Life is like a brand new coffee on the cupping table. You might have some expectations based on origin, processing method or roast profile, but until you break that crust, you can never be certain what is hidden within.
My weekend at Coffee Fest Atlanta was a great example of this. I went in with a variety of expectations based on last year in New York, lists of classes and lectures I wanted to attend, even assumptions about which people in the coffee industry I would be talking to. And from Day 1, my weekend took an amazing turn, pushing me in a new direction and leaving a coffee-shaped hole in my heart the moment the convention was over.
I didn’t take many photos last weekend, and one of the reasons is that I missed much of the action in the three big competitions. While I planned to catch a good bit each of Best Espresso, Best Coffeehouse, and the Latte Art competition, I spent most of my time walking the floor and talking to people.
Of the three, America’s Best Espresso was the only competition I truly watched, yet I completely missed it last year in New York. A year later, I was much more excited to watch the action, as I knew five of the competitors, and it was difficult to root for anyone in particular.
Although I didn’t see much of the Latte Art competition, I did enjoy spotting those celebrity baristas I discovered last year. Many have become favorites in my Instagram feed, and it’s fun to see their interactions and talents in person.
I took part in the Cafe Femenino Bid for Hope Silent Auction, especially since I was driving and could easily bring some goodies home with me, and I managed to win four auctions! (I didn’t get the commercial Toddy, but that went to someone who can enjoy more immediate use of it, so that’s probably for the best.) I need to write more about Cafe Femenino and the work they do, but that will be a separate post.
Classes & Seminars
There were a few classes on my list that I never made it to. I have a feeling the same is true for many, if not most attendees, as there is simply so much to do and never enough time to see everything! Here’s a quick rundown of the classes I joined…
Introduction to Buying Specialty Coffee – This was an early morning seminar hosted by Royal Coffee New York, and I’m glad I made it despite lack of sleep. I thoroughly enjoyed the presentation, and it helped me to understand the harvest/shipping seasons, as well as many factors affecting green coffee that I previously had not considered.
Hands-On Roasting Workshop – A late adjustment to my schedule, I definitely had to get into this class. Rob Hoos took us through three different roast profiles on the 1kg Novo Roaster, while sharing a ton of in-depth information about roasting theory and chemistry. I finally learned how to pronounce Terroir and Maillard (reaction), words I had read but now better understand.
Cupping Workshop: Investigating Microlots – I was worried that lack of recent practice would leave me unable to taste, but this was an amazing workshop led by Joe Marracco from Cafe Imports. Even before we got into the cupping, his presentation and discussion on what constitutes a “microlot” was eye-opening.
Third-Wave Coffee Roasters Town Hall – Not part of my original plan, but thanks to Kelsey from Roast Magazine I was able to catch this great, open discussion with a panel of roasters. The topics ranged from inventory management to social responsibility, and I enjoyed hearing the variety of questions that came up.
Latte Art Hands-On Training – I finally took a formal latte art training workshop! Though I have no photos to prove it, I did a decent job on 1, maybe 2, of my lattes. I was too focused on hearing every word my instructor Michael Ryan had to say about what I did right, what I did wrong, what I needed to watch for, that I didn’t stop to take photos like I would at home.
Going to Coffee Fest by myself was a completely new experience. Last year I relied heavily on my wife, as the more outgoing individual, to help me open up and meet people, but since she was staying home with our little boy I had to wing it. It turned out for the best, as I met some amazing people and made connections that wouldn’t have been possible if I wasn’t forced to put myself out there.
This year I got to see the other side of Coffee Fest, the social side I missed completely during my first convention. Attending the opening reception was a turning point, and never again will I miss the opportunity to share a beer with like-minded people. When the show ended after 4pm on Sunday, I immediately missed every person I met, and I just kept thinking: how can I make it to Chicago for Coffee Fest in June?
I have a lot more to write about, product reviews, coffee tastings, but those specifics will have to wait for another day. Regardless of what auction items or other goodies I brought home, this Coffee Fest brought me the most important swag of all: people.
Until next time…