SCAA Saturday Recap

I kicked off Saturday with a lecture on gender equity and coffee development. It was led by Andrew Sargent of Hanns R. Neumann Stiftung, a private foundation that supports grassroots projects with coffee famers. Andrew noted that, while development projects have had some success in raising household incomes, these interventions struggle to benefit women in the farming communities. This is, in part, due to access to assets, such as land, education and credit, in many coffee-producing countries in which men receive these assets. To affect change, he says, the trainings and programs like those Nuemann Stiftung organize must reach women in farming communities. They’ve made progress in this area by convincing men of the positive development outcomes when females are exposed to capacity building programs.

I also participated in panel discuss on the growth of Portland’s coffee scene and the conditions that made it possible. I’ve explored this topic in greater detail here. In short, no, DC isn’t going to become Portland overnight. But there are positive signs that excite me about our future.

Throughout the show, Public Domain operated a pop-up shop right outside the exhibit hall. It was a pretty impressive setup, with both manual and espresso brewing. I stopped by for a tasting of their Guatemala finca Santa Felisa Geisha.

But most impressive was the performance put on by DC baristas in the US Barista Championship semi-finals. Both Travis Becket (Peregrine) and Trevor Corlett (MadCap) had gone by the time I arrived at the USBC competition floor, but I made it in time to see Lindsey Kiser wow the crowd. Lindsey presented the judges with her signature drink, which involved coconut milk, passion fruit and espresso with a side of ginger cotton candy. It was a truly unique performance.

What’s so great about Portland?

In a span of 24 hours I had the privilege of sampling some of the best coffee around from folks like Stumptown, Caffe Vita, Public Domain, Water Avenue and Coava Coffee, and those are just the Portland-based roasters. There’s no doubt Portland’s coffee scene is among the best nationally. That’s why I was particularly interested in attending a discussion during SCAA that included some of Rip City’s esteemed coffee pros on what makes the market so unique.

The panel included Marcus Young, a native Portlander and the community outreach coordinator for Batdorf & Bronson; Matt Higgins, founder of Coava Coffee; Bruce Milletto, founder of Bellissimo Coffee Info Group, the American Barista & Coffee School and owner of Water Avenue Coffee; Din Johnson, head of Ristretto Roasters; Jeremy Adams, owner of Cellar Door Coffee; and Mike Thelin, a food editor and columnist. They were led by Bruce Mullins, the vice president of coffee culture at Coffee Bean International.

The group started by addressing the unique characteristics of Portland that have helped the coffee industry thrive, which now boasts 45 roasters and some 800 espresso bars. Oregon, in general, has always been a staunchly independent state, and there’s a spirit of non-conformism in Portland that supports a kind of rogue entrepreneurial spirit. Add to that a low barrier of entry for prime retail space and, according to Johnson, Portland has become a ripe market for retail growth.

“This is a town where, if you work really hard, you can start a business without investors.” – Din Johnson

But when is enough enough? Can a city sustain 45 roasters? How about 75? Or 100? Young says that anytime you can identify a “coffee desert,” or any part of a city where you can’t walk somewhere and grab a good cup of coffee, you’re not saturated. Milletto added that growth and awareness go hand-in-hand, and said that saturation is virtually impossible so long as consumers are knowledgeable about and have access to a quality product. He said in other markets retailers should shift their focus, as Portland has, from competing for customers to growing the pie.

“There’s a lot of engagement in Portland among competitors.” – Bruce Mullins

When asked about the biggest thing that needs improvement industry-wide, a near-consensus was making the coffee experience more approachable for the customer. Johnson echoed a remark I heard from several attendees at SCAA in that “we need to take out the too cool for school thing.”

Pretension and snobbery have been a constant criticism of specialty coffee over the years. But how do baristas engage and enlighten their customers if they don’t educate them? The panelists agreed that cultivating a positive experience for the customer leads to education and appreciation. It sounded incredibly similar to James Hoffman’s presentation only a day earlier, in which he said coffee service should be based on empathy, not education.

