Why Go to the Biggest Coffee Event Ever, And How to Navigate It
There appears to be a variety of people who go to the Event. Obviously those of us who don't do much else in life but coffee are there. We're generally either the ones volunteering so that we have some way to actually get in or be involved, or the brave and experienced souls competing in the Barista, Brewer's Cup, Taster's Cup, Latte Art, and Roaster's Choice competitions. You'll undoubtedly see those who have come just to support their friends, family, and coworkers as they compete. Some of us go to network with our friends in the industry that come from all over the place. Other's are working booths and vying for the attention and admiration of the masses. There are business owner's trying to find innovative products and equipment to use in their establishments, or taking lectures and workshops to improve quality. And probably more. There are loads of reasons to attend the Event! I know of another Seattle area blogger who went just to see what it was all about. We understand that there are handfuls of people who come just to watch the competitions or meet up with friends, and we'd be among them if we didn't have this blog as an opportunity to be fully involved. For the best experience we recommend getting a taste of everything (which even we failed to do).
Don't Skip Opening Ceremonies
We almost missed the opening ceremony, but we're so glad we didn't. Not only was the energy amazing, and Marcus Bodin very entertaining (karaoke number and slightly drunk back-up dancers!), but we got to fangirl over the 2013 World Champions, hear from portrait country Peru's Minister of Agriculture, Juan Manuel Benites, be dazzled by Erna Knutsen (which was one of the highlights of the entire event), as well as get a preview of SCAA's 2014 Recognition awards, and it also kicked off the welcome party and TNT, which was the first throw down we ever attended.
Use the App
SCAA definitely did the right thing when they developed an app to help you navigate the Event. The app includes full schedules of activities and competitions in and out of the convention center (marathon, parties, tours, etc.), lecture times and locations, expo hall map and directory, as well as the ability to add these things to your schedule. Without the app we would have been lost in the Expo hall and missed certain competitors we really wanted to see.
Take Advantage of the Lectures
When you have the opportunity to hear and learn from leaders in the industry on choice topics for free (as part of your Event admission) why the heck not? We sat in on "The Value of a Distinct Brand" by Brian Jones of DCILY, and it was so valuable and reaffirming for us at that time because we were in the midst of branding our own new coffee company, Terminus Coffee. We missed out on the other class we wanted to sit in on because it got jam packed too quickly. While we don't remember the name, it was for forward thinking retailers and Chelsea Walker-Watson of Slate Coffee was one of the speakers.
Visit All of the Booths With Espresso Machines
Every booth that was armed with an espresso machine (A LOT of them!) had rotating coffee offerings and baristas which made for a smorgasbord of new experiences. We lurked around Slayer and Espresso Parts booths all three days to get try as many as we could manage. There was also a rotating cafe set up in the competition arena where they served more than just espresso and we had our very first, and very relished, macchiatos.
Camila Ramos, of Panther Coffee Miami, FL, pulled her competition coffee on the Slayer single group. She took 5th place in the US Barista Championship.
Favorite local Tacoma roaster, Kevin McGlocklin of Bluebeard had a spot serving their Narrows Blend at the Espresso Parts booth, much to our delight.
Seek Out the Products You Don't Have the Opportunity to See Otherwise
A lot of the products you'll see in the Expo hall are things you might find in your local shop merchandise, or coffee industry specific retailers. Some things, like the bigger machinery, really new innovative stuff, companies that don't use wholesalers, and more handcrafted items you might not get a chance to see elsewhere, especially not in action. We were mostly focused on experience over products, but we were excited to get to try Pacific's Barista Series Almond Milk, see the Acaia Scale in person, watch a demo of the Alpha Dominche Steampunk 2.1, check out Slayer's single group machine, interact with the ModBar espresso and pourover modules, and a few other things we stumbled across, like the copper Hario V-60 and V-60 Dripper Kettle. The Expo hall is also a great opportunity to interact with companies you may want to do business with and get a feel for how they do business. We were glad to have stumbled across Pacific Bag while wandering around, and have been really pleased with their products and service. Same goes for Baratza (who we'd already purchased from but had not the pleasure of meeting any of their incredibly cool team). Both happen to be local.
Watch The Competitions
There is no way that any person, barista, brewer, or not, can watch the competitions and not be blown away by the skill, artistry, composure, and professionalism of the hardworking people who have dedicated their time and energy into preparing and perfecting their routines. David and I both have hopes of competing in the future, him in Brewer's Cup and myself in the Barista Competition. Watching the competitors made us nervous, knowing the amount of work we had ahead of us to make this a reality in the future, and excited as we were inspired by those in the arena that weekend. We watched about three Brewers, and three (or more) Baristas. Most of the presentations were very impressive. The Brewer's Cup competition was the most interesting to watch, for us, because their window for impression lies almost solely in one cup of coffee. It seems like the brewing competition is a little bit of a red headed step child compared to its barista counterpart. There were less spectators and less embellishment. I don't know which would be harder, but both looked incredibly difficult from the outside. You will certainly have a high regard of the competitors after watching a few of them.
This concludes part two of our SCAA coverage. In summary, we think there is something for everyone at the Event, even non coffee people! You should especially not miss it if you're a coffee professional and can help it at all. When attending, try to get a well rounded experience and make use of the tools that SCAA so kindly provides. Come back tomorrow for our favorite competitors, products, etc.