"Espresso! My Espresso!"
An Ongoing Internet Novelette
by Randy Glass - Copyright 2002 - All rights reserved
E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Specialty Coffee Association of America
Exhibition and Convention - 2002
This article was written mostly for the general public as it will appear in my print edition, but there is enough interesting information for the enthusiast to make it worth reading. I had also added a few bits and pieces for this posting which will not appear in the paper.
Every hobby, avocation, and profession has its representative association, and coffee is no exception. The Specialty Coffee Association of America was established back in 1982. It's goals are to be the recognized authority on specialty coffees and to be the forum for developing and maintaining coffee excellence. It has 2,500 member companies in over 40 countries. To some this level of dedication might seem a bit out of place for what would appear to be a simple beverage, but coffee is the world's second most important commodity in dollars (second to petroleum), and with approximately 27 million daily coffee drinkers and a reported market for the specialty coffee industry of 10.74 Billion dollars in 2001 it certainly is a significant part of the economy.
Each year, this being it's 14th, the SCAA holds it's annual Conference and Exhibition. This year it took place in Anaheim, California, at the Anaheim convention center, across the street from Disneyland. Making the trip serve double duty, I made the journey south to be at the show as well as visit my brothers. I was in need of a short vacation and what better reason to get away from home than to share my passion for quality coffee drinks with about 7,000 other people.
The conference has many facets. The exhibition hall contained some 800 booths with virtually every aspect of the coffee industry represented- growers from all over the world, manufacturers of home and commercial coffee makers, espresso machines, and grinders, and label printing companies, all the way to manufacturers of commercial roasting equipment and industrial packaging equipment, flavorings and other additives, and much more. If it had to do with specialty coffee (or, in some cases, tea) you probably could find it at the exhibition.
Along with the exhibition there were numerous educational opportunities and discussion forums. All through the weekend many sessions such as tasting, developing proprietary blends, roasting, packaging for success, and other opportunities covering just about every aspect of coffee preparation and marketing you can imagine were available to the attendees. For the coffee professional this is a weekend that can make a huge difference in their success as a business owner.
Although the show runs for four days I only was able to attend the conference for one day, Saturday, May 4th, and by the time I wedged my way through L.A. Traffic, I only had about four and one half hours at the show, so my personal opportunities were limited.
After I checked in and received my press credentials I entered the exhibition hall. It takes a few minutes to soak it all in, but I was presented with aisle after aisle, the full length of the exhibition hall, filled with hundreds of exhibitors. Where to start? There were two or three booths that I had listed on my PDA that had to be among my first stops. First- to the Josuma Coffee Company's booth being manned by Dr. Joseph John himself. My history with the good doctor is well known with the alt.coffee folks but this was my first opportunity to meet the doctor, and it was an enjoyable experience. He personally pulled a shot of his famous Malabar Gold Espresso and I eagerly consumed it, and was informed that I got to keep the glass! I hadn't had any espresso for about three days at this point so the shot, the glass, and Dr. John's conversation were all welcomed. The doctor was quite busy as you can imagine, so I moved on.
My next stop at the show was at the Cheng Yue booth where the Hottop folks were demonstrating the Hottop Bean Roaster. I finally got to meet Shelly, the woman with whom I have been communicating on a regular basis, she being my contact throughout my testing of the Hottop Bean Roaster. They were light roasting coffee right there on the table (dark roasts produce too much smoke to be done in such an environment). We had a very nice talk concerning the roaster. Near the end of the day, just before closing, I returned to the Hottop booth where Shelly introduced me to some of the visitors to the booth and had me answering questions as an experienced user of the Hottop Bean Roaster for them. It has been some time since I had the opportunity to ply my salesman's abilities and it was a lot of fun.
It appears that the Hottop Bean Roaster will be available in about two months (but that has been stated before). We shall see, but there is rumor of some improvements before it hits the market including the addition of a cooling fan to blow air through the cooling tray after they have been ejected from the machine. I anxiously await that addition as it was one of my main concerns with the machine.
My next talk was with Kyle at Baratza, the company apparently first in line to distribute/sell the Hottop roaster in the U.S. We had a very interesting talk, comparing observations and our opinions of the roaster, and generally, down to the last point, agreed with each other's observations 100%. The Baratza folks seemed to be a great, down-to-earth bunch and I think they will do a great job with the Hottop roaster if they make the final commitment to carry it.
It was while I was at the Baratza booth that I ran into Todd Saltzman from Whole Latte Love. It was about eighteen months ago that he answered a lot of my questions and sold me my HWP, Silvia, Rocky set up which get me started in all this. He shared with me the story of how he got into the coffee business and it was just a lot of fun getting to meet Todd and speak with him face to face.
I then took some time to watch the competition. A Barrista (literally bar keeper in Italian) is a person who makes espresso for a living. Each year at the SCAA convention a special area is put aside, complete with bleachers, where a small stadium-like atmosphere is created in which barristas gather to have their skills rated with the goal of being the champion at the North American Barrista Championships. Each competitor gets 45 minutes- 15 for station preparation, 15 minutes to prepare nine specialty coffee drinks (three espressos, three cappuccinos, and three custom drinks of their own choosing/creation), and fifteen minutes for clean-up. The SCAA also provides certification for Barristas to help advance the knowledge and ability of Barristas everywhere.
There were so many other people to whom I spoke it is difficult to list them all, but I did have a particularly wonderful time talking to Teri Hope, president of the company that operates the Los Gatos Coffee Roasting Company among other establishments in the Bay area. They had a wonderful display of antique home coffee roasters which reflected the time when nearly everyone who consumed coffee roasted it at home. We had a long talk about the state of coffee today and the low standard established by a certain commercial, chain coffee company, and how important organizations like the SCAA (of which, as it turned out, she was one of the original members) are in establishing and maintaining high standards for all segments of the coffee business.
My discussion with Teri took a turn when I mentioned that there seemed to be a significant number of amateur enthusiasts who produce better espresso and roasted better coffee at home than can generally be found in their respective communities. She stated that the amateur enthusiast is a big part of what drives the coffee industry as they serve as independent watchdogs over the industry. She stated that the SCAA will soon be offering associate memberships to individuals much the way the PGA offers memberships to golf-playing enthusiasts who do not play professionally, making the SCAA more accessible to them as well as keeping the amateur enthusiast informed as to what is happing in the world of coffee. An exciting recognition of the role "us amateurs" play in this industry.
The day ended with a meeting of the minds- a group of people who had for the most part only met on the internet on the Usenet group alt.coffee. We met at Doctor John's booth at the end of the day and together walked the mile or so over to the Streets of Disney for a group dinner. We were all finally able to put faces with their respective text messages, and I think I speak for the entire group in saying that many of us do not resemble our typing at all.
It is great to know that there are many. Many folks that are involved with the coffee industry because they are enthusiasts and not just because it is a job. Between their involvement and our obsessions, we work together to raise the standards and we all benefit from that.
To learn more about the SCAA and its efforts in maintaining high standards in the coffee industry, check out their website.