So, I type this (originally) while I am on the plane to Vancouver (after clearing Pearson in Toronto), and so many thoughts about the show. Many great, some not so great, some printable, some best left unsaid for now.
I always get highs and lows from this show. The lows are mostly personal stuff, including how crappy I feel when for the fortieth time each day I can't remember someone's name when they enthusiastically come up to greet me.
I also get my lows because, at this exact time every year (on the trip back home) I think about all the booths I forgot to visit, the people I forgot to connect with, and the seminars I forgot to attend and cover.
But mainly, I'm really pissed because I lent Nick Cho my way cool space pen in a rush when he needed one just before announcing the winners of the USBC, and I forgot to ask for it back ;)
The highs. Just tons of them. If I can get personal for a moment, at every show I'm approached by many, many people who thank me for this website and tell me personal stories about how CoffeeGeek was their introduction into the world of coffee, and one that led them to become a success at their business. They thank me for creating this connection and communication vehicle with others who share a love for coffee and espresso. If it happened only once at the show, everything I do, all the late nights answering emails and worrying about our server going down would be worth it. But it happens much more than once. It happens dozens of times, every year.
In fact, at this year's Charlotte show, three different individuals who are in the business of coffee (and two are already a success at it) approached me at different times to say how they experienced some pretty sour things elsewhere on the Internet in an unmoderated forum that predates CoffeeGeek. And all three of them said, completely independent of each other, that, if that was their only experience of what a community is supposed to be, they wouldn't have pursued careers in coffee. But all three eventually discovered this site, discovered it's vibrant, world reaching and helpful community, and made life-decisions that are really paying off. And they thanked me for that.
I put "me" in bold, because I'm not only humbled by that, but I don't think I deserve the thanks nearly as much as this community as a whole does. Yes, I created the vehicle, but it's the community that drives it. I'm just proud to be able to bring you the vehicle. Everyone reading this and participating in this site is the real reason why CoffeeGeek is so liked amongst many coffee and espresso professionals.
The show highlights
Now that the CG self admiration society is done, I can talk about other great things at the Charlotte show.
The social parties are fantastic. The cool thing about the specialty coffee biz is that many people are genuinely friendly. We tend to hear amplifications of the politics and games between people in this community because it's such a small one, but there's a plain fact: most folks in the genuine specialty coffee trade are nice, friendly, engaging people. You find this out at the social events more than any other way.
I loved the new Culinary Track at the show, and I really hope they add to this in the next few years. Seeing as how the rooms were packed, I am sure this will happen.
The floor is huge, and unlike other coffee-themed trade shows, there's a lot of "high quality" coffee and espresso booths displaying. Sure, there's the powders, cookies and sauces (not to mention teas), but for every powder seller, there's a Clover booth or an Intelligentsia booth.
The big surprise for me was the not only the new dedication to better quality beverages at the Krups booth, but the intense depth of knowledge the people there actually had about the products and how they addressed some previous shortfalls the product line has had. That was very cool. And just seeing a mainstream manufacturer at this show is great. Next year, we need to see KitchenAid too.
The country pavilions are just awesome. There is a bit of a downside in that they are really only concerned with speaking to coffee buyers (and not the media), but if you hang around them long enough, you start to engage some folks in conversations that show them to be extremely passionate people about coffee. Many cultures collide at the SCAA, and sometimes it can be difficult, but most of the time, it's a great experience.
The machine booths were great this year. Everyone from Rancilio to Cimbali to Elektra was represented along with many more. I didn't see a lot of new products from these companies for consumers, but I was happy to see a move towards temperature stable machines, like Nuova Simonelli's Aurelia machine. Next year, I hope to see more, and especially more consumer machines.
I gotta give a special mention of Antonio over at the Macap booth. He had me in stitches with his very dry and wry sense of humour. For a guy who (I am assuming) does not count English as his first language, he has a perfect grasp not only of the language, but its intricacies as well. I'm sure many who dropped by the Macap booth had a great time.
