Sourcing Diaries: Off to Ethiopia
Our coffee buyer, Byron Holcomb, recently visited Ethiopia—also known as the birthplace of coffee—for a very important conference on Natural Process coffees. Here is the first of his journals and observations on the proceedings.
This is my third trip to East Africa. It is different. I honestly belive that everything started in East Africa: humans, coffee, the garden of Eden. The point is that I’m beyond excited to go to Ethiopia again.
Usually when I’m going to origin, it’s for chasing the best beans that a county or region has to offer. What is pulling me to Easth Africa this time is actually a conference about Natural Process coffees, or “Naturals”. A friend of mine is a brilliant coffee person and has invested an incredible amount of time and energy trying to understand Natural Process coffee. Being from Mexico, and a scientist by trade and a full time coffee consultant, he understands coffee more intimately on more levels that almost anyone I know. His name is Manuel Diaz. I met him in Uganda several years ago, just before the first Natural Conference happened in Yemen. I am on my way to the third Natural Conference right now.
We will be spending a lot of time cupping Naturals and discussing Natural standards. Here is the thing: most all specialty coffee (grading, scoring, purchasing, marketing) is based on our criteria for “Washed” coffees. Now, in the world, there is a small percentage of Washed coffees. There is a much larger percentage of Naturals produced out there. Some roasting companies refuse to purchase them. Naturals are risky business.
But they are also very very important. Look at the amount of water used in any washing mill, hundreds of liters per 100lbs of green coffee in some cases. Look at the consumer market: they aren’t nearly as sensitive as coffee buyers to coffee that tastes “fruity”&emdash;the hallmark of Natural process. I find that well roasted Naturals go over very well and can be an incredible source of sweetness in blends. I won’t say any names, buy I can think of at least four roasting companies that refuse to buy Naturals simply because they are Naturals. We at Dallis love brilliant coffees that will bring the daily customers of the cafes and restaurants we sell to coming back every day for a great cup, regardless of the process.
Let me define what I’m talking about: super-naturals. I like that name because it makes it very clear that we are not talking about commercial-grade-last-picking-rejects: the vast majority of naturals fit into that category. But here is the thing: imagine a farmer who doesn’t have water access or financing access to wet-mill his coffee, what hope does he have for quality? None, unless he can produce a quality natural. I personally have had totally different natural process results from my farm: three years of ok, one year of rejected coffee, and last year was incredible. Why? Same farm, same drying methods. If we as an industry could start to better understand Natural processing I think we could positivly affect more lives than probably any other coffee project out there. So yes, I’m excited and I know it will take years, but I’m patient.
This Sunday: A Very Special Pop-Up Shop
Dallis Bros. Coffee is thrilled to announce that this Sunday, December 9, we’ll be operating our very own pop-up cafe at the Joe Pro Shop from 9-5. This will be an opportunity for us to share great stories and greater coffees from recent trips to Brazil and Ethiopia, and for you to sample and buy exclusive Dallis coffees for yourself or gift-giving.
We’ll be serving and selling the following coffees: Honduras Los Popitos, El Salvador La Encantada, Brazil Nossa Senhora Aparecida Yellow Bourbon Natural Process, Finca Buenos Aires Tablon #11, Finca Buenos Aires Tablon #11 Dallis Special Process, Ethiopia Gatira, Ethiopia ARDI, Kenya Lenana, Kenya Kiambu, and, as espresso, New York Espresso, Ethiopia Kochere Single Origin Espresso, and Brazil Cup of Excellence #5 Single Origin Espresso.
Join us anytime from 9am onward for tasting and talking, and stick around at 7 for a latte art throwdown party, with (of course) free libations of the non-coffee variety!
We can’t wait to see everyone there as we celebrate the holidays with this one-day cafe!
Rwandan Drums and Ice Cream in Harlem
Our own John Moore reports in from last night’s event at the MIST Theatre in Harlem, New York.
Immense congratulations are in order for a number of remarkable people that came together in Harlem last night to celebrate a few unique projects in Rwanda.
