It’s been a heck of a year so far! I’ve taken a few breaks from the roasting drum to attend some of the amazing coffee events that happen around the country! My first stop was Kansas City, for the US Coffee Championships. My keenest interest was in the roasting championships, as I was very curious about what it would take to compete as a roaster. To my surprise and comfort, the SCA roasting class I took at the Academy of Coffee Excellence last December was largely designed around the skills needed to compete in the coffee championships. Still, the US Championships are rigorous, and winning is no small feat!
There was a trade show associated with the coffee championships, and I met with several interesting people, most notably, Zilla from UUMA Ethiopian Coffee Imports. He’s an extremely personable fellow, and he made an effort to not only provide me with samples to take home, but followed up to see what I thought of them once I had a chance to roast and taste. We’ll come back to Zilla a little later. There was also a great after party sponsored by Anthem Coffee Imports, where I had a chance to chat with the Anthem team and learn about their coffees. Last but not least, Mill City Roasters made the inaugural voyage with their “Big Red Roasting Truck”, which I have unilaterally decided is to be called “Clifford”, in honor of the big red dog of storybook fame. “Cliff” is something to appreciate. They packed a full roasting lab, with both production and sample roasters, an espresso and brew station, and every amenity needed to please a professional roaster, teach a new roaster, and ameliorate the concerns of any county health department inspector. Great job, Steve and Company!! On the way home, I stopped into Blueprint Coffee in St. Louis for some beans and sweet pour-over. That’s where I snapped this picture of their vintage Gothot coffee roaster, a roaster brand favored by Intelligensia.
In May, it was time for the SCA Expo, the single largest coffee event in the USA, and one of the largest in the world. At the SCA Expo, I passed up the competitions and presentations, focusing all of my attention on the show floor. The education I gained by speaking with the many vendors was immeasurable. It would be difficult to mention any single highlights but they can be broken into just a few categories: Technology, Products, and Relationships; with relationships far outweighing the products and technology. Expo afforded me the opportunity to meet face-to-face with a large number of people that I’ve chatted with on the phone or online, and be introduced to other people who are “good to know for a guy like me”. It was also an opportunity to reacquaint with a few other people I have met at other shows. This is important because the reacquaintance builds familiarity and trust.
For example, an importer from De La Finca whom I met last December in Richmond, VA at a coffee event was also at SCA Expo, where we were able to talk about the coffee from a particular farmer in Honduras whom I want to build a trade relationship with, but her farm is very small and the coffee is in high demand. I now have a bag of that elusive coffee to share with our customers. Another relationship developed out of a conversation with someone who knew me from an online forum for coffee roasters, and another gentleman who sat down with us because there was an empty chair. He turned out to be a coffee expert from Ecuador, preparing to start his roasting venture. We ended up traveling to an after party together, and then when my flight home was cancelled and rescheduled 2 days later, we spent some time post-show in Boston. This then led to a friendship that will bring him to our home town for a couple weeks this summer to teach some programs on coffee for our shop clients and their customers. My coffee trip wouldn’t be complete without a stop at George Howell’s for some vintage coffee. Yes, it was delicious, and I wish I had brought some home, but that’s for another day. So that I don’t neglect the equipment side of this entirely, I did catch a glimpse of this beautiful Behmor drum roaster that is in development. It is a beautifully designed machine, but this is just a prototype, we’ll have to wait to see what comes to market. I also spent an evening with Scott Rao, getting an update on his most recent research. I learned a thing or two, had some ideas confirmed, and others challenged. I could not have expected any less!
After 3 days at SCA Expo, it really didn’t seem right to turn around a few weeks later and head to CoffeeFest in Indianapolis. But I did, and boy am I glad! Remember what I said about relationships? Well, that is really what this show was about. I was surprised to meet up with my friend Javier, who is a farmer from Guatemala. I purchased some of his excellent coffee after we met at CoffeeFest Nashville, two years ago. He and his partner, Genero, have some more great coffees from Guatemala, and one absolutely blew me away! I hope you get to try some when I get my two bags later this summer. I also caught up with Zilla again, who has some incredible coffees coming in from Yirgacheffe that I can’t wait to purchase this summer. The Mill City guys were there with Clifford (the big red truck) and I brought my friends over to see the truck and roast some coffee with Derrick while I chatted with Roaster Joe. I was able to catch up with a few veteran roasters I met in past years, and introduce them to my Guatemalan friends, and made a few strategic purchases for future projects.
Now that I’m home for the summer, it’s time to dig into the pile of work, expanding my customer base, and promoting my new products. That’s life for a coffee guy!