Coffee Fest Seattle – A few notable events!


Nov 11, 2007

Coffee Fest weekend in Seattle is as significant for what happens outside the tradeshow, as it is for what goes on at the show itself.

Coffee Fest is essentially a regional event, targeted primarily toward a Pacific Northwest audience. This means that some of the equipment manufacturers you would see at larger national shows like the SCAA are there but not all, and these may be represented by local distributors not the manufacturers themselves. The same goes for allied products. The same is true of coffee roasters, though northwest roasters are a breed apart, and an important few reflect the Zeitgeist of the boutique end of the market. There is merit to the idea that a show featuring northwest roasters would be worth attending on that basis alone. However, a significant cross section of these roasters attend the larger national shows, so the average visitor can save a trip. And besides Coffee Fest does not truly give a comprehensive view of northwest roasting, just a sampling.

When choosing the best tradeshow, there was a time when it was possible to reference the ESI website (or simply to call Kelly Traw, ESI’s highly attuned marketing director) to help make a decision. But this luxury is no longer available, as the market consolidates and the old guard disappears into new powerful conglomerations like the highly-agressive, super-efficient, operationally-focused Franke USA, in this case. Anyway, this year, among the many after hours events going on, three industry parties in particular showcased the state of Seattle’s specialty coffee scene.

On Friday night, Zoka hosted guests at the location of their expansive new roasting facility on Nickerson Street, near Salmon Bay (Lake Union). Tom Hodges, Zoka’s Master Roaster, will soon have a leading edge facility to carry out his craft, once the move-in is complete. The lively Caribbean calypso music at Zoka’s event was provided by a local group, made up of kids from this area. These kids were amazing and put on a highly entertaining and lively, even frenetic, performance (See Jason’s Flikr postings). Where did Zoka find these kids? They were awesome!

Zoka sponsored the Northwest Regional Barista Jam this year, so the party was attended by a number of competitors from the day’s events. I didn’t stay long enough to see how many entered in an unofficial Latte Art Smackdown that happened later that evening, but I can guarantee you that the competition was fierce. I saw Billy Wilson there, who I know was a finalist in the NWRBC on Saturday. Naturally I resisted showing off my amazing Jamocca Almond Fudge Creme anglaise Latte, even in this less formal setting.

Saturday marked the Grand Opening of the spectacular new Stumptown location on 12th Avenue. The opening was well attended by both baristas and bicyclists, as it was the terminus for a biking event to support Bikes to Rwanda. Bikes to Rwanda is an important direct to end user aid program founded by Duane Sorenson, Stumptown’s leader. I intend to feature Bikes to Rwanda in detail in this blog at some point in the future, because it highlights so many possibilities with regard to delivering opportunity in origin markets in the right way. If you want to read about this program now, go to Bikes to Rwanda to learn more.

So many good things can be said about Stumptown, including what a delightfully warm and enjoyable event they hosted this year.

Later Saturday evening, Caffe Vita put up an exclusive party in their spacious, turn of the century (and I mean when the 19th turned into the 20th century) Pike Street warehouse. The ambience of this was reminiscent of the club scene from the days of the Velvet Underground, with the addition of lots of jute sacks of coffee around and a big old Probat roaster in one corner, bathed in deep blue light. Several people mentioned to me how impressed they were with how beautifully the space converted into a club setting. (To get an idea of this, imagine Seattle’s old Off Ramp or Under the Rail.)

While there were many players from the industry here, this was an event where the music made the scene. In addition to some great opening acts, the Presidents of the United States, reunited for a command performance for Mike McConnell and his many supporters, customers, and staff.

During the event large screens showed images from coffee origins to raise awareness for the company’s ONE POT program aimed at improving conditions in these countries. Mainly, however, I got the sense that this was a generous extravaganza put on for the entertainment of everyone in attendance.

Thanks, Mike. It was great!


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