The author along with Cea and Bob Smith from Smithfarms Kona. Click to enlarge.
The SCAA conference for me is less about the machinery on display and more about coffee and green beans. Unfortunately 2002 was a poor year for bean displays, probably a reflection of the depressed state of the green coffee industry as a whole. There WAS a large Hawaiian delegation, but many of the “small plantation” and producing country booths were absent.
Also absent were many Australians. I ran into half-a-dozen over the three days I was there, but by and large Australian coffee companies seem to ignore the SCAA. When you consider that the annual conference is the biggest coffee event in the world, this seems quite strange. Unfortunately it also seems typical of quite a lot of local roasters, who appear to have the attitude that they have nothing left to learn about coffee.
Personally, I freely admit that I still have heaps to learn about coffee. One of the real highlights for me was the “Friday Intensive Seminar” program, a series of educational seminars presented by experts in various coffee fields. At the “Technology in the Craft” (of coffee roasting) seminar, for instance, I picked up a tip that will undoubtedly be useful in developing blends. Quite simply, it’s “When blending green coffees prior to roasting, allow the blend to sit for at least 24 hours before roast. This allows the moisture contents of the component beans to equalise and eliminates much roast variation.” When you think about it it’s logical, but I’ll confess I’d never have thought of it myself, and it opens up several new avenues for exploration.
Listening to Dr. Joseph John (Josuma) discuss “Blending for Espresso” was another eye-opener, and the final seminar I attended, “Economic Viability for Farmers: the Roaster/Retailer Role” was a knockout! Here we had a grower, a wholesaler, and a retailer discussing the future of the industry, in terms of “Relationship Coffee”. In the long term I believe this is the only way out of the current depression in the Specialty part of the green coffee market, and it’s a solution that comes from within the industry rather than being imposed from outside. If question time after the seminar was any indication, a lot of other people think this is the right way to go too.
Mark Prince in person, the HotTop's at the far right. Click to Enlarge.
Then it was on to the conference floor to visit the many booths, always on the lookout for something new. Along the way I bumped into many familiar faces, and a few unfamiliar faces in familiar “alt.coffee” t-shirts. I spied the new HotTop roaster, and the Prince..the Mark Prince, that is! Mark has already covered his view of the convention (and at the speed he was travelling he saw a LOT!) but it was fun to catch up with him in person. Mind you, I’d only try to KEEP up with him if I was 20 years younger.
My personal view of the HotTop is that unlike any other “domestic” coffee roaster I’ve seen it looks and works like a solid appliance rather than a hobbyist’s nightmare. From what I can see the addition of fan-forced smoke extraction and cooling (which, from the outside, looks to be simple enough to do) will produce the first real quality home roaster. It won’t be cheap but it will be reliable. And when you consider how long people have been trying to produce domestic roasters, that’s quite an achievement. This was reinforced by Rich Hagen’s Antique coffee roaster display, just around the corner.
Then it was off on the long trip around the aisles, tasting every slurpee/squishee/crappe frappe flavour ever invented, natural or synthetic, along the way. I managed to get some green bean samples from origins I’ve never tasted, including Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Bolivia. I had a couple of decent espressos, from Dr. John and David Schomer respectively, and a lot of average to bad ones. And I’ll never understand what most Americans see in the weak, watery swill pumped from airpots at many of the bean booths. It does NOT, in my opinion, give a good idea of what the coffee is about. I note that at the cupping competitions the coffees were prepared in plungers.
Meeting up with the various participants of the alt.coffee newsgroup was a delight, as was being able to join around 30 of them for dinner on Saturday night, where I found out that a Cajun Crawfish is an Australian Yabbie, yum! The participation of “Amateurs” in the SCAA is set to increase, with the creation of a new consumer membership category, much to the benefit of both parties as far as I can see.
Part of Rich Hagen's collection. Click to Enlarge
Barry & June Jarrett, Dave, Marshall and others as we "gathered" before the Altie dinner. Click it!
Anyway, that’s it for another year or two for me. The next conference is in Boston, which is just a little bit far away for a quick weekend trip.