My Image Studios (MIST Harlem) hosted a special screening of scenes from Sweet Dreams, the newly released documentary film by sibling filmmakers Lisa and Rob Fruchtman. MIST is a new venue not even yet open to the public that will integrate performing arts space, film theaters, restaurants, and serve as a hub for pan African and Latino cultural exchange in the heart of Harlem.
Sweet Dreams documents the story of Ingoma Nshya, Rwanda’s first Hutu and Tutsi female drumming troupe, which also founded Inzozi Nziza, the only locally owned ice cream shop in Rwanda.
Founders of the award-winning Brooklyn based, organic ice cream business, Blue Marble Ice Cream, Alexis Miesen and Jennie Dundas played a major role in Inzoz Nziz. The duo made numerous trips to Rwanda to train, prepare and mentor the women on how to run a business.
The film really does an amazing job of setting the stage for the viewer to fully appreciate the magnitude of what these women have accomplished. Somehow this group of women have achieved all of their dreams despite the tragic history of genocide that plagues Rwanda.
The film is incredibly moving and powerful, but the drumming of the three women from Ingoma Nshya was more powerful still. The joy and purity of the music shared with the audience was extraordinary. They were followed by New York City-based all femaile drummers Akalande, and when the groups jammed together at the end of the show it brought the house down.
The event was also the venue for the public’s first glimpse at a wonderful new coffee project, Grace Hightower & Coffees of Rwanda (www.coffeeofgrace.com). Grace engaged two incredibly accomplished coffee professionals, Tom and Patty Mitchell, to help bring life to her vision and this new brand. We were all fortunate to taste some delicious coffees from Rwanda at the end of the evening.
Complimentary samples of Blue Marble Ice Cream would have been served but the ice cream warehouse had no power thanks to Hurricane Sandy. The coffee had to be brewed off-site because the space is not yet completely finished. Having been in Kigali airport when the entire place went dark and power was lost, it all seemed perfectly appropriate and all the more authentic. Despite the challenges, a remarkable experience was enjoyed by all.
How to reach us after Sandy
Dallis friends and customers: we’re relieved and lucky to say our coffee factory is fully intact after Sandy. However, due to the huge hit to infrastructure that NYC has taken on all fronts, our technological abilities within the factory itself are somewhat limited.
Customers, wholesale and otherwise, seeking to place orders should try doing so online and over email first, and use our temporary storm phone number, (646) 558-5862, as a backup method. Note that we are operating on fewer phone lines and with diminished network abilities in general, so kindly be patient with us while the entire city’s grid rebuilds.
Coffee is still being roasted and shipped, you just might need to try a few different ways to reach us.
Your friends at Dallis Bros.
DR Diaries: Harvest time on Finca La Paz, Part III: Doing Business in the DR
Our coffee director, Byron Jackson Holcomb, is not just a buyer but a farmer himself. This is his third dispatch from a recent trip to visit his own coffee farm, Finca La Paz, in Los Frios, Dominican Republic, where it is harvest time again.
I went to visit some friends in Bani who sold us a great lot of coffee last year. One of the larger farmers in the area was talking about the rain and quoted an ex-president of the Dominican Republic, Balaguer: “The best coffee farmer is the rain”. When the rain comes at the right time, often the coffee produces well. We had a pretty extensive conversation about a couple farms that used to cup in the 84-85 range and now were cupping closer to 81. They were saying the coffee had lost a lot of its body on the cupping table and they attributed that to what used to be 8 months of rain and now they have irregular rains and less rain during the whole year.
Then I took off to Santo Domingo to see about a new grass cover crop and a fungus distributor. I’ve been looking for a quality grass to plant on the farm that could provide appropriate ground cover for areas that need shade. I actually found it in Brazil. Brachiaria brizantha should fit the bill, it can grow under shade, it is nitrogen fixing, it has short rhizomes (horizontal underground stem), and isn’t so aggressive that it can’t be controlled with a diluted dose of Round-Up. I found a distributor in the DR so I visited his warehouse to pick up some samples to test on Finca La Paz. I’m most excited about the fungus. There is this insect killing fungus called Beauvaria bassiana. It is a natural predator of the Coffee Bean Borer or Broca in Spanish. I found a guy who sells it in a dormant state by the kilo. We put the “sleeping fungus” in a solution (milk, humic acid, sugar and water) to have it multiply and applied it with a backpack sprayer. This should bring the Broca infestation down to reasonable levels. I’m really hopeful for both of these.
