It's true: while the average coffee and tea consumer is innocently going about their day, drinking and slurping and trying not to spill the contents of their travel mug all over their lap, the industry is meeting secretly behind our backs. They're sampling cakes and chocolate, projecting the future of flavours and debating the debacles of dairy. And yes, they are wondering exactly, just how much more, possibly, they can get you to drink each and every day.
In Canada, they meet annually at the Coffee and Tea Show, which took place this year on September 16 and 17 at the Congress Centre out in Toronto's scenic airport district. The heart of the trade show for espresso geeks may have been the 2007 Canadian National Barista Championship, but to industry folk and restaurateurs of all varieties, the Coffee and Tea show offered workshops and talks on everything from gelato to granitas to green cafés.
With so much going on all at once, it would be impossible to take in all of this beverage boondoggle, but there was plenty to see wherever you turned, and no shortage of sensory overload (especially if your senses are easily overloaded by chocolate art, tiny raspberry cakes, and tiny cups of chai). The show opened Sunday morning, bright and early, to a talk by World Barista Champion James Hoffmann, quickly followed by a continental breakfast and an onslaught of intriguing morning sessions (some more intriguing than others, like, with live-action dessert).
Panels and workshops provided no end of eye-opening revelations; for instance, apparently, it's extremely easy to make gelato if you have a freezing machine and a power drill. Over in the Fair Trade / Transfair workshop, it's disclosed that certifiers really don't have to look at the quality of a product to give it a Fair Trade label - which makes sense, of course, but is a fact that likely eludes the average do-gooder consumer. (Here's betting the average consumer also doesn't know that besides coffee, tea, cocoa and produce, that flowers, cotton, quinoa, and sports balls are also Fair Trade certifiable. "Think fast, sis!" "Wait - is that basketball Fair Trade?")
Wandering into a dessert innovations workshop, I catch the tail end of a sentence: "...and then what I did is take the whole key lime pie and put it in a mixer." Innovations, indeed! The Canadian tea industry update speaker sounds more than a little sinister when we get to the part about increasing their "share of throat", but who can blame them with all those frappuccinos and granitas flying around? And did you know that 1% milk has more nutritional value than Diet Coke?
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| Brewing is fundamental |
An instructor speaking at the coffee brewing lab
| Don't forget dessert... |
The dessert innovations presentation in progress
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| More brewing |
Cupping in the brewing lab - starred cups identify different stages of brewing
| Grinders on parade |
One of many grinders among the countless coffee toys on the show floor
| Tampers |
Pink or blue... pink or blue...?
Out on the trade show floor were countless toys and treats though it's a bit vexing to wander a convention centre filled with more than 100 espresso machines (there's a Mistral right up front to add stylish insult to injury) and not be able to get a decent coffee until 12:45 pm. Coffee enthusiasts lingered around the large Nuova Simonelli booth and wandered over to Classic Gourmet Coffee, Toronto's only specialty roaster representing at the show, not surprising since they've got a bit of a lock on this town. Green-friendly cups and Java Jackets were free for the fondling, and though the Reg Barber table was inexplicably stuck in a back corner behind the barista stage, more than a few enthusiasts snuck back to check out anodized Delron tampers and powder-coated aluminum jobbies in fashionable pink. ("The girls like this one," insisted one cafe owner. Uh-huh. I'm sure it makes them so much more comfortable.) More fashionable, anyway, than the auto-pressure lever tampers sighted across the trade show floor!
Tea lovers had just as much to choose from, including several cupping sessions and the Great Canadian Tea Steep-Off. But there were trade show booth curiosities for everyone, from the straightforward grinders to the sexy Eva Solo tea brewer, to the more mysterious spoon dispenser that offered "multi-purpose spoons" (they sure looked just like regular plastic spoons to me).
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| For the tea lovers... |
A competitor at the Great Canadian Tea Steep-Off.
| Mate |
Different kinds of mate on display
| Gelato |
Preparing gelato at the gelato workshop
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| The secret to gelato |
You, too, can prepare gelato with power tools.
| A fancy finish |
Desserts with fancy chocolate - all part of increasing "share of throat"
Yet for all the variety offered, two full days of tea and coffee could have been a bit deeper; the average trade show visitor could have easily escaped tasting or becoming educated about truly excellent coffee or tea, so many of the possibilities of these beverages lost in the mix of novelty retail accoutrements and an emphasis on flashy presentation. Next year's show could have so much potential to truly excite and inform about what really should be the baseline for anyone attending this sort of thing: passion for the drink, not just what you can get down people's mouths in any of 4,000 different kinds of paper cup. There's always more to learn than anyone has time for - let's capitalize on that enthusiasm, caffeine these people up, and get them even more excited than ever next year. I bet it won't even cut into gelato sales.