There’s something about COE…

Our roaster, Anne Cooper, recently traveled to Brazil for the first ever Brazil Late Harvest Cup of Excellence competition. Not only did Anne get to taste some of the country’s most incredible coffees, she had the chance to meet the producers behind coffees she found truly amazing.

Curiously enough, Anne tasted one particular coffee that blew her away—and she also met one exceptional producer who humbled her completely. Keeping in mind that the CoE tastings are blind, Anne had no idea which producer had produced which coffee…but lo and behold when the awards were announced, the woman by whom Anne had been starstruck was the same woman behind the coffee that had her awestruck. Back home in Ozone Park, the rest of us at Dallis Bros. had the opportunity to cup a sample of that very same coffee—Winner No. 5&mdasha stunningly elegant cup with rose-petal-floral tones, a clean acidity and a beautiful structure. Continuing our lucky streak, we then had the opportunity to win this coffee at auction—which we did!—and it is now making its way from Brazil to Queens. By the time it gets here it will have cost us more than $1000/bag unroasted…but you know what? We couldn’t be more excited unless we were Anne. Her diary from Brazil follows.

Well ……I never would have thought that I would have ever gotten the opportunity to go to a Cup of Excellence event—ever!! But there I was at the 2012 Brazil Late Harvest Cup of Excellence event this January.

It was a long way away from the cupping sessions I once held all the way back in Brisbane, Australia where —based only on what I could gather from the CoE website, reading from other resources as well as working to bring in small amounts to Australia via the team from Cafe Imports—I valiantly spread the word about this wonderful program to Australian coffee lovers who had never been exposed to Specialty coffee (only knew their coffee as ‘instant’ or as a ‘brand’) and knew nothing of the crop to cup journey. I once actually cried during a cupping session I was doing for the Australian Slow Food Group, when I was recounting how wonderful this competition is for the producers and what winning can mean for their quality of life etc. etc.!!

So, a very big thanks to Dallis Bros. Coffee and the wonderful John Moore for not being able to attend! I was thrilled at the opportunity to finally attend a Cup of Excellence event, the first ever Brazil Late Harvest competition, where I met one special producer—Hislena Pereira Nogueira. Hislena is a wonderful lady, 2nd generation farmer of her father’s farm which she now runs with her son. She is a true superstar in my eyes—a lady I will never, ever forget (although I think she thought I was stalking her a bit as I was completely starstruck by her). Meeting her was so very humbling for me.

Even though I was only an observer, and not a judge, at all times I was made to feel included, my opinion was asked for and respected and no-one ever acted like they were more important than the coffee they were cupping and judging (and believe me, there were certainly some legendary, superstar cuppers there too!!!)….we all took it very seriously, in a unified way, that we were there to taste and judge some of the finest Natural coffees of Brazil.

Another aspect of attending Cup of Excellence that you can’t read about, but need to experience for yourself, is the ‘spirit’ of being part of an international jury and what this means to the overall competition…. the spirit of the participants was fuelled by the spirit of the organisers who—through their meticulous structure—made sure the whole experience was positive and everyone had the opportunity to network and get to know each other (by the second day, we all got along so well, it felt like we had all been cupping together for years!!) as well as experience and enjoy some great aspects of Brazilian culture.

I didn’t understand straight away that an international jury of different people from all around the world meant there would be differences in palates/tastes—I totally failed to see this until after the first calibration cupping where the significance of different palates really expressed itself…..very quickly you saw what each culture was attracted to—and this can be exciting for a particular coffee/producer/the Cup of Excellence competition as a whole—which also means one amazing opportunity to learn even more about this complex world of coffee and what this means to other cultural palates. I was totally awestruck by the differences in perception of various tastes and flavours by each international judge and how this could affect how a coffee was judged and scored and what this meant to a coffee from the business and marketing perspective.
Back to the producers. I had the opportunity to meet and talk with Hislena before the awards ceremony—at this stage no one had any idea who had won anything—but there was something about Hislena! I actually remember being very nervous and anxious about this opportunity to meet one of the producers….but when I saw Hislena going up to get her finalist certificate I said That’s my lady…I have to talk to her!!! So I grabbed the translator and the rest is history….

A a result of this wonderful experience many new professional friendships were forged and it was wonderful that we were all there for the unified goal of supporting and promoting producers like Hislena.

