"Espresso! My Espresso!"
An Ongoing Internet Novelette
by Randy Glass - Copyright 2008 - All rights reserved
E-mail me at email@example.com
SCAA 20th Annual Conference and Exhibition
May 2 through May 5, 2008
The Downtown Minneapolis Skyline
Each year, the annual Specialty Coffee Association of America brings together representatives of virtually every coffee-growing country and many product representatives to create an exhibition that is the ultimate candy store for coffee enthusiasts. Additionally there are numerous educational opportunities aimed at the professional, seminars, cupping and roasting and more. Finally, the conference is the site of the annual United States Barista Championships where regional barista champions compete to see who will represent the U.S. in the World Championship.
The Championship Trophy
The SCAA is all about specialty coffee which is defined as a coffee that has no defects and has a distinctive flavor in the cup. This trade association focuses on quality coffee and includes retailers, roasters, roaster/retailers, producers, exporters, importers, manufacturers of coffee processing-roasting-brewing equipment and other allied products, baristas and coffee enthusiasts. The SCAA is the world's largest coffee trade association with member companies from more than 40 countries. Coffee is the number two commodity traded on the world market, second only to petroleum. The SCAA's mission is to be the recognized authority on specialty coffee, providing a common forum for the development and promotion of coffee excellence and sustainability.
The Joys of TravelAfter a 90 minute drive to the airport and the bus ride from economy parking to the terminal I checked my one bag. I had already printed my boarding pass at home, so it was straight to the security check (after a "loo stop"). Once I explained that it was three harmonicas in my carry-on that caused the security folks to stop conveyor through the X-ray machine, it was off to wait. A 3˝ flight later I was headed to the hotel. That was an adventure in itself.
I had done a lot of research into the Minneapolis transportation system online. A free shuttle train takes you from the terminal to the Light Rail system which goes from the Mall of America in the south all the way into downtown Minneapolis. The $2 fare made it a very economical and quick ride. Departing the train about five or six long blocks from the hotel I planned to take the bus to the hotel. Surprisingly there was no posted information about how to connect to the correct bus line at the train stop. That would not have been a problem had it not been pouring down rain in torrents. With the help of a local citizen on foot I finally figured it out and along with a couple of others in the same plight we squeezed into the glass bus-stop which only offered minimal shelter from the downpour. Each time a bus stopped I questioned the driver if it went to my destination and. Evry bus that passed by sent a wave of water from the gutter across the sidewalk and through the bus stop. By the time I found a bus I was quite wet and my rolling duffel was soaked.
Why I WentEach attendee has their own priorities when attending. Some are retailers looking for new products and services to sell or use in their coffee shops, some are growers or roasters looking for buyers for their products. Others are looking to increase their knowledge in various areas, and quite a few are media representatives covering the show for websites, discussion boards, print media and more. For me there were three areas of focus. Allow me to detail them separately so you can get a feel of what I was all about during the show:
Walking the FloorWith over 400 exhibitors it can be a challenge to see everything and weed out those booths which are of the greatest interest to me as well as to my readers. If it has to do with coffee you will most likely find it here. From the countries that grow coffee showing samples of green and roasted beans, to computer-controlled, commercial coffee roasting machines that wouldn't fit in your living room (even if it's a big living room), to the paper insulation sleeves that are slipped over take-away cups, you will see it on display at the exhibition.
I walked the floor talking to various companies looking for interesting items to review for this website. Since I had other duties to perform during the show there was not enough time for me to detail all the various things I saw at the show. Hopefully, between now and the next show, I will have some items to review that readers will find interesting. Keep an eye on my website as there is at least one very exciting product which you will first see here on "Espresso! My Espresso!"! Sorry for the tease, but I am sworn to secrecy!
The ability to get products to review is a difficult one. Some companies are quite excited for any press they get and that has helped me bring you reviews of a number of items from companies such as Urnex, Keurig, the Senseo (from Phillips), Hottop, Genecafe, Hearthware, and the Aeropress just to mention a few. Other times I have tired for a year or two with no positive response at all. For example, I have been contacting Krups and their advertising representative company for the last two years with no luck whatsoever. This year I have been assured that we will have connection to the company, and they have already responded by E-Mail so watch for reviews of some of their machines to appear in the very near future.
I had a very interesting conversation with John Langenstein of Koa Coffee . We had a very interesting discussion concerning the state of affairs concerning Kona coffee and the 'blending war' that has been going on for at least the last two years in Hawaii. He supplied me with some bean samples, green and roasted. Included in the samples was a bag of a brand new, 100% Kona, roasted espresso blend! As soon as my palate recuperates from the trip I will have a review of this coffee. A interesting point John shared with me was that he used the Hottop KN-8828B roaster to do test batches, looking for the proper roasts to blend together to create this new single-origin espresso!
For the first time, the Barista Championships had a cleaning product sponsor— Urnex. I have personally used Urnex products for years because they work. Every one I have used performed exactly as it was intended.
This year they were showing their newly-packaged products intended for shelf-slotted, retail sale. The color-coded packaging makes it easy to identify each product. Cafiza, as well as many other products in their line, are now packaged in tablet form making it easier and neater to keep your machines clean.
