Every Spring coffee industry folks congregate from all over the world for the Global Specialty Coffee Expo in Seattle, Washington. This year Nick, Kim, Matthew, and Barbara made the trek up there to attend lectures, connect with the community, check out new innovations, and celebrate specialty coffee, of course. Here are each of their perspectives and take-aways from their experiences.
I love this event. The Specialty Coffee Association of America , (or SCAA) has been an important factor in the rise of our industry since 1982. We at Flag & Wire are relative newcomers--All but one of us were born after 1982.
But now that we’re all grown up we can look back at history and see the changes in Specialty Coffee. We can look back at a time when there were a countable number of espresso machines in Seattle, Washington, (Six. There were six espresso machines in total in Seattle), to today when there are more than 150 Starbucks locations in the city limits of Seattle alone!
In the last 35 years we’ve seen the rise of espresso consumption in the US and beyond and the rise of “Third Wave” coffee--coffee taken to a new level of care and precision for the benefit of the customer.
We’ve seen stability and credibility conferred to more people in more sections of our industry. “Barista” is no longer a low-wage, part-time throwaway job but in many cases the beginning of a lucrative career in a really fun & rewarding industry. Baristas add value to people’s lives every day! Granted, it’s just a cup of coffee, but it’s very often the little things like a cup of coffee that make the difference. It’s like the frosting on a cake. This thing of Specialty Coffee is a NEW industry generating NEW value. I think that’s so exciting.
This year was a historic event! The Speciality Coffee Association of America and the Specialty Coffee Association of Europe have merged to form a unified global association called the Specialty Coffee Association. This new association will cover and service the entire globe--places like Central & South America and Africa. Previously these areas were extended connection to the SCAA & the SCAE, but now we truly have a global association that can see the coffee supply chain more fully & clearly from many angles.
Every year the “SCAA Event” as it’s been known in the past, or the “Global Specialty Coffee Expo” as it’ll be known from now on, features several key components.
One is the trade show floor. It’s just this amazing epic adventure through the industry. This year, again, was the coolest ever because we saw so much more information and technology and equipment from all parts of the industry. It’s a place under one roof where you can see harvesting equipment and processing equipment, you can learn from transportation companies that move the coffee over the oceans and import/export companies that broker it across governments, you can learn about warehousing and storage and roasting and serving. All the major equipment manufacturers are there with their machines primed to show off.
Another big thing is the education! At the SCA we have “Educational Pathway Courses”. “An SCA educational Pathway is a program designed to give you the knowledge, hands on experience and industry connections to pursue a successful career in the specialty coffee industry”, (quoted from the SCA’s website, http://scaaeducation.org/pathways/). And there are all kinds of lectures on all kinds of subjects to choose from.
There’s an area called the “Cupping Exchange” where import/export companies, individual farmers or even national governments can secure the space for an hour or two and host long-form cuppings. Maybe that doesn’t sound like a hoot to you, but for me… It’s pretty exciting to hang out in a room full of Kenyans.
And speaking of Kenyans…Every year a “Portrait Country” is chosen--this year it was Kenya. So there’s a focus on Kenya, the Kenyan people, and Kenyan coffees. And, importantly, there are Massai folks slurping coffee and performing traditional jumping dances on the trade floor. So rad.
There are parties and mixers and events! We were excited to attend the Roasters Guild Party and then afterwards we went to a 1990’s dance-birthday party for our favorite espresso machine manufacturer, La Marzocco.
There were a hundred other things--old friends and new, opportunities for collaborations, the ability to touch and smell and taste new things in our industry, first looks at new products and equipment. I can’t describe it all--it’s just a lot of really cool stuff to take in.
Every year we get in the car to head home and it feels a little like leaving camp. We had such a good time, we learned a lot, and we’re going to miss it. But the Global Specialty Coffee Expo 2018 is only 51 weeks away I guess…
Since my birthday is also in April, I always feel like the Coffee Expo is a giant birthday present. I LOVE people watching, and there’s not a better place for that than the expo! This year Europe and America combined associations, and so it felt pretty incredible watching people’s badges go by on the escalator- Brazil, Norway, China, Kenya, and so on. It felt like we were all part of a super cool club.
Attending the lectures that are offered each morning are definitely a highlight, I think they are responsible for the purpose and inspiration and drive that I leave the expo with each year. Whether it’s about customer service practices, green coffee buying strategy, global coffee trends, or instagram, I love listening to industry leaders speak passionately and show how care and knowledge in each small component can make a difference in your business as well as people’s lives.
