The following report was filed from the SCAA Conference & Exhibition in Atlanta, held 23-26 April 2004.
When I arrived on Friday, I saw on the schedule that the exhibition hall was prepping all day Friday and then until noon on Saturday. What in the high holy hell can take so long, I wondered.
Then I looked into the exhibit hall of this portion of the Georgia World Congress Center and my bottom jaw did a Tex Avery ricochet off the floor. Eighteen rows of booths being set up: giant crates, machines, a ginormous cherry picker setting up stuff in the ceiling–this was going to be amazing. I was going to need reinforcements.
Before I left that day, I checked out some of the United States Barista Championships. Apparently the winner goes off to the world championship in Italy later on. I was a bit offended I hadn’t been asked to judge–I who probably funded a good chunk of the conference considering the money I put into this industry through my own consumption.
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Anyway, next day I showed up with Cosette as backup and we plowed through the entire freaking exhibit hall. If it’s related to coffee in the least, it was there. You’ve got scads of coffee, and tea, and some chocolate, but you’ve also got snack stuff as well. Then you’ve got people with giant roasting machines that stand twelve feet tall and auto-packaging and labeling machines that are about that big. There are companies that will put your logo on pretty much anything except a giraffe’s ass. Those companies may exist too, for all I know. There were some blank booths, after all.
Being at the Specialty Coffee Association of America conference is a bit of a scary thing. We at Needcoffee think that we take coffee seriously, but we really don’t. We don’t take much of anything seriously, and it shows when you walk around here, seeing as how coffee is such a huge international industry.
DaTerra was present at the show. They offered up some DaTerra Reserve. This stuff was very strong but very good. You had no problem realizing it was there.
Honduras had an impressive showing. Cinco Estrellas was what we tried of theirs. It was fruity, but very good.
JavaOne has basically come up with a way to have single-cup coffee and tea. They are in the same kind of packets, or pods, that you would find some Republic of Tea products in. We tried the Sumatran Mandheling, and we noticed that when they opened the packet, it smelled like it had been freshly ground. The technology is actually pretty sweet. You can literally get up in the morning and walk over, hit a couple of buttons, and you’ve got a cup of coffee. And then your spouse can have a different kind, which is good if you have a spouse that doesn’t like motor oil for breakfast like most people. And the coffee was about 190 degrees when it comes out of the machine, so we had to wait a couple of seconds and then try it. So it was six or seven booths before we can actually tell you how it tastes. They use Bunn and Grindmaster machines especially designed for the pods. One cup shows up in about 20-25 seconds.
Dilworth Coffee is out of Charlotte–very nice people. They’ve got some pretty cool merchandise along with their stuff, and they’re just getting into organic and fair trade. We had one of their organic coffees here, the Organic Papua New Guinea, and it’s nice and smooth, a little bitter–and also what they said was their standard, the Morehead Estate blend. It’s basically your typical coffee, a little bitter, but good. Not too strong, but definitely had a good flavor to it. They buy direct from producers–benefits them like fair trade, except there’s no middleman.
Direct from my Audio Tape: “Widge: It’s about 2:00. We’ve visited maybe three or four booths. I’m already starting to feel it. I can feel it. I like it.”
We stopped by Cafes de Republica Dominica: tried some of their espresso–strong, good, a bit of a nutty flavor, and a delayed reaction kick that sneaks up on you.
Direct from the Audio Tape: “Widge: I’m blinking slower now. I have to think about it to do it, lest dust settle on my eyeballs. We’ve only passed one or two aisles. Help me, Jesus.”
“Cosette: Widge just got very belligerent when I threatened to toss his cup of coffee, even though he is now sucking down my cup of espresso.”
JetTea and JetCafe: basically these guys have mixes that you add ice to and blend, and it’s iced coffee and smoothies or regular fruit smoothies, and it’s not bad. The coffee is sweet–it’s not very strong, but I’m assuming you could adjust it (especially for those of us with tolerance levels in the ionosphere), and the smoothie is pretty good as well.
Next, who should we run into–? Why, the guys from Out of the Box Games. How cool is that? For those who don’t recall, we did some coverage of their Mensa stuff last year when they won three out of the five Mensa gaming awards. They introduced us to a couple of cool games. Ten Days Across Africa, where you have to come up with an itinerary that makes sense according to both geography and their rules of travel, and Apples to Apples, a quick and easy card game where you try to match like with like…or not. Very cool stuff. Hopefully we’ll have a full review of that goodness in the near future.
Coffee Gems, whose name is self-explanatory. They’ve got gifts for the caffeinated loony who wants to wear his or her addiction proudly for the whole world to see: jewelry that’s basically designed to look like coffee beans.
Crimson Cup has an interesting deal: they empower independent coffee shops to do their own thing, which is very nice. They provide help in getting things setup, what with branding and store accessories and all, and try to get them on their feet so they won’t suck. We applaud anybody who does stuff like this.
Edgar’s Bakery. Okay. They have Chocolate Cream Cheese Bars. Order them. I’m serious. They kick unbelievable ass. They are some of the richest, most dense confections I’ve ever had. The gentlemen there handed be a box to heft for weight. Sweet mother of God. You could have used it for a bludgeon. Very, very nice. Order, dammit.
Neighbors Coffee: We tried their Snickerdoodle, which they advertised to taste just like the cookie, and it does–it smells like a snickerdoodle cookie, tastes like a snickerdoodle cookie, and their creme brulee coffee is the same way. If you like flavored coffees, they absolutely nail it. It’s almost frightening. But at this point, I’m too caffeinated to know fear.
