company - education - coffee

Friday, June 08, 2012

About starting dwelltime

Managing a small roasting operation that grew to be something much greater than we ever expected  has been a wonderful and challenging experience.  Full of a lot of ups and downs but coming into the end of our fourth year, there is a sense of happiness with the things we have accomplished, if not simply the great things we have lined up this year.  The amount of work is something I would personally be very unlikely to sign up for again (unless we had a bigger starting budget).  Starting out with as small a budget/staff/space as we did and to grow to where we have has been humbling.

We were at a turning point last year and many of us felt a pull to do something to change our direction.  For me, it was a desire to get back to that original idea we had when opening barismo.  Our first proposed location for barismo was down the street from where dwelltime currently is. It's a neighborhood we really wanted to be in.  At the time though, we wanted to be a big island style coffee bar offering many different roasters.  (Much like Cafe Grumpy in NYC became shortly thereafter, though they now roast their own).  When that space fell through we regrouped and moved barismo to Arlington, MA to roast.

dwell presented this opportunity for many of us behind barismo to do something we loved and graft in great food to our model in a way we could not have early on.  Signing onto this project of building restoration and then a cafe shortly afterwards was no easy feat.  We essentially changed the investor group, management, and whole attitude of barismo as a company in the process of this other venture.  Signing the lease on 364 Broadway was a real stress test.

What made the project great from the beginning was that our landlords at 364 are tremendous.  They really cared about the project and getting the building back to a historical look as part of their vision.  Now that they have gotten awards for the job done in remodeling and restoration, it's a bit easier to forget the hurdles over the last year of construction.  A building that had water issues in the basement, a lack of any up to date plumbing or electrical, unique problems only faced with Cambridge regulations, and those were just the beginning of a long trying build out.  

The unexpected part came from things outside our control.  Neighbors and local groups who had opposition to everything from a sign, to the windows, to being able to play any music, to having any heating or cooling units that might make noise, any external lighting, and having any food service or trash removal was what shortly followed. It impacted every decision we made going into opening this space. Due to some of those interactions with a neighborhood group, we even compromised to shorten our weekend hours considerably under the impression the neighborhood was so quiet on weekends (a huge mistake that bit us quickly with unhappy neighbor-customers wondering why we got up so late and left so early).

I get that now.  Living in Inman Sq. the last four years but working nearly 6 days a week in Arlington, I did not pick up on what was leading those concerns.  Now, spending as much time as I do walking back and forth to Broadway, it began to clarify.  There was possibly a fear we would be the shop that had the neon signs or that we'd be that shop with loud music blaring out onto the street.  There was likely the expectation that coffee shops produce the multitude of paper cups that litter the neighborhood and bringing that to our neighborhood that had been quiet for so long -would be disruptive-.  They were right, it would have if we were that kind of convenience store  style coffee shop though nobody would know what we were until we opened.  I now understand the resistance that existed and why people stood up to voice these concerns.

The real problems were not these issues being brought up, but the way it left us so flat footed to open the shop.  Because of all the resistance we heard, we did not see the building anticipation in the neighborhood for our opening.  We were unsure if we would be accepted and feared a painfully slow opening.  We were not prepared for the support that literally poured into the shop from day one.

That first weekend, we ran out of everything.  We even pulled an old barismo customer into the kitchen to help with dishes and a barista from another shop to help make drinks.  The first two weeks, Hong and I personally worked every day open to close with most mornings being a stretch to eat or even to see our daughter.  It was stressful and tiring.  It reminded me how difficult the first years at barismo were.  We survived and pulled through the first month but my desire to execute at a higher level with customer service that feels more like a bar/restaurant left me frustrated that we could not be who we wanted to be on day one much less the first month.

Things have calmed and dwell is staffed up, training up, and I'm getting a little rest as well.  The last of the hurdles at dwell has been awaiting the seating expansion in late June which will allow the space to be complete.  Filling that empty space will enable us to present our original design full and complete to our customers.  That's a lot of work in a small amount of time.

This is probably the last barismo/dwelltime combo post I will be doing here as I have moved more to the dwell side of things as far as day to day work.  There are new things to talk about including a new addition to our roasting team at barismo, new production staff coming in, and a change of the bar presentation are all happening at 169 Mass Ave shortly.  That and the tremendous gains we've made in sourcing thanks to the work Silas has done leave the roasting operation ready to make some big moves.  A few posts about those changes will follow.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Buena Esperanza Alfaro at the WBC Brew Bar

Ltd edition cold brew bottling of Buena Esperanza Alfaro coming this Fall.
I am about to travel to Vienna to hand deliver coffee to be used at the 2012 WBC brew bar. The coffee that I am delivering is from one of our very close producers in Guatemala, his name is Gustavo Alfaro Altuve.  The relationship we formed with this producer happened very organically, and we feel it is a testament to the vision that barismo has always had for quality and authenticity in what we produce.