A young barista visited the shop recently. He shared with me his great successes in the industry so far- how his boss was sending to train under different coffee celebrities and how far he has advanced in skills under less than a year of working in coffee. It was clear that the business he worked for made much more money than our company. Although he was perfectly polite, I couldn’t help but feel uneasy about the interaction. I began to question my own successes in the industry. After work I went home and mowed my lawn.
Sometimes I wonder why I choose to do what I do. I just spent four days in Seattle at the Specialty Coffee Association expo. I attended lectures on health and building codes for cafes, on water filtration and mineral content, and on the dissolution of solids into liquids. I also took a close look at the variety of equipment being introduced to the industry. Yet what I loved most about the convention was cramming our four person team into a one bedroom airbnb house- Or maybe getting closer to my coworker, Barbara, at the 90s Dance Party in Celebration of La Marzocco’s (our espresso machine manufacturer) 90th anniversary.
There were many aspects of the convention that I learned from. I will make updates to our products and equipment. I also feel more equipped to handle the expansion of our business. But, it has become clear to me in the week since the coffee expo, that I work at Flag and Wire because I am motivated by the relationships I am a part of. Both the relationships with coworkers and the relationships with customers are important to me. I feel happy and proud to know that we are creating jobs now that are extremely rewarding to be part of. I hope that all of our employees will be proud to be part of the company we are creating. I hope that they will care for McMinnville and be involved in providing a great atmosphere for the community. I aim to build a business that is as lasting and as important as La Marzocco. I am proud to work for Flag and Wire and humbled to be part of such a great community.
Having joined the Flag & Wire team just 8 months ago, I’m still fairly new to the coffee industry. I wasn’t sure where my place would be at this conference. What turned out to be something that I thought would be overwhelming, instead left me feeling invigorated about what I do for this company and helped me to realize how I fit into the Flag & Wire family.
Going into this, I knew it was going to be a big event. But there was still a sense of shock over just how much there was to do and see. Lectures, exhibits, things to taste, competitions, and after-parties to keep you going even after the expo is closed for the day! Some prevalent themes I noticed strung throughout the entire weekend was cold brew, innovative design, alternative milks, and alcohol pairings. There was even a special new exhibit this year called Uppers & Downers, which featured different beer and coffee collaborations. In a sense it’s kind of revealing about the direction the coffee industry is beginning to take: collaborative. Whether it’s roasters/cafes collaborating with one another, or specialty coffee collaborating on projects with other industries like beer, donuts, art, or even farms like our upcoming Even Pull Mother’s Day Pop-Up.
The lectures helped elevate my understanding of coffee and the specialty industry. What I gathered from the various ones I attended was that there is a necessary call to action for the specialty coffee industry to work together as a community. The biggest take away I got from the lectures by Jared Truby and Chris Baca of Cat & Cloud was that members of this industry need to support one another to thrive in today’s market to prevent from being viewed simply as “trendy”. There are a number of negative stigmas about the atmosphere of specialty coffee, so it is crucial to be thoughtful with our consumer base and intentional in all communicative aspects of our business. It is becoming a collaborative goal for everyone in this industry to be approachable and genuine with all customers, whether they are new or already well versed with the coffee world. I hope this communicates effectively as I continue to manage our online presence.
This brings me specifically to where I work. Flag & Wire. I feel blessed to be part of a company that encourages education and values community building so much they decided to invite my co-worker Matthew and I along for this experience. The four of us would part ways for the morning lectures so we could cover more ground, then afterwards eagerly find each other to share what we thought about the ones we attended and discuss what events we were excited for in the latter part of the day. The best part of all is that at the end of a busy expo day, what we all wanted to do was spend our time together. Eating, dancing, or watching Parks & Rec and Community reruns back at the airbnb.
Fairly quickly after being hired on, I felt close with my team. It was easy and natural to become comfortable with such a rad group but this weekend made me especially proud and even feel like a happy-coffee-family with them. Kim, Nick, and Matthew are each so articulate and dedicated to what we do, it was awesome to see them in their element and for all of us to be able to geek out over all the neat things the expo had to offer. Nora and Noah were on my mind too, making me happy to know that they had things under control at the shop. This is a great group of people, with beautiful ambition. We are excited to show you all more of what we do and have in store for our local and coffee communities.
And the best picture of all...Kim's face on a latte!