News from the Farm

What’s the latest news from our farm in Brasil, Nossa Senhora Aparecida? Water, water, everywhere!

We are now at 50% irrigation, with our main goal to give the trees water as they need it. The drought of two years ago caused a huge loss in both production and bean size: irrigation can help us avoid another unforeseen bad weather season. We’re also able to exercise more control over when watering occurs, to ensure flowerings take hold more effectively. With this much control over our growing cycle, both yield and quality will improve. And there’s more water to come!

Other experiments, like our newly released Fully Washed, Yellow Bourbon micro-lot, are living proof of farm manager Edgard Bressani’s commitment to continually improving our coffee. Edgard decided to produce a fully washed lot of coffee for the first time in our farm’s history, from our Yellow Bourbon trees. We are very excited to offer such a unique coffee: this process is basically unheard of in Brazil. Most Brazilian coffees today are pulped natural or natural processed. Find out more about this coffee in our webshop!

Tales from the Dominican Republic

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.


Buying coffee is binary. Approve or Reject. For a long time the reigning coffee company in the Dominican Republic, Cafe Santo Domingo, has employed a system which dominates market forces. They often set the internal price for coffee buying at a price that is about 20 above the C market, when the coffee delivered is barely good enough for a C market approval (really low quality).

Cafe Santo Domingo also controls the internal price, and 95% of the internal market. The DR only produces about 500,000 bags of coffee a year. That is half a million, when most countries measure coffee production based in millions. Costa Rica produced 1.8 million last year and Honduras produced almost 5 million. Only about 30,000 to 40,000 bags are exported from the DR. That is a very very small amount.

For a long time we coffee people have wondered why they just didn’t buy cheap Brazil or robusta because local consumption doesn’t demand much quality. Last year, Cafe Santo Domingo purchased 120 boxes of Vietnam Robusta. The robusta coffee is cleaner and has more coffee than the stuff they used to buy as wet parchment coffee locally. For example, I just sold my repela—the final picking of the coffee tree’s cherries, regardless of their ripeness— to Cafe Santo Domingo. Now, what I sold them was barely coffee. It was about half green coffee and most of that wasn’t even “underripe” it was more like not even a bean. As a bean develops the skin is green, but there isn’t actually a coffee bean inside. It is just kinda mushy and might have the shell of the bean, but there is not real cellulose.

This year Santo Domingo has been stricter than ever. They are actually rejecting really bad coffees which means no one will buy it. Now that they have a supply of coffee from Vietnam to fill local market needs, they can use the Dominican coffees for export. One person told me that local quality has gone up with the robusta conversion. Another told me there have been lots of quality complaints. Nerva, my Dominican mother, says that the last can of coffee she had tasted like “nothing”. I found my Cafe Santo Domingo cafecitos to be just as inconstant and dark as ever.

What this means for Dominican coffee is that people will have to increase the quality of their processing or get a much lower price, or not sell their coffee at all. If farmers would invest in their farms and increase yields, then quality and production could be not far away. Of course, if the labor shortage and the constant exodus from rural areas to urban areas continues, there will be no one to bring the coffee to market.

It is rather simple, approve or reject.

El Salvador Los Planes

From an unprecedented number of jury-approved coffees at the 2011 El Salvador Cup of Excellence competition comes this graceful coffee full of huge notes of tropical fruit and sultry spice. A stunning cup, it’s no surprise this coffee placed 6th out of the best in the nation.

Sergio Ticas’ farm in Chaletenango is no small plot of land. His 70 hectare coffee field employs 10 full-time workers and more than 70 seasonal workers. Ticas is currently converting his father’s existing crops from the Typica variety of coffee to Bourbon and Pacamara (this award-winning lot is Bourbon.) At the community level, Ticas has donated land for a water tank, allowed workers to farm cash crops on his land, and kept wages competitive. Additionally, he maintains a cypress forest and a natural lagoon for local wildlife.

This year at the Cup of Excellence El Salvador, there were an unprecedented number of coffees that scored well and were accepted as winners by the International Jury. At Dallis Bros Coffee we stay very connected to the Cup of Excellence program because of the coffee quality that is highlighted from the competition, and the way it helps encourage regions and growers. This coffee placed sixth in the competition, out of more than 40 coffees to score high enough (84) for the Cup of Excellence award, and 165 total samples submitted.

