Honduras Diaries Part I: On Farming

Our coffee director, Byron Jackson Holcomb, traveled to Honduras and El Salvador earlier this month to meet with some of the farms we work with. This is the first in a series of his travel diaries.

Capucas, Honduras. Photo by Byron Jackson Holcomb.

Capucas, Honduras. Photo by Byron Jackson Holcomb.

From the first leg of the journey, on a plane to Atlanta to change to San Pedro Sula–the “industrial capital of Honduras”. I’m excited to see some partners in Honduras. These guys are really top notch in my book. Many of them are passionate about their farms. Wanna know a secret? Most farmers don’t like farming. I’ve been around small farmers for many years. In remote communities far off the grid, these guys and gals didn’t always choose a life of peace, quiet and incredibly hard work. Often they are born into it. Usually off the grid doesn’t come with a high school education (3rd grade is typical, illiterate is more common). Usually off the grid doesn’t come with a dentist and hair gel. The dentist that comes to Los Frios in the Dominican Republic is named “Gogo”. He shows up on a motorcycle and people line up in chairs with wooden legs and twine seats and wait their appointment. Gogo only pulls teeth. It hurts and he removes it. If you have floss in your house and know how to use, it you are pretty high-brow or just rich. So, does every farmer love farming? No. Does everyone love their job? You know the answer to that. When you are born into the above description, you don’t always look forward to a day of pruning coffee and the open blisters on your palm that ensue.

But the farmers that we work with in Honduras actually seem to like farming. They love coffee. They sometimes have 3 certifications on a single farm: Rainforest Alliance, Organic, and Fair Trade. When they talk about their plans for their coffee and their future their eyes sparkle. One saying we have in Latin America is “the eye of the owner fattens the horse”. Farmers that are meticulous over their land, fuss about the property boundaries, and process their coffee by following the weather, moon, and smell of the parchment are our type of people. Maybe this is why I love Honduras so much. Maybe it is becasue of the incredibly diverse flavor profiles and delicious coffees? In short it is all of the above.

Stay tuned for Part II of Byron’s Honduras & El Salvador trip, coming soon.

Tales From Finca La Paz

Our Coffee Director, Byron Jackson Holcomb, isn’t just a coffee director here in New York City—he’s also not-so-secretly a farmer in the Dominican Republic. Every now and then we let him out to check on his farm. Here’s the latest dispatch from his March visit.

Byron's farm, Finca La Paz, in the DR. Photo by Byron Jackson Holcomb.

Byron’s farm, Finca La Paz, in the DR. Photo by Byron Jackson Holcomb.

Do you want the good news or the bad news? Let’s start with the good. Good days on the farm are fantastic. Since buying the farm about six years ago, I’ve tried every processing experiment that I could find, honey-ed, post-fermentation soak, underwater ferment, natural process, dry ferment and wash. All but two were new to my manager Antonio (1. traditional dry ferment and wash 2. natural process). I’ve tried to glean tips and pointers from all my travels, but farming coffee is nothing like corn in Kansas. I would imagine that corn in Kansas is pretty similar from farm to farm. In coffee farming every slope, every section provides different advantages and disadvantages. Some sections will need lots of shade. Some slopes need much less all because of how the sun hits it. So when I come back from coffee-buying trips with ideas to install on the farm, Antonio very patiently tells me why it won’t work and then we do it his way. Now that I’ve seen enough farms and have more or less a full plan of how I want to manage the farm, I’ve won a few of those debates.

Coffee tree nursery for future plantings. Photo by Byron Jackson Holcomb.

Coffee tree nursery for future plantings. Photo by Byron Jackson Holcomb.

Based on a cupping experiment done at Dallis I have decided to plant a lot more Caturra and Yellow Catuai. They ripen later and they cup better (per the score sheet) than Typica, which is about 90% of what I have planted. We are also going to try a new grass that I learned about in Brazil: Brachiaria brizantha. We are going to plant in rows like they do in Brazil. We are testing a “cajuela” technique I saw in Kenya and in El Salvador. In this technique we basically dig a hole in the shape of a box just above the coffee and it behaves like a catchment for organic material, water and erosion. All really fantastic things that mountain slopes need. It is labor-intensive and would have to be done every year but it should work. The new Catuai planting looks great. I think that specific part of the farm will do very well with that variety. We are planting more like the Brazilians: lots of trees, closer lateral space, and more space vertically (0.5*2.7). The pruning is done. The Passionfruit is finally taking root and should produce this year. We are experiencing a really strong drought, which isn’t bad if the rain comes in the next few weeks. All of these things are in motion.

