his fourth report.
Honduras is amateur cowboy hour. To leave the country they charged me $38, CASH ONLY. There are no signs at all in the airport. No monitors showing which flights go to which gates. The 2 monitors that I found that work only show “on time” and “CANCELADO”. Passing through security they combed through by bag and found sunscreen (less than 3 oz.) “If you want to take this you need to buy a plastic bag to put it in. You can buy them over there and come back for your tube.” 50 cents later I get my sunscreen back. I leave my customer service expectations in the US. But this place clearly doesn’t want you to float out of here. They want to suck you dry for every penny you have left.
Last night over dinner with the manager of Beneficio Santa Rosa de Copan, they were asking me what Honduras had to do in order to actually enter the US market. I told them about the success of tourism in Costa Rica and Jamaica where people are totally moved by their surroundings and mediocre coffee and they give all the credit to the coffee. Quality may sell itself, but the end consumer in the US doesn’t have any idea that Honduras produces brilliant coffee. Of course 10 years ago when Costa Rica, Guatemala and Colombia had solid quality and very well-funded marketing programs, Honduran producers were selling at wet parchment to intermediaries that would end up as flavor base. So they are way behind.
The stark contrast is how some of these guys work. Omar, Douglas, and Humberto are so excited and passionate about coffee they wake up early, stay late and drive through these sleepy dirty towns like they were propelled by some supernatural force. They walk like New Yorkers. For example, I was kinda pissed that they didn’t show me the coffee I asked for based on only looking at the elevation, variety, climate and aspect and soil last year (it won the Capucas Coffee Competition this year). I told them that again last night. Somebody woke up at 4am and drove a sample to me this morning before 6am when I left Santa Rosa. Truly incredible effort put forth.
Want to know why Honduras is all of a sudden producing more coffee than Guatemala? Because of a lot of the work done in Western Honduras, much of the coffee is actually staying in Honduras. It isn’t being sold as Guatemalan or coffee from El Salvador.
In El Salvador they are nerdy and “want to be part of Europe” (according to Susie Spindler). In Honduras they are cowboys and farmers. Every where I’ve been in Honduras they are planting coffee. Their production should skyrocket in the next two or 3 years. They are excited about coffee. They have some beautiful coffees. Truly balanced, diverse, incredible coffees. But they are treating their coffee only slightly better than they have in the last few years. Most of the coffee is sold at wet parchment (really the worst case scenario for quality and traceability).
I crossed the border by bus and spent the first day with Roberto Salezar the manager of COCAFELOL. They have some great coffees, incredible potential. The Saul Melara Hondo CoE #8 from last year came from one of his farmers. They showed me one farm, then “invited” to a meeting with the World Bank that was reviewing some funding. They had farmers, Spanish NGO’s, people from the coop, local development agencies and me. Really they had everyone but a barista. The people from World Bank had really great questions about relevance of Honduran coffee and the US market demands and how certifications are valued. The crux of their proposal was micro-lots and I tried to explain how Honduras has great potential in this market. The timing was great for them to have a buyer present.
The most impressive part of COCAFELOL was their aguas mieles (waste water) management. They take 100% of the water and make 3 products: bio ethanol, methane gas, and liquid fertilizer for foliar application to coffee trees.They take the pulp and use vermiculture (earth worms) on the largest scale present in Honduras. Really incredible.
We bought a microlot from this wonderful family: Dionisio Sanchez. I went to their farm—it is just down the road from Finca Liquidambar. I spent most of the day with them. Walked almost the entire farm, visited the namesake waterfall “La Cascada”. They are warm wonderful people. When I told the father I was getting married, without hesitation he said, “. . . and you didn’t invite me!” I instantly invited him. When we said goodbye he said, “if by chance I don’t make it to your wedding, send her my best”. They have a wonderful farm. And their coffee is one of the best lots produced in the region this year, according to everyone I talked to. They aren’t taking the artisan approach. The are taking the farmer approach. They build their soil with organic and some chemical inputs. The lot that they sold came from two tablones, all Catuai in great health, depulped, dry fermented for 16 hours, washed and patio dried. They have a laguna for aguas mieles. They produce a pretty large amount of coffee and hope to double it in the next couple years. They did some soil tests this year, but can’t recite the results. In El Salvador, when I asked about the pH of a farm, they knew it. “Oh this farm has a pH of 3.8, the other farm has a pH of 5.4 because it hasn’t been worked for the last few years.”