Why so many great coffees this year? One theory centers on the eruption of Ilamatepec in the Santa Ana region five years ago. The eruption killed several people and evacuated thousands from the area. Yet the volcanic ash which covered the entire area can be an interesting fertilizer. Its mineral components are absorbed slowly into the soil over time, and coffee trees producing fruit years later may be only now seeing the benefits.

Finca Buenos Aires

It’s a special opportunity to intimately learn the nuances of a particular coffee farm, from growing section to growing section. Our relationship to Finca Buenos Aires is one such opportunity, as we explore multiple growing sections of the same farm.

Dallis Bros. had the help of a very famous coffee farmer, Aida Batlle, in choosing this special coffee. In the summer of 2011, our coffee director, Byron Holcomb, traveled to El Salvador to check out a few different farms specially designated under the Aida Batlle Selections program, which helps bring best practices to El Salvadoran farms.

Finca Buenos Aires has been a family farm for three generations. The breathtakingly beautiful farm spans the side of a pronounced mountain, at the very top of which sits a natural wildlife refuge. The farm benefits from an orientation to the wind that doesn’t incur the same crop damage as do some other farms in the region. Batlle’s oversight of production at Finca Buenos Aires has created such an uptick in overall quality, we purchased two different tablones (meaning “planks” in English, ”tablon” refers in these parts to horizontal sections of a single farm) from this farm.

When cupping this lot of coffee against other farms, it stood out as much as Finca Buenos Aires’s beautiful vistas. Though the two tablones we purchased are a stone’s throw apart, their character in the cup is very different. Tablon #9 brings a sweet balanced quality, with occasional notes of apricot, whereas its neighbor coffee grown in Tablon #11 is tart, like a fresh cherry. Compare the two side by side and see the true diversity of micro-lots from this spectacular region.

Farm Diaries: Costa Rica 2012

Our Director of Coffee, Byron Holcomb, recently got back from a relationship-building trip to Guatemala and Costa Rica. Here is Part Three of his letters home.

Pura Vida, 

They say that for everything here. Hello. Goodbye. Thanks. Whats up? It is kinda catchy. But I’m more likely to pick up what our host kept saying about how challenging this crop will be for both Costa Rica and Guatemala. “Hijo de Gran Puta!” (Son of a b—). Guatemala’s harvest is early. Costa Rica is late. Both have really irregular maturation because of rain, cold and all around strange weather. 

I love how honest farmers are. “Yeah, this harvest isn’t going to be our best. Sometimes because of the rain we have to pick pintones” (half-ripes). In general this means a more under-ripes, less quality drying, and more expensive pickings (doing 4-5 pickings when they used to do 3). 

That said we (finally) found a cupping table that rocked our world. Yesterday we left the hotel at 6:20am and headed back to Terrazu to meet with an Association that won 6 places in the Cup of Excellence last year and has been placing in the top ranks for the last 4 years. They are going super fast because they pay great prices and seem to be packed with awesome people. 

There is one family that we visited two of their farms. They have five farms that range from 2-15 hectares. The two hectare farm at 1,500 meters won 8th place last year in CoE. The family is in its third generation and the six young family members (from 35-22ish) are all really sweet and kind. After seeing their farms, we went to their house for breakfast and shots of Black Label whiskey. Let me explain. The father who was 65 and looked 80 was so moved by the fact that roasters came to his house he forced them to take a shot of whiskey with him, (before we ate breakfast). I smiled and raised my empty hand while they grimaced. The reason it was a big event is that no roaster has ever been to their house. The Senor was sure he would die before he actually met someone who purchased his coffee. They sell to La Minita and others etc. They don’t even know who bought their CoE lot! 

Of course, it is tempting to buy some just to make everyone happy. I told them my hope was that the coffee was as beautiful as my experience. We should be able to cup some of it in the next couple months. If the coffee is crazy brilliant, game on. 

Speaking of crazy brilliant, after four tables of stock lots, we finally tasted some coffee and shared numbers like 91, 88, 87 etc. Some of them tasted super fresh and will settle really nicely. Others were Geisha, others were sweet sweet honeyed coffees. One tasted just like a Pacamara. They only represent a few farms and some were first pickings (not the best quality). At least we were rather calibrated and left excited. Incredible diversity and some really top notch coffees. 

Today was my catch up day. Laundry, hair-cut, email, buy coffee for Korea, lots of email. 

