Our first step as we get to SCAA is overwhelming but only in the best way. As a coffee professional who sees the coffee industry as opportunity to grow, it is exciting to have an event that can bring our global community together. As we entered the convention center, we were greeted by local cafe reps: Revelator Coffee and Valentine Coffee Company, both originally from Alabama, and Batdorf and Bronson originally from Washington. Each of the stands featured their own roasting styles and unique offerings such as nitro cold brew and hopped cascara. We tasted all of them and this got us caffeinated enough to start off our day at “The Event” at SCAA.
Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) started in 1982 with a small group of coffee professionals. They developed the coffee trade association with the intent of finding a setting to discuss quality standards and issues within the industry. SCAA is now the largest coffee association and hosts an annual event that, this year, was attended by over 12,000 coffee professionals, roasters, obsessors, nerds, and newbies trying to break into the business.
The weekend consisted of several morning lectures alongside coffee film screenings, all day barista competitions and the brewers cup competition, and a massive showroom floor filled with a slew of vendors. We realized that within one coffee industry there are tons of small businesses from farmers and roasters, to ceramic companies, syrup companies, and a handful of artisanal chai companies (like our friend Amy of Dona Chai … made in Bushwick!).
We wished the structure of the day allowed us to attend every lecture, but unfortunately we had to choose one from each time slot which would be the most applicable to our interests. We started out at a talk from SCAA’s Coffee Science Manager, Emma Sage, and World Coffee Research’s Director of Communications, Hanna Neuschwander, about the new Coffee Taster’s Flavor Wheel and WCR’s Sensory Lexicon. The purpose of the new flavor wheel is to bring about a more global standard of tasting coffee based on research conducted by sensory scientists, coffee professionals, and researchers from University of California, Davis, Kansas State University, and Texas A&M University. The new wheel takes the flavor attributes from the Sensory Lexicon and presents them in an accessible way that emphasizes the strength of the relationship between the flavors. SCAA took into account both the way that humans instinctively categorize flavor attributes as well as the professional sensory researchers’ categories of taste, and created a wheel that can be easily used by industry professionals and consumers alike. This research strengthens the ever-evolving coffee industry as a whole, and we at little skips are excited to see how the future in coffee continues to unfold.
We were able to pop into the Social Media Lecture happening at the same time and realized from the packed room that this was an important topic for people in the coffee business. Many attendees, we assumed, own coffee shops, and as direct competition dramatically increases at the local level, owners see the importance of social media in the promotion and success of their business as independent shops continue to open all over the world. Marketing and Social Media consultants Jenn Chen and Emily McIntyre stressed the importance of having a professional feel to your company’s online presence, and the value of engaging and interacting with your target market.
A lecture that really inspired us to continue developing the little skips barista training program was called “Molding Your Staff Into All-Star Baristas.” Anna Gutierrez spoke about the importance of training and gave an outline by which to follow when hiring and training new employees. She continued to stress the importance of having a written, hands on, and practical element in every step, which include basic coffee information and espresso preparation, customer service, follow-up skills testing, enforcement of consistency, and quality control. We are excited to integrate the additional information we learned from this lecture into our current training program.
We checked out some more info from the World Coffee Research Organization at a lecture called “Long Live Coffee: Coffee Variety Research and the Future of Coffee.” The main goal of this lecture given by Christophe Montagnon and Hanna Neuschwander was to explain the current work of the WCR, and how it will have an overall impact on the coffee industry. They began by defining the many existing coffee varietals and followed up by explaining the growing research on creating varietal hybrids with the strongest and most robust characteristics that can be grown anywhere in the world. All of this research is being done while considering coffee’s reaction to warmer climates so that the farmers can still grow, produce and thrive despite global climate change. A little bonus from this lecture… they sent us home with a tiny coffee plant in a test tube!
We were able to get a taste of Atlanta’s coffee scene by attending the Aeropress competition held at Chattahoochee Coffee, and the latte art throwdown at Revelator Coffee. Coming from NYC we were stunned at the spaciousness and admired the outdoor grassy area of Chattahoochee Coffee that complimented the indoor cabin-like feel with a deer head on the wall, wooden tables, and lived-in brown leather chairs. The interior of the Atlanta Revelator Coffee location was very similar to the feel of the New Orleans location that we visited before. We gotta give it to Revelator, with their clean lines, completely white interior, and elegant custom ceramics, they’ve really defined their brand well.
We also squeezed in an early morning visit to Octane Coffee at their beautiful Grant Park location. We tried their in-house roasted coffee as pourover, espresso, and as an americano, and got to enjoy their weekend breakfast: a delicious cheddar waffle and a bowl of granola with fruit and yogurt. Simple, but a perfect way to start our day.
The highlight of our SCAA experience was getting to see our very own Lemuel Butler from Counter Culture Coffee take home the award as the US Barista Champion, competing against 35 other baristas, including our friend Samuel Lewontin from Everyman Espresso in Manhattan. Tears were streaming down the Counter Culture family’s faces when the announcer called out Lem’s name taking first place. He won serving coffee from Finca Nuguo, a Gesha variety coffee from Jurutungo, Panama, and with his signature drink “SouthernPlayalisticCadillacCoffee” that little skips Founder, Mitch McCann, ran back to taste as they were wheeling the dirty dish cart away: Finca Nuguo espresso, magnolia flower simple syrup, hibiscus, lemongrass and nitrous oxide (for creaminess), served in beer snifters. It was great to see the competitors display their creativity and passion for coffee, which reminded us that there really is no end to a life in coffee.