Yauco Selecto is here from Puerto Rico and together we tried some of their espresso. Cosette’s verdict: It’s weird, too tart, REALLY strong. Widge’s verdict: It’s interesting, lets you know it’s there, doesn’t need anything else. Combined verdict: UNIQUE.
Direct from the Audio Tape: Widge: We’re not even halfway through the hall yet. It’s ten past three. I feel like I’m forgetting how to use my arms, and I think that by the time I’m done with this, I will evolve into a being of pure energy and rule the universe. Which ain’t so bad. Wait. Can you hear that? Can you hear the lovely music? I hope so, because otherwise it means I’m hallucinating.
Ipanema Coffees out of Brazil: very cool barista, who impressed Cosette by making her a Cappuccino with a heart in the foam. The drink was good and aesthetically pleasing.
Pacific Chai they had mixed up both their Spice and Vanilla flavors, both regular and iced. Stuff was very nice–we talked them out of some samples for further study at home.
Harney and Sons have been master tea blenders since 1983, so they tell us. We tried their Egyptian chamomile, which was very light, very nice, very subtle, and the wedding blend, also very good.
Guittard are serious about chocolate. They have chocolate of all kinds, with cocoa content listed from white all the way to dark. They had special gold-wrapped and One Bean chocolates, all made in the French tradition. These people are not fooling around, and yes, it shows. Of course we ate some.
Sattwa Chai had some of the best chai we had all day. It tasted more real than some of the powdered ones, and was quite pleasant.
Elixir Teas and Tonics have healthy, all-natural, herbal tonics with no sugar added bits that you just add to water and ice and–ahhh, nice and refreshing. We tried a little shot of something called Mind over Muddle, with herbs and fruit, just one little shot of it mixed with some water and ice like we said. It’s actually quite tasty. I don’t know if it’s strong enough to deal with my muddle, but it’s very good.
Two Leaves and a Bud These are the guys that are bringing Dilmah tea into the U.S., which is apparently rather well known outside the States. Their website is “steeping,” they say. Heh.
I tried one of the massagers in a mall, a massage chair, one of the masseuse chairs, whatever, shiatsu–as I told the gentleman here at the booth, it felt like it was trying to pull my spine through my back, as opposed to this, which is the innergizer. It’s a portable device that goes onto the back of a chair, and it has a separate attachment for the legs. Very nice. As I was sitting there, he told me that I would stand up and feel 100 pounds lighter, and I’ll be damned if he wasn’t right.
GaviÃ±a has good coffee. And bonus: they’re good folks too. They’re a business run by a Cuban family and they’re big on the fact they’ve actualized the American Dream. Good on them. And better yet we tried the Guatemalan Organic–they’ve actualized my caffeine level as well.
Ghiradelli had a booth with some major largeness. We tried a couple of things here: a damn good mocha made by a very nice barista, and a blackberry double chocolate frappe–the verdict was Cosette said the frappe was yum but I’ll stick with the mocha. The fruity frappe tastes too much like medicine for me, thanks.
Serentipitea: While we were milling about their area, we tried the Really Goethe–very good herbal blend, and with a name so clever, you’d want to create a company just so you could sell it. Based in New York, they have over 100 blends.
Bongo Java, is a proud member of the world Rock, Paper, Scissors Society. They have some very cool t-shirts, including one that says, “Coffee stunted my growth.” They’re giving out Mexican Popsicles dipped in a little paper shot cup of Nashville Espresso, which is unique and actually rather tasty. If that doesn’t tell you everything you need to know, they also have a cinnamon bun in the shape of Mother Teresa’s head which they keep in a case, along with a write-up on the miracle in the Nashville Sun. These people are demented, you say? They also have a framed human-size bun that you could stick your face through, and you too can be part of the miracle. These people are fornicated in the head, if you catch my meaning. We really appreciate that.
DeBas Confectioner: First of all, very nice people. Very nice people who make very insane truffles. Why insane? Well, they’ve created them with jam in the middle, not to mention filo dough and all manner of chocolate. Good and evil all rolled up in one.
Selma’s has really good cookies. The cookies weigh four ounces. The rice crispy treats are so big you could use them as bricks–I’m serious, you could literally make a house out of these rice crispy treats. In fact, I’m sure that in some developing nations, they are. You could kill someone with one of these. All of their stuff is just flat out huge. We’re impressed. Nothing exceeds like excess, folks.
Shock-a-Lots: Speaking of excess…these are the folks who bring you not only chocolate covered hyper-caffeinated coffee beans, but they also have Shock Coffee. Shock how? It’s naturally 50% more caffeinated than your average cuppa. Nice.
Tradewinds Coffee. Here at Needcoffee, we’re big proponents of doing odd things with coffee, and putting coffee into products where you might not think you needed it before. Case in point: these folks bring you vitamin-enriched coffee, as well as skin cream with coffee. The vitamins have 33% of the RDA for all the stuff you need to, you know, keep your body going. Besides caffeine, of course. And the skin cream: a combination of Retinol-E and coffee? Bonus!
So that’s it. The highlights of what felt like a week going through the SCAA’s exhibitions. I went home and crashed for about thirty-six hours. It’s probably the most caffeinated I’ve been in years. Cosette went home and laughed at my crashing for about thirty-six hours. Special thanks to all the folks we ran into out there and the SCAA for letting us come and mill about aimlessly.