There is a growing number of Coffee festivals in New York. You’ve got limited time, so which one are you going to spend your time and money going to see? I try to get to them all and get friends’ play-by-plays of all of them. My goal is to promote my show of course, but also let you know you might be choosing the wrong one, even mine. I’m going to honestly guide you to finding one that has everything you desire.
The Trade Show Festivals: CoffeeFest/The New York Coffee Festival
If you’re in the trade or want to join the coffee business, there really are two: CoffeeFest and The NY Coffee Festival. CoffeeFest was the first. It has more classes, where you can learn lots of small business stuff you need to run a café, be a better barista or business owner. Their instructors really are industry leaders. By comparison, The I feel the New York Coffee Festival’s classes were pretty lame. There aren’t many of them and the content is slim by SCA or CoffeeFest standards. NYCF does have a pre-show show restricted to the trade called a CEO series that features mostly-European management of larger coffee companies. It’s all tilted a little too much to both big business and non-US trends that may or may not become important here. I felt it was all built around payback to the show’s owners, Allegra’s biggest client Starbucks, as is the whole event. If you think Starbucks is hip, this show might even satisfy you as a consumer, but, like my first apartment, NYCF is filled with oversize furniture and designed to get ‘em in and get ‘em out in order to make the big corporate sponsors seem like they’re getting great exposure, while they’re able to sell to the trade. Expect overcrowding and long lines to get samples. My wife kept getting fleeing attendees’ drink coupons; ie, the lines were long although the crowd wasn’t that big. Neither of these events will satisfy you if you’re a coffee enthusiast.
The New York Original: New York Tea and Coffee Festival
While, The New York Coffee Festival claims to be the city’s “Flagship Event”, the New York Tea and Coffee Festival actually attracts more consumers, and appears to be the city’s longest-running show. These are consumers, not trade show people dressed to look like consumers. I was shocked when I first realized it’s mostly a tea event. Coffee is a minority player. The tea classes and emphasis on tea make it hands-down the best tea show in the city, possibly anywhere. Not much coffee though. Not many coffee classes. Only a few coffee roasters so far.
Best Party: New York Craft Coffee Festival
The New York Craft Coffee Festival is a late Fall antidote to the NY Coffee Festival given they’re both in the same month. Craft is coffee code for Manual brewing and attention to detail, which I like. The vendors are among the better, modern and smaller roasters. Not celebrity roasters like Grace Hightower. NYCCF is one big, genuine party, a wine tasting for coffee lovers. Music is good and always going. No classes, but lots of good brew and song. The show runners definitely aren’t coffee enthusiasts, but that said, they do a pretty good job at least throwing a coffee-themed party.
Most Enthusiast-driven: CoffeeCon NY
CoffeeCon is my own event, so I’m biased. CoffeeCon is 100% consumer. It has two parts: The tasting floor, also done like a wine tasting. However, we focus equally on gear. We invite some pretty obscure manufacturers to demonstrate their brewers, grinders and even have a Silicon Valley engineer who has designed a canister that promises to keep beans fresh for months. We have a panel to discuss sustainability and one that blue skies the future of coffee. We present coffee as home theater. You need to extract it, just like sound and images on your blu-ray discs. Our classes are half the fun. You can master espresso and latte art, learn brewing hacks or just the basics of brewing better coffee all ways at home. We’ve been developing mini-classes and on-tasting-floor quick comparisons between different beans. We even have a scent development class. No live music, but family/kid friendly. No trade products or classes. My nits are the owners (myself and my wife) are enthusiasts. They try to do too much sometimes. Times should be better adhered to and due to their insistence on really having all the independent mom and pop roasters, they are underfunded. Planning is sometimes last-minute, although it’s getting better. Hands-down the worst for starting your own business, but (I think) hands-down the best for a consumer coffee enthusiast. The NY Coffee Festival sells three hour passes, while lots of CoffeeCon attendees come and stay both days. We rent leather couches so people can lol around, not shove them through. Our prize giveaways are legendary.
Corporate Shows – If you are a big enough brand, you look at these events, see the throngs and say, “Heck, why don’t we just throw our own events?” These provincial corporate events are self-love fests are designed like the old Playboy mansion parties Hugh Hefner gave where Hef and friends could dress in Nehru shirts, flaunt their wealth and, um gain conquests by just showing up (Bill Cosby was at every one!). These coffee event lookalikes are hosted by the big coffee companies like Intelligentsia, Counter Culture, Starbucks (oops we already covered the NY Coffee Festival) and the like. They all have corporate brand awareness and they all spell B-L-A-N-D. These guys each want a one-party system where the answer to every coffee question is their brand. To heck with the independents. Are they worth it? How are you at a Kraft cheese tasting party?
I’m biased but if I could be satisfied by any other single event, I’d have given up long ago. Mine is too much work and money to keep going. I don’t dislike anyone else for trying. How could I really? However, I do envy the big budget, if not the end result of some of the others. If you have the time and money, check them all out and make your own impressions. They all have coffee. Just know what to expect and that they’re not all giving you the same thing.