On Saturday I went from Santo Domingo to Santiago and back. Our export partner there still has some really stellar coffees for sale and I wanted to check in on a few things. We cupped a table full of great coffees (actually there were 2 that were pretty rough). I have samples of my favorites.
Over all I’m hopeful for coffee and agriculture in the Dominican Republic. It is an uphill battle and so far I don’t see a lot of support from upper political levels. For example, the Banco Agricola (National Agriculture Bank) charges 18% interest on loans to farmers. Of course there exceptions, I’ve heard of numbers of 3% as well. Put that against countries that have no support and I sound like a whiner.
One of the biggest challenges is that there is a history of incredible support for coffee but not in an accountable way. In the time of Balaguer, here farmers were given fertilizer (or provided a subsidized rate, everyone has a different memory), farmers were provided with a brigade of men to clean the coffee farms, farmers were given pruning shears to prune the coffee, etc. Farmers talk about that time as “the glory days of Dominican Coffee”. But look at the economics, their cost of production was almost zero! Ok they had to pay people to pick and process the coffee but some of the biggest costs of coffee production are cleaning and fertilizing coffee. Removing both of those from the cost of production means they didn’t have to pay much to produce the coffee and what they sold was theirs. The system has changed but the mentality hasn’t. Last year I was calling hardware stores in San Juan of the DR to try and find a some pruning saws and couldn’t find a single one. So this year I brought 3 saw blades for each bow saw that we have on the farm. I can’t find anywhere that sells grow bags for coffee saplings in the DR. So I went to a large nursery to see if they had some, they said, “I wish you asked 5 months a go because I we had some, but now we only sell them… ” (As opposed to giving them away for free!)
“Perfect, please sell me 5000 of proper size and gauge plastic”, was my immediate response.
To a large extent, I know that my tiny farm is an unrealistic example for most other Dominican farmers. Paying about $60 USD for some grow bags is a lot of money to a small farmer with only a mule to his name. I would never say that I could figure out how to change the mentality of anyone or figure out a better system to support Dominican farmers without becoming paternalistic. At the very least, I hope to show some alternative ways to do things and produce some great coffee at the same time.
More to come…
DR Diaries: Harvest time on Finca La Paz, Part II: The Ripening
Our coffee director, Byron Jackson Holcomb, is not just a buyer but a farmer himself. This is his second dispatch from a recent trip to visit his own coffee farm, Finca La Paz, in Los Frios, Dominican Republic, where it is harvest time again.
After spending a few days on the farm, I left to do some of my usual networking and running errands. I think this is one of the most productive trips for me in a few ways: I was really prepared for all the odds and ends that come up during harvest and pruning, I was able to apply some of the biological controls that I’ve been after for the last 3 years for the terrible bean borer (broca), and I think I finally have a concrete plan to see me through the next 5 years.
It was exciting to see the coffee cherries turn from yellow to red over the few days that I was on the farm. What’s interesting is the maturation wasn’t exactly how I wanted it to happen. Everyone in Los Frios was complaining because they lost their first crop of pinto and black beans (short-cycle bush bean crops) because there was not enough rain at the right times. Now they were into the second-cycle bush bean crop and again there was still not enough rain. Per how that affects, coffee I wasn’t worried because I prefer a light rainy season during the harvest because it slows and controls the maturation of the cherries from green to red. Here is the real crux: not all red cherries are truly ripe (in my opinion).
When I arrived at the farm on Monday, there were some scattered red cherries around the farm and a fair number of yellow cherries and lots of green. Every day in Los Frios after I arrived it rained hard in the afternoon. On Wednesday the yellow cherries were already red. As usual, I like to taste the red cherries and see if I can correlate the environment and variety with the flavor, yes I am a super nerd. Some of the cherries were really sweet and showed a fair amount of mucilage (clear fleshy coffee fruit). Some of the cherries were only vegetal and kind of flat without much sweetness or mucilage. They showed a zucchini or bell pepper flavor. Why? Coffee cherries that are allowed to ripen slowly turn from green to yellow to red over the period of a couple weeks, furthermore they can show both green and red on the same cherry (pinta’o or pinton in Dominican Spanish). A lot of cherries went straight from yellow to red in about half the time that I expected.