But what does this all mean for DC? Could we ever hope to have the coffee variety and abundance of Portland? Maybe not. But what I’ve learned over these past few days is there is tremendous market potential so long as the industry and consumers grow together in their pursuit of great coffee. A number of shops in the area put a premium on staff training, and the presence of the Counter Culture Training Lab ensures quality education is accessible. Another indicator is the fact that retailers and roasters are looking to open new shops in the area. We might not be as mature as Portland’s coffee scene, but there’s reason to believe we’re on the way up.

Battle of the Baristas – SCAA Friday Recap

At the end of competition Friday, the 18 competitors who will move on to compete in the semi-finals for the U.S. Barista Championship were announced. Among them are three supremely talented DC baristas – Travis Becket of Peregrine, Trevor Corlett of MadCap, and Lindsey Kiser of Peregrine, who automatically qualified for the semi-finals after winning the South East Regional competition. DC represent!

As I type the semi-finals are coming to an end. Travis, Trevor and Lindsey all gave stellar performances, and the finalists will be announced at 5 p.m. PT. If you’re interested in checking out the finals, direct your browser to www.usbaristachampionship.com tomorrow to see the action live. The eventual winner of the USBC will then move on to compete in the World Barista Championship, held in Vienna later this year.  Below are a couple of the photos I snagged Friday of Trevor’s presentation.

There’s somewhere in the neighborhood of 10,000 attendees here at SCAA. That incudes retailers, baristas, coffee roasters, and a whole host of folks who work with coffee, from seed to cup. I had an opportunity to learn from Andrew Miller, founder of Café Imports, a green coffee importer based in Minneapolis. Andrew discussed the entire lifespan of coffee, and the separation of quality that is impacted by every phase of its production, from growing, picking and washing all the way to roasting. It’s what makes specialty coffee, well, special.

I also attended a presentation from James Hoffmann, founder of Square Mile Coffee Roasters in London and a former World Barista Champion. James touched on a common criticism of the industry, the sometimes pretensions or otherwise snobby delivery and discussion of coffee by industry professionals. He stressed there is a fine line between providing information and educating customers, and that customer service should be based on empathy in order to understand, and then supply, the kind of nuance and background about coffee that a customer wants to receive. James had a number of terrific insights into transforming the customer experience, which I hope to touch on in a later post.

As mentioned yesterday, Honduras is the portrait country for SCAA 2012. This means there is an opportunity highlight the country’s culture and history, as well as the outstanding outputs from its coffee industry. But, as is the case in a significant number of coffee-producing countries, Honduras has its share of struggles. Last night I attended Coffeelandia, an event intended to celebrate the coffee community, but also raise awareness and funds for an initiative to improve outcomes for farming communities, like those in Honduras. The event was hosted at Portland Roasting Company, and organizers raise funds that will be used to support a water stewardship project in Honduras. It was a good time for a very good cause.

Here in Portland – SCAA Thursday Recap (updated)

Forgive me for the timing of this post. The Pacific Time Zone coupled with the schedule of this year’s Specialty Coffee Association of American expo has me catching up a bit later than expected. If you follow District Bean on Twitter you may have seen a few updates last night, along with a couple photos. But here’s a recap of Thursday.

Waking up at 4 a.m. to go to the airport. This isn’t fun no matter how much coffee you have in your kitchen. I took a way to early flight out of DCA at 6:30 a.m. ET and landed safely in Portland at 11:30 a.m. PT. During the coast to coast travel I consumed a healthy amount of in-flight coffee. Interestingly, the SKY Magazine ad for Delta’s coffee, which is custom roasted by Seattle’s Best, indicated it was specially crafted for high altitude adventures just like you. Oh boy.

Fast forward a few hours (after the best nap I’ve ever taken) to the SCAA Opening Ceremonies. Peter Giuliano, past president of SCAA and the coffee director for Counter Culture Coffee, delivered a speech in which the sustainability of the coffee industry was both praised for its advancements and warned of its need to improve.

“When I first became involved in specialty coffee, sustainability was a new concept,” Peter Giuliano

He went on to stress that creating a product that is economically and environmentally sustainable is “the most difficult challenge we face.”

Each year the SCAA selects a portrait country as a means to highlight the coffee, culture and people of a country of origin. For 2012, this was Honduras, and the sitting President, Porfirio Lobo Sosa, portrayed his country of one rich in coffee culture, and spoke highly about the farming community’s resiliency despite adversity in recent years, particularly as hurricanes have significantly impacted crop output.

