As I ride back on the airplane from Boston (complete with a transfer in Montreal because our glorious revolutionary (read: monopoly) airline Air Canada does not go direct from Boston to Vancouver any longer), I'm trying to remember the whirlwind of activities that happened on Sunday at the SCAA Boston trade show.
Fortunately, I took notes.
The day started for me with a close watch on the ongoing Barista championships. The Worlds were in full swing, and let me tell you, if anyone thought the US Barista Competition was full bore, the Worlds was hyper intensive yet perfectly calm at times. I saw the Italian competitor (Andrea Lattuada) and he was amazingly casual. He talked for almost five minutes into his 15 minutes, addressing the crowd, talking about how the scene in Italy is for cafe espresso, then eventually clapped his hands, and said "Okay! Let's make drinks!". He pounded out four espresso with such nonchalance, but the crema was dripping thick, and the shots looked amazing. I noted that he tamped extremely well and used the piston tamp, that is, the arm straight up and bent at the elbow. No knock that I could see - but a variation on the Staub tamp, which is a four quadrant tamp.
The cappuccinos were also spectacular. He seemed to be going slow, but as he was prepping and building his drinks, I realised what he was doing - his timing was so spot on, he had his last of the signature drinks built and served as the clock ran down to zero. Amazing stuff!
Woah. Put the brakes on there Mark... I'm not supposed to talk about the World Barista championships. You may ask why - and I'll tell you why - CoffeeGeek will have an in depth multi part article about the WBC on the website very soon. We hope to have interviews with the winner, and some of the other finalists as part of the package. In my Day 3 report, I'll give you some details about who won but look for the full WBC report up soon.
| || || |
| || || |
| The crowd at the World Barista Championships was thick, as were the press covering the event. |
| The trophies for first through sixth places, including a gold, silver, and bronze La Marzocco portafilter, and three Reg Barber tampers. |
| Unlike the USBC, the World judges were all over the machines and the Baristi as they did their magic. |
| || || |
| || || |
| Site Zuhriyah from Indonesia built these amazing drinks that tasted phenomenal |
| Irina Puzachkova gets into a mellow place after she went through her fifteen minute prep; now waiting for showtime. |
| Andrea Latuada pulled some exquisite shots, including these two. |
Seminars in the Morning
I caught some brief moments in a couple of seminars, including Bruce Milletto and Ed Arvidson's Getting Into the Coffee Business on the Right Foot, and The Power of Relationship Coffees by David Griswold, Mary Petit and others. Milletto's a great presenter and he and Arvidson have been doing this for years. They're consultants in this biz with their company Bellissimo, and they presented some rock solid advice including mention of a lot of the pitfalls that many start ups make.
Maybe it's just me, but with all the failures in the restaurant and cafe business, more folks need to do two things: win the lottery so they don't go into the business so massively in debt, and they need to attend more seminars like this. What I especially like about the presentation is that Milletto still has hints of passion for coffee - you can see it - and he passes that along. He's very much about the money and business side, but unlike some other presentations I've seen in the past, Milletto lets the passion for the bean come through.
The Relationship Coffee session was an eye opener. I had to get to the Barista championships, but I sat around for a bit, and learned that some of the things I heard about relationship coffee can be overcome. It's a real challenge for small roasteries to establish direct relationships at times because of the substantial risk involved. For example, you usually prepay a fair amount, sight unseen for the coffee, and then wait and hope it's going to be top notch. Discussion focused on how to overcome some of those risks, and I wish more of the micro-roaster owners I've spoken to in the past could have attended this - who knows - it could make a huge difference in giving farmers a living wage. As always, the issue of trust is paramount, but if a good relationship is struck up by a farming community and a small roaster, it would be beneficial to all.
A third seminar I managed to drop in on was How to Prosper Next to a National Chain, given by Mike Sheldrake and Roger Schuemann. I seemed to have dropped in on this seminar at the perfect moment. The speaker was focusing on passion, sheer passion in the Barista right on up to the owner as one of the cornerstones of beating the big boys at their own game. We need more of this at the show - in some of the seminars, I was worrying it was all about dollars, and not enough commitment to quality and passion for the bean and the beverage. Fortunately, I could always walk over to the Barista competitions to get this sense once again, but it was good to see some seminars focusing on this in a competitive marketplace.