After taking 3 different soil samples, none of which were tested for various reasons, we finally have one that is due to return from the lab any day now. Diomedis, Antonio’s son, has finally done a fantastic job pruning my coffee (Antonio has been pretty sick for the last several months). Antonio and I have been arguing for years how coffee should be pruned. After 6 or so harvests, we are finally pruning like I want to. The new plantings on the upper section and new shade crops are growing fantastically. They look really good and there are tons of flower buds. Again, if the rain comes at the right time, our October harvest will be big and good.

On to the bad news, the lower section of the farm (about half of the farm) produced sub-par quality and will be sold locally. All the care and attention didn’t matter because the development of the cherries was inhibited by a couple of fungus. Both Leaf Rust (roya) and Antracnosis really were hard on the trees. The roya or leaf rust is scary. There is a lot of it and it looks worse than ever. Leaf rust is nothing new, but this level of attack is new. I’ve considered spraying for leaf rust in years past, but why when it is never serious and more just a nuisance? Now it is serious and has some countries (Guatemala, Costa Rica) declaring national emergencies because of the level of infestation. Yes, it is hitting all of Central America at once, and the Caribbean.

Roya is now the first part of the conversation with all of our partners in Central America. Roya came from Brazil and it is present in every coffee growing country. It is probably the most damaging disease to coffee production worldwide. Almost every coffee farm has to deal with Roya. Usually it is a nuisance and doesn’t need lots of fungicide sprays. Often times a farm will either not treat it or treat it as part of general maintenance.

Roya (as it is called in Spanish) starts as bright orange rust-like spots below the leaves of coffee trees. A few dots on a farm are not really worth an application of fungicide. This is how it started in El Salvador this year. It looked like a normal dusting of orange scattered throughout the coffee growing region. As the harvest progressed, farmers noted that this was no normal Roya season. Farmers that were slow to spray for roya lost not only part of this harvest, but also lost trees. When Roya is aggressive, the leaves become weak and fall off. As it progresses through the entire tree, lateral branches start to die. At the worst it can kill the tree. It is rather rare that farms will lose trees.

Roya attacking coffee trees. Photo by Byron Jackson Holcomb.

Roya attacking coffee trees. Photo by Byron Jackson Holcomb.

Here is the strange part. I first heard about this in the Dominican Republic with the harvest in the South. Then reports from Honduras, El Salvador, Mexico, Costa Rica, Guatemala all started arriving to my inbox. I know that Colombia has been struggling with more Roya than usual as well as Broca. I could regurgitate what the reports say but that would make this post a small book. I’d rather share my personal perspective about where it came from and what makes this season so bad.

I think this hurricane season is to blame for all the spread of this Roya. Big powerful storms can take spores for thousands of miles. I’ve heard of specific farms in the DR that only had a single band of roya, like it came in from a single gust of wind. I’ve also seen it like it rained down in little pockets. That is what it looked like on Finca la Paz. There were little spots of roya in small sections but overall it was very limited on the upper section of the farm. On the lower section of the farm, it was much more intense. There were trees with no leaves and some with just a few remaining.

Roya is a fungus and it mutates. For many many years scientists thought that there was only one type of roya, hence there was a lot of money and energy put into developing varieties that are resistant to roya (mainly Catimores). One thing that has been noted, especially in India, is that these new varieties of roya-resistant plants are only really resistant for 5-7 years. Then their resistance “wears off”. The reality is that the fungus changes and then the plant is not resistant to the new variety. I remember from a presentation I saw in Ethiopia at the Naturals Conference that in India there are 43 identified types of roya. In a few years, the speaker said, there will be 44… In Colombia they have 3 different types of Catimores: Catimore, Colombia and Castillo. Castillo is the most recently developed and apparently the best tasting. I’ve never tasted it in an isolated cupping.

