It’s about time I formalized some thoughts regarding the SCAA convention in Charlotte. It’s difficult to capture the immensity of the convention, if you take the time to try and observe the entire show. For two and a half days it was full on coffee industry, not just a small piece focussed on tampers or espresso shots or the latest widgets, you got representation from pretty much the entire industry which also included a variety of junk peddler's. I knew/know the industry is big but to see its various segments represented in one concentrated spot, in all its flashy neon come-buy-me glory, well it certainly gives you pause for thought.

Why write any of this, it’s probably been written somewhere already, right? Besides, who am I to comment on the stratospheric heights of "the industry". Well, I suppose I wouldn’t have a blog if I didn’t write and anyway my observations are my own, drawn from intense one on one's, casual chats, standing in a group and listening, standing back and watching, poking, prodding and tasting and maybe even guessing.

Coffee convention. A place where you see the A to Z of passion; either the lack of it or the intensely obsessive focus on it, and everything in-between. A place where you see some of the world's best barista's and their superlative coffee's. Industry people who are eager to talk or listen, or acting as a counterbalance, industry people who are hard to be around with their over-inflated sense of importance. Celebrity names and cult figures who were really cool and others who I wouldn't care to hang with. US Barista Championship, polished and deliberate. Great seminars and presentations. People who get it and people who don't. I think I get it, at least I try to get it.

Even if I don’t get it, I would like to go on the record as firmly believing that there was nobody in Alberta, if not all of Canada more caffeinated than I was during those 2.5 days in N. Carolina. I drank everything - Tea, Coffee, Blender, Chai, Matte, you name it and I probably tasted it. I was so busy being busy that I didn't eat much during the day and at times wondered if it was possible to try yet another espresso. Honestly I lost count of how much coffee I consumed, I just know it was a lot, even by my generally robust consumption abilities. Was it good? First the not surprising stuff, some of it was magnificent. Perhaps also not surprising… some of it was nasty, at least for my tastes. Whatever the case, I came away richer for the experience.

What's was good? I suppose good is a subjective thing and might be determined by a person's previous experiences and what they hope to experience. A year ago my experience level was different and so a year ago the convention would have "tasted different".

A lot of my time was spent focusing on espresso. I don't think there was a shot anywhere on that floor that I didn't slurp, some more than once. What struck me as interesting was the variety of experiences in an area where one should expect the best in N. America. If I was tasting an espresso for the first time a large part of the experience was determined by the actual beverage and some of the experience was determined by attitude. I want to be clear by stating the “best in class” experiences I had were a combination of magnificent espresso and a great attitude, tier two experiences would be a good espresso with good attitude or average espresso with great attitude or magnificent espresso with indifferent attitude, anyway you get the idea. I had a few best in class experiences and also a few tier two and certainly some tier three (nasty). Before anyone gets upset and points out “Well its tough pulling shots at a convention” I understand that. The one caveat I will add regarding my interpretation of the best in class versus the merely average or perhaps even downright nasty convention experiences is that it must be viewed as a parallel to most cafe’s; sometimes the experience is good and at times not as good depending on time of day, the barista, the blend, the this, the that. I suspect however that the isolated experiences I had at each booth or with each barista were indicative of their general trend.

For me there were two phenomenal experiences, one at the Counter Culture Coffee booth and one at the Intelligentsia Coffee booth; both of them saw me back at their locations several times. Why these two in particular, well for different reasons, though it could simply be said “Excellent product, excellent service and the right amount of passion”. Counter Culture’s moment was precisely defined as I tasted an Espresso Toscano served by Lem. For me, this was the best espresso I tasted at the convention... Espresso Toscano mmmmmmmmm. Counter Culture was also pulling their Espresso Forte and a newly developed espresso (have forgotten the name) that focused a bit more on the fruity side of things which I didn’t care for though I do respect the vision. A class act, no doubt about it. Along with good coffee the barista's (in this photo it is Moe) were an all around great bunch during the three days I hovered there. They put out super drinks. Still, without a doubt it was Lem serving that uncannily good Toscano shot that still haunts me, in fact I am blending and roasting right now with that taste in mind.

Intelligentia’s booth was of course offering some incredible coffee and the knowledge and passion is obvious. What really knocked my socks off was a cappuccino made by Ellie Matuszak. I managed to take a photo before I tasted it and one at the bottom of the 5 ounce paper cup. The latte art is obvious, but I couldn’t have cared less about what it looked like, the taste and mouthfeel as far as I’m concerned was unmatched. Ellie didn’t really get involved with me, I’m sure her mind was on other things - like competing, oh and making a freakin unbelievable cappa. She was really focused on creating her microfoam and I’m not even sure she knew who was around her sometimes. The silky smooth microfoamed milk held on right to the bottom of the cup and was consistent from start to finish. Magical and hard to forget!

Of course there were other memorable moments but I’m not going to eat up space by listing all the wonderful booths and passionate people I bumped into, the list would be far too long. A lot of things can happen in 2.5 days, I tried to absorb as much as I could. Looking back the summed parts made for a great experience and one every coffee geek, even the most cynical, should try and experience.

Stepping away from coffee as I close this piece, the keynote speaker Mr. Wade Davis proved to be an excellent choice. Though his presentation wasn’t really coffee focused per se, it was one of the most thought provoking hours I have ever spent. Certainly a man who has experienced some interesting phenomena and life opportunities. I wish he was our next door neighbor.

Next post is a belated Easter egg paint-fest, so stay tuned to see Keegan crush eggs.


Mark said...

Thanks for the kind words! We also had a great experience at the convention. We were especially happy to meet you and others that share our passion for coffee. Please stay in touch, and if you ever come back to NC, look us up in Durham.