First Impressions of The 25th Annual SCAA Event in Boston, MA

By Chérmelle D. Edwards

Boston. It is a behemoth.

I speak not of the city Boston in its known sense. Rather, I am speaking of Boston, as a name-signifier-moniker of the all encompassing annual Specialty Coffee Association of America’s exposition event.

Before coming to Boston, my thoughts swarmed about what this experience would yield. I was asked on Twitter in 140 characters or less, “Are you going?” I was queried in person, “Will you be there?” And, I was admonished in emails, “You must go to Boston.” In addition to all the urging, I wondered if I did go, What would it feel like? What would I learn? Who would I meet? And, perhaps even more, what would it sound like given the energy and bigger staged, United States Barista Competition – which I have a keen interest in.

Now, that I’ve been in Boston, the city, I am able to answer some of these questions. The city feels cold, literally. Its been an on and off again rainy first couple of days. Yet, its allowed for a beautiful juxtaposition upon entering Boston, where the past two days I’ve experienced the most warm exchanges that make the physical cold non-existent.

Boston feels massive. Walking into it – the Boston Convention Center on Summer Street in South Boston – I am greeted with informational signs of all kinds from Symposium event times, networking meeting locations including the good old blue Twitter bird and handle reminding me to tweet and hashtag my activities.

A series of successive forward steps lead me to where downward elevators can deliver me to Exhibitors floor. Aisles are neatly arranged like one would traditionally see with row crop farming. And, on this floor, the crop is at once; vendor, roaster, producer, manufacturer, and organization hoping to plant seeds of interest, information and inspiration. As these booths co-exhibit on the floor, a walk down their aisles and around them leaves me impressively overwhelmed with an industry whose diversity doesn’t just rest in the product of a tangible cup of coffee, but all these people, who in their own individual way, are a cause and effect to making not just Boston a behemoth, but the business of coffee one too.

As a curator and creator of culture, my Boston business primarily was to come and document the United States Barista Competition in a way that marries the art of language and music through story telling in 140 characters or less. Yes, I’m talking about the wonderful social behemoth, Twitter. To be here, with this aim, and to see this competition within the context of an Activities hall with dedicated stages, bleacher like arranged seats feels like one is watching a sport.

However, far from it being a sport, I feel a more just analogy would be to liken attending the USBC to the Academy Awards. While, the USBC nominees are those who’ve earned a birth into the finals, and they do perform a routine, what they are doing feels like a clip of what these individuals do and live everyday – make coffee, tell its story and thank goodness, play music in their spaces while doing so. Thus, to sit in the Activities Hall, where a live feed greets you adjacent to a live barista sharing craft and artistry feels at once glamorous and familiar.

The familiar for me continued when upon attending the Opening Ceremonies and its reception afterwards I met a producer couple from Honduras – Cristian and Ana Rodriquez. While I nibbled on cheese and crackers, intermittent with pupusas, Ana introduced herself to me and to her husband Cristian, as well as another recent acquaintance of theirs at the table. It didn’t take long for me to feel as I often feel, when I’m in my role as coffeetographer – an emotive response to people documented through photography. This is when the behemoth of Boston, and by extension coffee culture siphoned down to what is at home to me in culture – being touched by an individual, discovering a story to tell, having a real and genuine exchange – the essence of humanity which I found in them.

For the better of nearly an hour I learned about their finca. I learned about their coffee Café Tio Juan – a namesake to Cristian’s brother who was killed last year by robbers while Juan, also affectionately known as ‘Pom’ was murdered while on his own farm. I learn of the Rodriguez’ passion and growing interest in coffee, how he quit his job as a dentist to buy some old farms, and how her clothing business supports their entrepreneurial endeavor. They share that their impetus to know more about coffee and to “follow their coffee” comes from curious individuals, like many of us in this country to want to know about a coffee’s origin and the traceability of it to our first world cups. As thoughts and topics like these exchange from palate to palate, I am awed and humbled to be in Boston, for Boston, sitting across a table with black linen having a very finite emotion because of the culture of coffee.

All I can think about now is that my first impression is now an infinite one and is best summed up in the words Mr. Rodriguez gifts to me: “People who love coffee don’t care about your age, color or religion, they just love coffee. It has no frontiers.”

chérmelle d. edwards
founder.editor. chief coffeetographerTM   
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