So, did this Roya come from an aggressive strain that has been wreaking havoc in Colombia? I think so.

One conversation I’ve had with several people is the relationship of shade and Roya. More shade generally means more moisture. Funguses like moist environments. Historically, one of the farm treatments for roya is reducing shade or removing it all together. Brigades of workers are already organized in the DR to prune shade. But wait..according to the real world that is happing right now on farms that I visited (e.g. Finca Rufino) it is the opposite. Most of the roya that is visible is actually in exposed areas and the shaded areas have less roya. One report I read mentioned that a naturally occurring fungus called White Halo actually controlled the presence of roya on some coffee farms. Just like beneficial bacteria, there are plenty of beneficial funguses.

The COODOCAFE is also preparing these brigades to spray copper-based fungicides. In East Africa, roya has been controlled by the application of copper basted fungicides for many years. Look at Kenya as an example, they are very strict with the spraying of fungicides (as I have been told it is enforced by law) and spraying is something that has allowed roya and coffee to coexist. Kenya also just launched a new coffee variety called Batian which is a smaller plant and more resistant to roya and also cups well according to their research. I’ve had some decent Batian, but it didn’t reach the high marks of the best SL-28 and SL-34 I’ve tasted. Then again most SL-28 and SL-34 don’t reach those high marks all the time either.

Finca Rufino, DR. Photo by Byron Jackson Holcomb.

Finca Rufino, DR. Photo by Byron Jackson Holcomb.

I spent a couple hours with Rufino Moronta on his farm (Finca Rufino) yesterday. His farm is at the top of the ridge and faces South West. On the way up to his farm we passed by farms with coffee trees without any leaves. I hoped that his farm looked much better than those, his coffee was delicious last year. At one point during the visit he was looking at some four year old Caturra trees that really looked fantastic. Do you think we will make it through this harvest before the roya gets it? The stress was audible in his voice, his demeanor changed from a cowboy farmer to someone expressing fear about his livelihood. I couldn’t say, “sure your harvest is secure, sleep easy.” I couldn’t say, “you better plant some bush beans because these small spots of roya are going to eat your harvest before you can pay your bills.” I just said the truth in a typical fatalistic cultural expression, ojala que si – God willing, yes.

Looking forward: if farmers don’t spray, prune or fertilize at the right time, now, then they will have a very steep road in front of them for next year. The trees will struggle to recover from the current Roya infestation and the production of next year will be worse than this year.

On the human level things are much worse in some aspects.

I’ve kept this pretty under wraps but Antonio has been very sick for quite a while. I’ve hired his son to do his job on the farm. Antonio has been getting all kinds of analysis from different doctors. Laura (my wife) is a certified medical interpreter looked through his papers (he can’t read them himself) to find out that the next analysis is actually a cancer treatment. No one told him he had cancer. We did. Let’s just say it is never something that I ever want to do again. We didn’t cry, but maybe we should have. All I can do is offer to support what I can financially and say a few prayers.

Today had to be one of the best and worst days.

Putting Another NERBC to Bed!

NERBC 2013 finalists

NERBC Finalists (and Wesley). Photo courtesy Sprudge.com

It took months in the making, months in the rescheduling, and—somehow it was still all over so very fast. In our three years hosting the Northeast Regional Barista Competition here in New York City, this year’s was easily the most complex and emotional: the original event, scheduled to take place in Atlantic City, NJ the first week of November, was literally washed out due to Hurricane Sandy.

For months we worked with the SCAA and others to reschedule this important regional—the Northeast now comprises thirteen states of coffee talent!—and ran into waterlogged difficulty after difficulty, trying to find a place to host this important event that wasn’t literally, or figuratively, waterlogged by the storm’s effects.

We can’t say enough about how moving it was to finally bring the event together in our own borough of Queens. Baristas from thirteen states, who had trained for the months leading up to the originally scheduled NERBC and Brewer’s Cup, put their trays back together, found new, in-season coffees, and re-rehearsed their routines, ultimately coming together for two tough contests in one tough region.