Walking the afternoon away
After a very enjoyable lunch with Todd Saltzman from Whole Latte Love, his wife and his new child, it was time to hit the floor for the first time in a serious capacity since the show started. Yep, I'd been so busy that I wasn't able to really visit the show floor for more than a few minutes until Sunday.
My goal was to do the first floor on Sunday, and the second floor on Monday. I started at the far north corner of the building, at the Jura booth. Dan Hughes, from EspressoPeople wanted my opinion on a new consumer Grimac machine, so I went to check it out. The dope on the Grimac is that it's a $300 competitor for the Francis Francis line. It looks good, not as good as the FF!! machines may, but good enough. It features the same portafilter as the Francis Francis, but I think I remember them saying it was a steel boiler, not brass. I could be wrong on this though.
| || || || |
| || || || |
| The $300 (estimated) Grimac machine has a brass boiler and a 57mm grouphead. The body design is pretty much finalized. |
| This preproduction Grimac pod machine produced a surprisingly good espresso shot for me. Note the lack of steam arm - it's coming soon. |
| The Espressione XP1 looks to be a solid contender in the $1000 range prosumer marketplace. WebVendors should be listing it soon. |
| Remember the Espressione Wall Mount system? Here's the machine with a base! |
At the Jura booth, I saw a couple of machines we also have in the office - the F7 and S9 machines. Here's the cool thing - people were just completely agog over the F7 and it's touchscreen technology. It seemed to be a real hit with folks. Heck, as long as the machine can produce an okay shot (or at least a better shot than the average cafe out there), the bells and whistles are cool additions to the machine. It looks like Jura and Capresso may have an office hit on their hands. The F7's price should be around $1,700 and the S9 is the big boy, at around $2,350 or higher.
I wanna just do a little aside here. A couple of years ago, I most likely would have cracked jokes and been very snide about any super auto I saw on the floor. Today, I'm talking about them in a positive way. So what's the deal? Am I some sort of sell out? Did my palate and sense go down? Is Capresso paying me to say good things about them? Did I forget my roots?
None of the above. Here's the deal - I will probably never have a super automatic as my primary machine in my home... I have never met one that can brew anything anywhere near what I can pull with traditional machines. In fact, I can usually pull a better shot with a $200 Gaggia Carezza and a $60 Bodum Antigua grinder than I can with the super autos I test. So why the positive spin? Three reasons:
- People in the US demand, absolutely demand convenience.
- These machines can brew a better shot than probably 75% of the cafes out there. In fact, I just completed an article for Fresh Cup magazine's Annual Almanac on mediocrity in the cafe scene, and as research for the article, I did a cafe crawl of nine "hot spot" cafes in Vancouver. One was at a Starbucks. They had a Saeco Italia super auto (consumer machine, $700 US roughly). Out of 10 shots of espresso on that craw, the best one came from the Italia. Scary.
- The machines can also produce a better espresso than most people can do in their homes with traditional machines.
Hardcore CoffeeGeeks may scoff, but dudes and dudettes - you're hardcore. Most people can't be bothered to measure out precisely 17 grams of coffee, or work for weeks to perfect their tamp. Hell, most can't be bothered to grind just before brewing! For these folks, the super auto is a massively raised bar.
I've come to realize this over the years. This is why I won't diss super autos any longer, except when they are substandard when compared to other super autos, and you shouldn't diss them either. They have a place, and they raise the quality bar for many Americans. This benefits us hardcore types because Joe and Jane Average with the super auto is going to start going into the average cafe and realize that the stuff they get is crap. They'll complain, the store will have to raise the quality level, and we all win. Think about it.
Okay, rant mode off. I'm back on the floor, and I caught up with Bill Crossland from La Marzocco. He's the plant manager of their Seattle factory. He's also the guy who's championing the idea that La Marzocco needs to build the "be all, end all, no one can compete with it" consumer and catering espresso machine. Bill and I have been discussing this machine for quite some time, and it's one of the reasons my 110V one group Linea exists - it was Bill's hobby machine to see what was possible and what wasn't possible at that power draw.
As a(nother) short aside, if you want a La Marzocco machine for the home, make sure you visit my small section on La Marzoccos at my CoffeeKid site - at the bottom of the page, you'll see how you can help get the ball rolling and convince the powers that be that this is a desired machine.
