So another year has passed, and another SCAA Conference and Trade Show is just about upon us. CoffeeGeek's team at the show this year is going to be substantially smaller than it was at SCAA Seattle last year, but I hope to have daily updates, photos, flickr raw photos, and more available, each and every day. And on top of recording some podcast snippets here and there, there's talk with the PF.net boys about doing a dualcast - something we'd post on both portafilter.net and the CoffeeGeek podcast. (and it sounds better than a duel cast).
This year's theme at the SCAA is "Quality Tools for the Specialty Trade", which is a change from previous years where sustainability and ethical coffee issues took centrestage. Some may argue that this year's underlying theme is "how will the SCAA come through its most recent crisis" and sure enough, that's going to be the discussion coming from many mouths this year, but I've made my own decision - to support the SCAA as fully as I can this year, and put aside any concerns and / or criticisms of the .org, at least through this trade show's time in the spotlight. This is the only mention I'll make about the fall crisis - but I had to mention it at least once - if I didn't, this wouldn't be CoffeeGeek. It'd be a pure fluff piece in one of the more minor trade mags ;) (ouch, a dig!)
Quality Tools for the Specialty Trade
Rob Stephen is qualified to say what has been said about this year's SCAA Trade show. He stated on the Portafilter.net podcast that in previous years, the SCAA had such a focus on sustainability and on ethical coffee issues, that it was time to get back to basics, and back to the business of making coffee profitable for those who want to give the world the most premium of coffees.
I say Stephen is qualified to say that because in his previous life as a senior guy at Dunkin Donuts, he was one of the prime movers in getting DD to start selling espresso in their shops, using 100% Fair Trade coffee for the effort. That was a big deal in the ethical coffee world, and many props to Stephen for being a part of that.
In many ways, I agree with this thought. If we want coffee to be culinary, and coffee to be appreciated by the general public as much as the wine world currently enjoys, we need successful, profitable, high end businesses in the world of coffee and espresso. The SCAA has been criticised in the past for not offering enough "tools" for retailers and other businesses to help their business grow and expand. The aim is to end that criticism, and this show is a major step towards that.
A new "track" is being introduced this year in Charlotte (a track is a series of seminars, discussions and / or workshops centered around one topic). That track is called Business Growth, and according to Ted Lingle, SCAA Executive Director, the track represents a value of $12,000, if you look at all the featured speakers and presenters, and calculate how much it would cost to hire them individually to consult with your business. Heady dollars thrown around, but after looking over the list, it seems well founded.
As a couple of examples, there's the powerful and intimidating sounding "Dominating Your Industry: Five Critical Decisions Part I and Part II", by Verne C. Harnish. This is going down in Room 203A on Saturday in two sessions.
On Monday in the same room, Paul Martinez is giving two seminars on Advanced Marketing that look to be very valuabe as well.
This is by no means the only track at the show. There's also a Culinary track that has the potential to be awesome, and the usual Retail, Roasting, Sustainability, Technical, and Women tracks that always seem to fill up and have very popular segments. There's definitely something for everyone at the show this year, but the Culinary track and the Business Growth tracks are the ones that I think are going to be the most exciting.
In the Culinary track, one presentation that looks very interesting is Cookin' & Coffee: Pairing for Optimum Taste, presented by Peter Reinhart, described as a "Surprise Celebrity Chef". It's being held offsite at Johnson & Wales University, with transportation arranged from the show at 10:15 - 10:30 a.m. and 12 - 12:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 8.
On Sunday, my bud Jim Munson and others will be doing a seminar called "Breaking Through the "Regular" Coffee Barrier: French Press Brewing and Coffee Variety in Restaurants" in Room 204 at 10:45am to noon, and given that the next column I write for CityFood Magazine in Vancouver is about restaurant coffee and press pot service, I'm particularly interested in what Jim et al will be discussing.
The Keynote this year looks pretty cool. Last year they had Jane Goodall speak to a very crowded huge room; this year, something a bit more up my alley of interest, it will be Wade Davis, described as the National Geographic Society's "Explorer in Residence". I just think it's cool that Davis is a native Vancouverite and British Columbian ;). Davis has many specialties, but the one the SCAA is interested in is his knowledge of plant species all over the world, and in his travels through Central America and the Caribbean, especially Haiti. Should be a great keynote.
The opening night reception is the chance to say hi to everyone and to really mingle with, well, pretty much everyone involved in specialty coffee. Well, not everyone, but the opening night gala and social event is usually the heaviest-attended event. I always make an appearance and end up staying until close. In Boston, I was pulling shots for the "espresso gauntlet". In Atlanta, I was out at this huge open air field that was just packed with folks. And Seattle... the huge party on the top floor was so packed, I felt claustrophobic!
The floor looks great, with pretty much every booth sold. The Exhibitors List is long with the usual powders and sugars contingent, but a lot of the powerhouses in specialty coffee represented as well, including La Marzocco, Ditting, Royal Coffee, Elektra, Zoka Coffee, Macap and Mahlkoenig, Faema, Bunn, PT's Coffee, Intelligentsia, 1st Line Equipment, The Roasterie, La Cimbali, Counter Culture Coffee, Mazzer, Isomac, and many, many more. Heck, even Ken Davids has a booth this year! And because the show is on the east coast, many of the Italian companies are at the show this year, which looks to be awesome.
Left to right, right down the middle of the show floor are the hugomatic booths. Some of note this year include Rancilio at #333, Espresso Supply, Inc (way to go Jane and Co!) at #657, Nuova Simonelli at #855, Espresso Specialists Inc., at #1457, and Elektra with a big booth at #1563 (stop by and say hi to Dr. Fregnan).