There was plenty of eye candy as well. Plenty of polished brass and copper and even gold plating here and there. Lots of shiny espresso machines under bright lights that would make you wish you bought you had your polarized sunglasses handy. I am a form-follows-function sort of guy, and it is more important to me to have machines that work than to look pretty. There are plenty of other websites that have been documenting the various machines, so take a look around for this. (try THIS THREAD on CoffeeSnobs in Australia.) I just didn't have the time to spend to do that this year.
One display that caught my eye was featuring some beautiful ceramic ware from Cardew Design. A couple of their sets caught my eye including this one:
At this time their website is still under construction, but allow the first page to load to see a slideshow of some of their designs. They are very impressive— a great collection of whimsical as well as strikingly beautiful designs. They would make great anniversary or wedding gifts (my 37th is coming up... hint, hint!).
Meeting Up With Old Acquaintances and Making New OnesI look forward to seeing old acquaintances as I live in an isolated area, far from nearly all of these folks, Barry Jerrett from "Riley's Coffee and Fudge." was there and if you have never met Barry you have really missed out. June and Maddie were not in attendance and I miss seeing them. Give them a call and order some of June's fudge. Your palate will thank you even if your waistline doesn't.
Mark Prince, Greg Scace, Marshall Fuss, and Jim Schulman were there, and all quite busy— Jim was hard at work as a judge for the US Barista Championships (as was Barry).
Barry, second from the left, and Jim, first from the right.
Greg is currently very well known for his "Scace Device," the premiere, lab-quality pressure and temperature measuring device for espresso machines. These "old time" alt.coffee folks were part of our core group back when that forum was still mostly friendly and usable. I finally got to meet Reg Barber , the king of tampers who has been creating his beautiful tampers since 1995, five years before I got into this coffee thing. And I was pleasantly suprised when Dr. Joseph John of the Josuma Coffee Company stopped by the booth and said hello. We have a history together so it is always a pleasure for me to see the good Doctor again. I also had a nice visit with Jim at 1st-line, talking about the Vibiemme machines, what the future will be bringing us, and just having a nice social visit.
I am sure there were many others I have forgotten to mention. I was on my feet for about 22 or more hours over the weekend, much of it just standing at the Hottop booth. I probably walked at least five miles or more each day, and by Monday what motor skills I had left in my tongue had to be carefully monitored for accuracy. I blame any omissions on exhaustion!
Working the Hottop BoothMy efforts in the Hottop booth took most of my time. My history with Hottop began when I received one of the first pre-production models in the U.S. about five years ago, and posted the first public review of that early model. My knowledge of the Hottop roaster from personal use as well as my past work with the company which includes creating the USA website as well as the user manuals for all of their roaster models gives me a good base for assisting the company at this show. My background as a credentialed teacher and past sales experience all combine to make me a valuable resource for the company (yes, it's a good feeling!). Although I do not get paid for working the booth, nor do I receive compensation for sales, it was great fun for me to meet so many folks.
To some, just standing in a booth, giving the same information to people over and over would seem like a mind-numbing experience. I really do not mind. I was a teacher for 20 years, and I do enjoy sharing what I know when the "student" (or in this case, the customer) is really interested. I do not assign any homework at the show.
The show is aimed at the commercial side of things, so I do not talk to many consumers. At this show the greatest portion of those showing interest in the Hottop were small commercial roasters who cannot afford to spend many thousands of dollars for a sample roaster but still need to find a way to do sample roasts for cupping. The current Hottop KN-8828B is an ideal machine to fill their needs, and many reported to me that they had been using one for that very same purpose.
There were also some companies that were conspicuous by their absence. Two that came to my mind immediately were Genecafe and Hearthware- neither were present. Even though I have done work for Hottop, I have given favorable reviews to both their products and enjoyed a positive relationship with the representatives of both companies. What happened, folks?
One thing that did really came to the forefront this year (at least as I perceived the show) is the general nature of the coffee business. People from all over the world communicate and have business dealings that bring cultures together that are about as varied as you could possibly imagine. In my experience, the coffee business is a model of tolerance and acceptance. I spoke with folks from all over the world. Many were from South and Central America as you could imagine as it is the largest coffee growing region close to the United States. Many people from that region dropped by the Hottop booth, and since I have not used my Spanish speaking skills much in the last two decades, it did push my very limited vocabulary to its limits. Still, all with whom I spoke graciously accepted my apologies for my lack of skill with their native tongue.
I spoke with a gentleman from Saudi Arabia who has been traveling to Yemen, at some risk to his own personal safety, attempting to work with the coffee farmers to increase the quality and value of Yemen coffee. Those who had the opportunity to taste the "real" Yemen coffee from decades past can tell you how things have changed. He told me that there has been blending going on, using some cheaper beans from the orient. I hope he is successful in his endeavor. Those farmers certainly deserve to benefit from their product, and the old Moka coffee, filled with rich, chocolaty tastes, is some of the most wonderful coffee I have ever tasted and I miss it.
It always brought a smile to my face when someone stopped by, I hand them my business card, and they say, "I've been to your website!" As you know, this site has been maintained just for the purpose of helping folks avoid the various pitfalls I have encountered. As they say, the only thing better than learning from your mistakes is learning from the mistakes of others.
Next year the 21st annual SCAA get together will be held in Atlanta, Georgia. See ya'll in Jah-ja.!