SCAA 2013

A JVG crew headed to Boston for the Specialty Coffee Association of America's Annual Exposition this past weekend. The Expo has everything from lectures, workshops, latest products, and friendly competitions. It's the ultimate meeting place for the coffee community to gather and share their passion for the industry. Brian, Stephanie, and Megan (pictured left to right) participated in workshops to continue learning of brewing techniques and tasting all kinds of coffees, watching the competitions, and exploring what the expo has to offer. More on their experience in Part II. Robbie attended the symposium portion of the event, where over the course of two days shared in the discussion of the latest issues affecting the future of coffee and how those involved can explore the challenges ahead and collaborate to discover new innovations. Read of his symposium summary below.

Part I: Summary of SCAA Symposium 2013

Boston, MA April 2013 Last week, the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) held its annual convention and trade show. Prior to the convention, the SCAA holds a two-day symposium that delves a bit more deeply into issues facing the coffee business, and this year's symposium was heavily weighted to the coffee rust outbreak in Central America that I experienced firsthand in February in Honduras. Those of us at symposium learned that research into coffee's genetic diversity has been amplified and focused as a response to the rust, or roya. The accumulated science that has addressed disease in wheat, rice, cacao and other food staples is being brought to bear in coffee. The acceleration of climate change was already known to be threatening traditional coffee farms worldwide and wild coffee populations in Ethiopia -- changes in rainfall patterns and higher temperatures are affecting flowering, yields and quality. But this outbreak of rust, a true international emergency in Latin America, has now accelerated attention to the science of coffee, with cultivar and breeding research coming to the fore.

Here's an overview:

A five-year, ongoing project in Madagascar has shown more than hundred species of wild coffee plants. They've not been shown to be consumable as a beverage nor have they been crossbred to any extent with arabica or robusta coffees. But they provide enormous genetic potential in our changing climate. Also, in coffea arabica's native forests in western Ethiopia, coffee scientists are searching for rust-resistant plants and for plants whose fruit ripens more slowly in warmer temperatures, and for the unique cultivars (such as Geisha, the coffee sensation of the past decade) that we've not yet experienced. And their attention to this area is heightened, because climate change and economic development in Ethiopia threaten coffee's natural habitat in lockstep. And finally, coffee research populations -- particularly in Costa Rica -- are receiving energized and better-funded research into their genetics, with grafting and cross-breeding proceeding in a systematic, scientific program designed to succeed quickly. Of course, quickly within the context of a farmed perennial that takes at least three years to production maturity -- as coffee does -- is a five- to fifteen-year project. But it has begun with real purpose.

Here are my expectations:

Short term, coffee prices will go up, maybe even a lot, during the next three years as Latin American coffee production bottoms out and then rebounds from the effects of the rust outbreak. This price fluctuation will be much more apparent at the end of this calendar year and early next year. But the amplified and concentrated attention to coffee science will yield results. Coffee yields will increase and varietals less susceptible to climate and disease will be identified and refined. And each succeeding year, each crop season, I will be on the lookout for the next breakthrough. I'm secure that it will come, then again and again. And I'm thirsty for each and every one. -Robbie Roberts

Part II: Summary of SCAA Expo

When people ask me about my experience at SCAA in Boston, an awkwardly long silence follows. I don't really know where to begin. We took in so much in such a short time. 4 days, 3 rounds of USBC, 2 rounds of Brewers Cup, a maze of vendor booths, a series of lectures I didn't have time to attend, & a 3 hour class covering dosing, tamping & extracting shots of espresso. I have to say: looking back, I get a bit spun. It was all so exciting. It was all so stimulating. How much the never ending stream of coffee & the 40 degree temperatures influenced my head-spinning, I'm unsure, but I have to say, I wouldn't trade it for the world. I sat for 4 hours watching baristas compete in the national barista competition. There were some pretty crazy specialty beverages: one that required a tiny little torch to candy grapefruit, some maple syrup & some egg whites. The competition invigorated me. It reminded me of what makes this career so exciting. The baristas were all so passionate about the espresso they had chosen & spent so much time with, the act of pulling shots for the judges that were standing inches from the espresso-filled portafilter they were tamping was second nature. Some of the baristas were shaking, but it was obvious that they were home. Watching the performances reminded me how much more comfortable I am behind a machine. It made me excited to get back to the shop & get back into the act of pulling shots & talking to customers. Boston reenergized me.

 Megan Lyon, Store Manager | Chapel Hill

My trip to the 25th annual SCAA Convention was a special treat for me because it was held in Boston - a place that I consider somewhat of a second home. I spent a few years in the Boston area for school, but it was also a formative time for me as a barista. I moved back to North Carolina about 4 years ago and the coffee scene in city has grown quite a bit since I left. I enjoyed walking around downtown Boston and visiting many of the cafes such as Pavement Coffee House (3 locations), Thinking Cup (2 locations), and Voltage Coffee and Art - all of which have opened in the last couple of years. Highlights of my trip were: attending great lectures on iced coffee brew methods and barista training, competing in the Boston Thursday night throwdown, and meeting Garth Smith - the co-founder of Cafe Femenino at the SCAA expo. I also enjoyed watching the United State Barista Competition and Brewers cup throughout the weekend. Watching the presentations from excellent baristas challenged me to improve my skills as a barista. The trip reinforced my excitement about brewing and serving excellent coffee for our customers in our cafes.

Brian Maiers, Store Manager | Durham

SCAA is a great event to attend to immerse yourself in everything coffee related. You will meet people from all over the world. This year in Boston, I was in a cupping workshop next to a man who owned a farm in Nicaragua, and women who roasted coffee in South Korea. I love how coffee can bring such a diverse group of people together and everyone there is passionate about what they do. I enjoy getting that face-to-face conversation with those you often call or email. Meeting new people and reconnecting with old friends, it's so much fun to experience the show as you're surrounded by those who enjoy coffee just as much as you do. There is always something new to learn, products to see, baristas to cheer on, and of course, coffee to be tasted. I always leave excited, full of ideas, and looking forward to what's next in the world of coffee. 

 Stephanie Kelley, Marketing, Merchandising, and Communications Manager