Crossland and I walked the floor, checking out a variety of booths. We stopped by Boyd's and saw their new logo, which I really like. The company's coming forward in look and in offerings, and it's refreshing to see. We checked out a Reneka at the booth (Boyds' is the importer of this line of machines), and it looked pretty cool. Reneka is another company, out of France, that offers a dual boiler espresso machine. The Reneka Techno has become a cult hit with hardcore espresso aficionados as of late, but I was told by an unnamed party (not with Boyds) at the show that the machine had some technical issues and wouldn't be available for several months.
Boyds' also sells the Technivorm machine. Why this brewer series wasn't picked up by one or more internet retailers last year, I really don't know why. Good news this year - it looks like the folks at Boyds' managed to do a few deals with some of your friendly neighbourhood web vendors, and you may soon be seeing Technivorms of various flavours at your favourite virtual shelf.
| || || || |
| || || || |
| Reneka Viva at Boyds' booth. This is a 5litre heat exchanger system. The dual boiler Techno was not to be seen. |
| Some Technivorms are beautiful |
| Some Technivorms look okay... |
| And some are just plain ugly (white in the foreground). |
Bill and I parted ways, and I meandered past the Rosito Bisani booth again, where I had the opportunity to talk with Michael Teahan. He's the technical director for the company, and wow, what a brain. We had an excellent discussion on the subject of tamping as it relates to machines with and without preinfusion. Teahan's a fervent believer in no serious tamping required for preinfusion-enabled machines. That is contrary to my own belief, but he had me wavering. I've invited Teahan to write an article for our website on this subject, and I think he's going to take it on.
Suffice to say, he was very refreshing for me on the floor. A fair amount of booths have people only interested in feeding you marketing PR, and little else. Teahan offers insight and thought. A good rep for Rosito Brisani, that's for sure.
I made a brief stop at the TransFair pavilion, which was massive. I got to speak to Haven Bourque, who is TransFair USA's Marketing Director. She's new with the non-profit, but seems to be really getting into her job and the TransFair movement. I didn't stay for long because I knew I would be heading back the next day.
Near the TransFair pavilion was the large Zojirushi booth. I was always disappointed that we didn't have Zoj products last year during my Thermos Nissan Detailed Review on this site, so I took the time to talk to the Zoj folks about getting set up for a detailed evaluation of their products at some point this year. They were all for it. I may be "in love" with Thermos Nissan's Titanium briefcase bottle (ooooo it's so luscious :)), but I have to say, Zojirushi's Tuff Slim bottle is still the one to beat - the screw on top is the most ingenious in the business.
As if I couldn't get enough of the Espresso Specialists' booth, I had to drop by again, where I met up with CG reporter Jean who was working on her own assignments for me and this website during the day (note - she never did get around to publishing them... she didn't do a very good job on this trip). She was served what she called "the best cappuccino I've ever had in my life" by one of the worlds' best Baristi, Luigi Lupi. He was third in last year's WBC, but has been doing this for over 30 years.
| Show patron admires the UCC drip pot brewer. |
As I wandered around, I came upon the Ueshima Coffee Company from Japan, who had a booth at the show. I saw two exceedingly cool things.
First, they have a lot of vac pots, including Harios. But that wasn't cool thing number one. The halogen burner system I saw was uber cool. It was designed to work with pretty much any vac pot system out of the Orient (glass types, 3 and 5 cup models) and is designed for restaurant use. The halogen burners work exceedingly fast, and would be very ideal for high volume, classy coffee serving in any restaurant that finally realises that coffee is often the last thing your patron has at your shop, and it should be superb. This system can deliver it, give your customers a unique, good tasting experience, and they'll leave your restaurant thinking everything was awesome.
The second cool thing I saw at this booth was an automated, three station system for delving out cotton drip coffee. What made it especially cool were three factors.
- It had automated features, temperature controls and water volume controls
- The spigot arm that delivered hot water to the brewing section swiveled and rotated automatically, giving a complete saturation pattern to the ground coffee in the filter.
- It used muslin cloth filters, the kind I have in an old Hario drip pot, which gives much better extraction from ground coffee when compared to paper.
