Okay, it's Monday and I'm still at the Airport. I feel a bit like that movie... Airport. Wait... Terminal. Yeah that movie. But it just so happens that a coffee trade show is going on, and two championships are going to be decided today - the Canadian National Barista Championship (CNBC) and the Canadian Cup Taster's Championship (CCTC). And believe it or not, there are some wicked cool booths here (and a helluva lotta syrup, sweets, and baked goods booths). Stay tuned... and retweet this page link - it'll be updated all day long!
As a visitor from Vancouver, someone who represents consumers, and a party interested in the promotional aspects of barista competitions, I'm not happy with this trade show.
But there's no denying that, from a business standpoint, especially B2B, this show is a success. I've interviewed several companies with booths here, and they are quite happy with the traffic and the sales - both in leads generated, and in actual sales and contracts signed on the floor.
So this show is a success, at least for the people manning the booths and for the organizers, because the booth operators are happy.
Is this a place for the barista competition to take place at? Definitely not. I just came from two competitor rounds in the finals at the Canadian Barista Championship, and the attendance at this event, held in the back of the show hall (very far from the front entrance) is nothing less than dismal. There were more people attending the Cup Tasters Championship 1st Round I was in yesterday (the Cup Tasters' space is near the front of the hall, near the front entrance). In fact, this is the lowest-attended CNBC finals I have ever seen, and that includes the first one way back in 2003.
When this trade show is in Vancouver, the competition is better attended, and the trade show is of course right in the heart of Vancouver. This one, way out by the airport has zero public attendance.
That is a solid argument for disengaging the Canadian National Barista Championships from the Coffee and Tea Show when it is happening in the Toronto area every two years. Perhaps in 2012 the competition should be held off site - in Toronto, and perhaps at a different time altogether. Wrap a few educationals, small barista-oriented booths and vendor spaces into a separate event. We'll have to see how it goes.
Have a look at a Twitter Picture I posted a short while ago to see what the attendance is like for the CNBC finals.
Wicked Distribution / Intelligentsia / Tea Guy Booth
I dropped in to visit a long time friend in the business, Brad Ford, at the Wicked Distribution booth. Wicked Cafe and Wicked Distribution is the Canadian importer of Intelligentsia Coffee, responsible for all the importation and supplying of that roaster's coffee in Canada.
"This is our third Canadian trade show that I've participated in, and this has to be the best show, in Canada at least, that we ever attended." Ford said, "the turnout of qualified people to the booth, and the number of people that came through the booth has been excellent."
I asked Ford what "qualified" meant and he went on to explain: "the number of people coming to meet you at the booth that are people looking to start a business, or have a business and want your product was quite high this year - we generated many leads."
I asked Ford what made this show good for that kind of traffic. "The fact that it is all in one room, and that people coming to meet you are there because they really wanted to get there was one big thing," Ford said" but also I've noticed that the tea industry seems to really be driving this show as well, with a lot of higher-end tea companies represented. We shared our booth with TeaGuy and that drove even more traffic our way."
Intelligentsia is one of the premier brands in the US, and it's good to see additional market presentation in Canada. Ford pointed out that in Toronto, Good Neighbour and Manic are great representatives for the Intelligentsia brand, and in Ottawa he recently landed a company called Holy Oak cafe that are presenting the coffee well.
Brad Ford and Brendan Waye Brad Ford, along with co-booth operator Brendan Waye of TheTeaGuy.com, at the trade show.
This picture pretty much tells the tale. This was the Canadian National Barista Championship Finals audience during one of the Caffe Artigiano entrants. I was told the audience count was a bit higher during some of the other competitors... but I count 16 people here, and some of them may be photographer / videographers. Pretty bad.
These guys should be the New Canadian Roaster of the Year if there were such a reward.
I spent a bit more time with the people from Social Coffee Company - namely Steve Soupathong - and checked out their booth a bit more. It was one of the better designed booths at the show (at least small booths) and definitely had some of the best espresso at the show outside of the Barista competition.
"Social Coffee Company was incorporated in 2009, but we didn't launch our brand until April 2010," Soupathong said. "We are mainly an online store, but we're working on getting more wholesale customers, and this show is bringing a lot of those customers to us."
I asked Soupathong how he got his start and how he seemed to come out of the gate with such great coffee so early on. "I went to a lot of the training and classes the SCAA and other organizations offer really learning as much as I could. I took barista courses, attended the Roaster's Guild Retreat, and did a lot of practice - a lot of practice" Soupathong said, "The retreat was especially good for me - we met a lot of great people, and I learned a lot, just through talking to people, hearing their expertise and then coming home and trying to take some of that (learned expertise) to heart as we worked on our coffees."
I asked Soupathong about the future plans, and they want to concentrate on constantly improving their coffee, and at the same time get the brand out there more. He put a lot of investment into having a polished brand right from the get go, but believes firmly that the brand means nothing if he can't back it up in the cup.
Social Coffee Co brought their in house Slayer machine to the show to pull shots with, and the few times I dropped by the booth there was a lot of traffic of people trying both pourovers and espresso shots.
Social's a great addition to the Canadian Roaster market, and especially for Ontario, which needs more true specialty coffee roasters.
Social Coffee Co Steve Soupathong (left) at the booth at Social. Slayer machine in the foreground.
