My family are typical Chicagoans. We believe you are not a success, nor even really an American idea until you find acceptance in New York City. When we started taking CoffeeCon on the road I had a case of nerves about only two cities. New York was the first, and last summer we decided to bring it to the Big Apple.
We were at the Broad Street Ballroom, which is a former bank, now a prep school. I want to begin with a shout-out to Cathy Hermanos and Donna Bradley, who really made us at home and whose teamwork and support helped me CoffeeCon’s first New York City event a success. Now to coffee reflections and observations, for no particular reason except to share what’s on my mind as I consider the future.
The particularly tough winter meant snow two days before our event. Not only did I have lowered expectations about crowds, but it was difficult even getting into the city. I lost a preparation day due to canceled flights and only I was able to get a seat on a flight the following day. Pat’s role was filled by the very-gracious Nancy Bloostein, who pulled off a few miracles. Also missing were six grinders, and Nancy was able to pull these from Oren’s Daily Roast stores and offices so that we were completely equipped.
The 2.5 hour tasting seminar is our highest-maintenance event within the event. It commands and extra ticket price, but you may be interested to know that doesn’t fully cover the added costs. Brant Curtis of Wilbur Curtis, was generous with his time and his machines and donated them to this event. We are the snootiest of beggars because we have no money to rent machines and require the absolute pinnacle of brewers, because we are brewing coffee that must match how an accomplished coffee taster would taste it in a lab, only for 100 tasters. No other tasting event attempts this scale. I’m both proud of it, and agitated by it every time we hold it. I want to thank Irving Farms for accepting the Wilbur Curtis machines at their Manhattan offices, bringing them over and setting them up and optimizing them for each of our coffee samples. It all seems so simple because of the painstaking efforts. Personal thanks to Brandon at Irving Farms, who did such a find job on setup. George Howell came directly from Guatemala coffee farms to the event and regaled us with fresh insights from the current Guatemala harvest.
The Broad Street venue was just about perfect. I’ve become a very keen student of architecture, as it applies to venues. I notice how large posts are, how light enters, flow patterns and all kinds of things I confess I never really paid attention to until I started this event. This venue has a lot to offer. I has really beautiful sight lines. The columns are dramatic, but not so wide nor positioned so they block views and light. Broad Street’s lighting director, Julius did a beautiful design offering warm pools of light against the cool marble textures.
CoffeeCon New York had a near-capacity crowd from start to finish. Frankly, beyond the finish. We had a beer and pizza cast party as we packed up and I noticed more than one or two consumers who’d made friends and were present at that. The classes were better attended than any previous event. My insistence that every class possible be hands-on meant placing our La Marzocco G3 espresso machine on a sturdier sink surface instead of the more-room-centered movable table we’d rented. This made it hard for such a large crowd to gather round it, a note to plan differently next time.
The Hario siphon and V60 pour over classes were nicely filled, with everyone getting a chance behind the wheel, and with excellent instruction. Ditto the Chemex classes, which were taught by top instructors from both Café Grumpy and Oren’s Daily Roast. I know I brew slightly differently than either class I sat in on, but I learned from both. I have never attended any of our classes and not changed how I brew, or at least learned a new option.
A surprise (to me) was how crowded La Colombe’s How to Through a Cupping Party class was. I predict this is going to be a big trend. They did a great job on it. It was really fun, a virtual comedy routine it was so entertaining.
Aeropress classes were taught by two different instructors. This is another seemingly simple method (true) but one where there are more tweaks than I could have imagined to sculpt the finished product.
The Future of Coffee Panel was filled out with a nice variety of experts. I was happy with the turn out (I had to stand), and the content. Sprudge’s Liz Clayton was perhaps the perfect talk show host. Her wit kept even the most serious issues from weighing down the pace or mood. I felt a little sorry for Mahlkonig’s Kyle Rumage, who’s technical and brewing expertise were left unused (he’s too polite for this bunch haha) more often than I’d wished, but the topics of sustainability, green issues, and roast just dominated, and that’s okay, it’s not supposed to be predictable. Thanks to Behmor’s Joe Behm for personally sponsoring this panel. Joe was supposed to be on the panel, but he was busy being honored in Chicago for his Behmor Connected brewer, which will premiere at CoffeeCon Chicago in July.
The grinding class was my own personal favorite. I predict that grinding is going to become one of the most popular facets of home brew station optimization. It’s not widely known yet, but as it becomes so, this class will get to SRO status. Actually the second session was close to capacity.
Sustainability is our most important topic, because it means being able to buy great coffee in perpetuity to fill your grounds filter. Period. I’m guessing it still is half-filled because people don’t realize what the topic means, or because they don’t feel they can make a difference. That definitely isn’t so, and La Minita’s Drew Zent is just such a vast knowledge vault, it’s too bad. People often say there’s no way to get straight talk from any industry. We have it in this presentation. It’s not hype, it’snot hysteria. What it is, is the unvarnished truth from someone who’s really an ongoing eyewitness from the farm point of view about issues that affect us more than any other single thing.
The Cafflano Klassic was oneof our CoffeeCon product launches. Consider that consumers at CoffeeCon NYC got their hands on this innovative new brewer before either Housewares or at the upcoming SCAA Exhibit. Not only is the Klassic a wonderful new brewer, their team of Stephen Kim, Yongeun Kim and Justin Ahn, really grabbed the crowd with their enthusiasm and good humor. This is the kind of product that simply used to get lost, and if CoffeeCon has had a small role in getting it its due, so much the better.
Melitta doesn’t do many events this small. They brought a one-cup pour over coffee brewer for every attendee. They were our largest single exhibitor, yet they really did a great job not acting like a big company. They also reminded everyone that Frau Melitta Benz virtually invented pour-over drip coffee.
Coffee Roasters? We had the best and I personally had the tough job of traveling around New York and various boroughs tasting coffees (secret shopper) before we asked who showed. I’d better not forget anyone: Thanks Blue Bottle, Booskerdoo, Café Grumpy, Copper Horse, George Howell Coffee, Georgio’s, Irving Farm, La Colombe, Oren’s Daily Roast, Scotty D’s Jamaican Blue Mountain, Toby’s Estate and Unique Coffee. Folks, there are New York’s finest. They also have the guts to brew and place their coffee samples within a foot or two of the other top roasters and let you decide. They are Coffee’s freedom fighters and support open public awareness. I’ve met more than a few roasters (some famous brands) who fear this like an apocalypse. I don’t out the bad guys, but I will highlight the heroes.
Thanks Batch Coffee for bringing their Gene Café roaster for those who must control every aspect of their coffee, starting with roasting it. Judging from the crowds at their exhibit, this is a fast-growing part of consumer coffee.
Our CoffeeCon App was a big success! 150 downloaded and used it to map, check schedules and generally plan their day. We have lots to do in each CoffeeCon event. Thanks to Yapp for the time and creativity designing and implementing it for attendees.
Highlight of the day for me? Chemex owner Liz Grassy and her daughter Lizzie came to CoffeeCon. I met them at the Future of Coffee panel. It’s well known in the industry that Chemex is a very low key company that rarely – as in never, attends any public events. I was genuinely touched that they came to CoffeeCon. You are always welcome, Liz and Lizzie!
Of course the real stars of CoffeeCon are our attendees. We had an attendee travel from Estonia (Yes THAT Estonia!) and we even had a couple fly from LA to NYC because they attended LA’s event and didn’t want to wait a full year for next year’s CoffeeCon.
The prize giveaways worked better than ever… by far. We have a great location in the exhibit hall. Kudos to Edmund Sinnott for the great floor plan. There was plenty of excitement. Thanks also to all the