If a barn could court my affections, then consider me a coquette of Irving Farm’s. Irving Farm, a company existing at once in the past of its founding roots, and in the future of indigenous bean sourcing is a brand milling for a present perfect. A trip to this barn’s origin, felt like a fourth place experience – an escape from home, office and coffee shop – for a respite with coffee from the source that mills its culture. This is my dispatch from the farm.
It takes one New York City subway train, two rail lines and a ride in a pick-up truck to complete the nearly 3 hour journey that brings me to Irving Farm, in Millerton, New York.
It’s a cloudy day with persistent interruptions by the sun peaking out and declaring its spring presence. The journey includes trees whirling by that quickly become part of the past, the sound of train wheels breaking with each stop that whisks me further away from the city and deeper into upstate New York.
When I exit the Wassaic train station at noon, I am greeted by two men – Clyde Miller, Roastmaster and Dan Streetman, Director of Coffee – who would soon reveal what I’d like to call their “bromance” for coffee.
But first, a cute little pooch named Max snuggles his way into the back seat, as I take shotgun. Soon, I am on the road, bypassing the village and heading to the town of Millerton. There, a little barn on a hill becomes one of the sweetest smelling roasting houses I am to experience.
Before a tour of the barn occurs and an eventual cupping, Dan and I make way into the noon hour by going to the village and having lunch at one of the original Irving Farm cafés.
I learn more about the founding history of the farm fresh driven philosophy of Irving Farm, its expansion (a new café for 2012 and a larger barn for 2013) and its commitment to collect, craft and create the best cups of coffee.
“It’s simple, we want people to drink our coffee and enjoy it,” said Dan Streetman.
Upon entering the farm house barn, there is the sweetest smell robbing my nose of the scents of spring foliage, barn wood and germinating trees – it is coffee. Clyde, the roaster, jokes that it might be cleaning polish, but by now, I know the difference. I smell honey, chocolate and ripened lemon. I’m as excited as I believe my salivating palate is, to taste the coffees that Clyde and Dan have prepared for the cupping table.
Center stage in the barn is the roaster itself. To the left of the roaster is a colorful mound of emptied jute coffee bags. Accompanying them are green beans inside brute bins, waiting to receive the natural light of the day before entering the roaster. Further up and above the ground level space, is the second level of this woodsy barn – used for storage and coffee goods.
Soon its cupping time and an opportunity to experience the kind of coffee Dan is now responsible for sourcing. Five unmarked coffees appear on the table. The cupping occurs blind according to how this ritual is performed around the world.
“There’s not a lot to know about coffee just by smell, but that information is great for pre-selecting coffee. We have starting points and context clues that tell us where to go with coffee. Smelling the bloom before you break is like wetting your nostrils. It gives an idea of what the break will be, especially since breaking coffee is so fleeting,” says Streetman.
When Dan and Clyde wet their noses, they sip like kindred cupping spirits; it’s a joy to watch. I then enjoy smelling blooms and slurping with abandon.Throughout the experience, I smell and taste everything from chocolate, fig, hazelnut, grape leaves, green grass, bourbon, paprika and manure. Mind you, this is just my nose.
I later learn the identities of the coffees on the table; an Irving Farm stock roast, a micro-lot from Capucas, Honduras roasted to two different profiles, a Kenyan coffee and a Brazilian coffee, also roasted to two different profiles. My favorite turns out to be a coffee with notes of roasted hazelnut and mocha from Honduras, roasted longer than their normal profiles.
After this process, coffee’s are decided upon, roast profiles are saved and orders fulfilled with a three day turn-around time. As our cupping concludes, I linger for a moment, recalling the smell that first accompanied my entrance. I waft in the memory, of this barn, on a little hill and wink my eye with a deepened coffee affection.
The Barn Bromance
Since 1999, Irving Farm has roasted its own coffee on its own premises in Millerton, NY. And, since that time, Clyde has been the company’s sole Roastmaster. In addition to an assistant and a small team helping to manage the operations that supply 4 cafes and their wholesale accounts, they now have Dan helping to hold down the coffee fort.
“It was a little challenging coming in. I knew that my relationship with Clyde was really important. We had to understand each other, speak the same language so to speak and trust each other so that we could make good coffee together. I couldn’t do what I do, without him,” said Streetman.
The relationship between Clyde and Dan is one I experience while in their company. It is one of mutual trust between one another and an affection for a coffee process that is at the heart of what they love, coffee. I observe them as they interact, they raise eyebrows to the same coffee notes, make synchronized moves and finish each other phrases when it comes to naming notes. This is a bromance rooted in the love of the coffee bean.
Clyde, like the other Roastmasters I’ve met, keeps detailed records of his roasting activities. He tracks details like the coffee’s origin as it relates to the altitude by various beans grown, bean density and how different weights react to temperature, the coffees ambient time upon entering the roaster to tracking the timing of when a bean gives off its first smell upon roast to the first crack.
Understanding and tracking these roasting nuances have come with time. Clyde admits, “The first five years in, I never drank coffee myself. That changed as I started learning more about acidity, carmelization, first and second crack, conduction and convection, density and altitude.”
I catch a smile, which happens often, rising on Clyde’s face. So, I ask, “What’s the sweetest smell throughout the process of roasting for you?”
He replies, “The grain pro bags, as soon as they’re opened, there’s this wafting fruit smell and it’s like Wow! I don’t want to erase it; I just want to smell it. I like to produce the best cup that I can. Seeing someone drinking and enjoying coffee that I roast is my motivation.”
To that, I raise my cup.
The Barn sounds like this