Taking place this week in Vienna is Europe’s largest specialty coffee event, the SCAE’s World of Coffee. As I board a flight to head that way, I wanted to leave you with a long overdue recap of the SCAA Event, the USA’s largest specialty coffee event, which I attended in Portland this April.
Apart from being in Portland, arguably the coffee capital of the US, this years Event was full of great coffee, good food, old friends, new friends and a look at the direction specialty coffee is heading. I imagine Europe’s World of Coffee to be much of the same with a European twist. So take this as a preview of things to look for and expect to hear about during the week.
I landed a few days early for a prelude of Portland tourism and a chance to take in some of the stellar coffee shops around town, including Barista, Coava, and Heart (among others) before the impending coffee mobs arrived.
The Event itself began with a standing-room-only talk by James Hoffmann, who spoke about the importance of customer service and the need to change customer’s perceptions of what a coffee shop can be. Hoffmann argued for the need of this shift in order to create a market for higher priced coffee with ever more valuable experiences.
Following James’ talk, the morning continued with the much anticipated United States AeroPress Championship—where I filled a last minute vacancy and performed terribly—followed immediately by the World AeroPress Championship. The crowd was dense and the competition fierce, and Belgium held onto the WAC title for the 2nd year in a row.
The trade show floor stretched endlessly in any given direction. Many booths were of little interest, but the ones that caught my eye were usually displaying heaps of toys you’d like to take home with you. Hario may have won the award for the highest number of desirable products in one place.
My favorites were the redesigned syphon prototype, the electric glass kettle and a new 1 liter Buono. The primary focus of their booth, however, seemed to be the new V60 scale & timer unit—finally integrating two important tools into one device. This will certainly free up iPhones everywhere to post more brewing shots on Instagram.
Baratza also showed off their new set of metal burrs developed specifically for maximizing the consistency of filter grind settings on the Vario-W grinders.
Following La Marzocco’s booth, which was staffed with star baristas on lovely machines, serving a rotation of delicious coffees, the most popular place to be was Alpha Dominche, tucked away in a far corner of the showroom floor.
Alpha Dominche, the Salt Lake City based start-up who unveiled their Steampunk prototype just days before the Event kicked off, was busy giving nonstop demos of their futuristic, multi-group syphon machine to curious attendees.
All of the buzz and the beauty surrounding their machine won them a much deserved award for “Best New Product.” (Nice article & interview with them on CoffeeGeek)
One reoccuring trend that showed up in various booths throughout the event was a selection of new high-end home brewers, with a focus on water temperature stability and improved coffee saturation. From the already released Bonavita and Bodum autodrip machines to the new Behmor Brazen, Technivorm seems to finally have some legitimate competition (however the Moccamaster is still the best looking by far).
I also had the pleasure of meeting Dave and Dave, the creators behind the Kickstarter sensation Coffee Joulies, which I cynically previewed before they were even a commercial product. Dave was delightful nonetheless and gave me a complete and honest walk through of the benefits and limitations of the product.
As long as Joulies work as described (in a travel thermos), I can see a use for their intended market—of which I am not a part. Despite my skepticism, Dave gave me a set to take home. If I can discover any other useful functions, apart from a long commute or miserable days in a coffeeless office sipping from a thermos, I’ll be sure to share my thoughts.
One of the mornings, I also took part in a cupping of Robusta coffee, organized by Andrew Hetzel. I’d never tasted Robusta coffee apart from its use in bitter espresso blends, so I took the opportunity to try something new.
Overall, the experience was pretty torturous to my palette, but I was surprised by some of their sweet and intense aromas. Of the six coffees on the table there was one highlight, a Robusta peaberry, which was surprisingly pleasant—until it wasn’t.
Alongside the fully packed trade show hall, the United States Barista Championship and Brewer’s Cup were also taking place. After months of regional competitions, the most talented baristas from around the country were all competing for the chance to represent the US this week in Vienna at the World Barista Championship.
Katie Carguilo (who was excited to say the least) of Counter Culture Coffee won a very close barista competition and is currently competing in Vienna, along with Andy Sprenger of Ceremony, who won the US Brewer’s Cup for the second year in a row.
Of all the things to see at these gatherings, the most valuable part always ends up being the people. With the proliferation of Twitter in the industry, you can finally meet those you’ve been sharing advice and arguing with online throughout the year.
Jason Dominy greeted me with his infamous bear hug and attempted to convert my opinions of the Clever (sorry Jason, still unconvinced), while Keaton Violet kept me entertained and filled with beard envy. Joyce from Baratza was a joy to talk with, along with so many others. The list of people I met is long, but each person played a role in making the event another one to remember.
I’m looking forward to an equally great week of coffee and friends in Vienna. If you couldn’t make it to either event this year, make one of them a part of your 2013 plans—you’ll be glad you did.
All coffee aside, Portland is an absolutely incredible city to visit.
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