On October 1st, 2016 I attended Coffee Fest in Anaheim California. This is an industry trade show where vendors showcased their products from industrial roasters to coffee cup sleeves. Held in the Anaheim convention center (next to Disneyland), I thought it would be a good idea to attend since it was so close to home.
So I packed my snacks and laptop and headed to the show. Of course, me being me, I got there super early. There was no line at registration because even the vendors had not arrived. I was given a bag and the conference schedule so I looked for the classes that I had registered for. They also had free classes that you could attend before the show started. I picked a class and went up to the meeting room. It was a talk on buying green coffee so it was right up my alley. Unfortunately, the speaker was nowhere to be found. I guess he had too much of a good time the night before. It was a free class, so I figured I couldn’t complain much.
The good thing was that there was free coffee. One of the vendors set up a coffee stand in the common area. They also had a barista competition. The baristas were competing in Latte art. All the artists we good, but you could tell which ones took their art more seriously.
Once the convention started, I went to my first class: coffee roasting 101. Both speakers were very knowledgeable in their field. One worked for the SCAA (The Big Coffee Association) and the other owned the company whose roaster they were using. The class lasted about an hour and it was the first time I had ever seen coffee being roasted. First crack, second crack, I was able to see, hear and smell all the things I had read about on the internet. This was a great class given the circumstances. We were all in the middle of a conference hall. The roaster was a prototype that was going to be released later that year (2016). It was about the size of the roaster that we’re going to buy (1kg).
After the class I had about a 2hr break until my next class. This gave me some time to wander around the convention hall. People from all over the world were there. I guess this was a big event. This was my first time in the coffee “environment”. It became apparent right away that I was out of my element.
After a few hours of looking like a fish out of water, it was time for my second class. Cupping 101. This was a much larger class, I guess it was going to be good. I sat in a large round table with other students. People from all aspects of the coffee industry were seated. Farmers, importers, roasters, students of coffee. We had lots of cups, water, spoons and coffee in front of us. Score cards and note paper for all the coffees that we were about to try were neatly placed in front of us. My coffee tasting experience was pretty binary at this point, and it still is. We tried three different flights (I borrowed this term from beer tasting). Each flight was different is some way. Roasts, regions, processing methods each impart their own characteristics to the bean. The people there were naming all the flavors they could taste in the coffee. Leather, flowers, berries were all terms being thrown around. All I tasted was coffee. I could tell the difference between the 6 types of coffee. But is was just good coffee to me. I’m not sure if this is a skill you’re born with or if it can be cultivated.
After the cupping class, I wandered the exhibit hall once again. Everyone seemed to act like they belonged there. Every stall had someone standing there asking questions. I stopped by a coffee importer that I had spoken to via email earlier in the week. They are headquartered about 15 minutes from where I currently work. I expressed my feelings of anxiety and they reassured me that it was normal. They shared that there was a lot to learn and that I should give it time.
I ended my visit to Coffee Fest 2016 with a trip to Downtown Disney. My kids would kill me if I didn’t bring them a souvenir. I stopped at one of the restaurants and reflected on my day. I questioned if this trip was a big waste of time because of how little I knew or if it was an eyeopener to all the things I had to learn. Either way, it makes a good story and starting point.