For the second year in a row, the thrum of thousands of over-caffeinated coffee people will emanate from the Washington State Convention Center in the heart of Seattle. The SCAA Event, in its twenty-seventh installment, brings together producers and café owners, importers and water experts, espresso machine customizers and national coffee board governors, connecting not just the entire coffee supply chain but all of its allied tributaries.
Last year, the show attracted nearly 8,000 attendees and more than 2,500 exhibitors (most of whom are attendees for at least part of the time). More exciting than the massive coming-together of coffee people is the massive variety of countries represented. Last year it was seventy-two countries, and a third of attendees were from outside the States. Africa will be shown off even better this time around. Ethiopia is this year’s Official Portrait Country, which allows us to be reminded of mind-blowing facts, like that Ethiopia has nearly 4,000 varieties of arabica.
While the Event offers a bevy of skill-building workshops and lectures that will help baristas, roasters, and café owners better their craft and businesses, the convention provides an unparalleled opportunity to learn about countries of origin. Some lectures and roundtables about origin cover issues far from café-concerns, like the difficulty of keeping young people in coffee farming. But learning about, for instance, how much it costs farmers to produce high-quality coffee can inform discussions with customers who ask why your coffee costs what it does. No other part of the Event forces such hard time-allotment choices as the classes, but make room for at least one talk about issues at origin.
Making this year’s show that much more kinetic is the World Barista Championship. The last time the United States hosted the championship was in 2009, when Gwilym Davies won the contest in Atlanta. The competition floor at last year’s United States Barista Championship was packed, and the international competition will only attract more spectators. If you intend to watch the action, block out some time and find a seat in the grandstands. Otherwise you’ll be on tippy-toes, craning your neck, able to hear the presentations but see little.
The Washington State Convention Center couldn’t be better located for a café crawl. The cafés and roasteries just up the street in the Capitol Hill neighborhood could make any mid-sized city a coffee destination, and they’re just what Seattle offers in one district. The SCAA’s guided tour sold out almost immediately, but a good pair of shoes (Seattle is steep) and a smartphone will get the job done. If the Event is your excuse to go to Seattle, make sure to visit its cafés. We don’t know when the Event will return to the Emerald City.
—Cory Eldridge is Fresh Cup’s editor.