If there’s one thing to take away from my visit to Chicago last weekend, it’s this: no two convention experiences are the same.
I threw together this jaunt to Coffee Fest as if I was planning for a younger me. Granted, my last visit to a convention was two years ago, and I was a different person then, still just a father of one and enough free time to blog more than once a week. Now, hm… am I getting too old for this?
Traveling light, I made my way from the airport to downtown and checked into my hotel. After a brief walk, I arrived at Navy Pier late Friday afternoon with just enough time to wander the floor and catch up with a few friends from past Coffee Fests.
My first impression of the show floor was overwhelming. Everything seemed much bigger than I remember, and this was certainly a larger footprint than Atlanta.
The opening night reception was also different, and I spent the evening playing pool and chatting, meeting some really nice shop owners and baristas and feeling a tad out of place given my position on the sidelines. Even though I started The Coffee Minimalist nearly three years ago, a few long breaks from blogging set me back and I don’t have much to show for years of exploring my passion for specialty coffee.
I did attend Cold Brew U, and took great interest in the equipment and sanitation discussions from the Micromatic rep. As much as I hoped this trip would get me brewing commercial batches and getting our cold brew tap flowing again, I now realize how poor some of my equipment is, due to choosing a consumer-level kegerator. Whether it’s worth the investment to upgrade or whether I should stick to smaller home-size batches, that’s something I’ll have to think about.
I also made it to Tea 101, which proved to be a world of fun. The presentation was outstanding, full of laughs and packed with information. I learned more about tea in an hour than I could have expected, and it got me excited to try more tea at home and curious to check out the tea programs of our local shops.
Saturday after the tea class I had all afternoon to explore the show. I walked, and walked, and walked some more. I must have wandered the aisles dozens of times over the course of a few hours, but I only brought home a small collection of literature and a few samples.
The one thing I kept coming back to was America’s Best Cold Brew, the new competition that Coffee Fest added last fall. The head-to-head format was similar to their latte art and espresso competitions, but instead of a panel of judges, anyone attending the show can taste and vote for their favorites.
I enjoyed sampling a lot of different interpretations of cold brew. There were blends, single origins, flash-chilled, slow-drip, just about everything you could think of. If I didn’t have to catch an early flight home, I would love to have stayed for the finals. Next time, perhaps…
So that’s the recap of my time at Coffee Fest, but what did I learn? Oddly enough, the lessons that hit me the most were not coffee-related.
I learned that I don’t take good photos with a small camera. I opted to leave the DSLR at home, taking my wife’s smaller Fuji instead, but I used it less and my results were not even decent blog material. If I want to have a solid photo gallery from this type of event, I need to commit to carrying the camera I’m most comfortable using.
I also learned that visiting a city alone is no fun at this stage of my life. Although there were plenty of fun things going on in Chicago while I was there, the thought of being a tourist by myself just left me depressed. Next time I need to have my family with me, because everything outside the convention was boring without them.
Finally, I learned that I still lack a clear direction with this blog. While talking to vendors and attendees, the question that always came up was “what do you blog about?” A couple years ago, that was easy enough to answer, but not anymore. My recent blog history is all over the place, and that lack of direction shows in how I approach coffee.
I may not be fortunate enough to work in coffee every day, to develop my palate and hone my latte art skills, but I can still make coffee a mindful part of my routine. I’ve let it slide, thinking often of ways to refocus myself, but it’s time to put my inner minimalist into action and find what’s missing.