Life at origin

Updated for clarity on November 12th, 2009.

Byron Holcomb works full-time for Counter Culture Coffee in Atlanta, Georgia and part-time at his own coffee farm – Young Tree Coffee – in the Dominican Republic.

Many of us interested in quality coffee have fantasized about gaining a deeper understanding of the entirety of the process that begins when a coffee seed is planted and terminates when we lift our mugs and demi-tasses of coffee or espresso to our lips in anticipation of the wonderful flavors to come (at least I think I’m not alone in this). Mr. Holcomb, by contrast, has the courage of those convictions such that his dreams have culminated in him actually owning and operating his own coffee farm. It’s a business that, by his own accounts, would send most of us packing for home within one season but doesn’t produce a pay-off for at least four.

Lucky for us, Mr. Holcomb, after more than two years, is still at it, still as dedicated as ever to increasing both the quality and the profile of coffee from the Dominican Republic and entirely willing to share the experience of his ambitious business adventure. To that end he has agreed to write what is an incredibly frank and honest account of his life on the coffee farm of Young Tree Coffee in the form of a regular column – “Harvest Journal” – at Barista Magazine.

We need more of these accounts of life at origin, more voices speaking to us of the hardships and courage needed to persist in the craft of successfully producing quality coffee. The voices here at this end of the process – of those of us who prepare and consume the product people like Mr. Holcomb produce – are loud and boisterous. Due to technological limitations, social and political obstacles and language barriers, though, the voices at the beginning remain largely silent. The result is a hole in our knowledge of what it truly takes to produce the product we love and therefore an incomplete understanding of and an inability to fully appreciate the product we are putting into our bodies on a daily basis.

That Barista magazine is making the ups and downs, trials and tribulations of Mr. Holcomb and Young Tree Coffee a regular feature in their magazine is evidence that there is interest, at least in the professional coffee community, in discovering, in greater detail, what life at origin is like. My hope is this: many of us at the end points of the process – the baristas, the enthusiasts, etc. – have been successful in using media – new and old – to add to the wealth of information out there on our experiences with coffee – there is an abundance of coffee blogs out here on the ‘nets describing what it is like to buy, brew and taste coffee. I want to hear from the growers and the pickers about their experiences. Here’s hoping the technological, cultural, sociopolitical and communication barriers that exist between those of us here at the end of the line and those that work and live at its start continue to fall away.

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