Sure, it is a good feeling when you find like minds to validate what you believe in, however such insularity can be a negative thing if what is being commended is not in fact authentic. It is refreshing then when time after time voices outside of your close circle are the ones giving validation. First of all it is an honor to be represented at the WBC among a small pool of select roasters from around the world and it is our pleasure to represent our exemplary producer. It is a satisfying feeling when the coffee you have sourced goes on to place 4th in its countries Cup of Excellence program, it is perhaps even more satisfying to know thoroughly the farm and mill and persons responsible for that coffee. This is the note we received from Gustavo Last week:

Dear friends:
We feel very honored to present to you a sample of our recent harvest from one of our premium lots; Buena Esperanza Alfaro one of the winners of the recent Guatemala CoE competition. With this coffee, we would like to share with you the work and commitment of four generations of my family as well as the hope for a better future from all the people that work with us at the farm.
Warm regards from Huehuetenango  
Gustavo Alfaro Altuve
General Manager
Hacienda Santa Rosa S.A.

The small sample of coffee that we are sharing with the coffee community at this high level event is something we are quite proud of as a micro-roaster and as a community focused business. For our local community, the cafes and enthusiastic customers who share our vision for excellent coffees, we are excited to be bringing you the Buena Esperanza lot this season. For now we would like to celebrate this milestone and share with you the story of the talented individuals who made this lot possible.

The following is an account of how barismo met Hacienda Santa Rosa:
Although Gustavo Alfaro is a fourth generation coffee farmer, he is not your typical producer. Upon graduating from the University of Guatemala, Gustavo went on to graduate school in Chile and afterwards pursued further education and a career as a biochemist in South Africa. It was only within recent years that family events brought Gustavo back to Guatemala to take over management of the farm, Hacienda Santa Rosa. When Gustavo took over the family farm he brought enthusiastic new ideas to the business. High on his list of goals was finding a buyer who would share his values on quality and crafting the best product that was possible.

Hacienda Santa Rosa Alfaro is located in the furthest north-west corner of Guatemala. The Buena Esperanza Alfaro lot is located at the highest point on the farm at about 1800 meters above sea level. This specific lot has been in Gustavo’s family for many generations, however only came under Gustavo’s management just a couple of years ago when he bought it from his uncle. The lot had been neglected for nearly a decade with coffee trees and other vegetation growing wild. He obtained the lot for a very good price, however buying it in such shape was a bit of a gamble, it was uncertain what the terroir was capable of producing or what the existing coffee would taste like, he was hoping for the best. In that spirit of hoping for the best, Gustavo renamed the lot, Buena Esperanza, or Good Hope.

The varietal analysis reported that the lot consisted of Mundo Nuevo, a hybrid varietal that is commonly grown at lower altitudes in Brazil. However it unheard of to grow Mundo Nuevo at high altitudes, or to even see it grown in Central America at all. Fortunately for Gustavo (and us), this Mundo Nuevo lot tasted excellent.

Our green buyer first met Gustavo in early 2010 while cupping the Buena Esperanza lot at AnaCafe in Guatemala. Silas liked the coffee quite a bit and was able to arrange a visit to the farm with Gustavo. During the visit, Silas and Gustavo established the beginning of a strong business relationship focused on quality, transparency, and a passion for creating excellent coffee. Not only was Gustavo happy with the reputation behind barismo, he was also very impressed by our personal approach to establishing buying relationships. Barismo was able to buy the first coffee that came from the Buena Esperanza Alfaro lot. This past January Silas spent a week at Hacienda Santa Rosa with production manager Alonzo Gomez, growing more familiar with the farm and the workers at Hacienda Santa Rosa. Soon after that visit Gustavo had a plaque placed along the path just before the entrance to the Buena Esperanza Alfaro lot that sums up his approach for the future of his farm: “Ser el cambio que se quiere ver.” which translates as, “Be the change you want to see.”

Enthusiasm and hard work has sustained the production at Hacienda Santa Rosa, it has also made the operation ready to make the most of the opportunities that come their way. At barismo we feel proud to work alongside a producer who is as passionate about improved quality as we are. We congratulate Gustavo for the recognition he received at the 2012 Guatemala CoE for his Buena Esperanze Alfaro lot, and as a partner we look forward to working on even more micro lot projects with the vision of seeing the coffees at Hacienda Santa Rosa improve year after year.

Tim Borrego
barismo coffeebar & roastery