Last month Scott, Guy and I were fortunate enough to attend the 2014 Specialty Coffee Association of America ‘Event’.
Based in downtown Seattle (the birthplace of Starbucks) this year, the show hosted international companies from all facets of the coffee industry; from growers, importers, roasters and packers to paraphernalia from cups to computer software.
Being my first time attending an SCAA expo I was a little overwhelmed by the sheer size and quality of the operation. Physically getting around to visit all of the stalls is just not possible in the four days (unless you skip lunch). So I picked my way through the venue looking for new technologies and developments in green bean handling and the roasting scene.
Many origin suppliers were hosting open cuppings, proudly showcasing their best of the season. In particular I enjoyed the offerings from Guatemala – fresh clean cup profiles with a smooth mouth feel and flavours of soft chocolate and berry notes with a subtle acidity.
An interesting area of the expo was the large array of automatic brewing equipment, in particular one machine which incorporated patented vessels of roast which could be inserted into the unit and ground on demand. The result is fresh coffee at the touch of a button. Despite the sophisticated nature and visually appealing design of these automated machines, I still think that the personal art and experience of brewing is an integral missing characteristic.
It was easy to get side-tracked talking to the endless number of fascinating people involved in the industry, but what I most admired about the American coffee industry and the international visitors I met was that they were all very open and happy to share their stories and knowledge.
Having not experienced American coffee culture first hand I was surprised to find that the espresso craze has still not hit as hard as it has in Australia with our Italian café influence. The preferred beverage in the USA is a rather large cup of black drip coffee (usually loaded up with sugar or flavoured syrups). That’s not to say that boutique espresso bars aren’t dotted around town. These specialty cafes tend toward a light roast and usually promote single origins, however I found their popularity to be somewhat limited to a small demographic of trendy 20-somethings and messenger cyclists.
It was reassuring to discover that the Aussie coffee scene back home is so advanced in terms of variety and access to brewing and roasting technologies. However I can’t help but wonder if the simple tried and tested method of the drip filter will make a return to popularity in Australia due to its simple nature and clean flavours.
Overall the experience of visiting the ‘Event’ was one that I found not only enjoyable but also immensely eye opening. I am looking forward to attending next year!