September 18, 2008
Coffee Fest is really a show for “retail” and I went down Saturday to give a 1 hour talk that was not so much for retail titled: ”Developing Sustainable Direct Trade Relationships”. In short I shared from my perspective what makes it work and what doesn’t. Defined roles of each link and praised their value as one of the greatest myths is that cutting out the middle man is always a good thing. It is not just roasters, but growers – who think they can replace and improve the in between links rather than work with them.
Attendance was down quite a bit, but I was pleasantly surprised to see how many came to my talk. I was prepared to have an awkward 8-9 people in a room that seats over 250, and it turns out we had about 75 people, all roasters or people that work closely with a roaster in one way or another.
It was great to see many familiar faces as well as finally connecting with some of you I had never bet before. It was hard to prepare as I didn’t know what type of audience to expect. I could have probably gone more in depth in some areas that would have fascinated a select few and put everyone else to sleep. While not my personal preference, I stuck to the safe shot gun approach. Sorry to those who were hoping for more and thank you kindly for your sincere feedback. It is much appreciated. I think the best compliment I got was from someone who seemed to have been rung through the trade show course gauntlet. ”It was SO refreshing to participate in a seminar where I wasn’t being sold something”. I couldn’t help but laugh and wonder what was discussed in other courses that were I’m sure taught by much more talented speakers.
Thank you señor Watts for being so candid with experiences where for the sake of maintaining a relationship you took a hit to maintain quality. I did not have time to share this or many other stories of the challenges involved, what can go wrong, how great the commitment of resources really is as well as the level of possible risk in volved. Maybe some other time.
Missed out on a handful of parties but I couldn’t be happier as we are 6 weeks away from having a boy! Yes, Nina and I are blessed to be pregnant I can’t wait for my boy to come to this world. To write a dedicated post will not suffice so expect more family news to be snuck into posts and the like, indefinitely =)
I wanted to make a quick walk through the show floor in case I didn’t return the next day and I finally was held accountable by Tony Serrano who escorted me out of the building knowing I was not going to get out any time soon unless I ran for the door. Thank you Tony. I made the baby shower in good time.
September 2, 2008
Well there is so much to say, and if I wait until I have time to write more it will never happen, so I’ll give a quick raw summary from my point of view and then compile some links of whatever I can find. First and foremost I must express thanks to those who poured a piece of their life into making this happen. Andrew Barnett, Tony Konecny and Eileen Hassi. Also to Brent Fortune who just as Aaron De Lazzar told me, has every barista in the world one button away on his iphone. And finally on a more personal note Andy Newbom for bringing me to California and welcoming me in his home for the weekend.
First you should know this event over labor day weekend at Fort Mason – SF was marketed as the largest food celebration in American history. I didn’t really have time to visit all taste pavilions as an attendee, but I can say that the coffee pavilion was out of this world!
We had a few dozen of the finest coffees in the world from over a dozen of the finest roasters in the United States. CEO’s, roasters, baristas, trainers, green buyers, growers, freelance coffee people all working side by side packing 4 hall ways approximately 40 feet long.
The first is lined with GB5′s and really big grinders with some decent baristas behind them. It reminded me of the first year the DREAM TEAM composed of mostly NBA players went to the olympics.
It was ridiculous! In fact everyone washing dishes, bussing and making coffee runs was part of the Dream Team.The second and third rows had 4 stations each where 3-4 coffees were sampled out to groups of 2-10 people at a time. Each group had anywhere from 4-15 minutes with a taste captain who provided a phenomenal coffee experience that left attendees with raving feedback how eye opening the coffee pavilion was. Taste captains shared the name of the farmer, the farm, elevation, varietal, some taste descriptors and in some instances how terroir or processing impacts the cup.
Then in the back row was the back bone of the entire event. A wall lined with Clovers and Mythos grinders manned by a skilled crew of coffee people which of course included David Latourell of Clover/SBUX and Ben Kaminsky who once asked me to translate to a green exporter “I want to taste the coffee you liked so much it made you cry”.This was truly a gathering of some of coffees finest in retail in north america. Never before have I seen such intense passion for quality in coffee with such synergy crossing over geographic and company boundaries with out being on a farm.
My first shift as a taste captain I recall serving Santa Inez past #1 coe while being able to introduce Andrew Barnett who roasted it and happened to be walking right behind me, Aida Battles rum-y-PASA and have Chris Owens say “I know her”, delicious El Guayabo from Jaimes 3 hectar farm in Huila-probably sourced by Ryan down the hall, blue berry Beloya grown and milled by Mr. Bagersh on my left etc…
On a shift as a Pit Boss I was just following Peter, Doug and Eileen’s lead in welcoming attendees and escorting them to a station. On one occasion while our El Eden microlot was on rotation I had the privilege to tag team with Stephen who’s intimately familiar with many of our microlots and later was asked by Christian who roasted the very coffee that we grow to share to his guests about our terroir and how it and our processing impact cup. All the while Monica who teaches people how to make great coffee is washing thousands… yes thousands of nuova point espresso cups that had each given someone an espresso experience to remember.
I can’t explain the sense of overwhelming pride and humility that comes across when things come around full circle. When I heard that our Edlyna microlot was being pulled for a shift at the espresso barline, I went up to taste it and met Billy Wilson who executed as if he’d been dialing it in for years.
This happened for 10 hours a day, for 2 and a half days! If this was a coffee house and this happened every day, I’m sure we would go through almost a container a month.
I left the event early Sunday night as I didn’t want to be away from my wife for too long. Before heading out of Fort Mason I was notified of the following mention in the SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE (the last few paragraphs under GOURMET EMPORIUM) and this was a REPORT ON SLOW FOOD DAY 2 also with mention of FVH.
Thanks to all who made this possible. If you know of any other relevant links, let me know and I’ll add them above.