Royal New York

Coffee Fest Chicago 2015

For us, Coffee Fest is always a blast. It gives us a chance to hang out with all of our friends and colleagues and have the opportunity to meet those with whom we haven’t yet had the pleasure. For those who joined in on our classes (Blending Strategies for the Roaster and Barista and Introduction to Buying Specialty Green Coffee), I know I can speak for both Joe and myself when I say we had a great time leading them, and we always look forward to presenting. If you had the chance to come to a class or stop by our booth, thank you; we look forward to seeing you more often! 

In the blending class, we created 3 blends with the Ethiopia Hambela Grade 1 Alaka Single Farm Washed Special Prep, Ethiopian Natural Limu – NIGUSSE LEMMA, and the Organic Sumatra Aceh Ketiara “Adsenia” Triple Picked. Then we brewed those blends using different methods in order to accentuate different elements in the blends. In Joe Borg’s class, he gave everyone the opportunity to brush up on the basics of buying green coffee. Both of these are topics we enjoy talking about (It’s a good thing because we talk about them all the time!), and the classes give us a chance to get creative and work with a group.

With another awesome Coffee Fest on the books, it’s difficult not to compare. Chicago certainly did not disappoint. Allow me to set the stage: The Navy Pier is essentially a peninsula off of Chicago and into Lake Michigan (which may as well be an ocean). The conference was set up in the Navy Pier Festival Hall, which was a good chunk of architecture, but to get to it, you had to walk almost the entire length of the pier, passing the Chicago pizza joints, the IMAX and Shakespeare theaters, the iconic Ferris wheel, and a variety of ocean vessels prepped with fishing rods and / or pirates, allowing you to take a cruise – or an adventure! – based upon your current mood or disposition. And that was just the walk to the show! The rest of the city was easily accessible with great restaurants, nightlife, and – of course – coffee.

There were some great competitions taking place during the conference, including the Latte Art Championships, America’s Best Coffeehouse, and the Best Espresso Competition. These competitions have developed into events well worth taking a moment to sit and watch. The competition may have been friendly, but the cool demeanor of the competitors does little to cover up the intensity of the rivalries these baristas have developed over the years. But above all, everyone has a great time; they shake hands after, and they celebrate each other’s victories. The competitors come from all over, and the winners leave with their pockets bulging (but let’s be honest; it’s all about the glory).

There was a wonderful collaboration of industry professionals represented at this year’s Coffee Fest, ranging from local roasters to huge commercial food vendors. Walking the floor, you could get a taste of the whole spectrum of the industry, and it was really great to reflect on how far specialty coffee has come in the last decade. It’s very easy to forget, but specialty coffee is still in its infancy, and only within the last several years was an event of this magnitude really feasible. Looking around now, you can see the momentum building, and I can’t wait to see what the future will bring.

Until next time, Chicago!

Dave Planer

Anthony Chango