The Wall Part of the overall booth design. My photos don't do it justice.
Multiple brews The staff at the booth give your choice of different types of brewing methods - aeropress, pourover, espresso. I wouldn't be surprised if there was a syphon around somewhere as well.
Another new roaster (to me) is te aro roasted, a roasting company located in Toronto. I had never heard of them before, but at the show a few folks said they were a roaster worth checking out.
I didn't get a chance to meet the owner (Andy Wilkin) but he's a Q-Grader certified person and one of only six in Canada currently, so that's saying something. I got a chance to meet a few of the employees and got the sense that these folks are working hard to make good coffee. What I sampled at the booth was quite good, and I have more to take home, so I'm looking forward to that.
There was definitely a lot of excitement at the finals for the Canadian Cup Tasters' Championship today. The crowd was packed and having a lot of fun. Because of a delay in the start (one of the finalists happened to be judging in the Barista Championship Finals so the organizers waited as long as possible for her to show up) Poul Mark decided to hold a 4 cup "open challenge" for the volunteers to try their hand at cup tasting to see how it was. During that open round, one volunteer got 4 out of 4 and another got 3 out of 4 - they should try out for the real competition next year!!
Eventually they had to start the finals round, so Amber Fox, the CNBC judge was disqualified because of her commitment over at the barista competition, and four competitors - Matthew Lee, Patrick Russell, Ben Cramm, and Steve Soupanthong - lined up to compete.
This round was much more difficult than the first one, with a lot of coffees mixed up to be closer to each other in cup taste. All the competitors took longer this time, including Russell, who blazed through his first round. Steve Soupanthong took the longest, at 7:57, and Matthew Lee took 7:52 to complete.
The results? Both Russell and Soupanthong guessed 6 out of 8 right - but Russell beat Soupanthong by about 2 minutes, making him the new Canadian Cup Taster's Champion, representing Second Cup Coffee. Quite impressive!
Soupanthong was second, Lee third, and Cram came in 4th in the finals. Poul Mark from Transcend was one of the main organizers and the emcee and did a great job overall (as well as his staff from Transcend). It was a great first year on Canadian soil for this competition. Pictures follow:
Poul Mark Mark did a great job as the chief organizer and emcee for this event, along with his support staff from Transcend Coffee out of Edmonton.
Matt Lee, Ben Cramm Lee and Cramm before the finals.
Open Round During a public exhibition round, a person from Social Coffee Co got 4 out of 4!
Open Round Another competitor during the open round.
Getting Ready Matt Lee and Steve Soupanthong getting ready for their final round.
Cups all Set Up The cups are all set up, ready to go.
Matt Lee Tasting Lee changed his strategy from the first day, opting to slurp + smell the first pass through.
Deep In Steve Soupanthang changed his strategy a bit too, this time going deep into the cupping bowls to smell first pass through.
Ben Cramm, Patrick Russell Cramm and Russell were plowing through their cups early on.
Patrick Russell Russell, from Second Cup, had pretty much the same strategy in the finals, but took more time.
Digging in A LOT of the coffee was imbibed during the finals - a stark contrast to the first day of competition.
All four All four digging into the cups.
The Crowd The crowd was packed, and spilled out quite a bit to the main show floor.
Cramm Checks Ben Cramm checking his results. He got 3 out of 8 right, showing just how tough the finals was.
Russell Checks Russell ended up with 6 right, and a time of under 6 minutes.
Lee Checks Matthew Lee checks his cups. He got 5 out of 8 right.
Soupanthong Checks Steve Soupanthong couldn't look at his cups to check - he left it up to Poul Mark to call them out. He got 6 out of 8, but in taking longer than Russell to complete, came in 2nd.
Pat Russell Pat Russell interviewed by Poul Mark after winning the CTC!
Well suffice to say, it couldn't happen to a nicer guy.
Rob Kettner, of Fernwood Coffee Roasters in Victoria, BC, is the new 2010 Canadian National Barista Champion. Kettner's competition setup and round was quite spectacular, and featured a tasting flight for the signature round to show judges how coffee reacts and tastes in different brewing methods and at different levels of acidity.
I had a chance to speak with Fernwood's roaster, Ben Cramm about Kettner's competition and the philosophy behind their game plan.
"I took the Willem Boot Roasting Course and did a ton of profile roasting, "Cramm said. "We really started playing with different roast profiles and what it could do to flavours, and the natural progression for our competition was just trying to think outside of the box - we wanted three profiles and wanted a way to showcase each."
"Sweet was our espresso; the acidic profile was done as a pourover which we turned into a foam, and our bitter was done as a cold brew." Cramm said. "The cold brew we used a tonic with to accent the bitterness, the acidic was a lemon tart tweaked a little more on the tart side. All three were presented to the judges as a drink flight to taste the potentials of coffee."
The presentation was well received by the judges, and where Kettner went 50 seconds overtime in his first round (and still made the finals) he was within time in his finals. The entire finals round is in the recorded stream below:
Column Description One of the more popular pieces of content on the CoffeeGeek website are the reports from major trade shows. We cover shows like no other media source does - giving first hand intimate and frank reports that give you the real scoop on what's going on, from a consumer and a coffee lover's true perspective.