All the major coffee producing countries have big booths and pavilions again this year. There's Honduras, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Brasil, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, New Guinea, Eastern Africa, Colombia, Mexico, Hawaii, Kona, Panama and even Burundi and Zambia. Lots of international colour and dress will be on display.
I say this every year, but my intent this year is to really tour the show floor, taking photos, talking to exhibitors, getting notes, soundclips, you name it. I want to have a flickr account set up this year for instant photos from the show floor so it should be good. The USBC may be covered less this year as a result, but with all the Italian representation, the floor is going to be the "it" thing for me this year.
Seminars and Workshops that seem to always sell out are the Brewing Workshops, Cupping Workshops, and Espresso training. These aren't cheap - $95 for SCAA Members, and $195 for non members for individual workshops, but they are considered some of the best training in the world for brewing fundamentals for coffee, cupping knowledge for roasters and coffee buyers, and this year, I hear that the espresso labs will be the best the SCAA has ever produced. I'm really looking forward to these. I was hoping to volunteer for an espresso lab, but since the USBC and the show floor takes priority for me, I may not be able to "step up". Oh well, maybe next year in Long Beach.
For Cupping, there's three levels. Comparative Cupping for Beginners, a course I took myself years ago, and a really good one for newbies. Then there's the intermediate Comparative Cupping, and the advanced Cupping: An Indepth Approach.
Brewing offers two levels - the Brewing Fundamentals in depth workshop, and the Golden Cup Certification program seminar. For espresso, there's two levels - the Beginning Espresso course taught by some of the US's top baristas and trainers, and the more advanced Intermediate Espresso, a great class.
The United States Barista Championship
A highlight of most SCAA shows over the last six years are the Barista Competitions. Sometimes the US hosts the USBC at the show, sometimes the WBC, and one year (in Boston), both the USBC and the WBC.
This year, it's the biggest USBC yet, with four (friggin!) days of it. Even for someone as hardcore as I am, that's just too much. They really need to figure out ways to streamline this a bit, and make the USBC more of a "finals" round, with the feeder regionals playing a more important role in sending Baristas up the line. Sigh... four days. Three of them see the days stretch from 8am till 6pm for three days in a row (if you include the judges-meetings etc). The last day is basically from 9:30am until about 3pm. Too much - just way too much. It puts a limit on people's ability to do other things at the trade show, like help out (volunteer) for other events, spend time at seminars and on the floor, and just do what you want to to at a trade show. But that's editorial.
Here's another editorial - the best 60+ baristas in the country will be vying for the top prize, and it should be awesome - especially on Sunday (the semi finals day) and Monday, when the Finals go down. Key times to check it out - pick a slot on Friday or Saturday to catch a bit of the comps, then come for the semis on Sunday (going from 9am through to 6pm), and the finals on Monday at 10:30am to 1pm. The winner is announced at 1:30-2:30pm. Just enough time for me to scope it and catch a cab to the airport ;)
BTW, a huge shout out to all the sponsors of the USBC, but also to Krups for once again stepping up and being the "presented" by ultra premium sponsor. Say what you will about Krups - they "bring it" when it comes to making these Barista competitions a reality. Kudos to them.
If you're attending the show, here's a couple of things to keep in mind, and things to look out for.
- The Morning Cup Again this year the SCAA will be publishing a newspaper each morning, called the Morning Cup. It will feature highlights for that day, as well as a recap of some notable events from the previous day
- Get a La Marzocco GS/3 for $5?? - hey, it could happen. This year, Espresso Specialists Inc., has donated the first production GS/3 Home / Catering espresso machine up for a raffle, with all proceeds going to the USBC. You can buy tickets in 1, 5, and 20 groups at the USBC for $5, $20, or $50.
- Barista Parties! Always the best parties of the event (maybe along with the Roaster's Party on Monday, which I'll be missing), there are plenty of formal and informal parties being held during the entire course of the SCAA. If you're attending, make sure you get in on at least one of these events.
- SCAA Charlotte Wristband - a great concept, and something that shows the city is really welcoming us coffee and espresso nuts, the Conference Wristband will get you special deals, "front of the line access" and price cuts on food around the city. Way to go Charlotte!
- CQI Luncheon I'm attending, and it's always a highlight for the weekend. On Sunday, the CQI Luncheon will be honouring the founders of the Coffee Quality Institute. I'm attending with my own favourite "founder" in the business of espresso.
- CoffeeKids Reception - happening Saturday eve, it's a be there or be square event. From the promo materials: The Coffee Kids reception at the SCAA Conference, sponsored by Counter Culture Coffee, will be held on Saturday, April 8th in room 208A. The reception will begin at 4:30 p.m. with light refreshments and cocktails and will continue with a brief presentation at 5:15 p.m. Founder, Bill Fishbein, Board of Directors President, Rick Peyser, and Executive Director, Carolyn Fairman will provide updates on Coffee Kidsí projects. There will be a brief presentation by Counter Culture and Clara Palma from Veracruz, Mexico will talk about the womenís microcredit project and the coffee-farming communities where she lives and works. Also, I believe CoffeeKids is raffling off another small roaster this year (woot! Huge! Killer!)
- Roasters Guild Reception Happening Sunday eve Ballroom C, 6-7pm, this is the more "formal" get together for the Roasters' Guild. Show up, hob nob, and maybe you'll get an invite to the way more entertaining "informal" roasters event happening the next evening.
All in all, I expect a lot of fun and excitement at this show. It'll be great to meet old friends and make many new ones, to learn a lot about specialty coffee and espresso, and to be part of the movement to make coffee culinary in the public's mind. If you're anywhere near Charlotte this coming week, make sure you drop by.