Dionisio’s son Renen sent me with a sample of a natural process that he did for fun but it was too wet. They still have some random coffee cherries in the trees so he might be able to redo it and send it to us. They were eager for feedback and we shared lots of ideas about coffee management.
Our coffee director, Byron Holcomb, is frequently called upon to visit coffee-producing countries and report in from the front lines. His latest trip to El Salvador, for the annual Cup of Excellence juried competition, brings us his third report.
The top two coffees of the 2012 Cup of Excellence El Salvador were standout polar opposites. Number 1 was so fruity and big that we all suspected some type of special process. Number 2 was elegant, citric, balanced, and clean floral—it really defined floral.
The guy who won first from the farm, Ernesto Mendez from Las Brumas, was shaking so badly after he won he looked terrified. He has won before. I talked with the manager at JHill, Mario, (the guy who processes the coffee for Aida Batlle) about the winner. Mario called it before it happened. Apparently he had been testing the cherry sugar levels with a Brix meter—which can measure the sugar content of fruit—and was able to calibrate himself with the meter. He picked the coffee from 1650 meters. It was a red bourbon, de-pulped dry and dry fermented. After the awards ceremony I left with the manager from JHill to stay at JHill for the night so that I could cup our coffees there, and talk more specifics about how a special process lot that I had requested happened. I was pretty happy with the results and they followed my instructions to the letter.
Then I asked the owners Rafael and Carmen Silva of Finca Siberia to pick me up and take me to see some of their farms. I was pretty keen on seeing Finca Siberia, which won like 23rd this year. Several years ago they changed my life when I had their Pacamara at Batdorf and Bronson. But they had a newish farm that won 7th called Llano Grande, it was crazy delish on every table. We toured their farms on 4-wheelers. It was too much fun. We saw a bunch of the farm and the farm manager was there too. La Fany isn’t huge but it has everything going for it, aside from the name, which they don’t know where it comes from—has been in their family for generations. 100% Red Bourbon, diverse shade, high altitude, a great market all over the world, they keep every tablon separate and sell it that way.
There are some other farms that come from Rafael’s family that looked even better to me. Slightly lower elevation but not such a south-facing aspect, and the soil just looked better, the farms smelled better. This sounds crazy but when they told me they didn’t know the cup quality until recently and they were lamenting that it was submitted to CoE. Soil health = quality, usually.
At one point on our tour, we came a across seven guys all with M-16’s in full camo fatigues. They looked like they were packing for a camping trip. Apparently things are so bad here they are being dispatched to farms looking for gangs. They were packing clothes and a map. Every night they would sleep in a different farm. The sergeant had 4 clips on his chest and carried his M-16 like it was a wrist watch. He had that cool confidence you would expect from a movie star. I asked to take his picture and he looked to the right. I asked the question a second time to see if he understood me. He clearly did. “Now I know, thanks,” I responded as I lowered my camera. Rafael chimed in, and urged, “Let him take your picture!” He looked at Rafael and said, “es proibido”. No smile, no head nod, he shouldered his bag and lead his men off to a farm for the night.
Rafael pulled me aside and told me the real reason we didn’t go to Finca Siberia was because of the risk. Apparently there are a couple different gangs. One is involved in drugs. The other “just likes to kill people”. They will wait for people to leave a specific area and when they are on these terrible roads they stop them take everything you have. At the dry mill on Llano Grande there were 4 guard dogs and two armed guards. This isn’t Disneyland.
The next day I spent with Luis Rodriguez and Maria Jose. I visited two of their farms. Very different from the heavily fertilized and organized farms that I saw earlier in the week. I love how serious people are in El Salvador about coffee. They are total nerds. Note: most people use central wet mills to process coffee. Luis told me about a common practice to evaluate a sample: take 100 cherries before it is depulped. Weigh them, count defects, floaters, then put them in a press for 5 minutes and weigh the expressed juice, measure the Brix, and like 5 more things that I can’t remember. In one mill they did all this and then correlated it against cupping scores.
Apparently the Brix test had no correlation with cup quality. What did correlate is the amount of muscilage expressed out of the cherries. The more muscilage the higher cup score. Luis is excited because of this variety that he found on his farm Elefante produces up to 14 drops of muscilage from one cherry when Bourbon is like 9 drops. Rumor has it this is one of the early developments of the Tequisik variety that I saw in Guatemala this year.
