coffee conference melancholia

it is time once again for the scaa convention, this time down in happening long beach,ca . yes, the long beach near the oil fields, near the port, near l.a.; the long beach everyone talks about. (maybe i can sneak over to San Pedro for some excitement). i must confess a certain dread. it's a massive swarm of people from all over the globe, and Iowa too. And 94% of them have absolutely no relevance to what we do here at sweet maria's on a daily basis. well, the coffee business has never been much about coffee, sadly. and to the extent that it is, this includes a wide range of interests from flavoring extracts, to shiny designer accessories, from those hapless puck-polishers with sage-infused micro-foam to powdered chai latte pushers. then there is the Coffee Cognoscenti, the group of scaa insiders with rows of badges pinned to their sleeves, running around to speeches, forums, panels and workshops. Invariably, it's those who are selling something (themselves), either directly as a consultant, or with an eye to climbing the rungs in the coffee industry, or for general status. They have something to gain by appearing knowledgeable in front of others. And there there is me and the rest of my ilk, mildly traumitized, skulking around, keeping our heads down, trying to avoid conversations and glean what little there is from the trade show floor. i know, it's probably the same in your industry ... conventions are much alike. if you were on the student board in high school, if you went to the pep rallies, if you got your picture in the yearbook a few times, you probably have no problem with conventions. so hurrah for the coffee convention, the generic high-profile keynote speaker, the ribbon-wearers and panelists at "Pushing the Right Button: Choosing a POS System" and "Location? Predicting Potential Business Success". I will be issuing a facinating report on "dust-bunny size and location in the convention hall foyer" postscript: my grumpy 2007 scaa report has no pictures of dust bunnies, sadly. -tom

The c-Member program seems to

The c-Member program seems to be defunct, although there was a short discussion on about what it needed to be viable from the consumer's and SCAA's points of view. The really nice function that was put together by Marshall Fuss for three consecutive years was an annual open house (in which one didn't even have to be a c-Member) in Long Beach at the SCAA's headquarters in which he arranged for the speakers, who were all coffee professionals, and a bunch of free stuff, including coffee (roasted and green bean) as well as older SCAA t-shirts. It lasted the entire day. It offered a chance to actually play around with some commercial espresso machines, grinders, and ask questions. Even the hallowed La Marzocco GS/3 was there in prototype last year. For the aficiando, this was a great opportunity to actually learn something and possibly interact with other coffee crazy consumers. Alas, it is very understandable that the SCAA, given its recent financial problems, feels that the c-Members aren't worth the time and expense on the SCAA's part. Well, there are pro's and con's. The pro's for the SCAA with respect to the c-Member is that they would have a living, talking coffee ambassador for next to no cost (they charged $45 for one year's membership). Do not misunderstand me, the SCAA has some very passionate people who know and are crazy about the quality of coffee. The con was that the SCAA seems to think that they aren't getting their money's worth which they would rather devote to the actual coffee businesses in the SCAA organization, many of whom seems to be oblivious to quality coffee in its various manifestations. Without aficando coffee enthusiasts, things such as home roasting, espresso machines, vacuum pots, and high end consumer grinders are likely to continue to be a very small niche in the overall scheme of global coffee. The plus to that, is that there isn't much likelihood that the home roaster will be priced out of the market in the pursuit of green coffee beans because parties such as the Japanese will not be able to easily corner the market in specialty beans: mostly because every year brings the real possibility of a different cup of coffee from the same coffee farm and because roasted beans are so predominate in the marketplace. This is the principal reason that Tom's notes are so critical in his cupping evaluations of the green beans because he lays a base line in which consumers can actually base their choices for green beans, once one figures out what one likes. Now another quite interesting observation at the 2006 annual SCAA homecoming was that there maybe little direct connection between the cupping notes and what ends up as a cup of coffee and this was something that I had come to suspect. Tom's notes are a great guide in terms of getting an idea of the complexity of what one may encounter in the brewed cup of coffee. This is more than anyone else does and publishes on the Net. So that Tom Owen is to coffee as Robert Parker is to wine.

thanks carl, and i agree

thanks carl, and i agree completely with your comments. i can imagine your surprise to find such uneven coffee quality at the convention, but alas it is true. i didn't realize that the c-member program was being scaled back? is that true? was there less programming for c-members this time? and i agree that, for all my kvetching, the conference is still worth it at least once. they offer cheap day passes to the floor, and i usually can get free passes to dole out too.


For any coffee aficiando,

For any coffee aficiando, going to one of these SCAA events is worth going to at least once. The SCAA appears to have dismantled the c-Members which stands for consumer-Members as opposed to the business members for which the SCAA is originally intended. Yes, all of what has been written is true, but it is very interesting to see it for yourself, first hand. I attended the Anaheim convention a few years back and it was nothing short of amazing just how bad some of the coffee as well as the bad espresso doled out by the vendors who were there. Coffee has a cache because of the PR done by Starbucks in which the non-coffee aficiando assumes that this implies very high quality - which it is not. It could be that the quality of coffee in the commercial settings is changing for the better, but I have yet to see it. That means that the diligent home roaster with a semi-professional espresso machine and a really good vacuum pot can easily equal or better what is to be found in the Los Angeles area and that includes the over hyped Clover and the Pasquini $26K espresso machine. A coffee professional has no excuse if a rank, untrained amateur can do better because the professional is suppose to have the training and clearly has the hardware equipment to make outstanding coffee. I can recall some attendees proudly proclaiming how much free green bean coffee was accumulated from the show. Home roasting is where it is at for quality and diversity of flavors that are simply unavailable in roasted beans from commercial roasters from which the consumer has the problem of the beans going stale. Personally, there is nothing better, so far, than Sweet Maria's and no one else has come close.

Tom, All that gritching you


All that gritching you did and they still published your picture on Coffeegeek. Top row, center placement! Just goes to show, the SCAA isn't reading thy blog.


tax deductable - good point.

tax deductable - good point. that's one way to see the silver lining of conventions -tom

Ah yes, the 'convention'.

Ah yes, the 'convention'. Promises made, egos boosted, fancy clothes, and little 'real' content.

Just remember...the trip is tax deductible!

My friend gets your beans

My friend gets your beans delivered to his home and makes me awesome coffee from his many burned out popcorn machines. I admire him very much. Kuddos on your business. We love you!

And I enjoyed your post about the trade show. I'm glad I turned back home to Santa Cruz. What you mentioned is what I was expecting. I like you and I look forward to your future posts.