YES I know the video I imbedded was from last years competition. Cut me some slack, I used 2014 segment because it shows the vibe so well!
I had the great opportunity to attend the annual SCAA expo in Seattle this year repping Swell Coffees. As you might expect, it was fabulous. Amazing. I don’t really know where to start. But in case you aren’t familiar with the whole deal it is a trade show, a networking event, a training event. This year the Seattle expo was also the site of the World Barista Championships. Below is an image of a Kenyan champion competing.
How to describe the Barista Championships? For non-coffee-geeks (aka normals) the whole thing might seem crazy. I want to assure you that yes, it is crazy, but crazy is what we live for!
We are an obsessed people, and we are not apologetic about it. Coffee is not a warm brown liquid there just to give a little caffeine bump in the morning. It is a religion, and a calling, and maybe SCAA is my pilgrimage.
It was a whirlwind of gorgeous equipment to play with and learn about.
To the right is a snapshot of one of the many cuppings I got to be part of.
I enjoyed the opportunity to geek out and openly adore everything about Specialty Coffee and the people in it. Speaking of amazing people here is picture of Lem Butler of Counter Culture Coffee doing the honors as DJ for the Reg Barber party.
It seemed that everywhere I went I was meeting an interesting person or rekindling an old friendship. On this trip of course I discovered some great coffees for Swell Coffees, learned a few new tricks, but what I mostly came away with was a renewed love of the people involved in specialty coffee. The genuinely innovative, creative, and dare I say nice people. Can we say that about people in such a competitive industry? I dare say, in most cases yes we can. I’m not saying most of them won’t take your customer if you are off your game. Just stay on top of it, and you will find kindred spirits in one of the positive versions of cut-throat competition I have ever been involved in.
All that aside a few of the highlights for me, were that I got to help out a couple cuppings. I like the ritual of cupping, and I like watching both new and experienced cuppers in the same room. watching old timers guide newbies is always fun!
I also got to pull plenty of shots for people, and of all the machined to get to play with, I go to play on a Slayer which really made me happy.Seriously happy. It made me a little too happy as a matter of fact.
In addition to playing on the Slayer, cupping like a madwoman, attending the nightly coffee raves, and demo-ing the living daylights out of the latest cool coffee toys, I walked straight in to the belly of the beast, and nobody even tried to stop me.
That’s right. I visited the Starbucks Reserve Roastery. Good God, what money can by! It’s like they took every nifty thing a little independent was doing, injected every joint with glistening gold steroids, and placed in all on a highly polished altar for us to adore.
Haters gonna hate, but I am glad they did this glorious monstrosity of coffee glitz! Im not mad that they can take anything the little guys come with and flip it. Im honored that they felt a need to do it! Its a very good thing. It can only benefit us little guys in the long run, because better coffee is better coffee, and you know what? The coffee I had there was good.
The more better coffee there is out there, the less crappy coffee there will be. The less people out there who tolerate crappy coffee, the more business for the good guys.
A mighty tip of the hat to Starbucks, and a raise of the glass to the many smaller roasters that continue to drive change.
To anyone in coffee who can take a couple days off, I recommend going. Its expensive unless you volunteer, but volunteering is actually kind of fun. If you are just a fan of coffee, why not take a day to go view the regional competition! They are hilarious at worst, and amazing at best, depending on your view of fine food and beverages. If you own a shop, I recommend you send your staff, have them be runners at the competitions, or judges when ready. Its a service to the cause, but also its a great chance to bounce off other crazy people, wake up your own creativity, find new inspiration or resolve.
In some environments it is hard to keep preaching about nuance, so get with some others like you! To all the coffee crazies…. we are SO not alone!