Trees are water pumps. They bring in water through their roots and expel it through their the underside of their leaves in openings called stoma. Coffee doesn’t respond well to water during the harvest because it does a few things to the cherries: 1) it causes them to ripen without developing the sugars, 2) it causes the ripe and unripe cherries to fall off the tree to the ground, and 3) it can even cause the cherries to “explode” (the cherry skin actually splits open). I found a lot of the first had happened to the yellow cherries. I haven’t done any cupping of these false red cherries to see if it really affects cup quality but I’m sure it does have some effect. To counteract that, we are going to wait a few more days before we start the picking to allow the cherries to get actually ripe.
The first picking will be the smallest so I’m not worried about the overall cup quality of this year’s coming harvest. I just hope the rain behaves for the drying of the coffee.
More to come, including a visit to the neighbors…
DR Diaries: Harvest time on Finca La Paz, Part I
Our coffee director, Byron Jackson Holcomb, is not just a buyer but a farmer himself. This is his latest dispatch from a trip to visit his own coffee farm, Finca La Paz, in Los Frios, Dominican Republic, where it is harvest time again.
The world is strange. First of all it is 9:41pm and it is past my usual bed time here, but I feel like writing. I’m in the lumpy bed that is comprised of 4 mattresses laid cross ways with 3 separate pieces of foam on top. It works for sleeping. What is strange is the mosquito net. 9 years ago when I was here as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I only used a mosquito net for the rats. There really weren’t any mosquitos to speak of. There are areas in the DR that demand mosquito nets (and they sell very fancy nice ones). Here in Los Frios a few years ago the mosquitos arrived. Just like Nairobi Kenya – Los Frios had the elevation and average temperature (maybe wind too) to not let mosquitos really be pests. Now, just like Nairobi, mosquitos are a problem. Hence, I’m writing this from under a net designed for mosquitos and tonight it is for both, mosquitos and rats.
I knew this was going to be a good trip. The farm has been progressing and I have been better as a manager to push for results and networking. This year I’ve been able to make more things happen than normal. I finally found a greenhouse supply company that could custom cut the right plastic sheeting in a size that I could check on a plane. I found a distributor for Beauveria bassiana – a fungus used in Broca control. We just planted 100 grafted lime trees. We are fully stocked on saws for the pruning. Lots of great things. But what really makes a great trip isn’t just checking off the to-do list.
I missed the check-in for the first flight by minutes. I thought it was a 956pm flight so I showed up just over an hour before check-in, to find out they had already closed the flight which was actually at 942pm. Wow, there is a first time for everything. Lucky for me there was an 830am flight the next day and I got to sleep in my own bed. I arrived at 1230pm to Santo Domingo to incredible heat and humidity and this really moldy carpet smell that the airport walk way plane connector thing always smells like. I took the bus from Santo Domingo to San Juan to pick up the Beauveria bassiana and swing by a hardware store for supplies to build a level for planting coffee. I had arranged for a truck to pick me up and take me from Guantio to Los Frios that same day. To make the pick up time I took a taxi from San Juan to Guantio. The driver was recommended by a friend. He played really great reggaeton and seemed like a cool dude. While this new reggaeton was bumping we pulled up to the gas station and he had them put $0.50 cents worth of gasoline in the yellow mini van. While the gas was pumping a kid no more than 13 years old walks up with a stack of CD’s. “Look, I got MP3′s, this one has 150 songs of all reggaeton, this one has 200 songs of bachata, and for you. . . 100 pesos”. The driver offered 50 pesos for the 200 song MP3 CD. The kid nodded. By this time the $0.50 cents worth of gasoline had been pumped. The driver digs through his loose change and pays the kid 45 pesos. The kid was pissed and just said something vulgar. The driver turns to me and says the kids here all hustlers, but they have to be that way to survive. We both laughed but it wasn’t funny.