Luis is one of those crazy honest awesome people. “Luis when are you going to sell us (Dallis) some coffee? We’d love to buy some?” “Byron, I think I might have a 10 bag lot to show you, but it isn’t our best, there is nothing wrong with it, it is actually quite nice, but not really what you want.” Wow, somebody who actually listens when I communicate our specs.
I’ve got more stories from Honduras. But that will have to wait for the plane ride tomorrow.
The annual Village Voice Obies are coming fast upon Broadway on Monday, May 21—and we’re more than excited to be providing coffee to all the talented nominees and attendees who’ll be sitting on the edge of their seats! If you’re attending this New York tradition, we’ll see you there!
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACTS: Marissa Nicolaescu
Macy’s Media Relations
Maria Benvenuti & Michael Gartenlaub
Benvenuti Public Relations
EXPERIENCE THE BEST OF BRAZILIAN GASTRONOMY WITH CHEF FELIPE BRONZE AND DALLIS BROS. COFFEE AT MACY’S BRASIL: A MAGICAL JOURNEY
NEW YORK, NY – May 10, 2012 –“Brasil: A Magical Journey,” Macy’s seasonal salute to South America’s most captivating country, kicks off at the retailer’s world-famous flagship at Herald Square with a Carnaval-inspired celebration featuring the fashion, food, music, dance and art of Brasil on May 15th. The enchanting evening will bring the best of Brazil to New York City’s most iconic department store for a unique cultural celebration at a spectacular gala that will feature the sights, sounds and tastes of Brazil.
From Bossa Nova and Samba to Capoeira, Macy’s Herald Square will set the stage for internationally acclaimed musicians Bebel Gilberto and Sergio Mendes, Globo TV’s famous telenovela stars Fiorella Mattheis, Raphael Viana, and pop music sensation Fiuk bringing the spirit of Brazilian culture to life. In addition to the festivities, the night will give back to the local communities in Brazil with a $50,000 donation to the BrazilFoundation and a silent auction benefitting the organization’s community led projects and efforts in empowering the region. A spectacular runway fashion show, an art exhibition featuring the works of 27 Brazilian artists and epicurean delights from Rio’s renowned celebrity chef Felipe Bronze will cap the evening’s celebration.
Providing a window into Brazil’s vibrant food and drink scene is renowned celebrity chef Felipe Bronze of Oro Restaurant in Rio. At the gala, he’ll present his re-imagined modern Brazilian cuisine. In addition, Dallis Bros. Coffee will serve a very special single origin coffee, Brazilian Fazenda Nossa Senhora Yellow Bourbon Micro-lot, from their proprietary farm in the Alta Mogiana region of Brazil.
Chef Felipe Bronze, a shining star in Brazil’s glistening culinary universe, combines classic techniques with indigenous Brazilian ingredients to create his interpretations of modern Brazilian cuisine. He attended the highly respected Culinary Institute of America, then staged at Le Bernardin and Nobu before returning to Brazil in 2001. He attracted the attention of journalist and gourmands for his work in several of Brazil’s top kitchens before striking out on his own to open Oro. Chef Bronze’s restaurant Oro, in Rio de Janeiro’s Jadim Botanico district, opened with the height of critical acclaim: He was named “Chef of the Year” by Veja Rio Magazine and Oro was proclaimed best restaurant in Rio de Janeiro by O Globo/Rio. Felipe is slated to star in his own cooking show on Globo TV Network, Brazil’s largest television station.
During the celebration, Chef Bronze will present regional Brazilian ingredients in unexpected forms, such as Feijoada Spheres, in which he transforms the homey national dish, a meat and bean casserole comparable to cassoulet, into elegant passed hors d’oeuvres. His menu for the evening draws on the culinary culture and singular ingredients of Brazil, including Brazil’s famous berry, açai in a surprising twist on the popular Brazilian beverage, açai and tapioca. Other featured dishes include rich braised pork belly perfectly paired with pineapple. Sweets include a luscious avocado cream with Brazilian nut praline and chocolate ganache tart. Chef Bronze will also take the stage for a demonstration of his modern technique with the preparation of Feijoada Spheres, and Nitro Caipirinha, a molecular gastronomic version of the classic cocktail featuring cachaça, the rum that can only be made with Brazilian sugarcane.