President Sosa echoed Giuliano’s call for sustainability, saying the coffee industry in Honduras is working harder, smarter and more coordinated with allied industries – such as tourism – to create a more sustainable model for growth. Sosa’s country has produced many of the top coffees in the world in past years. Even so, he says Honduras is “a country on the rise.”

Following the Opening Ceremonies was an opportunity to mingle with attendees from around the world. The evening also included a star-studded latte art throwdown … and no, I did not compete. But a few DC baristas did, including Tim Brisnehan of Filter, Christy Baugh of Big Bear Café, and Trevor Corlett of MadCap. Trevor would advance through the first few rounds before eventually falling to the eventual winner.

I’m sure there was much more to last night, but unfortunately that is all I can report. My hotel bed was calling me, and no amount of coffee could keep me from answering.

Friday’s agenda has already included a couple great lectures that I’ll be bring to you later on, along with notes from the exhibit floor. A couple others takeaways. If you’re in downtown Portland and want an amazing lunch experience, please visit Clyde Common. I had an incredible pancetta sandwich. Oh, and Portland can get kind of rainy, so don’t only pack your nice leather shoes.

District Bean Goes to SCAA

Programming Alert! District Bean is heading to Portland, Oregon, for the 2012 Specialty Coffee Association of America Symposium and Exposition. Did you ever want to know what happens when a few thousand baristas, roasters, equipment makers and coffee nuts get together? Check back over the next few days and follow District Bean on Twitter to find out.

Beginning Thursday, April 19, I’ll cover as much as I can from Portland and the show floor. The agenda is still coming together, but I’m slated to attend lectures on a range of topics, peruse the exhibit hall and attend kick ass events like the United States Barista Championship, where a couple locals are competing.

Got a specific question? Want me to find your favorite roaster? Hit me up on Twitter and get the answers you’re looking for. Know something I need to see or do in Portland? I’m all ears.

Pound the Hill Intros New Roaster

Pound the Hill, which unveiled its Bistro and Wine Bar concept earlier this year, is shaking things up once again, this time by introducing a new specialty coffee roaster. Pound is now serving a variety of coffee and espresso drinks exclusively from PT’s Coffee Roasting Co.

PT’s is based out of Topeka, Kansas, where it has been roasting since 1997. Its coffee routinely receives industry recognition, and the roaster was named 2009 Roaster of the Year by Roast Magazine (PDF). Pound is the second DC shop offering PT’s, after Blind Dog Cafe launched with the roaster earlier this February.

Pound is currently serving PT’s South Paw for its espresso, and Brazil Doce Boda for decaf espresso. I caught up with manager Heather Lowe, who explained Pound’s approach to selecting a full range of coffees to be served as drip and pour over.

I am still trying to nail down exactly what will work best for our customer base. I have a personal obsession with South American coffees, but I have to remind myself frequently that I am buying for the market, not my kitchen!

Pound is currently brewing a rotation of PT’s Guatemala El Socorro Bourbon micro-lot, B-Ville House blend, Ethiopia Sidama Ardi, John Brown blend and Costa Rica La Candelilla Estate Tarrazu. (Find more details on PT’s coffees here.) Pound is also retailing coffees for home brewing.

Previously, Pound partnered with Kickapoo Coffee, the 2010 Roaster of the Year (note: Kickapoo was Micro while PT’s was Macro, which refers to their volume output.) As Heather puts it, the shift wasn’t necessarily any fault with Kickapoo’s coffee.

We loved Kickapoo! This change was about putting a little life back into our coffee program at Pound. With the addition of the Bistro and Wine Bar we wanted to reassure customers and staff alike that we are just as committed to our coffee.

Heather says she sees a lot of potential with PT’s, which has a regional support rep in nearby Philly. She said the response from customers since the introduction has been positive.

We have had such an amazing response! I was hoping to ignite excitement in the staff, what I didn’t foresee was how that excitement would transfer to the customers. They want to know all about the new offerings each week and give their feedback on what to keep in the rotation.