We’d like to thank all the volunteers and sponsors for their tireless commitment to getting this event off the ground, as well as our wonderful media sponsors Sprudge, whose up-to-the-minute digital coverage at @SprudgeLive filled in the gaps for anyone who couldn’t get to Long Island City or tune into the feed at the time. (Plus, those guys are hilarious.)

We’d also like to thank Respond & Rebuild, whose efforts in rehabilitating the affected areas after the storm hasve truly inspired us. We, along with Mable’s Smokehouse, donated a portion of our NERBC party tab to this kindhearted organization. We thank them for their hard work in these hard times.

Finally, we want to thank all who came out to support the coffee community, from competitors and coaches to fans and friends. We’d like to extend the deepest congratulations to our champions, Northeast Regional Barista Champion Sam Lewontin from the wonderful Everyman Espresso, and Northeast Regional Brewer’s Cup Champion (two-peating!) Jordan Barber from Intelligentsia Coffee—soon to join us with a cafe here in New York City. Barista competition finalists Brian Gelletly (Ultimo Coffee), Mike Morgenstern (Joe Coffee), Tamara Vigil (Irving Farm Coffee Roasters), Jordan Barber and our very own superhero roaster Anne Cooper also knocked our socks off. In the Brewer’s Cup, we were also super-proud of our Joe Drazenovic, along with Tamara Vigil, Erin McCarthy (Counter Culture Coffee), Amanda Whitt (Everyman Espresso) and Andrew Blumhagen (Sweetleaf).

In a city this resilient, in a region this strong…it’s cheesy to say it, but it’s true: each and every one of us at Dallis Bros. felt like winners last week. We can’t wait to see you all at the USBC!

March Comes in Like a Factory Tour..out Like a Lamb!

After a new year and a blizzard delay…our factory tour is back!!!

Won’t you join us on Saturday, March 2 for a wonderful day of tasting, touring, and talking coffee?

We’ll lead you on a romp through local history, the history of our 100-year-old New York City coffee company, coffee roasting, coffee tasting (cupping), and a tour of our roasting plant.

Tours are $10 and include a free bag of coffee at the end! Our next tour is Saturday, March 2, beginning at 1:00 and wrapping up at about 4:00. Space on the tour is limited due to all the coffee in here, so reserve your space in advance by emailing orders@dallisbroscoffee.com.

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.

Competitor Spotlight: Anne Cooper

Anne at Mountaintop Estate, Australia

On this third year of hosting the Northeast Regional Barista Competition right here in New York City, and our 100th year as one of that same city’s very own specialty coffee roasters, we couldn’t be more excited to have two of our talented team competing in the upcoming festivities.

Anne Cooper is our roaster here, an international veteran talent with an infectious enthusiasm and a heck of a commute to work.

What coffee are you using?
Australian Bin 478 from Mountain Top Estate

Why’d you select it?
Because its a Rule Breaker!
Not only is it dear to my heart (by being Australian) but because it’s a coffee/origin that not many have heard of or tasted before. And I really wanted to give the judges a unique coffee experience.

How many times have you competed before?
Approx. 7 times in the Australian Barista comps at Regionals & Nationals.

What’s been the hardest part of your training?
Not actually getting my coffee & being able to roast it & get to know it better until only 2 weeks ago, as I was waiting on fresh crop to arrive…

Anne competes next week at the 2013 NERBC and Brewer’s Cup, catch her at 2:25pm EST on the live stream on Wednesday, February 20th!

Competitor Spotlight! Joe Drazenovic

On this third year of hosting the Northeast Regional Barista Competition right here in New York City, and our 100th year as one of that same city’s very own specialty coffee roasters, we couldn’t be more excited to have two of our talented team competing in the upcoming festivities.

Josip Drazenovic works for us as an espresso and coffee consultant. If you’ve never met Joe at an event, on bar at a cafe that serves Dallis Bros., or on the throwdown circuit, you’re missing out — his talent is immediate and his enthusiasm is infections. Joe is competing in both the NERBC barista event as well as the Brewer’s Cup. We asked him a little bit about his routine.

What coffee are you using?
Dallis Bros. Lot #1 from La Esmeralda located in Huila, Colombia.

