by Nathanael May, coffee educator, Portland Roasting Coffee
I had been in coffee for nearly a decade by the time I went to my first SCAA Expo, and even that experience did not prepare me for what I saw. How could there be so many different roaster manufacturers, or roasters, or barista gear retailers, or green coffee suppliers, or countries that grow coffee? I was overwhelmed and bewildered by the magnificent variety and diversity of it all.
I was also completely and utterly in love.
As roasters (and now retailers!), we at Portland Roasting Coffee find incredible value in The Event, both as a company and as individual coffee professionals looking to improve and grow in an industry we adore. Whether it’s through networking opportunities, classes and lectures, the United States Coffee Championship events, or simply walking the show floor, we invariably leave each event as better, more well-rounded people. As a company, we leave each show better positioned to meet the needs of our customers.
Getting the most out of Expo is first and foremost a matter of identifying and understanding your needs. Do you need advice on roasting? Do you need to figure out more effective hiring methods for new employees? Are you interested in pursuing opportunities at origin, like buying coffee directly from a farmer, or building a relationship with a new importer? Would you like for your baristas to pursue a professional Certificate through the Barista Guild of America?
All of these needs (and hundreds more) can be met and addressed at Expo, but going in with a clear idea of what your specific needs are is important. The initially daunting experience of walking onto the show floor for the first time is made much more manageable by knowing where you want to go, and who you want to talk to. With that said, taking an aimless stroll around the show and looking at all there is to see can provide you with exciting ideas and opportunities you might not have thought about before. We carry a number of products, wholesale and in our cafe, that we have discovered while wandering around Expo each year.
I’ve spent time at past Expos judging or volunteering at various coffee championship events, giving lectures, taking classes, and seeking out new types of coffee equipment. Picking a favorite thing to do is almost impossible, as each provides such a unique value and different type of development. As a U.S. Barista Championship judge, I have learned from the best baristas in the world how to improve myself as a barista and trainer. When I take a class or listen to a lecture, I learn new ways to teach, new areas of the industry to explore, and different ways to think about familiar topics from a wide range of professionals. As I look for new and better ways to brew coffee and espresso, I meet the people who actually make that equipment, and I’ve built relationships with manufacturers that have made my job as a trainer and educator significantly more enriching.
Of everything that happens at The Event every year, what I take with me most is the connection I make with other people like myself. People who love coffee and have a passion for growing their business. People who want to grow and learn. People who, like me, make their living sourcing, roasting, and preparing coffee for other coffee lovers around the world. Who I am as a coffee professional, and where I find myself in the coffee industry, is due in large part to the people I’ve met at The Event every year — whether that was in a booth on the show floor, next to me as a judge, or in front of me as a lecturer or teacher. I owe who I am to them, and I owe meeting them to The Event.
So attend The Event, and come with a list of what you want to get out of it. Take classes (for baristas, the Barista Guild certificate course work is a must), listen to lectures, walk the floor (both aimlessly and with a purpose), and watch some of the competitions. Most of all it is important to have an open mind. You might see something, or meet someone, who changes your life.
Additional Info: Access a list of Expo exhibitors before the show even starts! Find the list here.
Nathanael May is the coffee educator for Portland Roasting Coffee in Portland, Oregon. He’s been in the coffee industry since he started making cappuccinos at Disneyland in 2001, and currently spends his extra time judging barista competitions around the country and teaching his sons to brew coffee.