Dallis Bros. and Sisters: Meet the Director of Coffee!

Before a coffee gets to your morning cup, it has to get to Dallis Bros. Coffee, and without a talented, diplomatic, and quality-focused Director of Coffee, we wouldn’t have anything to roast at all. Our Director of Coffee, Byron Jackson Holcomb, is thus a critical part of the team here at Dallis Bros. He’s a licensed Q grader, meaning he’s able to evaluate coffees and calibrate his palate with the best in the world. And when he’s not in Ozone Park, he’s managing his own coffee farm, Finca La Paz, in the Dominican Republic. We took a minute to hear Byron’s coffee story.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in a logging town in Northern California. There was no coffee there. But there were a lot of pine trees, and a lot of dirt, and it was gorgeous. My father was a field hydrologist, which is the study of watersheds, and everyday he’d come home with stories about bears and bobcats and rattlesnakes and king snakes. And that really inspired me to do something environmental, something with biology.

How long have you been at Dallis?

Just over a year. John found me wandering the floor at a coffee trade show, I was consulting at the time. We had known each other before — our paths almost crossed at Counter Culture Coffee — and we had a little chat about possibly doing some work for Dallis Bros. in the Southeast. I met some of the people and was super excited, and said yes! I’ll take the sales job. And then three weeks into it, and after my training, they suggested this position.

How did you get into coffee?

I had this little voice in the back of my head, for the two years while I was in the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic, that said “do more with coffee, do more with coffee”.

I didn’t go into coffee there, but I did see the production cycle, as well as that of avocados, soil erosion barriers, family planning projects, etc. I left the Peace Corps intending to work in the non-profit world, and it was about a year until I got totally burnt out working in a Cuban refugee settlement program — I received people coming off the plane, and I had 24 hours notice to get their apartment ready. I started looking at myself and what I wanted to do with my life, and then I had what I called my coffee epiphany. I wanted to work with something global in scope, use my Spanish, use my skills I learned in Peace Corps, and then I went to a coffee trade show out west, without a job, and had a great conversation with one guy from a roastery in Alaska, who said “Byron, you can do anything you want in coffee! You can travel, you can fix equipment, you can sell equipment, you can buy coffee, you can roast coffee, anything!”

Six months into my first coffee job, at Batdorf & Bronson, I was offered to purchase a coffee farm. I agreed on a price for the farm over the phone, i knew it was an honest price, and went down and bought it, while i was a production employee at Batdorf.

From there I’ve gleaned an immense amount of production and farming knowledge, because it’s very different when I walk into someone’s farm now as a buyer and ask how is this going, how do you do your pruning, etc., that’s very different than being the farmer, and being the one who has to deal with whatever comes in. Because it’s a fruit tree. It’s not something like a cabbage crop that you can spray or move or manipulate or manage very quickly. It’s a tree farm. If you have an infestation of the bean bore from your neighbor’s negligence, you have to deal with it.

What are the biggest challenges in your job?

There are no challenges! Just kidding… the biggest challenge is the fact that I need to sleep. There’s SO MUCH work to do, there’s so much good coffee out there, if I could clone myself and have one person that’s full time on the road at origin, developing relationships at origin, that’d be great. The biggest challenge is just not getting everything done that i want to get done. Maintaining quality, improving quality, training, sourcing. We’re sourcing really great coffees, all that said, there’s so much I still want to do.

What’s the funnest thing about your job?

One of the funnest things that I get to do is cup with other people. I love hearing other people’s interpretations of coffees, and I really enjoy working with all of the coffee supply chain. So from importers, exporters, directly with farmers, directly with millers, all the way through to baristas. I really enjoy those conversations. Because those are the gatekeepers of quality, and just to say it’s all about the farmer is completely misinformed and wrong. You have to talk to all the gatekeepers of coffee to help produce and create really phenomenal coffee. And that’s an incredible game of diplomacy, of being assertive, of knowing true value, of being a strong cupper, of respecting their culture. And you have to do all of that.

What’s your favorite thing about Ozone Park?

To be honest? I love hearing snippets of people’s excessively loud music as they drive by on 102nd Street. It’s never the same — sometimes it’s reggaeton, sometimes it’s hip hop, sometimes it’s rap, sometimes it’s incredibly loud Indian music. It’s just so diverse. And so loud! This place is just oozing with culture — and yet none of it is sexy.

What’s your favorite coffee right now, and how do you like to prepare it?

It’s the Kenya Muburi right now, it’s a coffee that is really sweet, it’s really intense, it’s really balanced. Very chocolatey, great tropical fruit notes. It’s not the super typical Kenya, but it is super super coffee. I use a Bonmac pourover with a single hole, 19 grams of coffee, 300 mL, one bloom and then all in.