Tomorrow, I will head off with Tim O’Brien to visit some more micro-mills and find some brilliant coffees (when they are ready). 

Pura vida, 

Farm Diaries: Guatemala and Costa Rica January 2012

Our Director of Coffee, Byron Holcomb, recently got back from a relationship-building trip to Guatemala and Costa Rica. Here is Part Two of his letters home.

My night visit to La Tacita was amazing. Very high altitude (very cold at night), wonderful people, great looking farm, huge amounts of history. They separate the farm by tablones but weren’t as keen on the idea of keeping them separated. They might send me samples. 

Yesterday was amazing and long. We left the hotel just after 3am, made a connection in Panama where my sweet-talking the immigration agent didn’t pay off because he forgot to give me my customs form. Customs only made me fill out another one. Then I got to the hotel and they charged my credit card $8000. It was not my day for smooth traveling. 

We got to San Jose, Costa Rica and what a different country this is. Everyone is tan and looks like they shop in Southern California. Surfer style rules here. Our cab driver had enough gel in his hear to look like Sonic the Hedeghog. 

We ate lunch and tore off to Terrazu to visit a farm. The farm is 9 brothers that all own farms and work in different areas of production. The farms are really well managed, and they have had great success selling to top buyers and differentiating lots per the buyers demands. 

They are truly at the front of the top micro mills out there. They keep a small “simple” operation. No massive patios, no 200 raised beds. Just a really small-capacity wet mill, some raised beds, a concrete patio. They have been one of the front runners in the micro-mill movement in Costa Rica. They do all different types of honey coffee, keep varieties separate, keep specific farms apart,  they pay the attention to detail like you would imagine any professional craftsman would pay. They are really doing amazing work with varieties: I tasted the cherries from SL-28 (orange, spicy sweet with a savory finish), Geisha (all floral but not as sweet as I imagined), Red Catuai and Caturra (crazy sweet, kinda like Hi-C Red flavor). 

They do many different types of Typica processing. And they have been doing selections of plantings of Geisha based on cherry sweetness and will launch an improved Geisha variety lot this year or the next. We have the chance to buy some of this coffee this year, which really is an honor considering most everything they have is long-term relationships. They are also environmentally responsible and really great people to be around. 

One of my favorite parts of meeting them was how eloquent the farmer was when describing how different markets demand different profiles, and what he needs from his buyers in direction. For example, if we want a sweetness driven coffee (based on a sample) then he will craft one to our needs. I haven’t cupped it yet, but according to them, these guys can create a lot based on a requested profile. For example, I could say I want a coffee that is very bright and very sweet with notes of citrus, red cherries and passion fruit. They would run an experiment, send me a sample for feed back then custom craft the lot.  

Of course we haven’t cupped it yet but we will on Monday. 

We also visited another farm which has planted a really cool variety they will probably keep separate for next year. And the most impressive part is how they use an organic system of foliar spray that has reduced the need for herbicide on the farm and eliminated the need to use fungicide completely on the farm for the last 7 years. This was all done through the use of pulp, molasses, efficient micro-organisms, salts, etc. 

That is a lot of information. From the farm side, I’m totally excited, lets just cross our fingers the cups are as impressive. 

Farm Diaries: Guatemala January 2012

Our Director of Coffee, Byron Holcomb, recently got back from a relationship-building trip to Guatemala and Costa Rica. Here is Part One of his letters home.

So far this trip has gone smoothly like a waterslide lined in butter.

The weather has been perfect. The nights are cool and the mid day sun intense. The first day we spent our time cupping a couple different tables and visiting the a dry mill and one advanced farm. The dry mill has an impressive operation and incredible traceability once a coffee arrives to the mill. They set all lots to a bar code system. The coffees are cupped every two weeks to monitor the qualiy and look for defects. Then in the headquarters lab they are cupped again with only the bar code visible, then the coffee is judged and classified to fill basic stock grades: Extra Prime, Hard Bean, Strictly Hard Bean, Strictly Hard Bean Huehue and Robusta, just to name a few.

There is a bit of everything here: body driven coffees that are “cheap”, pointed bright coffees, pickers who barely speak Spanish because they are “Naturales” — a local word that refers to indigenous populations, beautifully painted “chicken buses” (old American school buses), really tasty meats, lots of guards everywhere with guns. Every single mill we visited has at least 12ft barbed wire fences, two or three armed guards who grill our drivers for info and names before they crack a smile. Why? because people steal coffee.