Consumer interaction is something Pound hopes to foster through cuppings and community events. Pound is looking to start a few basic espresso classes on Monday evenings in the near future, although details are still in the works.

DC Baristas Head to US Championship

Later this week two Peregrine employees will compete against a field of more than 50 baristas in the United States Barista Championship, held April 19-22 in Portland, Ore. Peregrine’s Travis Beckett and Lindsey Kiser already represented their shop and the District in the South East Regional Barista Championship, with Lindsey taking the overall victory.

The USBC is held each year to recognize professional achievement in the art and skill of espresso beverage preparation and service. The event is hosted by the Specialty Coffee Association of America, which conducts six regional competitions in which baristas earn spots in the USBC.

Travis and Lindsey will be tasked with preparing and serving 12 espresso-based drinks: four espressos, four cappuccinos and four signature beverages. Each has only 15 minutes to compete, and their drink quality, technical skills, coffee knowledge and professionalism will be judged by a panel of seven judges.

The duo have been with Peregrine at its Eastern Market location for 2.5 and 3.5 years, respectively, and both competed in 2011. Since the South East Regional Barista Championship, Travis and Lindsey have logged more than 100 hours of practice for the competition.

Says Lindsey, “Preparations have been challenging but rewarding and I hope they allow me to put forth a great effort in representing the South East region.”

Travis’s signature drink is an iced Idido sundried coffee charged with nitrous oxide, served with an espresso, barley malt and blueberry float. Lindsey will be serving a coconut milk, passion fruit and espresso drink with a side of ginger cotton candy.

Travis is “really excited to explore different ways of presenting coffee with judges.”

Peregrine has prepared a video chronicling their USBC preparation. Check it out here and find that and other updates on the Peregrine blog.

We wish Travis and Lindsey the best of luck! District Bean will be at the USBC competition later this week, so check back for more from the event, and follow District Bean on Twitter for live updates.

Lucas Kegley, Yola

In this edition I caught up with Lucas Kegley of Yola.

We first met over at Yola, but I quickly got the impression you had a background in coffee. What has you previous experience been?

I’ve not been a barista very long – just under a year, actually. I began working at Buzz with MadCap coffee under Cait Lowry. While there we had a four-day boot camp where Trevor Corlett and Ryan Knapp of MadCap helped all of the baristas perfect their skills.

That’s actually a little surprising. What made you want to get into this line of work? 

I like working around coffee because I enjoy helping people get their day started. I also like the organic aspect of it, working with coffee makes me feel like I’m in touch with an age-old process.

I’m working on a 60’s Soul mix in Spotify that’s quickly becoming my coffee playlist. What do you like to put on at the shop? 

To some it may be too early in the morning, but I love listening to dubstep. But I’ve been known to get nostalgic and throw on a 90’s play list.

It’s been estimated that I personally consume roughly 20 percent of the coffee in this city. That doesn’t leave much anyone else. How much do you drink? And how do you prefer it?

Believe it or not, I don’t drink much coffee in a given day. I do enjoy it, but I try to limit myself. When I’m making coffee just for myself, I use a French press.

So it’s quality over quantity, then? What’s been your favorite coffee recently?

My favorite coffee has been MadCap’s dual use Los Lobos, it’s a very rich, full-bodied dark roast that would wake you out of a coma from drip or when used as an espresso. It is a Costa Rican bean sundried on raised patios. It tastes like something that is supposed to wake you up in the morning should.

What about an espresso drink? When it warms up a bit I really enjoy an iced soy latte.

Easy – it’s an iced vanilla latte. The vanilla calms the espresso to the point that it takes on a whole other flavor, neither vanilla or coffee. I could drink at least a dozen of these every day if I had no self control!

So who is Lucas Kegley when not slinging espresso?

When I’m not working at Yola, I am a cook and a full time father of three. I enjoy spending time with my family and going on road trips. I’ve been cooking since I was around 8 years old, so I’m pretty good in the kitchen.

You can see Lucas with one of the kiddos in the picture above. Thanks to Lucas for taking some time to answer a few questions. If you have a suggestion for a future Barista Series interview, just send a note to jonathan@districtbean.com or hit me up on Twitter or Facebook