Adding to the culinary experience is Dallis Bros. Coffee, iconic New York coffee roaster since 1913. Showcasing the company’s deep relationship with Brazilian coffee, Dallis Bros. Coffee will serve a very special single origin coffee from its own state-of-the-art proprietary coffee farm, Fazenda Nossa Senhora Aparecida, located in Brazil’s Alta Mogiana region. The unique coffee, Brazilian Fazenda Nossa Senhora Yellow Bourbon Micro-lot, sparkles with plum acidity and notes of honey, graham and citrusy amaretto. The enthusiasm and expertise that Dallis Bros. Coffee has for the product of its farm in Brazil, shines through in every perfect cup.
Macy’s, the largest retail brand of Macy’s, Inc., delivers fashion and affordable luxury to customers at more than 800 locations in 45 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and Guam. Macy’s stores and macys.com offer distinctive assortments including the most desired family of exclusive and fashion brands for him, her and home. Macy’s is known for such epic events as Macy’s 4th of July Fireworks® and The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade®, as well as spectacular fashion shows, culinary events, flower shows and celebrity appearances. Building on a 150-year tradition, Macy’s helps strengthen communities by supporting local and national charities that make a difference in the lives of our customers.
We’ve all had cold coffee, whether intentionally cold-brewed or accidentally left behind. But have you ever tried Japanese cold brew? Our Training and Development Manager, Josip Drazenovic, contributed his tips for this great summer method over at Find. Eat. Drink. Check it out!
Let us be among the legions to throw our hats in the ring to congratulate esteemed NYC chef Michael Anthony of Gramercy Tavern for taking the Best Chef NYC award in this week’s 2012 James Beard Foundation Awards ceremony. We couldn’t be more honored to close your beautiful meals with our coffee, Michael!
As we slowly begin to gather our senses after Wednesday’s Brooklyn Uncorked, hosted by great friends and epic food hosts Edible Manhattan and Edible Brooklyn, we’d like to just linger on a few memories. Flourless Madagascar Chocolate Cake from the Chocolate Room—perfect with our Colombia Narino (or a Pinot Noir). Curry Tuna from Rosewater in Park Slope, Turkey Mortadella on Thyme Cracker from Gramercy Tavern, amazing bread from our pals at Orwashers, succulent rabbit hearts and livers from Palo Santo/Fort Reno…. and the wines, the wines, the rose wines, all of the beautiful drinks we can’t even enumerate (or quite remember). Thanks again to Sam Seier and the entire Edible crew for including us in another delicious and wonderful event!
Our coffee director, Byron Holcomb, is frequently called upon to visit coffee-producing countries and report in from the front lines. His current trip to El Salvador, for the annual Cup of Excellence juried competition, brings us his second report.
It is 6:30 pm. The sun set about 30 minutes ago. The birds have left the hotel quiet again; it seems they are solar-powered. When the sun is out they chatter and call full time. Now there are just bats. They fly by the outdoor lights like fighter jets.
Today is really the final exam for all these coffees and the hopes of every farmer is that they pass today. There have been almost 3 full weeks of cuppings leading up to today. Pre-selection where every sample is cupped and evaluated. The national jury then steps in and judges every coffee that passes the pre-selection. The narrowed the field down to 50 coffees. On Monday we (the international jury) calibrated and got accustomed to the new table that we use to put in our scores. Tuesday and Wednesday we cup all the coffees that cupped over 85 according to the national jury. They did a really great job. I only remember one that I wrote “rough” and “no” in the description. All those that passed the three prior cuppings were cupped today. This is D-day.
Today was 33 coffees divided into 4 tables. There were a few that could inspire a belief in god. There were a few that could be my “if I were a stranded on a desert island” coffees. The rest were between quite nice and ok. And several didn’t pass today.
Some jurors hand out 90’s like business cards. Clearly they like the coffees being offered. One of my favorite parts of the entire CoE process is watching who likes what coffee on the table. After each session we reveal our scores and and see if the coffee will pass through (unofficially). To me a cupper’s interpretation of a coffee is fascinating, especially when we come from 8 different countries.
I’ve given out two 90’s so far. There are a lot of great coffees. Lots of balanced sweet, acidic well-bodied coffees. Two coffees to me have stood out as inspiringly beautiful. Fragrant, floral, acidic, balanced, stable as cooled.
I must admit that I had fallen out of love with Pacamara over the last couple years. They can be great, but they are really difficult to roast and the spicy clove and vegetal notes detract from my experience. Maybe I just hadn’t had a really great one in a while because now I’m head over heels (again) for Pacamara. They are just intense, loud, wild and when balanced they are just beautiful.
There are two main profiles of Pacamara here: 1) the green bell pepper, spices, huge savory body, wild. 2) The other is crazy floral and sweet really balanced and round almost no hints of the green bell pepper. I prefer the number 2.
