Specialty coffee show brews a host of ideas
The Specialty Coffee Association of America's 20th Annual Conference & Exhibition, held May 2– 5 in Minneapolis, offered a wealth of information for pizzeria operators looking to add espresso, cappuccino and specialty coffee drinks to their operation.
The event featured more than 800 exhibitors, coffee producers from 30 countries and more than 200 hours of educational sessions on specialty coffee.
Topics covered at the educational sessions included the art and science of the perfect cup, creating the right coffeehouse ambiance, how to sell tea in a coffee world and 10 essential steps new retailers must execute to compete in the 2008 retail coffee space.
"Selling great specialty coffee is paramount for any coffee retailer, but there's a lot more to it if you want to run a flourishing coffee business," said Ric Rhinehart, SCAA executive director.
Jim Glang, owner of Eugene, Ore.-based equipment supplier Crossroads Espresso, hosted a presentation titled "Before you open, you need to know." Glang offered tips on everything from how to choose an espresso machine to how to choose a location and even advice on where to place your espresso machine in your restaurant.
He recommended operators seeking to offer specialty coffee attend one of the numerous coffee schools that have sprung up around the country in recent years. An operator interested in adding specialty coffee can go for a three-, four- or five-day program to receive intensive information about the product and learn about the machines and how to operate them.
"A lot of people don't go to coffee schools because they think it's a lot of money to put out. I don't see how people can not afford to go," said Brandy Smyth, staff member at the Best Coffee School in Eugene, Ore. "There are tidbits of information you will learn that can save you thousands of dollars down the line."
Sustainability a key theme
The theme of this year's show was "Roots." Ethiopia was highlighted as the conference's first-ever African Portrait Country. 
Representatives from the Ethiopian embassy in Washington, D.C., conducted forums on the Ethiopian Coffee Trademarking and Licensing Initiative. The initiative is an effort to help farmers capture a bigger share of the retail price of the country's coffee brands.
"It's easy to think of coffee in terms of its origin or processing or roasting or preparation," Rhinehart said. "In each of these things, there is one common essential element: the hands of a human being."
Sustainability was another major theme of the show. The SCAA's carbon neutrality program helped offset emissions related to conference travel, lodging and energy consumption. Conference attendees paid a small tariff to participate in the program, and funds collected from registrants — included in the conference fee — will be donated to the sustainable non-profit organization, Trees for the Future, for the purchasing and planting of new trees.
Additional "green meeting" efforts coordinated by SCAA, the Minneapolis Convention Center and JBS & Associates, the tradeshow manager, included:
  • The elimination of paper handouts for more than 100 lectures and labs;
  • Glass, paper, aluminum can and plastic recycling bins located throughout the Minneapolis Convention Center
  • Food and beverages served with reuseable dishware and cutlery, as well as recyclable cups, whenever possible;
  • A cardboard compacter at the convention center, which recycles 98 percent of materials;
  • Food and beverages locally grown, in-season and organic, whenever possible;
  • Food waste sent from the convention center to a hog farm for use as animal feed;
  • Unopened food products donated to a local homeless shelter.
Honors, new products abound at show
Minneapolis-based gourmet coffeehouse operator Caribou Coffee won the Roasters Guild 2008 Roasters Choice Tasting Competition. Oakland, Calif-based Sweet Maria's took second place and Kansas City, Mo.-based The Roasterie came in third.
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Competitors submitted 30 pounds of coffee, which was roasted just prior to the event, and  each conference attendee got a chance to vote for the best of the 10 finalists in a blind tasting.
Kyle Glanville of Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea took home top honors in the 2008 United States Barista Championship (USBC), hosted by Krups. Pete Licata from PT's Coffee Roasting Co. in Overland Park, Kan., took second place and Heather Perry from Coffee Klatch in San Dimas, Calif., took third.
Along with a plethora of espresso machines, coffee varieties and every possible variation of a coffee mug, new products on display included Joe Fizz Coffee Soda, produced by Lincoln, Neb.-based Tenback Inc., and Living Harvest Hempmilk, a dairy alternative made from hemp seeds and produced by Portland, Ore.-based Living Harvest.
And as occasionally happens at industry trade shows, one of the simplest new products turned out to be a highlight. Atlanta-based Georgia-Pacific demonstrated the Smart Top Reclosable Lid, a coffee cup lid with a sliding tab.
"It seems very simple, but it actually took two years to develop," said Sharon Tett, senior marketing manager for food service with Georgia-Pacific Food Services Solutions "You get your coffee to go, and it's easy to open while you're driving."

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