by Marcus Young, relationship coffee manager, Sustainable Harvest Coffee Importers
The SCAA Event is a massive and thrilling spectacle of specialty coffee. With a little planning, and a lot of flexibility, The Event is the best chance for roasters and retailers to connect with peers, taste coffee prepared by the best baristas in the world with cutting-edge equipment, learn about innovative new products, and pursue class-leading SCAA certificate programs.
The most exciting thing about The Event is the chance to connect with industry friends and make new ones through diverse activities. On the trade show floor, attendees can visit with representatives of coffee-growing cooperatives and producing countries, taste offerings from a number of roasters, sample allied products and prepared foods, marvel at the latest coffee equipment from packaging machines to barista tools, learn about innovative importers, and try the latest designs in cups and coffee bags.
The Event consistently brings some of specialty coffee’s thought leaders to the lecture programming. Lectures cover topics as wide-ranging as finance for smallholder coffee farmers, to innovations and experimentation at coffee farms, to funding and marketing a new cafe.
Educational opportunities abound, with Skill Building Workshops running the gamut of coffee education from roaster and barista certificate programs to sensory skills training classes. In the Cupping Exchange, importers, exporters, and producers host cuppings where green coffee buyers can learn about new origins, meet new producers and discover new coffees.
The U.S. Coffee Championships Arena is the venue for competition. In the Activities Hall, you’ll find the Barista Guild Cafe, U.S. Barista Championship, U.S. Brewer’s Cup, U.S. Latte Art Championship, U.S. Cup Tasters Championship, and other competitions and showcases.
Beyond the official Event activities, there are numerous dinners, latte art throwdowns, and informal opportunities for networking and socializing. The very breadth of The Event makes it a challenge to navigate. Following are some of the ways that I approach the SCAA’s annual Expo as a roaster and retailer: I start planning for The Event as soon as the show guide is published. The Event guide and the related mobile Event app gives insight into all of the events at the show, listing specific lectures, classes, exhibitors, and social activities. The Event app even allows you to build a detailed schedule as you add activities to the in-app calendar.
The Event is organized to allow attendees to get the most out of their time. The kickoff reception held on opening night is a great way to get oriented to the theme of the conference and the featured producing country, to reconnect with industry friends or make new acquaintances, and to get a feel for the current state of the industry.
Lectures and Skill Building Workshops are offered in the mornings, with the Expo floor opening in the afternoon. In the app you can build your schedule: flagging lectures, classes, competitors, and exhibitors that you want to visit. Lectures are generally organized into industry segments, making it easy for retailers to identify those speakers and topics that bring the greatest value to their business. Roasters will similarly find the classes and topics that make the most sense for their business interests grouped together. Even so, it’s still a good idea to peruse the entire listing of lectures. There may be speakers or topics that cross industry segments. For example, the recent troubles with coffee leaf rust have severe implications for all of us in specialty coffee, and retailers and roasters would be wise to educate themselves on possible disruptions to the supply chain or shifting taste profiles due to pressures facing coffee producers.
The Skill Building Workshops are geared specifically towards various industry segments. Baristas pursue their Certificates, improve their technique and efficiency, gain understanding of the chemistry of extraction, and gain experience learning from some of the industry’s best. Roasters can pursue their Certificates too, trying their hands on different roasting machines, aiming for different profiles, understanding the chemistry of roasting, and learning in a collaborative environment utilizing expertly designed curricula. Everyone will benefit from attending cuppings and tasting coffees from a variety of producers. The educational courses at The Event are a unique opportunity for coffee professionals to learn from one another and network in a collaborative way.
The show floor provides an opportunity to discover new products, learn directly from manufacturers, and interact with industry players in a number of different segments. Major product releases are often revealed at SCAA, giving attendees an opportunity to experience the equipment hands-on. At The Event in Boston in 2013, ModBar was on hand, showcasing Counter Culture coffee’s innovative equipment. La Marzocco released the update to the Linea, and had expert baristas preparing coffees from top roasters, showcasing innovative new equipment with stunning coffees. Roasters can investigate the latest roasting equipment, from small shop and lab roasters to large-scale production roasters and conveying equipment.
The most important thing about developing a plan for The Event is to maintain enough flexibility in your schedule to allow for spontaneity. Don’t be a slave to your schedule. With the rich quality of programming in the lecture rooms and in the U.S. Coffee Championships Arena, U.S. Barista Competition, U.S. Brewers Cup, U.S. Latte Art, U.S. Cup Tasters, you might just discover something so enticing that you choose to stay to learn more. Similarly, a vendor in the Exhibit Hall might have just the solution to a business problem that’s been hounding you. With a little free time built into your itinerary, you will have opportunities to dig deeply into those activities that captivate you.
Additional Info: The SCAA Event mobile app will be available for download March 1st at scaaevent.org/app
Marcus Young is a relationship coffee manager with Sustainable Harvest Coffee Importers. He is a USBC head judge, SCAA lecturer and instructor, and frequent contributor to coffee industry trade publications. He consults with roasters and retailers to grow their business through continuing coffee education, customer engagement, and coffee-centric events. Mr. Young was the founder and visionary behind Central City Coffee, a social enterprise company providing on-the-job training for formerly homeless employees. He is devoted to creating opportunities for personal and economic growth throughout the coffee supply chain while expanding knowledge of science, artisanship, and trends in specialty coffee. Whether trading and sourcing green coffee, roasting, brewing, or training, Mr. Young calls upon his relationships, creativity, palate, and experience every day.