Leaving San Juan we were waved by a Police check point to stop. I never get stopped at these points so I assumed the worst. He stopped us to ask if his two lady friends could get a lift to Guantio. Sure. We take off in a bright yellow van that clearly has acceleration problems, so it is more like we tumbled off. The driver slips in his new CD and some new Aventura (a Dominica bachata band that I won’t admit how much I enjoy the music) song comes on. The two ladies in the back of the taxi know every word and belt out the next 3 songs like they were on Dominican Idol (not that they could sing well… just that they sang with spirit). There were clouds high and low, a really light rain coming down and the sun was about an hour from setting. It was really a beautiful moment to be alive and I can’t imagine it happening in any other country.
Once I arrived in the DR everyone wanted to know what I thought about the coffee market. “Will we get the same prices as last year?” A lot of people missed the peak of the last big market rally and still are sitting on coffee. Everyone was sure that the price would come back and the prices just kept falling. I had someone offer us some 20 bags of “perfect coffee”. Interesting considering the harvest has barely started. The coffee had a musty smell, it wasn’t perfectly washed and the humidity was 19%. Humm – maybe in Sumatra this is perfect. Here in the DR this is old crop coffee. I gave everyone the same advice. Don’t hold coffee, sell it where you can make money, the market is really crazy right now.
On Finca La Paz some good things are happening and some bad. The coffee in the upper section is doing really well. The area is responding really well to all the attention. The Broca seems to be more under control than usual. The grafted lime trees are all looking great and Antonio did a great job planting them at a healthy distance. Overall things look great. There are always one or two things that fall in the negative category.
There is this really awful fungus that is attacking the coffee in the whole region. It is this terrible vicious thing. It seems that it attacks the new growth, then kills the branch as the coffee matures. So the green cherries look fine except for the terminal leaves turning yellow and the stem black. Then as the coffee matures, they turn from green to black and some just fall off. I have pictures to ask my agronomist friends about this specific issue. Climate change? Or is this just the initial picking Cabrilla as it is called?
The only other mega-negatives are all the horror stories of violence being told. One of Antonio’s sons had a few days of vacation from work in Santo Domingo and was here in Los Frios with us. The stories he told involving people he knew were worse than the 5 o’clock news: murders, people selling drugs, rape, violence, all with details like he was there. He even had a word for getting shot: plomo – lead. The DR has always been violent, but to hear the stories told by a kid in a neighborhood that I’ve stayed in in Santo Domingo hit a little close to home.
More tomorrow from the farm.
October Factory Tour Announced!
There’s nothing quite like fall in Ozone Park—the leaves turning, the brisk chill in the air swooshing down Atlantic Avenue, and that nostalgic, back-to-school feeling at the auto glass repair shops.
Won’t you join us this Saturday, October 6th 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 99-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, October 6, 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 email@example.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.
Burundi Cup of Excellence Diaries: Part IV
Our esteemed VP of Sales, Marketing, and seemingly everything else, John Moore, flew last week to Burundi’s first-ever Cup of Excellence competition. We at Dallis, and particularly John, have been proud to support and participate in Cup of Excellence competitions across the world, both for the benefit they bring to the industry by recognizing truly great coffees, and — more importantly — for the actual financial benefit this recognition can bring to farms, particularly those in economically troubled countries. Burundi’s first competition, and John’s first trip to Burundi, are momentous to us. We share here his last of four trip diaries.
Day Five: Last Day at CoE
The last day at CoE is when we rank the top 10. These are coffees that have already made is as “winners”, and the final day determines where precisely they rank in the eyes of the jury. It is important to note that the number one coffee doesn’t always fetch the highest sum, but that is most often the case. I love the last day because it is less about critiquing, and more about celebrating the coffees.
It was so sad to see two of the final top 10 finalists kicked out for potato defect. It appears as though about 28% – 30% of the samples submitted ended up killed by potato, and I think that these figures will help push the government to help support initiatives to get to the bottom of this scourge.
After the morning of cupping we had some time in small focus groups with Burundian producers. This was incredibly valuable time since we got to ask them questions and then they got to ask us questions as well. It was great to hear directly from producers and washing station managers what they are doing and how they are doing it to continue improving quality.