Why’d you select it?
The first time I cupped it, I realized it was a representation of why I decided to devote myself to the coffee industry. There haven’t been many coffees I’ve brewed and pulled that I’ve felt as connected to.

With La Esmeralda, I know what it likes and i know what it wants to taste like. From flavor, texture and aroma it’s exactly what I’d want my last cup of coffee to be.

I think any barista can relate to that and if they can’t right now, they will at some point in their career — whether its a blend or a single lot from a farm.

How many times have you competed before?
None!

What’s been the hardest part of your training?
Time management.

Josip competes next week at the 2013 NERBC and Brewer’s Cup, catch him at 12:12pm on the live stream on Thursday, February 21st!

Official NERBC after-party, Thursday February 21!

Please come and join us for the official NERBC Party, to take place at Mable’s Smokehouse in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, a short distance from the competition in Long Island City!

We’ll be gathering from 7-11, and the first 200 attendees will receive two drink tickets each for beer or wine. After that, we’re donating 20% of the bar proceeds to Respond and Rebuild‘s Sandy relief efforts.

We hope you’ll come out and celebrate our craft and our community before the last day of competition finals!

Februrary Dallis Bros. Coffee Factory Tour: Saturday 9th!

It’s a new year, and we’ve got a coffee factory full of new coffees and sensory experiences for you to enjoy!

Won’t you join us on Saturday, February 9th for a wonderful fall day of tasting, touring, and talking coffee?

We’ll lead you on a romp through local history, the history of our 100-year-old New York City coffee company, coffee roasting, coffee tasting (cupping), and a tour of our roasting plant.

Tours are $10 and include a free bag of coffee at the end! Our next tour is Saturday, February 9, beginning at 1:00 and wrapping up at about 4:00. Space on the tour is limited due to all the coffee in here, so reserve your space in advance by emailing orders@dallisbroscoffee.com.

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.

NERBC 2013 Rescheduled! Feb 20-22

Specialty Coffee Association of America Announces Rescheduled NERBC Event Dates

LONG BEACH, Calif. U.S.A. (January 11, 2013) — The Specialty Coffee Association has announced the rescheduled dates and venue for the 2012/13 North East Regional Barista Competition, hosted by Dallis Bros. Coffee.

When: February 20-22, 2013
Where: Attic Studios, 11-05 44th Road, Third Floor, Long Island City, NY 11101.
Times: Wednesday: 11 a.m. – 4 p.m.; Thursday: 11 a.m. – 4 p.m.; Friday: 10:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.

The event, which was originally slated to take place in November in Atlantic City, was postponed after the devastation of Hurricane Sandy only days before the first day of competition. All prior NERBC competitors will remain registered to compete and the SCAA will open a waiting list for those wanting to sign up if any original competitors drop out; competition spots will be given on a first come, first serve basis.

“Dallis Bros Coffee is extremely proud and excited to host the NERBC and Brewers Cup for the third consecutive year.” States John Moore, VP of Dallis Bros. Coffee. “2013 marks the 100 year anniversary for Dallis Bros and we can’t think of a better way to celebrate than alongside some of the most talented, innovative, driven, and passionate coffee professionals in the region right here in Queens, NYC. People throughout the northeast region have a reputation for resilience and grit, and it feels especially gratifying to bring the competition back to where Sandy hit so many so hard. We hope that all in attendance will join us in celebrating the remarkable talent and hard work of the competitors, judges, and all those part of making the coffee culture of the northeast so special and distinct.”
For additional information about the Regional Barista Competitions, visit www.usbaristachampionship.org.

January Factory Tour This Weekend!

It’s a new year, and we’ve got a coffee factory full of new coffees and sensory experiences for you to enjoy!

Won’t you join us this Saturday, January 12th for a wonderful fall day of tasting, touring, and talking coffee?

We’ll lead you on a romp through local history, the history of our 100-year-old New York City coffee company, coffee roasting, coffee tasting (cupping), and a tour of our roasting plant.

Tours are $10 and include a free bag of coffee at the end! Our next tour is Saturday, January 12, beginning at 1:00 and wrapping up at about 4:00. Space on the tour is limited due to all the coffee in here, so reserve your space in advance by emailing orders@dallisbroscoffee.com.

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.