Specialty Coffee Association of America Conference

May 5, 2011

Adam and I attended the Specialty Coffee Association of America Conference and Tradeshow last weekend. We both took part in seminars and walked the trade show floor, looking for ideas to bring back to A&E. Overall, the event was great. I got everything out of it that I wanted to get out of it.

The main topic of conversation was the price of coffee and the volatility in the market. There was a great deal of talk about climate change as it relates to these things. The big topic as it relates to the café is reducing waste as means to affect the bottom line.

Several of the consultants said that, in general, customers have anticipated price increases. Our customers have been wonderful and very loyal, despite the price increases we’ve had to make.

At the trade show, we sampled a lot of products and saw a few new products. There were hardly any eye-popping products that we hadn’t heard of before, which is good. This tells us that we’re pretty up to speed on what’s going on in the industry and have a well-informed program at the café.

Frozen drinks are becoming the big thing on the café side. At A&E, we offer 100 percent fruit smoothies by Dr. Smoothie. After sampling four or five different brands at the show, Dr. Smoothie was still head and shoulders above the rest, so we’ll be continuing that program.

We also met with a number of our brokers and discussed ideas for what we can bring to the café once we’ve made it through our stock of organic Kenyan. We’re looking into coffee from the Dominican Republic produced by the Café Femenino organization.

Café Femenino® Coffee Project is a social program for women coffee growers in rural communities around the world. It is a sustainability designation much like Fair Trade or Shade Grown, but is focused specifically on supporting coops run by women in third-world countries.

Previously, the logistics of procuring this coffee were challenging but, thanks to mergers among coffee brokers, there is now some on the East Coast and we’re looking at bringing it to A&E.

On Friday, I took a cupping calibration class hosted by Q Graders, which is an industry-recognized standard for analyzing and grading a cup of coffee. Licensed Q Graders are accredited by the Coffee Quality Institute in California. A fully licensed  Q Grader Graders must pass a rigorous three-day exam to earn their certification, comprising of 22 sections on coffee related subjects, such as green grading, roast identification, coffee cupping, sensory skills and sensory triangulation. There are currently over 1,000 Licensed Q Graders worldwide. Those who pass the Q Grader Certification Course are authorized to use the Q logo and the nomenclature “Licensed Q Grader” as a professional accreditation.

What I learned through this class was that I am actually pretty accurate in my analysis and grading. This gives me more confidence when I’m testing my own coffees as well as an industry-standard practice for doing so.

Adam attended a Defect Cupping Class which highlighted how a defect in the coffee will taste in the cup. (It tastes bad is the bottom line.) Different types of defects in the beans results in different bad flavors in the cup. Identifying both defect and flavor fault is important.

On top of all of that, we watched some of the US Barista Competition and Brewers Cup, which was a lot of fun.

In the next couple of days, I’m going to explore the seminars a little more deeply, so keep an eye out for additional updates.

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