As is always the case, financing and price conversations filled the air. At one point they were suggesting that roasters finance the coffee before it is picked. Our group was quick to push back to the financial institutions and government agencies within Burundi. The problem is the same everywhere it seems — cash-strapped producers end up selling cherry to middle men as opposed to delivering to a washing station because middle men offer immediate cash. Liquidity matters, and cash is king.
The lead figure from the government agency responsible specifically for this topic happened to be sitting in on our group session, and it was extremely interesting to watch the exchange between ourselves as international jury members, the producers, the washing station managers, the representative for the collective of producers, and Evereste, the government official. If he is to be believed, they are working towards solutions, but these are complicated and take time.
Then it was off to the awards ceremony. This is always a mixture of song, dance, expression of local culture, a seemingly endless stream of speeches, and then at last producers get their certificates and awards. It is at that moment people find out whether or not their lots made it as Cup of Excellence winners, and further still whether or not they made it into the even further elite top 10.
I have to say, this competition the speeches really had a sense of urgency to them. The representative for Burundi Coffee Growers Confederation was the first to take the mic, and he wasted little time in rattling off a list of programs that he and his constituents clearly wanted the Minister of Agriculture and Livestock to hear. When asking for a more appropriate allocation of funds for fertilizer he said, “the yield of the cow depends on the food for the cow”. He was quick to point out just how much “food” went to the producers in Kenya versus what they have received in Burundi.
We also heard from Adrien Sibomana who had spent quite a bit of time with us over the week. Adrien is a phenomenal individual, and was the prime minister of Burundi from 1988 until 1993. He was the first ethnic Hutu appointed to a high government post following the civil war, and previously had been governor of Muramvya Province. He said “Most important thing is the quality of the coffee. Quality has improved, so hopefully the price will improve. Nevertheless, we still have a lot of work to do”. It seems the Burundians understand very well that they will never be a big quantity producer, but they have a tremendous opportunity to be a big quality producer. In an effort to illustrate what quality means Adrien is coordinating a cupping of the all the CoE winners that will be open to anyone that wants to attend next week. I thought that was a really cool idea since all too often we ask producers to create qualities that they don’t know themselves or understand since they don’t cup their own coffees!
There was so much commotion around the top 10 this year. There were 3 Presidential Awards given, meaning that the jury gave 3 coffees 90+ scores. This is not typical, especially considering that it was Burundi’s first competition. Also, Paul Songer and Grant both mentioned that our group was not exactly a bunch of push-overs. There were under 20 “winners”, and we were brutally honest with defective coffees and with our allocation of scores in general. When the winners got off the stage it was as if the Beatles were landing at JFK. Everyone swarmed around the 3 Presidential Award winners with cameras — it must have been amazing for these winners!
It was great to hear Grant Rattray summing up some of ACE / CoE’s goals in his closing comments. Last year during the Golden Cup preparatory competition they hit a $4 average for the winning lots. Grant is hopeful that they will push that to $7 on average for this auction. Last year the program generated about $118,000 in revenue, and this year they are hoping to hit to over $400,000. This year they had input from over 30% of the washing stations. Next year Grant is hopeful that they can achieve a “perfect competition” in which all washing stations are represented. Again, imagine what this means to the 650,000 or so producers in Burundi that make an average of $200 per year.
The nice thing about Burundi is that it is so small you can dream big. Cup of Excellence has become an important part of my coffee experience, and I’m proud of the association between Dallis and CoE. Leaving Burundi I have a feeling like we can really create win-win relationships here, where producers that are investing in quality can be rewarded, and we can in turn re-sell top quality coffees to our clients and so on. I left early (now yesterday) and as the sun was coming up I noticed the street kids waking and people bathing in the lake. It struck me how far Burundi has come, how far there is yet to go, and how much we can be a partner in this if we choose to be.
Appropriately enough as we were going through the security gate to the airport (late of course) my taxi completely broke down. There we were — myself, two security guys, a taxi driver, and a porter all pushing this van through the check so that my taxi guy and I could walk the rest of the way to the airport with my stuff. It seemed somehow the perfect way to leave Burundi, and with a big “mwarakozi” (thank you) I was off into the sunrise.
