by Mike McKim, founder and CEO, Cuvée Coffee
When I started roasting coffee in 1998, I was not able to find a lot of information or education. Let’s face it, roasting coffee is not one of those professions that spawns a bunch of how-to books. I was fortunate enough to have a mentor who gave me advice and pointed me in the right direction, but at a certain point I found myself just repeating a set of tasks and not really growing or learning. I had peaked, and way too early.
In 2001, I attended my first SCAA Event. I was selling espresso machines at the time because I was unsuccessful at selling coffee (that is another story altogether) and I got to walk the floor with my boss, Joe Monaghan. I was young, and I remember being so impressed that we couldn’t take ten steps without someone calling out his name, or walking up to shake his hand, or giving him a hug. It was this moment that I realized I was in a special place and surrounded by special people. When I was hawking fiber optic cable, I went to multiple trade shows every year, and none of them had the energy or fraternity that I was experiencing. I didn’t know exactly what this event was all about, but I knew that I wanted to be part of it. I started volunteering for any job that needed a warm body, and my quest to learn how to navigate SCAA had begun.
As anyone who has built a small business knows, the early days have the owner pretty much doing every job. Somehow I convinced the right people that I was competent enough to instruct classes, and this is where my own education really started. Personally, I find that volunteering and teaching is the best way to learn. As I got involved in the cupping and roasting classes, it became clear what I was supposed to be doing. If you have any interest in training, get in there: take classes and volunteer. In my opinion, it is the best place to start. Meeting people who have been doing it for years, as well as meeting the newest of the new taking their first classes, is an experience that can’t be put into words. These peer-to-peer connections are easily some of the most enjoyable and most valuable connections to make.
A lot has changed since my first Event. One of those things is the access and bridge-building to producing countries and producers; this is easily one of my favorite parts of the show. The exchange of experience and information, and the potential to build meaningful relationships, permeates every corner of the show. Producing countries and producers have the opportunity to showcase their coffees through things like the Cupping Exchange. Guess who wins when you put a group of roasters and coffee buyers in a room with growers, exporters, and importers? Everyone! It is a whirlwind of questions, ideas, and feedback from all perspectives.
Step onto the floor and wind your way through each aisle. If you are a roaster, you can find roasting equipment, packaging equipment, packaging, brewers, espresso machines, grinders, allied products, etc. Basically everything you will ever need to run your business or do your job is all under one roof. The opportunity to talk to other coffee companies is also one that can’t be overlooked. I talked a little about the classes, but allow me to emphasize again: education starts at the most basic level and continues to pretty advanced stuff. I suggest taking a look at the classes and mapping out your show experience around them. After spending five years on the Roasters Guild Executive Council, I can personally vouch for the roasting track, and know that it was created by some of the most passionate and talented professionals in the industry.
Hopefully this gives you a little snapshot into what you might do at The Event if you are a roaster or coffee buyer. I can’t really make an itinerary for you, but I can tell that you that if you get in there and do something, get involved, you won’t be sorry. I’ve been known to hoist a pint or two at these events and having fun is one aspect that should never be overlooked. Attend the Roasters Guild Annual Meeting, and then be sure to hit one of my favorite after-hours events, the Roasters Guild Party. It’s pretty common knowledge that roasters dig craft beer and let’s face it, who doesn’t love being surrounded by people who share a common interest—and did I mention craft beer?
Additional Info: Find information about the Roasters Guild party at scaaevent.org/specialevents
Mike McKim is the founder and CEO of Cuvée Coffee with a penchant for innovation, authenticity and transparency. Together with his wife, Rashelle, Mike began roasting coffee as an exploratory hobby in 1998 in Dallas, Texas, and soon realized that his product was in great demand. Today Cuvée distributes coffee nationwide with Mike as a highly involved owner who loves what he does. Currently, Mike lives in the Texas Hill Country next door to the roastery with his family. Contact him @MikeMckim on Twitter.