It was a very unique and ingenious system, and I really hope that UCC picked up customers in the US with their booth. These kinds of coffee systems will do nothing but boost coffee quality in restaurants, and give a very unique, "brewed just for you" experience to customers, while delivering high volume performance to the shop owner.
| || || |
| || || |
| Who says restaurants can't have efficient, quick vac pot service? |
| Amazing drip brewer system for individual coffee service that exudes cup quality. |
| Shinichi Sasaki (out of picture) explains virtues of the halogen system. |
Next up for me was the must-visit to the Rancilio booth. It's a no brainer for me, as Rancilio is one of my all time favourite brands, and I still think that, to this day, the Rancilio Silvia is one of the best single boiler machines you can buy under $600 for the home.
| Vittorio Bonissi and Brian Pearson of Rancilio, in front of their showcase Class 12 Super Automatic. |
I got a chance to finally meet "the Italians" at Rancilio, when Vittorio Bonissi and I got a chance to chat. Vittorio is Rancilio's Product Manager, and I have to admit I am constantly saddened by Rancilio's lack of focus on the home market. I also learned something about the Silvia at this show - The Silvia was originally supposed to be a "reseller's bonus" and not meant for retail sale - the company was going to make the machine to give away to their top sellers as a bonus! I guess we're fortunate that they did take it retail.
I'm going to do a bit of a rant here. I really like Rancilio and their history and development process in the industry, but I feel the company is making a serious, possibly disasterous mistake by "blowing off" the consumer marketplace. The Silvia is a runaway hit, and the company has momentum in that arena. The next logical step is to roll out a true prosumer machine, but the company isn't focusing in this area, and they readily admit they aren't. That's a mistake - a huge one, with lots of dollar signs assigned to it.
In many ways, some of the established Italian companies continue to show their ignorance of the power of the N. American marketplace, and the potential to not only make a lot of money, but to firmly establish themselves as the defacto reference point in certain sectors of the marketplace. Rancilio had the chance to set the bar, and become the standard in the prosumer arena if they capitalized on the success of the Silvia and upped the ante with a true prosumer / catering style 110V machine. Many folks who have gotten into "quality" espresso in the home started with the Rancilio Silvia, and it would be a natural progression for them to go Rancilio again when they upgraded to the $1000, $1200, $1500 price points. But they couldn't: there is no option from Rancilio at those price points.
The company's dropping the ball big time, and losing a vast potential market. As a fan of Rancilio, I'm very saddened to see this. I hope it's not too late, and I hope some opinions within the Italian arm of the company get with the 21rst century, and soon.
| Grind area of the massive Mazzer Robur grinder. |
| The huge, beefy 71mm burr assembly from the Robur. |
My last major stop for the day was Mazzer's booth. I was on a mission - to find out what the score was with the Mazzer Mini, and rumours I heard that it was to be cancelled. Further, I heard it was being cancelled because Mazzer the company did not like it being a consumer cult hit. I had to confirm or deny.
I had a long, fruitful talk with the very gracious Luca Maccatrozzo of Luigi Mazzer, SRL, that cleared up a lot of things. In brief
- Mazzer is extremely flattered and honoured that some of the most discerning consumers have chosen the Mazzer Mini as the defacto 'king of the hill' for home espresso grinding.
- Mazzer's main issue with Mini sales is that the price point some vendors are selling it at is too low. They feel it devalues the product. I would agree here - the Mini is such a stellar grinder, even at $500, it would be a bargain. It's a product that will truly outlast most of its owners, when used in a home environment.
- Mazzer is almost certainly discontinuing the switch model Mazzer Mini. The reasons are multiple, but one reason given to me that I can write about is that Mazzer is concerned, now that the Mini has become such a cult hit with coffeegeeks, that some users may accidentally leave the grinder on continuously. When the grinder is empty, it doesn't make a hella lot of noise, and Mazzer has concerns that it could be left running all day, and the thermal cut off would shut down the machine (there is a safety system in place to shut power to the motor if the motor reaches 130C).
Because of this, they are still going to sell and produce the Mini timer version. With the timer, it will shut itself off if left on, and Maccatrozzo said that since the popularity of the grinder is so huge now with consumers, this makes good business sense for the company and its resellers. I would agree, though I still prefer switch models over timer models.
Maccatrozzo also took time to talk to me about the Mazzer Robur grinder, a massive, impressive grinder with conical burrs. I got to work on one during the Espresso Gauntlet, and after 35 double ristrettos, consider me sold - it is possibly the best grinder available today for commercial use. It's massive, at 62 pounds and 900 watts. It is forgiving, has super low RPMs (420 under load), yet it is powerful, and it can do roughly 17 grams in around 5 or 6 seconds, and the grind is superb. The conical burr set is a huge 71mm.
Well, that about wraps up my Day Two report. My on-site CG reporter (Jean) was supposed to chime in with a report as well, but I think I will let her have her own full guest column to talk about her second and third day at the show. Look for it soon, and look for my Day Three report soon as well!