What do people think about Pacamara lately?
We had one that was so incredibly sweet and floral we thought it was a natural or something different in the process. All the national jurors said that is simply a beautiful Pacamara, then they would smile with pride.
Tomorrow is much lighter. We cup the one table of the top ten (which should be utter cupping bliss). Then we meet the farmers. Then the award ceremony and the winner is announced.
Yesterday we went to Finca Manzano and had a chance to see Emilio describe how he experiments on and processes his coffee. There was about a 20 minute break in the tour because the rain clouds moved in and dumped buckets and buckets of water on us next to his mechanical dryer. The sideways rain pushed rain onto all of our shoes and pants. The operation is inspiring. Beautiful farm. Inspired farmer.
This place is special. I can’t play like I’ve seen it all before, and I’ve seen quite a bit in coffee. El Salvador is special.
Our coffee director, Byron Holcomb, is frequently called upon to visit coffee-producing countries and report in from the front lines. His current trip to El Salvador, for the annual Cup of Excellence juried competition, brings us this first report.
After leaving New York where the heat isn’t on in my building and the fake spring weather, stepping off the plane in San Salvador was nice. Kind of like a sauna after being in the cold for a very long time. The humidity in the air seemed to displace the oxygen. Everyone in the airport was sweating. Not just the gringos. There were a few of us CoE people on the same flight. I waited out front for them and could see the sweat stains on everyone’s back. There were birds, in the airport calling and screaming. There were kids crying. And everyone was either trying to ignore the heat or complain about it.
Then they took us to this place called “Could be anywhere really nice hotel”. The cuppings, hotel and awards ceremony are all being held here. Right here. I can see the cupping area from my room. This is like one of those mega nice and big hotels. It is actually really nice. Of course today we left as soon as we were free and went into the old local market in San Salvador to see how people buy their wares locally. There was a sweet woman who told us how this kind of flower is used as a meat replacement. Other people drank smoothies out of plastic bags with straws. I ate plums and this kind of banana plantain hybrid that I call Rulo.
The calibration was great. As usual a couple nice coffees, a couple ok and a rough one to spoil the party. We did the same coffees 3 times. The first table was really hard for me. Our table was sitting in the straight line of sight of the Air Conditioning. Actually only about half of the table was. So I got almost no Fragrance, zero Aroma and the break was like chasing a fart. Cupping them nearly gave me a headache because the two sides of the table were totally different. It was only on my 3rd pass I noticed one side that was much warmer than the other. So some coffees improved, some tanked. I struggled to know why they put all such meh coffees on the calibration round. I couldn’t score anything well, nor could I find major flaws. , So we moved the table and on the second and 3rd tables of the same coffees I saw why some people were giving marks above 82. Nothing brilliant but a couple that were very nice.
New this year is the 85 point cutoff for CoE. The coffees must cup over 85 to make it through. This should help decrease the number of coffees in the auction and increase the quality. In prior years it was 84 points. This is the 10th year of the CoE in El Salvador. They have used this program as well as any country (if not better) to promote speciality coffees. The competition is usually held up in a lodge in the mountains. This year in honor to all the jurors they are really stressing that they want the 10th year to be special. Hence the nice hotel.
Did you know in 1972 El Salvador was the 3rd largest exporter of coffee in the world? The jury is a righteous group of fun people. It should be a great time.
Last night we had an opening Welcoming Reception. El Salvador being so small there were a lot of growers there. One young guy really inspired me. He is super excited about coffee and his Pacamara lot made it into the first round. He was giddy excited. Another woman told she has about 8 farms and exports 5,000 containers a year, and she too glowed that her lot made it into the first round. The excitement was palpable. There was another character who showed up and would speak in Spanish to jury members. He understood a lot of english but chose to speak almost none. Only a couple of the jury members speak Spanish. I was an interpreter for most of the night. Some of his stories about values and morals I can tell. Other stories I won’t tell you all here. He was hilarious. His coffee is also in the first round.
Later, there are some farm visits planned and I have some of my own farm visits planned while I’m here.
Join us for a lovely spring tour of our coffee roasting factory and tasting room in Ozone Park, Queens!
Our next tour is Saturday, May 12th, beginning at 1:00 and wrapping up at about 4:00. Space on the tour is limited so book now at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tours are $10, and due to the tasting component we ask that all participants show up perfume and cologne free. If you have any questions feel free to call our office during business hours, (718) 845-3010.