Trip Report: SCAA Trade Show

2010 April 22
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Each year, the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) holds a large trade show for people involved in all facets of the specialty coffee trade. The first one I attended was in Berkeley in the late 1980’s and there were 80 people in attendance. This year, it was held in Anaheim and over 3,000 people visited the show. The show now features several venues, depending upon your personal interests.

The US Barista Competition is held in a small “arena” where judges taste each barista’s work, evaluate their craft, and check out the barista’s signature drink for the event. Ashley from Cartel Coffee Lab did an admirable job representing the AZ coffee scene. In another section are coffee tastings and barista made drinks by the Barista Guild.

Purely educational classes are offered, as well as classes that count towards specific certifications. These include classes and workshops on cupping, roasting, being a barista, running a coffeehouse, packaging, marketing and the like. An outdoor section was set aside for roaster classes. A half dozen small shop roaster of various makes were being used in training.

My interest was mainly in the expo hall. A wide range of booths were arrange roughly by category in the exhibition hall. I studied each of the roaster manufacturer’s booths with interest. Producing countries, espresso machine manufacturers, brewer manufacturers, and specialty roasting companies all held interest for me. There were lots of booths selling smoothie powder, energy drinks and other random items, which I generally ignored.

Martin and Stephen Diedrich in front of a Diedrich Plant Roaster

One of my favorite coffee roaster manufacturers is Diedrich. I started on a Diedrich and Martin Diedrich taught me how to roast. The family grew up in Guatemala farming coffee, then came to the US and settled in Orange County. Martin has a new chain of coffeehouses called Kean Coffee and Steve builds roasters in Idaho. He won Best of Show for his new lab roaster. I also enjoyed the large Probat exhibit and was especially impressed with the technology and build quality of the Loring Roasters.

The new La Marzocco Strada

La Marzocco was showing many of it newest machines, including the stylish and advanced “Strada”. My first espresso machine was a La Marzocco (a 2 group). It was homely, but it did a great job. La Marzocco was really put on the map when Starbucks selected their machine as the standard machine in all Starbucks stores.

A Synesso showing the construction of the machine

Engineers from La Marzocco left the company and started two remarkable espresso machine companies: Synesso and Slayer. Each takes a more individualized approach to building an espresso machine. In each case, they are working hard at temperature stability and ability to tailor the pressure and flow rates applied to the espresso cake. This gives baristas more control and allows them to optimize temperature/pressure profiles to optimize the flavor of a particular coffee. Slayer is particularly interesting in their use of materials, including casting and fine hardwoods. All of the controls feel very fluid and natural in the hand of the barista.

Luigi di Ruocco and Cindy at the Mr. Espresso booth with a FAEMA E-61

We paid a visit to the Mr. Espresso booth where Carlo‘s son Luigi (owner of Coffee Bar SF) made us several espressos on the venerable E-61. We tried espressos of the Italian tradition, as well as some that have been blended for coffeehouses that prefer the new American style espresso.

One of the tasting stations for People's Choice in Coffee of the Year

I enjoyed visiting the People’s Choice tasting for Coffee of the Year. Nine different coffees were offered for attendees to evaluate and then vote for one. I narrowed my two favorites to Colombian Buenavista (from Huila) and Guatemalan Puerta Verde (from Antigua). My final choice was for the Guat, but the SCAA Coffee of the Year was the Colombian.

Parties are a big deal at the tradeshow, with various people and vendors inviting people. We ended up going to two of them. The first was hosted by La Minita, a firm started by grower/buinessman Bill McAlpin in Costa Rica. It was great to see many people we had worked with in the past, including Alton McEwen who was President of Second Cup and is now on the board of La Minita and Swiss Water.

The second party was a tribute to Erna Knutsen, owner of Knutsen Coffee (a green coffee brokerage). She was one of the founders of the specialty coffee movement and instrumental in educating many of the best roasters. Erna is a trailblazer in the male dominated coffee business, starting as a secretary at a commodities brokerage. In attendance were Dan Cox, founder of Green Mountain (the emcee), George Howell of Terroir Coffee (formerly founder of The Coffee Connection), Dave Kobos of Kobos Coffee (Portland), and numerous roasters, coffee producers, green brokers, and well wishers. It was a great party and very energizing. Erna was full of humor as usual.

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