Dallis Bros. Joins Forces With Lacas Coffee

100-year-old New York City coffee roaster Dallis Bros. Coffee is pleased to announce it has joined forces with 92-year-old Lacas Coffee Company. Lacas Coffee’s nanogenarian history encompasses sustainable sourcing, roasting and distribution of coffee to more than 1,200 restaurants and cafes throughout the region.

In partnership with Lacas, we at Dallis Bros. look forward to building on our history with the expanded resources and expertise of Lacas, continuing to offer the same high-quality, hand-roasted, sustainability focused small batch coffees to the New York City market.

Throughout our history, change has been a constant–after all, we don’t deliver by horse and buggy anymore. We at Dallis Bros. couldn’t be more thrilled at the opportunities this brings for our next century of delivering superior coffee to New York City and beyond.

In the meantime, look forward to our 100th anniversary party plans to be announced very soon, and don’t worry–Morris Dallis will stay buried in the wall.

Questions? Contact marceloc@dallisbroscoffee.com.

Cup of Excellence Diaries: Costa Rica 2013, Part III

San Jose, Costa Rica. Photo by Matt Swenson.

San Jose, Costa Rica. Photo by Matt Swenson.

Matt Swenson, our Director of Coffee, recently headed down to Costa Rica for their annual Cup of Excellence competition. Here is his third postcard home.



Dance performance at Cafe de Altura. Photo by Matt Swenson.

The third day got underway and another day of fierce scoring was upon us. After a surprising day of scoring everything below 90 all day yesterday, I was pleasantly surprised in the early hours of the morning and scored three coffees above 90. As I walked down the 5 sets of grueling stairs back to the discussion panel room, I felt really strange, as if I had just cheated on a biology test and scored an artificially high A. After speaking to a Cup of Excellence veteran, I felt at ease and my early morning jitters were quickly put to rest. We had just cupped an insane table of coffees. So it turned out that my jitters-episode wasn’t about scoring doubts, but rather that I had broken through a personal barrier of mine. I had never before had the privilege of tasting and scoring so many amazing coffees on a single table.

As the morning pushed on and the cuppings began to blur together, we finally called it a day and loaded up on a bus to go see Cafe de Altura, which is a member-owned mill, very similar to a co-op. Upon first glance as we pulled up, the massive footprint of this facility was impossible to ignore. Just visiting a small single-family operation the day before, this was the godzilla version of a modest iguana. Everyone at Cafe de Altura was an amazing host. They even treated us to a performance of local culture. Soon, children of the community were surrounding us in a barn, in adorable white dresses and perfectly fitted white and blue suits. They began to treat us to a several song performance that stamped smiles on our faces for the rest of the evening. As if it couldn’t get any better, the daughter of one of the producers came out to discuss the meal that she had prepared for us. She had recently competed in a national cooking challenge and won, so she was weeks away from representing Costa Rica in an international cooking competition. I think I might have stopped eating when my head and palate almost exploded with all the deliciously confusing signals they were receiving. Chocolate on steak? Carmelized Banana on pork? Wait, all of that on a tortilla…WHILE IN A COFFEE MILL?! Woah. It was almost too much to handle for one night. (But I may have enjoyed three plates.)


Joe New York's Ed Kaufmann meets a secret Costa Rican Probat. Photo by Matt Swenson.

Joe New York’s Ed Kaufmann meets a secret Costa Rican Probat. Photo by Matt Swenson.

Our cupping on Thursday ended early and we were given the afternoon off to “catch up on emails”. Not content with sitting behind a computer in a foreign place, Ed Kaufmann of New York roaster Joe drew a map on the back of a napkin and headed for a local bus! Armed with the Spanish-speaking skills of a first grader, I sprinted after the first bus I saw and leapt on before realizing Ed was fiercely chasing behind. Both of us jumped on the bus as it was gaining speed to re-enter the fast paced highway. We were off to a safe start.

