Brief Thoughts on Atlanta

I know it’s been too long since the conference took place to really be a timely post, but I just wanted to put out my overall impression of the SCAA conference and the WBC.

Very first of all, I’d like to say it’s a Gwonderful Gwirld and give my sincere congratulations to Gwilym Davies of the UK, and again congratulations to all the competitors who are champions of their respective countries.

Of course, I had a great time seeing my friends and partying with our global family. I was shocked by some of the latte art my students produced during the SCAA training labs. I had a great time portering in the intermediate cupping lab with Eileen from Ritual, who had great techniques for approaching an otherwise intimidating cupping table. Ellie Matuszak remains one of the greatest espresso instructors I have ever had, and I was honored to be a station instructor with her in the hands-on espresso course. I also learned a lot by proctoring the Barista Guild of America’s level 1 certifications, which perhaps influenced my overall impression of the event and the specialty coffee industry. That impression? While there are many amazing baristas out there, overall as an industry we are only at the base of a very, very big mountain.

Coffee Tree Tamp Reg Barber
Reg’s tamper made from a coffee tree. Also, Reg’s hotel room floor (dangerous territory when walking to the bathroom in the dark).

Reg and Julia Barber, my roomates (along with Borah from Dames coffee), were amazing people to share the weekend with. The four of us wound up being a quirky but hilarious group that kept it real throughout the event. We had some amazing meals and I’ll never ride in a cab in Atlanta again without them – although they did tell me we would be “fine” as a tornado that ripped through 45 houses blew past. I do have to point out, though, that I am fine. Many nights were spent up too late gossiping about coffee.

Also Heather Perry graciously let me crash with her the first night I arrived and once again confirmed my theory that she is a lady who gets things done. I’m so excited to be working more with her on the BGA this year because I know she’s going to make things happen. I also find it quite endearing that instead of saying “yes” or “yeah” when she agrees with someone, she says “correct,” usually with an emphatic nod.

WBC Bar WBC Bar
The WBC espresso bar. Ryan Jensen rocks the Melitta Bar, talks Melitta Bar menu at Peregrine Espresso.

There are so many people I talked with and worked with that were really working to get more coffee out there. I thought the WBC espresso bar was a fantastic example of engaging more people with the task of tasting high quality espresso based drinks. The online presence, especially the twitter madness, was unlike anything we’ve seen yet.

Still, I think that we as coffee professionals have a long way to go before we are truly engaging the public – or even the unsuspecting cafe owner, chef, or restauranteur – when we hold these events. I had very little to do with creating the event and so am hesistant to even slightly negate all the hard work that went into it, and I know that countless hours and dedication went in to putting it together. So to all of you who made it happen this year, Bravo! But for next year, or the years to come, I would love to see the WBC happen just off the street in a pedestrian-heavy area, with more efforts to directly engage the public on what espresso truly can be, and how seriously we take the enterprise.

I know sometimes it seems like we’re beating a dead horse when it comes to explaining the rules of competition to the audience – and maybe I would even wager that the audience we were speaking to in Atlanta was fairly familiar with the rules – but that is, currently, the strongest way the Specialty Coffee industry makes the connection to young baristas and the public about the artisinal craft of creating world-class espresso. Often I feel like sequestering ourselves in back corners of convention centers, far away from the public eye (and indeed where there is fantastic electrical capacity and plenty of space), on the one hand feels like a relief to the coffee community (phew, we don’t have to worry about anyone asking for nonfat milk), while on the other hand defeats the whole purpose of the endeavor (aren’t we, after all, trying to select the next year’s “ambassador” of coffee?).

I feel that there are some strong forces shaping the future of the WBC who already have this point of view, so I hope I’m not pushing any buttons, at least too strongly. I am so excited to be a part of such a young competition system, in a relatively young industry, where we are all still buzzing with ideas and excitement. I am excited to look back on the 10th WBC at the 20th and say, “wow, look where we have gone as an industry.” I’m sure that those who have been working on the WBC since day one can say the same thing already.

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~ by Anne on May 3, 2009.

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