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.
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…
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…
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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.
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!
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 second of several trip diaries.
Holy Potato! Attack of the killer potatoes… attack of the killer potatoes!
Potato defect ran amuck in the first round of the Cup of Excellence here in Burundi this morning. During the first flight 4 of the 10 coffees were disqualified, and an additional cup was DQ’d for phenol. Paul said it was the first DQ for phenol he had seen in years. Imagine that 60 cups of each of these coffees have already gone through the national selection without incident. It was really something. Later flights were not as dramatic, but we did DQ multiple samples in every flight.
Fortunately many of the coffees left standing were really stellar coffees. I don’t know if it was Paul’s calibration or what, but the complexity and range of acidity types has been quite a surprise. All of the coffees here, as it was in Rwanda, are bourbon. The very first coffee we hit was a classic example of quinic acidity mixed with various fruit acidity, types and enough sweetness to make for an incredibly interesting cup. It was like a gooseberry kumquat martini made with Hendrick’s gin (juniper, cucumber essence, rose-petal essence, and botanicals) — but NOT the dry version. This one had a crazy bitter but sweet, floral, and structured thing happening that was intriguing as hell. Yum.
We are all learning that things here in Burundi can take a bit more time than they might in other places. In between rounds, Grant Rattray filled in some time with a meaningful explanation of how CoE is hoping to work in Burundi. Evidently this is actually still being finalized as we speak.
As I mentioned earlier, Burundi is a land of very small coffee farms. All CoE lots need to be 15 – 50 x 60 kg (132 lbs) bags. All growers will be specifically named, and paid according to the precise proportion of coffee contributed. It is up to the washing stations to submit what they consider to be their best lots, and each can enter up to 4 samples for competition. They have 68 of 175 washing stations in Burundi involved this year — over 30% of all the country’s facilities contributing over 300 samples total! This is pretty impressive considering it is the first year of the program. Their goal is to get all involved.
“How is the money going to get to the farmer?” you are probably asking yourselves at this point. The washing station managers are keeping very careful records of which coffees are in which lots submitted, and even what percentage per specific farm’s coffee. Right now it looks like CoE is planning on emulating the breakdown typcial for the industry here:: ~72% to the grower pool, ~16% to wet mill, ~5% to dry mill, rest to promotion, taxes, fees, etc. CoE / Alliance for Coffee Excellence is hoping that they might be able to get about 85% of the money to the growers, and I’m sure we’ll be hearing more about this soon, certainly before the
We had two more rounds of cupping once everything got back on track. Each of those rounds saw two samples eliminated for potato. In every cupping today we found potato on our table, and it is a very complicated issue.
So what is potato defect? The chemical is actually closer to snap peas than potato from the “Le Nez Du Cafe” aroma kit many of us calibrate with. The current dominant theory is that it is caused by the antestia insect. Microorganisms that infect the coffee fruit and seed, due to skin damage. This skin damage can happen in a variety of ways, but it is commonly thought that the distinct “potato defect” (which is common also in neighboring Rwanda and also occurs in Tanzania, Zambia, and Kenya) is due to damage from an insect
It’s very difficult to sort out the “potato” defect, as it is largely invisible. Flotation of cherry before pulping helps, as does densimetric sorting of finished coffee. I am always amazed by the power of the internet, and within seconds I found this via Google and
“Antestiopsis is a genus of shield bug, commonly known as antestia and the variegated coffee bug. Several species in eastern Africa are pests of coffee plants, giving the coffee beans a distinctive ‘potato taste’, which is thought to be caused indirectly by bacteria entering through wounds created by the insects, leading to an increase in the
concentration of isopropyl methoxy pyrazine. They feed on flowers, berries and growing tips, injecting a toxic saliva that often contains the spores of the Ashbya fungus, and then suck juices out.”
I especially love that last bit — nice little critter eh?
The fact that Kenya has seen a few cases is extremely alarming, but might just be the kick in the butt that the whole region needs to take the issue seriously. Again, the results of this process may help to achieve that as well.
What to do? Kill the bugs would be my obvious answer. Easier said than done, obviously — just ask Byron!
In speaking with people here there seem to be a few measures that could be taken:
1. Attentive picking – looking for signs of insect damage, holes, or split skins
2. Attentive wet milling and sorting. You have all seen how we sort at our mill, and the somewhat damaged or deformed seeds will often end up notably less dense than fully matured and healthy seeds. As a result they float. If you skim the floaters you may remove a bunch of the possibly infected seeds.
3. Densimetric sorting — using the density differential we just talked about again after the wet mill process to further reduce the chances of potato showing up.
4. As Byron always says, healthy coffee trees produce better tasting coffee. I had a long chat with Benjamin Lentz who is the Director of the USAID Burundi agricultural initiatives, and it was interesting to see how much progress they have made in just a couple of years. They are investing a lot in creating model plots and have seen potato
numbers shrink from 30% to minimal amounts just by getting the right inputs into the soil.
5. Infrared light / UV light. Here I heard both terms thrown around but I believe it happens to be one or the other, not both. Today an old story I heard a few years back was confirmed. It seems Burundi had two color sorting machines like we have in Brazil outfitted with the appropriate light (UV or Infrared) and this would help them to
detect the potato. They were able to make significant gains vs. the potato, but then one broke down and someone simply decided not to use the other… alas, I am learning that this is sorta how things work here.
More on all of this tomorrow. A big day!
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 first of several trip diaries.