This was one of those bus trip you always say you want to go on. I think it went something like this: “Let’s just ride until we see something cool,” “Ok, Cool”, “Cool, man”. We ended up getting off in the heart of downtown San Jose and walked around to different shops. We found our way into the central market where we picked up a few souvenirs for our ladies and then stopped to eat like locals. On the way out, we stopped by a coffee shop and noticed an old Toper roaster. The guy behind the counter could not ignore Ed’s massive smile and natural curiosity. By the time it took me to grab my camera out of the bag, Ed was already behind the counter meeting all the employees and taking a closer look at the roaster. After getting a couple cappuccinos and slices of pie, the manager approached us and told us to follow him. Neither of us are fluent, so we both kind of had the gut feeling that we might be lead into a back alley where it could get ugly. We had big smiles and coffee blinders on though, what could go wrong? As he led us out the doors and down the street, we approached a small retail space where to our surprise he showed us an amazing little Probat Roaster. Almost identical to one of the ones we have at Dallis. Well, in spirit. This little roaster was beat up pretty bad and had a good 60 years of roasting on it. But the familiar sight was comforting and seeing the excitement in his eyes as he showed us was truly priceless. In that moment, we all had that brief sense that even though we didn’t speak the same language, we all shared the same excitement for coffee that bonded us.

Where we went wrong. Photo by Matt Swenson.

Where we went wrong. Photo by Matt Swenson.

We headed back to the hotel confidently, as if we had just conquered a territory and in some sense we kind of did…well until that whole “eat like a local” part caught up to us both almost simultaneously. In a matter of minutes, our stories of local adventures to fellow COEers turned into unadulterated sprints to el baño. We may have ignored the rules of Travelling 101, but it was worth it. At least for those first few hours.

Honduras/El Salvador Diaries, Part VI: Success

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

Alejandro Valiente teaching about coffee saplings. Photo by Byron Jackson Holcomb.

Alejandro Valiente teaching about coffee saplings. Photo by Byron Jackson Holcomb.

Three professional clowns. A couple of notes on Luis and Alejandro. They are total goofballs. They call each other viejo (old man) and gordo (fatty) constantly and they spend a fair percentage of the time laughing. After 3 full days of riding around on bumpy roads through two growing regions (Metapan and Apaneca), we were pretty shot by the end of the last travel day. We had been visiting farms, getting samples, prepping samples and working pretty much non-stop. We left Luis roasting the last samples so we could meet with Oscar and discuss Encantada and Miraflores over dinner at 7pm. The next was cupping and racing to the airport.

After all the belly laughs and travel I crossed all my fingers and toes that the cupping table we were going to taste at the end of the trip was going to be great. Luis has been a Cup of Excellence (CoE) Judge in several countries and he and I tend to be pretty calibrated. We did one big table of curated samples from our trip, twelve coffees in all. Coffee might all look the same when it is brewed, but none of it ever tastes the same. Luis and Alejandro set one of the best cupping tables I’ve possibly ever had. It was like the finals day in a CoE competition. I honestly gave two 90s and several others landed in the 87 range.

We shared notes. Our notes were about the same. On the way to the airport we could still taste the delicious coffees with all the glorious fruit notes still singing on our palates.

Usually when I go to a coffee producing country, I tell my hosts exactly what I’m after on that visit. My intent is to set them up for success. Some hosts follow what I ask to the letter and absolutely knock it out of the park, others don’t read emails as closely and we end up doing what they do with everyone: generic cupping and generic farm visits. This trip with these guys was the first type. Success.

Finding people like Luis and Alejandro takes time energy and several stamps in your passport. Ultimately I feel like after this trip we (at Dallis) not only have fantastic partners, we have two more friends that work like we do, with relentless passion—and lots of belly laughs.

Honduras Diaries, Part II: Rust and Sweetness

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

Byron on Finca Las Cascadas. Photo by Byron Jackson Holcomb.

Byron on Finca Las Cascadas. Photo by Byron Jackson Holcomb.

At Dallis we don’t use the term Direct Trade. For us to invest in a term or mark it must first be defined. The specialty industry can’t define the mark. We do plenty of business “directly” with farmers—but that is just how we work.

