Coffee Fest NYC, Part 2: What I Learned

Blogger’s Note: Today is the second in a series of reposts from my old blog, wrapping up my experience at Coffee Fest NYC in March. Yesterday focused on the overall convention experience, as well as the awesome competitions I was able to watch, so today you can read about the classes Jamie and I decided to tackle during our first Coffee Fest. Just looking back on it now, I am so glad I took the barista training and cupping classes, and I cannot wait to hit Coffee Fest in Atlanta next year. I am going to try the latte art class this time for sure!

It’s been over a week now since returning from New York and our first visit to Coffee Fest, and I still can’t stop talking about it! Today I am wrapping up my convention review with a look at what I learned in the specific classes we took. I’ll divide the classes into three categories:

  1. Hands-On Barista Training
  2. Cupping
  3. Things-that-sounded-fun-and-fit-into-our-schedule

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Hands-On Barista Training

Jamie and I signed up for the 4 hour barista training on Saturday morning. It was probably the class we looked forward to the most, and I’m happy to say it didn’t disappoint. Led by Tommy from Coda Coffee in Denver, we went over some espresso machine and grinder basics, reviewed the process of dialing in your grind, and then spent a few hours pulling shots and steaming milk.

The class was divided into two groups, and sitting in the front row we wound up learning from Tommy. He was a great trainer, as well as an all-around fun guy. Before the class even started, he took drink orders and cranked out lattes faster and more efficient than any barista I can remember! I wish I’d known about his shop when I was in Denver last August, but it definitely gives me another roaster to visit next time I get out there.

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I learned a ton in four hours, and the time just flew by! Learning to dial in the espresso grinder was huge. I found out that I’ve been over-dosing our shots at home by packing the grinds down prior to tamping. It’s a bad habit I had developed to compensate for our original grinder, which wasn’t capable of getting fine enough to produce proper pressure on our machine. Tommy saw me do it once and stopped me immediately, and I can’t thank him enough. What a difference learning from a pro!

Steaming milk on the Nuova Simonelli Aurelia II was a dream come true. Our home machine can’t even come close to the ease with which I produced quality milk in class, but I still brought home the crucial knowledge of milk temperature and the stages of steaming. And of course, I built the most important habit: cleaning and purging the steam wand immediately after every use.

The other hands-on training class that tempted us was the Latte Art Training, but since this was our first time on professional equipment I didn’t think we would benefit from a class at that level. I do wish there was something in between the two, an intermediate class that focused on drink flow. Tommy went over drink flow, but by the time we had consistent espresso and steamed milk, there was little time to practice making drinks. I would have signed up for a second drink class without hesitation, just to get more practice time on the machine.

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Introduction to Cupping &
Inviting Customer to Your Table

We went to two different cupping workshops, both hosted by Joe form Cafe Imports. There was a little overlap in content, but that’s what I wanted. Cupping is something I had read about, heard about, but never seen or practiced. As a home-roaster, I need to be able to cup my own coffees in order to better understand and describe them, as well as to recognize the effects of different roast profiles, etc.

The first class was Friday morning, Introduction to Cupping, and it began with a detailed definition of cupping, why we do it, and the established protocol and “best practices” in the industry. We learned that cupping is much more than simply tasting coffee, and the scientific approach led me to see why so many in the industry refer to their “lab” when talking about a cupping room.

After an informative introduction, we had a chance to practice cupping as a group. I had a difficult time describing what I was tasting, and realized how much practice and calibration I need to taste something and immediately say “bright and floral” or “oh yeah, that’s sugar browning”. I found it challenging, but a valuable experience for sure.

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The next afternoon, we sat through our second cupping class, Inviting Customers to Your Table: Cupping in a Retail Setting, which explored the possibilities and hurdles of hosting a cupping event in a retail coffee shop or cafe. This was a really fun class, with lots of laughter, and I think Joe surprised everyone by taking us through a cupping, pushing us as if we were professional cuppers, then showing us how necessary it is to differentiate between cupping in the lab, and cupping as a social event.

While the retail class may not be something I can apply right now, the chance to practice a second time was well worth it. In the first workshop we cupped four different coffees, but this time we were only cupping three. They tasted quite unique, but it was in fact the same coffee, just with three different roast profiles. That was a valuable lesson, something I can apply immediately in my home roasting practice.

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Other classes that fit in our schedule

We didn’t get to attend quite as many classes as I would have liked, but there were a couple highlights that we snuck in between the longer hands-on training and the afternoons walking the show floor. One was titled Opening a New Cafe, and it was led by Tom from Design & Layout Services. He put on a great presentation, had us laughing for nearly an hour, and we came away with a new respect for the amount of detail that goes into a seemingly simple cafe opening.

My favorite part was the mock argument between the soon-to-be cafe owner and the health inspector about the need for a grease trap. “Do you plan to serve butter with that blueberry muffin? Grease.” Tom led us through a hypothetical cafe opening from the start all the way to expansion, and the amount of information he packed into an hour was astounding. I could easily attend his class many times as I’m sure I’d soak up something new on each sitting.

The other workshop we signed up for was Making Great Frappes & Smoothies. As a near daily user of a Vitamix Professional Series 750 for smoothies at home, I had more clear expectations of this class than any other that weekend. But instead of making the types of smoothies I already drink at home, I got to see the commercial side of blended drinks, and wound up having an awesome time!

The folks at Cappuccine who hosted the workshop did a great job of keeping it fun and making sure everyone got plenty of time practicing drinks. I learned about L-P-I, Liquid-Product-Ice, and while I had been following that recipe in some form at home, I’ve rearranged the order in my own drinks to be more exact and the results are already great.

The Big Picture

That about wraps up our experience at Coffee Fest NYC. There is plenty more to share about the trip, from the coffee crawl Monday after the show, to the 24 hour train ride home, but those are stories for another day.

Readers: if you were at Coffee Fest, feel free to drop me a line, via twitter or facebook! I’d love to hear from other attendees and share photos and memories.

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