Burundi Cup of Excellence Diaries: Part III
Our esteemed VP of Sales, Marketing, and seemingly everything else, John Moore, flew last week to Burundi’s first-ever Cup of Excellence competition. We at Dallis, and particularly John, have been proud to support and participate in Cup of Excellence competitions across the world, both for the benefit they bring to the industry by recognizing truly great coffees, and — more importantly — for the actual financial benefit this recognition can bring to farms, particularly those in economically troubled countries. Burundi’s first competition, and John’s first trip to Burundi, are momentous to us. We share here his penultimate trip diary.
Yesterday was remarkable. After an intense bunch of cupping we went to a beautiful tea plantation, followed by a pygmy village. I had never been to a tea plantation before, and I felt as though I had left Burundi and been transported straight to Ireland somehow. The green of the tea plants is that striking.
Then we visited a pygmy village where allegedly the folks living there have purposefully shun modern conveniences. Given the abject poverty you see in producing countries it is hard to know if the claim is true or not. This group is evidently famous for producing
authentic pottery as it has been produced here for hundreds of years, and when we arrived it seemed quite the event. The entire village seemed to explode into song at one point and it was a tremendous thing to experience.
As for the cupping, what an adventure. I was table lead a few times over and found potato a few times. I must say that the jury is quite an impressive bunch, and no one is trying to sugar-coat cups, or let things through that have taints. I really saw the value of all of our innumerable cupping sessions over the years and all of the events we have done in less than perfect circumstances. As our cups started getting poured I immediately noticed the nature of the separation of the coffee didn’t look normal, and immediately suspected cooler than appropriate water as the culprit. Sure enough, once I brought it up the table next to us noticed the same thing. Their crew ended up split up amongst all the other tables, and our crew had to get the first 4 samples completely re-done!
It was funny because Kentaro Maruyama, who has probably been to more CoE’s than anyone on earth, was at my table. He had never seen something like that before. To add insult to injury, about halfway through our special session, the power failed. You had to laugh.
Paul Songer gets tons of credit as Head Judge, since he was instantly on top of the whole situation and making things work. He managed to give an entire lecture on roast color identification in order to give them extra time to prepare water. I thought it would
be a snorefest, but it was more than just “make sure to calibrate your Agtron”, and was incredibly interesting.
We ended the day with a failed attempt to see hipppos and then showed up late and dirty to the home of the U.S. Charge’ d’affaires, essentially the stand-in ambassador, since our current ambassador isn’t here yet in Burundi. The new ambassador has been named, but she
hasn’t yet been approved by Congress. It was a pleasant time followed by a quick bite and then a sleepless evening of tossing and turning under a mosquito net.
Day Four: Burundi Coffee Crawl
Last night we were finally able to get “off campus” a bit to see some of the local coffee bars and cafes. Power outages seem to have been higher recently, and security around our area has been high since evidently the President plays soccer right around the corner a couple of times per week.
Visiting the coffee bars was great. The photos of the first one really tell the whole story. It took forever for us to find it in the sea of signage but it was worth it. “Hot & Cold Coffee” had no power, so imagine their surprise when about 10 CoE judges and other folks rolled in. It was hysterical. Plus the average age of the staff was probably 60, and two lovely women were running the place pretty much in the dark.
Our second stop was Aroma, which has a look and feel that rivals any cafe I’ve been in. A few of us hopped behind the bar, and that is when we really noted that some things were different. The espresso machine that looks newest hasn’t worked for a while it seems, and the power outage had just killed the older machine, although it did recover pretty quick. Gaskets probably haven’t been changed in years. We all had to laugh, since if we sent new gaskets they would probably use them cleverly in a car or something.
The last cafe we visited was Le Gourmand Cafe, and I had a croissant there that is as good as anything I have had in New York. It was extremely polished, and the style reminded me a little bit of the Octavio Cafe. Unfortunately the power issues had completely fried the espresso machine just a couple hours before we got there. Doing business in Burundi is not easy. Our head tech Mike D would have his work cut out for him here in Burundi!