It is funny what happens when I read commodity reports that are saying, “Central America will ship late.” Then when I use my personal knowledge of farms and weather, I get different results – Central America should be early. And both Honduras and Guatemala are both about a month ahead of schedule. Humm… This is from the incredibly heavy rains this season. They accelerate the maturation of the cherries. I’ve lived it. It should also decrease the volume. Again the commodity reports said, volumes should be fine, maybe a touch low. And yet from what I hear and see it looks like the volumes will be greatly affected.

Today we left early and headed to the Santa Rosa area. The coffees were solid and they actually had a nice natural. The farm is massive. 700 hectares and all organic certified and Rainforest Alliance as well. When the Pacamara was blended with one of the better lots, it was incredibly balanced and delish.

I’m writing this in a truck on my way to La Tacita. Tomorrow we check out of the hotel at 3am for a 5am flight to Costa Rica. Night night.

Honduras El Pinal Lote

Showcasing the best a nation has to offer, Cup of Excellence is a rare program that allows a truly vibrant spectrum of a country’s coffees to be compared and given the honors they deserve. This sunny, warm coffee is tangy sweet with golden raisin and pineapple notes—truly among the best of Honduras.

At Dallis Bros. Coffee we are huge supporters of the Cup of Excellence (CoE) Program. For several years we have sent one or two of our Q Graders to judge at the competitions, which take place in different coffee growing nations. It is a privilege to be invited to judge the crown jewels of a producing country. In 2011, Dallis Bros. Coffee was invited to both Honduras and Brasil.

The process can start with hundreds of coffees. The National Jury narrows the pool down to 40 or 50 great coffees, then awaits the arrival of the International Jury (that’s us!) to cup and score. Only coffees that have average scores of 84 points or higher can advance.

After the 2011 Honduras CoE, our Coffee Director returned to Ozone Park raving about the diversity and quality of the top coffees. Some were incredibly floral, others were citric. Others had a lovely tartaric acidity.

This particular coffee was hard to miss. It scored high enough to make it into the top ten coffees produced in Honduras’ last harvest. When we cupped it in Honduras, it jumped off the table with exceptional balance and beauty. Back home at Dallis Bros., we cupped each sample from the Cup of Excellence in Honduras and fell in love again. This coffee was awarded #8 in the 2011 competition.

Much of the coffee from the small town El Pinal isn’t sold as Honduran coffee. It is exported and relabeled with a different country’s name, because of the higher prices available. Through programs like CoE, we hope to highlight beautiful coffees from Honduras and help Honduran farmers return to selling them as the country’s own.

Kenya Muburi

Sharing resources in coffee production allows smaller landholding farmers access to technology they might not otherwise be able to afford. This coffee from Kenya’s Muburi Coffee Factory is a sweet, tangy, stone-fruit example of individual farmers cooperatively working together to process their coffee and deliver it, deliciously, to you.

Where water flows across a low-lying place is “muburi” to the Kikuyu people. About 200,000 coffee trees grow along the southern slopes of Mount Kenya, and are handpicked and sorted for size and quality here. The members of the Rwama Farmers Cooperative Society individually own their land, and collectively deliver their coffee cherries to the Muburi Coffee Factory. We are pleased to deliver it to you.

Long before this coffee got on a boat to New York City, our own Byron Holcomb went to Kenya to calibrate with an exporter and miller in Nairobi named Ibero. The calibration was easier than getting there — with all the major roads under construction, getting around Nairobi isn’t easy, nor is getting there on two red-eye flights. The head cupper in Nairobi is, like Byron, a Q-grader. Byron was easily able to articulate to her the exact type of Kenyan coffees Dallis Bros. was looking for: bright and sweet, full of nuanced flavor and body.

The auction system in Kenya doesn’t easily allow us to taste coffee samples before they go to auction. Ibero helped us find this delicious lot and set it aside for us, knowing exactly what flavors we were looking for based on our calibrated palates. When the sample arrived here in Queens, its sweet, fruity and clean acidic character charmed us on the cupping table.

The tropical character of this coffee is really a treat in the morning. A savory apricot undertone and sweet guava note with juicy round acidity make this coffee beautifully balanced.