Landed safe and sound in Bujumbura, Burundi this afternoon after a few hours in Johannesburg. The approach was really something out of a film — Jurassic Park or some Arthurian legend. About 45 minutes before approaching Bujumbura we hit thick cloud cover and it was impossible to see through. After a rather interesting warning from the pilot we descended aggressively and managed to get just beneath the thick canopy of clouds.
Although beneath the billowy blanket above us a thick misty fog still clung to the air which made visibility minimal at best. In the last ten minutes or so it was as if we stepped out of a steam bath and into clear air. The fog parted and it was as if Burundi miraculously appeared right beneath us from a dream. We followed the Ruzuzi River valley as the ancient waterway connecting Lake Kivu and Tangyanika seemed to lazily wind and snake its way toward Bujumbura.
The first thing that struck me was just how different but similar the landscape seemed from its northern neighbor Rwanda. In Rwanda there was a meticulously executed land reform after the genocide that distributed plots more equitably between the Tutsi minority (formerly the aristocracy defined by in part by cattle and land) and the Hutu majority. Rwanda and Burundi are the two most densely populated countries on the African continent, and in Rwanda it often seemed like the whole country was a patchwork quilt of small farms. Some of the land that appeared to have wild flora or fauna I learned later was all carefully managed by specific owners.
In Burundi it would appear as though reform came about in a somewhat different manner. Yes, there are some areas that are clearly delineated farms, but much of the land that we flew over and that I’ve seen so far appears to be actually wild. Also, it would appear by what I saw that there are fewer paved roads and other contemporary conveniences than I saw in Rwanda. Burundi also remains one of the world’s most impoverished nations, regularly ranking in the top 3 poorest countries on earth, so that could explain the roads. Or lack thereof.
Also, although I knew Bujumbura was near Lake Tangyanika, I didn’t realize that the city
is literally on the lake. It was interesting in Rwanda to see just how profound an influence Lake Kivu had on the local coffee production. I don’t think it was a coincidence that I had to take a boat across the lake to visit the winning farm from Cup of Excellence when I was there. I’m curious to learn more about which coffees prove themselves on the table this week and where they come from. I also hope to learn more about work going on right now to better define regions both in Burundi and neighboring Rwanda.
The topography of Burundi is defined by tectonic and volcanic activity. This is the Albertine Rift and East African Rift. In flying over the mountains of Burundi I was instantly reminded of the blondish to brownish khaki soil coloration that I saw in Rwanda. I must have consumed a half lung’s worth of the stuff when driving the dirt roads with open windows on my farm trips and it looked familiar. The bad news is that if it is the same stuff I’ll be sneezing and coughing it up for a while. The good news is that it can produce great coffee!
At the airport I was quickly reminded of the not-too-distant conflicts here in Burundi. I
stopped to grab a quick photo of the airport as I was getting off the plane, to celebrate the fact that terra firma was once again under my feet. Unfortunately the security guy with the AK47 didn’t think it was such a funny idea, and immediately started busting my chops. Fortunately he quickly lost interest and after muttering something in French directed me to get off the tarmac and into the customs area.
The last rebel group didn’t sign a peace agreement here until 2009.There are some astonishing post-war stats: average life expectancy is 46, and 50% of the population is under 15 years old. 50%! The population of the entire country is about that of NYC, at about 8.5 million people. Almost 10% of that —- 800,000 —- live in Bujumbura.
The economy is devoted to agriculture; 90% of the population is dependent on subsistence farming for survival. The economic growth of Burundi is reliant on the development of the coffee and tea sectors, and 90% of the foreign exchange earnings are derived from coffee and tea exports! 90%! For many years the Tutsi minority dominated the coffee trade, and it was essentially controlled by the government. In 2005 the government liberalized and privatized the sector, and this has lead to investments by many private investors both Tutsi and Hutu.
Imagine the impact that a program like Cup of Excellence can have in this environment and
in this place. The average annual income here in the agricultural sector is about $200.00
per year. It will be amazing to see the kind of good that CoE can do for a farmer or collective of farmers that will suddenly see CoE auction earnings. The average coffee farm here is only about 150 trees, so CoE $/lb ratios could really make a difference.
About that — today was Day 1. Our head judge here is Paul Songer, and this is my second time with Paul as a head judge, and third time that he has been involved in a competition that I’ve been part of. Paul’s Day 1 calibration sessions are the stuff of legend. He loves his statistics, his presentations, and his scientific experiments in coffee. He happens to be one of the foremost minds in coffee when it comes to sensory experience, in particular in the chemistry of coffee and how that is perceived by us humans. Paul didn’t disappoint, and it was actually very nice to see that he is constantly tweaking his intro and experiments with us as his guinea pigs.
After an intensive acid calibration (not what it sounds like), we jumped into the coffee calibration. Paul picked the coffee that was supposed to be the best, the middle, and the dud. This time around was kind of funny. Within seconds the ‘best’ was lost to potato defect, although the other two samples were what they were supposed to be. After these were revealed, we cupped a flight of coffees with these standards identified and sitting in the middle of the table as benchmarks to use as reference. Then we all cupped and compared our notes.
It was interesting to see how the ugly potato defect showed up so immediately and with such impact. Still, it was perhaps more interesting to see how vibrant the acidity is in some of these coffees, and how diverse the flavor profiles can be. Looking forward to getting this thing going for real tomorrow!
Here at Dallis Bros., we think holidays are for sissies! So we’re making our Coffee Director, Byron Holcomb, host a delicious tour of tasting and roasting at our coffee factory this coming Saturday. If you’re not taking a beach vacation, why not consider a sunny Saturday vacation to Ozone Park?
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, September 1st, 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.