Report from the SCAA
BeanScene touched ground in Houston, Texas for the Specialty Coffee Association of America Expo 2011, hanging out with the industry’s top leaders and baristas at one of the world’s most celebrated meeting of the coffee minds.
From 60-storey high hotels to Wal-Marts the size of three football fields, one thing certainly proved trued about the America’s favourite gun-toting, cowboy-hat wearing, mechanical bull-riding state – everything is bigger in Texas.
As such, it proved an appropriate venue for the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) Expo 2011, one of the largest industry events on the global coffee calendar. With literally thousands of exhibitors, as well as an impressive list of delegates, the exhibition, which ran from 29 April to 1 May was an ode to how robust the specialty coffee industry has become.
That robustness was proven not only in the size of the event, but also in the quality of the information that was being presented and the profound discussions that took place during the morning information sessions.
A highlight was a topical discussion that relates well to this edition of BeanScene’s Industry Insight, that is the increasing frequency of direct trade relationships between growers and roasters.
The discussions highlighted both the advantages and disadvantages of direct trade relationships. The advantages were something easily highlighted, that is taking speculative buyers out of the market, and improving the quality of coffee by working directly with farmers.
The challenges, however, were also put on the table. A panellist from well-known American roaster Counter Culture noted that they often find themselves having to justify to customers why their coffee was not Fairtrade Certified. These discussions, however, have had the effect of also increasing their customers’ awareness about the trading process, with customers thinking more about where their coffee is coming from.
The panel also included an importer, who was eager to speak up about why her role was still relevant in direct trade relationships. Once a roaster finds a farm they want to work with, the logistics of getting that coffee into the country can be a complex process, and the panellists agreed that having a strong importer was key in continuing direct trade relationships.
On the other side of the coin, Fairtrade was also on hand there to highlight the differences their certification is making in the lives of farmers all around the globe. To do this, they let the benefactors speak for themselves, inviting three panellists from Kenya, Peru and Costa Rica to speak with Paul Rice, President and CEO Fairtrade USA Raymond Gitau Wanyugi from the Ndumberi Coffee Growers in Kenya, noted that they have traditionally struggled to find credit, as most farmers can’t get loans from banks, however are able to access resource through their Fairtrade Certified cooperative. He noted that as such, participation is increasing and a number of new farmers are taking up coffee as a business.
BeanScene was also fortunate enough to have a chance to sit down with Rick Peyser, Director of Social Advocacy & Coffee Community Outreach at Green Mountain Coffee Roasters. Rick was in Texas to present a documentary the company had filmed in Nicaragua, Guatemala and Mexico, entitled “After the Harvest: Fighting Hunger in the Coffeelands”, a powerful film about the regular periods of food scarcity that even Fairtrade Certified farmers face for three to eight months a year.
Rick’s remarkable journey to creating the documentary came from his own curiosity about learning more about what life was like in growing areas, he recounted to BeanScene. When he first took the position in 2007, he teamed up with the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture, to design an interview process of 22 questions they put to selected farmer co-operatives.
In conducting the interviews, Rick noted that – like clockwork – when asked if they ever experienced a time of food scarcity, nearly every family recounted the regular months of hunger.
“I knew there was poverty and times of hunger, like during periods of natural disasters or where coffee prices bottomed out. But these were Fairtrade farmers, and this was going on every year,” Rick said. “I was devastated, I didn’t even know where to start.”
The airing of the documentary was a great place to start, and in addition to the programs GMCR has been running, Rick noted he was pretty confident in gaining increased industry involvement in helping to encourage food diversity at Origin.
While these discussions were fascinating insights into the social issues surrounding the industry, the event was naturally also a great chance to enjoy some fantastic coffee. Coffee Bean International’s Angela Gay, out of America’s coffee Mecca of Portland, had some fantastic Esmerelda El Salvador Pacamara she was showcasing via different brewing methods. Representing the company’s new brand Public Domain, she says her goal was as much about passing on knowledge than showing off their brand.
“We’re here very much about education, we’re teaching people how to do these [brewing methods] at home,” she told BeanScene.
Counter Culture’s Brian Ludviksen was on a similar mission with the event’s first ever “pop-up café”. While the company usually has a booth, this year they set up shop to feed coffee to the thirsty crowds at the information sessions.
We checked in with Brian on his favourite of the show, and without having to think Brian said it would definitely have to be LaMarzocco’s new Strada basket.
From there, BeanScene made a beeline to LaMarzocco’s booth where Scott Guglielmino talked us through their latest technological innovation. Essentially, traditional filter baskets have quality variance due to inconsistencies in the production process. They’ve managed to address these challenges with a new proprietary production process, as well as VST Filter Imaging System for quality control, a system developed using FBI fingerprint technology. If this wasn’t exciting enough, who did we find also checking out the new baskets but World Barista Champion Michael Phillips. In between posing with adoring barista fans, Michael chatted with BeanScene about his new project Handsome Roasters he’s starting up with Tyler Wells and Chris Owens in Los Angeles, California. Michael was lucky enough to have had a preview of the baskets and helped in the development process.
Later on in the day, reigning American champion Michael would hand over the crown, at the US Barista Championship coinciding with the exposition grounds in the neighbouring hall.
Among the talented line-up of performances, Pete Licata from Hawaii emerged the winner, having impressed the judges with not only his skills, but stories of picking the beans he was using (Hawaii is America’s only coffee-growing state).
Chatting with BeanScene, Pete let us in that he was originally from Kansas City, and moved to Hawaii two and a half years ago. He got into coffee in 2003 when he needed a job, and was spending all his time in a coffee shop while he studied Japanese. He got his first job at PT’s Topeka in Kansas, where he was introduced to specialty coffee. His inspiration to get into the competition scene came when former World Barista Champion Tim Wendelboe from Norway came into the coffee shop to train the crew. He’s been competing since 2005, and while he came in second twice, this is his first victory.
“I think having a story that I can tell about going out there and picking coffee is a big advantage,” he told BeanScene. “You can’t do that anywhere else in the States.”
Winning the competition just weeks ahead of the World Barista Championship won’t give Pete much time to change his routine, so other than improving on a few parts he plans to stick to a similar performance.