Finca Las Cascadas produced some really great coffee last year. It was tasty, came from a well-respected farm, we paid a premium for the cup quality, and the farmer, Renan, was motivated to do coffee experiments and explore the quality that he can produce. For me, that is a home run.

When I get to Renan’s house, he asks me, “tienes mas burros?”—do you have more donkeys? Then he points at my feet and marches in place. Nope, I only have these two donkeys. I’ll lend you mine for the farm. He returns from his bedroom with a pair of his boots for me to wear. It has been drizzling rain for two days and the area is a cold wet mess.

I put on his boots and we took off in a 4×4 truck to get to his farm. We drove past farms that have no leaves left on the trees and we drove past farms that looked fantastic. I was eager to see what his farm looked like. In short, the Catimore trees looked great and the Red and Yellow Catuai looked pretty thin. We talked a lot about how to deal with roya. (See an earlier entry about roya here.) Then we went to see the 3-year-old planted section of his farm. Last year when he showed me this section it was beautiful. Lots of small trees planted at the correct distance, only Red and Yellow Catuai.

This year we walked to that section and he said, “this was my hope, but now look at it”. He went on to say, “Some of the trees have their full harvest on them still. I sent you some pictures of this section and the trees were beautiful, full of healthy leaves and green coffee.” But that harvest on the trees is still green. Roya has made the tree sick and the leaves have fallen off, this way the tree has no way of maturing the fruit. So there are branches that are totally green and just a few ripe cherries. Renan said, “Next week I’m going to strip off the coffee and then spray for roya and fertilize.

“But listen: I’m not the person who is going to convert my whole farm to Catimore and and lose hope. We are going to win this battle with roya”. When he said that his eyes sparkled and inspired in me a lot of faith in quality coffee.

Another leader of a respected co-op told me that he estimates Honduras to have about 20% of Catimore planted now, and after this roya outbreak, they might have close to 80-90% planted. It is really a scary number. On the cupping table earlier this week, we had one farm on the table twice. One lot was an 85.5 (Catuai) really sweet, great acidity, nice complexity. The second lot was about an 82-83 (Catuai and Catimore), much flatter, not a lot of acidity or sweetness. If you just look at the scores you could say “but it is only 2.5 – 3.5 points.” But on the SCAA scale, the difference between an 83 and an 85.5 is not small. I would consider buying a 85.5 but 83 simply isn’t good enough for Dallis Bros.

The conversion to Catimore is a scary one. Not only that I don’t think it will work in the long run, what I’ve heard from many coffee people is that Catimore is great, until Roya mutates. Look at Colombia. They have three varieites: Catimore, Colombia and Castillo. All of which are Catimores, but don’t seem to be as resistant to roya as they were in the past. So sure, plant Catimore now, in 5 years when those trees are fruiting, what happens and the newest mutation of roya is attacking the Catimore of now?…sounds like a vicious, losing cycle. By the way, it takes more than 5 years to develop a new variety and distribute the seeds.

Testing coffee cherry with a Brix meter at Finca Las Cascadas. Photo by Byron Jackson Holcomb.

Testing coffee cherry with a Brix meter at Finca Las Cascadas. Photo by Byron Jackson Holcomb.

From Finca Las Cascadas, we took some ripe cherries for testing with the refractometer. The Red Catuai had a sugar percentage in the fruit of 21%. That is ideal for cup quality, so I’m told. The Yellow Catuai that was fully ripe (yellow with hints of brown) had a sugar percentage of 21.5%. Yellow Catuai with a hint of green read 19%. Then we tested the most perfect cherry of Catimore, it read…14.5%. The coffee fruit tasted gelatinous without sweetness. Renan was floored by the refractometer. “This is fantastic to show other farmers.” I told him that I haven’t personally cupped each level of ripeness and variety in Honduras, but I have a really great source who has in other countries and according to him, the sugar percentage and the cup follow directly: high sugar percentage, high cup score, low sugar percentage.

