by Ric Rhinehart, executive director of SCAA
Each year it is my task (and my pleasure) to write a note for inclusion in this issue of The Specialty Coffee Chronicle. With each passing year, I find myself considering not only what is new and exciting for this year’s Event, but, more and more, reflecting on where we have been and where we are headed as an industry. My thoughts are informed by the pressing issues of the day in our world of specialty coffee, and this year, of course, there has been plenty to be concerned about.
As I write this missive, coffee has reached an eight-year low, after coming off of a thirty-year high less than two years earlier. Clearly, volatility and extreme price swings are issues that concern everyone in the coffee world. At our last gathering, we took a deep dive into the impact of disease and increasing extreme weather events on the supply of coffee. These issues remain critical today, but even more uncertain is the future of specialty quality arabica production in the world, and especially the role that small-holder farmers play in this market. So, for those of you for whom these issues about sustainable supply chains are most compelling, I invite you to attend our 6th Annual Symposium, where expert scientists, agronomists, financiers, and marketers will present the latest thinking around these topics.
I have also been able to watch the progress of our professional development efforts over the last five years with increasing pride. SCAA has harnessed the energies and intellects of some of coffee’s most passionate professionals to create programs that provide world-class education for baristas, roasters, and coffee tasters. An interested professional can select from hundreds of hours of hands-on, intensive, and vetted training at our Skill Building Workshops and in our lectures We offer coursework and training in sustainability, coffee roasting and processing, coffee grading and evaluation, coffee business strategies, and coffee preparation. For those of you who want to expand your knowledge and education, I invite you to participate in these extensive offerings.
One of the great joys of this annual Event is the sense of a gathering of the coffee world for a “family reunion” of sorts. Of course, no family reunion would be complete without lots of social activities and a chance for generations to touch base with each other. Please take advantage of all the social opportunities afforded by The Event, from the opening ceremonies and reception, to the breakfasts, lunches, and cocktail parties hosted by the many coffee organizations represented here. If you have the stamina for some late-night adventures, the Roasters Guild and Barista parties are always something special.
The The U.S. Coffee Championships Arena in the center of The Event features a fantastic range of competitions, tasting and coffee exploration. Look in on the U.S. Barista Championship, or wander over to the U.S. Cup Tasters competition. Taste the competitor’s coffees at the U.S. Brewers Cup, or watch the particular magic of the very first U.S. Latte Art Championship. You might also want to stop by the Brew Bar to sample the Top Roasters Choice coffees—the Roasters Choice winners will be announced on Sunday. Also, be sure to sample other remarkable coffees as part of a unique exhibition on coffee quality hosted at the Brew Bar.
Most importantly of all, The Event offers you the chance to see what is new from every corner of the coffee world on the Exhibition Floor. Over 400 companies from around the globe will occupy 750 booths to display their wares, and to debut the latest advances in brewing technology, service wares, grinders, water heaters, POS systems, and much, much more. Many will have entries in our Best New Product competition, and will be thrilled to demonstrate their latest creations for you. For those who want to take a small trip to a coffee origin without leaving the building, stop in at any of the 35 stands that represent a coffee-producing country, and learn a little bit about their coffee history and culture. If you want to get involved on the ground in helping coffee producers thrive, swing by one of the many organizations dedicated to development in the coffee lands that are represented on the show floor.
No matter where your interests lie, or what you find most compelling about the world of coffee, I promise you that we have something that will inspire you, fascinate you, or surprise you at The Event. Finally, I encourage you above all to take the time to meet, engage with, and get to know as many of the wonderful coffee people you will be surrounded with over the course of The Event as you can. I have spent the past 25 years being impressed by the friendliness, generosity, and willingness to share of those in our coffee community, and it is my sincere hope that the human interactions you have and the connections you make will be amongst the most memorable and enduring of your life.
Ric Rhinehart is the executive director of the Specialty Coffee Association of America. He has more than 20 years of experience in the specialty coffee industry and has designed, developed, and produced a wide range of coffee and tea products. He has considerable experience in developing manufacturing and packaging capabilities, and has traveled extensively as a green coffee buyer.