Saturday, April 24, 2010

Raising the bar (and eyebrows) at SCAA Anaheim

I've been back from the SCAA Anaheim trade show and conference for 5 days now, and am sorta feeling like I'm getting my feet on the ground again. I think I'm 80% there. That show is just so big and overwhelming in some ways, and over-the-top inspiring and energizing at the same time. I love bumping into the top roasters from around the continent -- Ritual, Thanksgiving, Sisters, Flying Goat, 49th Parallel from the West, new wine/coffee shop owner from Phoenix, Santropol from Montreal, Metropolis, Boston Stoker, MadCap, Alliance World, Intelligentsia, and Alterra from the Midwest.

I also thrive on the proximity to coffee producers and exporters. So many, so close! Up front and personal. Walking to their booths on the trade show, or sitting down to breakfast at the IWCA breakfast is truly a "world in your cup" feeling.

The true inspiration comes from awards like the Sustainability Award that went to Peter Kettler for the "Coffee Lifeline" project. This project brings solar-powered radios to remote coffee farmers in Rwanda and Burundi and is now set to replicate to other African and even Central American countries. Talk about a green (no batteries to buy or dispose of) and appropriate (technology that works in the mountains of Rwanda) technology -- that helps farmers educate farmers with peer-sharing (Millenium Development Goals 3, 7 and 8!)

Another inspiration and great tasting treat was the Ethiopian Cupping Caravan. I and other SCAA participants got to cup 10 Ethiopian coffees. The producers were right there to talk to us. There were delightful Sidamas with big blueberry taste, Harar - Oromias with cherry, chocolate notes, and one from Bele Kara (Yirgacheffe) that was complex and beautiful. Heard names and regions I'd never heard before. This is a terrific project, and hopefully one that will be replicated.

I had my usual mission on the trade show floor of seeing if any roaster was bold enough to bring to this important show -- their best tasting, knock your socks off DECAF coffee (this raises a lot of eyebrows when I ask). Didn't find a one! I did find someone on a similar mission, however! Alex Nathanson of "No Buzz Coffee" and I met just in front of the 49th Parallel booth. It's an idea whose time has come, folks! And -- the roasters and cuppers I met at the Intelligentsia booth seemed genuinely intrigued by the challenge to be the FIRST roaster to bring a great tasting decaf espresso to the SCAA show. We'll check 'em out next time, and see if they'll be able to meet the challenge.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Supposed "high end" coffee shop with no decaf

A new coffee shop just opened near my office in Ann Arbor, MI. The press as they opened is about how they are creating a place for hip, young professionals. (Apparently the other shops in town are for the un-hip, old folks?) Regardless of the age-ism issues the owners may have, I decided to try it out. Attractive lighting, lots of sleek bamboo wood for the tables, benches and bars, emphasis on tea and frozen yogurt are unique!

So the coffee -- they're boasting about serving Intelligentsia coffee and I see a bag of Black Cat near the LaMarzoco espresso machine. Sounds promising! I order a decaf machiatto. The formerly bright shining face of the barista/new-owner falls to a slightly pained look. "I don't have decaf espresso." Then, without offering anything to compensate he explains how he can't afford a second grinder right now, partly because he's only using the best grinders -- a Mazzen sits on the counter proudly filled with caffeinated espresso (the Black Cat, of course).

I try to understand why a "high end coffee shop" would not cater to the epitomy of dedication in coffee -- the decaf espresso drinker -- by asking questions, but Toby, the barista/owner doesn't get it. I explain that Artisan Coffee Imports could provide Intelligentsia with high end decaf if they don't have it. He doesn't comprehend and doesn't even get what good customer service is. He tells me several times he's very busy and doesn't have time to talk. Apparently he'd rather have me go away and tell 10 friends how arrogant they are, rather than offer me one of his estate single-origin decaf drip brews. How sad when young professionals must learn the hard way!