Renan is doing everything correctly, in my book. He spends a lot of time on his farm. He is a community leader. He is intentionally drying his coffee on top of his warehouse, “because it is removed from the dust and dirt”. I say sometimes that everything ends up in the cup. And when I see really clean drying patios they are almost always better cupping farms.

Renan had a couple experiments for me to cup. One was about a tiny bit of a full natural and other was Dallis Process, as we call it (hybrid natural and washed process). The natural was intense like a Harrar, clean and well-processed. The Dallis Process was solid. According to the QC person at Beneficio Santa Rosa, it was the best of his coffees this year. I don’t make buying decisions outside of our lab in Ozone Park, so I need to cup it there. I really hope that Renan’s coffee wins the table, but according to the first cupping, the Dallis Process was an 84.

In the New York market we can’t just sell a story. The cup has to be there. Per how we buy coffee it is simple, we buy coffees that win the table. If Renan’s coffee doesn’t win the table, I have to be really honest and share his cup score and feedback. Next year, I’ll make sure his coffee is on the table so that we have a chance to do business.

Sometimes these relationships transcend the buyer-seller back-and-forth. With Renan, I feel like I have a new friend. One that calls me for advice as to where he can buy Gesha seeds and my opinion as a buyer on Pacamara. When he calls, I clear my desk and give him all my attention. We talk like two farmers, sharing information and experiences. While, I can’t buy coffee from someone because they are a friend, I do share all the information I know so that we can all keep specialty coffee growing and improving.

Tales From Finca La Paz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roya attacking coffee trees. Photo by Byron Jackson Holcomb.

Roya attacking coffee trees. Photo by Byron Jackson Holcomb.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finca Rufino, DR. Photo by Byron Jackson Holcomb.

Finca Rufino, DR. Photo by Byron Jackson Holcomb.

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

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

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

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

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

Competitor Spotlight: Anne Cooper

Anne at Mountaintop Estate, Australia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Competitor Spotlight! Joe Drazenovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

How many times have you competed before?

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

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

Happy Holidays from Dallis Bros.!


Happy holidays from all of us at Dallis Bros. Coffee!

We can’t wait to celebrate the new year with you, and if we hadn’t mentioned it lately, our birthday is coming up. We’ll be 100 years old. And we can’t think of a better city than New York to grow old in.

With warm wishes from all your friends at Dallis Bros., enjoy the season!

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.

Rain clouds rolling in on Finca La Paz. Photo by Byron Jackson Holcomb.

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).

A coffee plant both fruiting and flowering. Photo by Byron Jackson Holcomb.

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…

Postcards from Camp-Pull-a-Shot

Last week, we sent four of our staff to Camp Pull-a-Shot East, a semiannual professional development and summer camp hosted by our friends at the Barista Guild of America (and of which we were also proud to be a sponsor). The setting was truly idyllic: three days and four nights at the “top of the world” at a Dirty Dancing-themed mountain resort in the Blue Ridges of Virginia. But rather than flipping s’mores and tipping canoes in the lake, our Dallis campers worked their butts off—from coffee director Byron Holcomb leading cupping labs for beginners to Joe Drazenovic, Teresa von Fuchs and Philip Search all leading espresso workshops and milk labs. (We did catch Byron teaching a student how to “listen” to foamed milk, too.)

Listen to the milk. It has secrets to tell you.

Level 1 BGA Certified Baristas!

In between leading workshops, our campers even found time to get their own BGA certification—Byron and Joe came home with level 1 certificates (though we have a hunch they had the skills already down pat.) The final night’s team challenge resulted in the Dallis Bros. and Sisters being pitted against one another in a battle to the death, where each team was given just enough play money to buy green coffee, “ship” it, and buy roasting and brewing equipment with which to roast and brew the coffee. In a fit of mechanical inspiration (isn’t he always in one, though?) Philip Search dismantled his team’s coffee roaster (a popcorn popper) to allow himself to attenuate the heating controls manually. Sparks flew! And over at team 8, Teresa von Fuchs and her allies turned the game on its ear by simply using their money to purchase ALL the coffee brewing equipment—making them the sole providers to the rest of the teams, and naturally, doubling the price.