The city of Charlotte deserves a mention as well. A very friendly city with very welcoming people. I only wish the downtown was more developed - I couldn't find a drug store my entire trip. I eventually had to borrow toothpaste from a friend.
Oh... seeing Nick Cho walk around the floor with his remote podcast gear was sweet.
If I can give personal shoutouts, let me just launch right into them. Yes, this is a major name drop session. Big shouts to Nick Cho for driving me to a convenience store late at night in dead town just to cure some munchies issues. And Nick, just for being you.
Jay Carragay - helluva guy. Jon Lewis - pushing the envelope, making it art, yet still keeping it real. Ryan Dennhardt, "the man". Jenn Prince, for being my virtual sister and being one of the best huggers in the biz. Matt Riddle, who I think of as a good friend as well as someone who's really easy to work with. Doug Zell for putting up with all my shit and still being my friend. Geoff Watts for being my (unknown to him) cupping and coffee mentor. Billy Wilson for being not only the rock star, but for being the evolving rock star this year. Jim Schulman, who is more passionate about coffee than 95% of the people in this business.
Dr. Federico Fregnan of Elektra for being the first of the Italian machine makers to not only treat me nice many years back, but he's also become a friend. Andrew Barnett of Ecco Cafe for being one of the nicest guys in coffee. Bill Crossland, awesome guy. Phuong Tran, who I'm privileged to call a friend. Gina from ESI, for always being nice. Anastasia Chovin, ditto. Greg Scace for being such an engaging geek. Peter Guliano, who is just amazing for the industry and his own company. Andy Schecter, who has the most unique sense of humour of anyone I've ever met.
Kyle Anderson and Kyra Kennedy of Baratza, for much of the same reasons I thanked Dr. Fregnan above. Jeff Taylor for sharing cigars with me (but we didn't do it this year Jeff - Berne we will). Duane Sorenson for keeping it real, calling me "man" and giving the world awesome coffee. Kent Bakke - if for no other reason (and there are many) for being one of the forefathers of quality espresso in the PNW. Barry Jarrett for being my sensei. Michael Teahan, for being very engaging and always making you think. Cindy (and Rob) for doing the podcast shownotes and for finally meeting you - thanks!
Rob Stephen for being awesome in ways you definitely don't expect from a SCAA President. Brad Ford for being very real. Karen Foley, Connie, Julie and Sarah for being excellent editors and great writers. Ward Barbee for saying to the world (on the Portafilter Podcast) that I'm the guy who "calls it like it is" in the coffee biz, cuz I don't give a shit. And that I hate myself for it (LOL!).
Instaurator for being always engaging. Bruno the Brasil coffee guy for always being fun. Tonx and Kyle for keeping it real. Casey, the marketer for Krups who shows that not all marketers are dweebs, but really nice people. James Marcotte of Intelly (formerly of Cirqua) for being one amazing guy to talk to. Vida for paying me more respect than I deserve. And, to every single person who came up to me at the show with enthusiasm and smiling faces - thank you.
I know I have missed a LOT of people in this shoutout. But my flight is nearing its end, and I need to wrap this up. But I do have one final bit to talk about.
I'm about 95% sure I'm retiring from judging in Barista competitions. I'm already committed for the WBC, and will probably get my one chance to judge in one flight, then I'm going to be done. I'll probably consult with the Canadians for the upcoming western regional and Canadian national, but I'm not going to judge, and not going to work behind the scenes either. I've been judging for over four years now in competitions around the world, and I've worked extremely hard to earn the respect of people by paying my dues and honing my skills. It's been a long ride, and I just don't have it in me any more to try and continue earning respect that may never come.
The good news is, I'll have more time at future shows to cover other events more, and do more photography at competitions. That's good for the site, and good for you readers.
Well, that wraps up this report on a very weird note, I know. But you won't have to wait long for the next round of road reports. In mid May I'm heading off to Berne for the World of Coffee and World Barista Championships.
Till then, thanks folks for reading, and thank you to everyone at the show who made my time a fun time.