I used to arrange my European business travel so I could stopover in Boston and visit the Coffee Connection, George Howell’s first coffee roasting business. I thought George had the best. It was that good!
When I published the Coffee Companion newsletter, George Howell was in the first tier of coffee luminaries I had to interview. He’s always been a stickler for the highest quality. He buys coffees as an art buyer purchases paintings. And like any passionate art collector, he almost seems to struggle with parting with favorite pieces of his collection. George Howell is an historic coffee figure. He practically invented the current Third Wave of light roasting. He is certainly its movement’s spiritual leader.
He can be a savage critic – including of me. Once I was strolling late in the evening and received an angry cell phone call demanding I explain my (admittedly catty) online article’s reference asking if his latest roast was almost Sushi. I felt a bit sheepish but also genuinely touched that he cares so much.
He’s got about the best taste buds in the business and although his style is extremely dependent upon an absolutely perfectly-bred coffee bean and within-seconds equally perfect roast, when the planets so align he hits it right out of the ballpark and I sip a full believer. And, while he has strong attitudes and resolve, he’s not inflexible.
When I first conceived our CoffeeCon consumer coffee festival, I asked George Howell if he’d be willing to come to Chicago in February and present a tasting talk to our audience. Without missing a beat he said yes, but of course he’d have to do it his way. I couldn’t imagine it another way and of course said yes. He then went on to say it would be a two hour-plus tasting which would include samples, first of fruits, then brewed coffee. He told me how he wanted it brewed. George’s standards were to be as high and exacting as his café, so I asked Bunn if they would send their best gear and their best, most obsessive technical person to brew it. Bunn sent Randy Pope, known in the industry as “Dr Brew” and their top commercial brewers. We even needed to route a separate hospital grade electrical circuit to feed these power-hungry brewing beasts! (Pat told me they’re called “hospital grade” circuits because she thought she’d have a heart attack when she saw the bill! Haha)
After I said yes to all this, CoffeeCon’s business VP Bob Duer asked, “Two and a half hours? Will anyone stay for the finish?” I stood at the back of the room during George’s first presentation. Not only was everyone there at the finish, they were smiling and walking up to me thanking me for offering a life-changing coffee presentation! His presentation is a big draw. It is limited enrollment. It is always sold out!
We have to ship 100 special rocks glasses made in USA of a specific glass that George believes to be the most neutral tasting one he’s yet tasted. That and other riders that put him in the high maintenance category (including the extra carbon units to power his coffee brewers) make it necessary to charge a separate $10 fee to attend his class, the only such surcharge yet at CoffeeCon. Still you gotta love him. When you register for CoffeeCon, get your ticket to George Howell’s tasting presentation… while you can!