We asked each of our campers for a little postcard home.

“No regrets on cornering the market in the team challenge, and I loved Lorenzo’s comment that various economic elements of the seed to cup cycle are overlooked by enthusiastic coffee folks. The ‘romance’ of specialty coffee (from the SCAA’a opening keynote) needs to be a sustainable model, capitalism doesn’t have to be a dirty immoral word. And I witnessed and participated in a lot more discussion about this type of thing than usual at educational events, how baristas and quality focused cafes can and are doing to differentiate themselves from the larger ‘specialty’ chains and the threshold for what customers are ‘willing’ to pay for their ‘love’ affair…

For me, It was a real honor to pass the examiners exam and then administer the level 1 tests to campers. One of the things I love about judging barista competitions is the  chance to support baristas who want to take their skills to the next level. There was so much goodness crammed into camp it’s hard to believe it was only a few days…”

— Camper Teresa von Fuchs

Scared to find out what this story is about

“1. Winning the trophy was awesome and I had truly a team that was fun to work with and gave 110 percent while having a blast.

2. “I am James Hoffmann, and God is [redacted—Ed.]”

3. The debate that went from 1 am to 3 am with Lorenzo, Pete, Joe and myself about the tests and curriculum and how we all agreed in the end, how much passion was there, and how we all want a master class level of coffee professional.”

— Camper Philip Search

Milk lab

“It’s incredible how much better coffee beverage quality could be if coffee professionals took the level one classes and passed the exam. Just taking things to the basics and getting comfortable preparing a product repeatedly, and consistently. I believe James Hoffmann put it very well when he told us ‘we should be focusing on making our worst coffee consistently better’. To
me, as an educator, how much knowledge we want and need that we have yet to acquire to educate further its truly and absolutely inspiring. As the youngest coffee professional on our team, it was so inspiring how hard all the “veterans” worked.”

— Camper Joe Drazenovic

“It is incredible how many people traveled from far and wide to come to this beautiful little spot in the the VA mountains where “Dirty Dancing” was apparently filmed just to learn and share about coffee. the environment is really great. Tracy from SCAA gave a wonderful key note speech about the emotional reasons behind a coffee drinkers relationship to coffee. the SCAA did a study group in two different cities: when the coffee drinkers were asked to express their relationship with coffee visually on a piece of paper, it was clear that the end customer was talking about a deep rooted emotional connection with coffee. they used words like “love” written in glitter. they wrote that coffee made them a better person, more inspired, driven, smarter, more passionate. what wasn’t present were farm names or elevations or variety types or any kind of coffee specific details in the artistic expression. so baristas are serving that every morning. not just a simulate called caffeine in a black liquid.

i think in my heart i’m one of those people that takes a minute to warm up to a big group. after being booked from 8am to 11pm for Tuesday and Wednesday (table lead in 4 classes and my Level 1 Barista written and practical) i’m not as tired as excited about all the work the BGA has done. they have some really great classes some great content to communicate and some really talented instructors. the spirit of the entire week was summed up by Justin Schultz when he said that he didn’t find as many people arguing so eagerly about details as he found people sharing ideas.

it was really a privilege to step into a class room with eager students and well prepared materials. it is easy in my job to expect everyone knows how to wipe a portfilter dry and dose their shots to be consistent because everyone around me at dallis can do that in their sleep. in my job as coffee director i cup at least one flight a day and talk with importers, exporters and farmers in “green coffee language”. it is easy for me to be disconnected with the greater community that doesn’t speak “green coffee language” or weigh the yield of espresso and talk about exact days off roast.

my question for everyone is: will being a BGA Level 1 barista improve the quality of the coffee served? and are we supporting this certification process out of a need in the industry? or is it in the spirit of unity for the industry and respect for the product?”

— Camper Byron Holcomb

Note to Baristas who are seeking Level 1 certification (both for industry unity and to improve quality!) but were unable to attend Camp Pull-a-Shot: Joe and Teresa will be offering Level 1 tests all over NYC in the coming months. Stay tuned here for more info!