My girlfriend and I had the excellent opportunity to check out this year's NASCORE show in Portland, Oregon on September 20-22, 2002. The focus was on some training, lots of barista shootouts, and some showing of coffee and (ugh) tea related items.
| Very frequently I get emails saying 'hey Mark, where's your photo?" when I do these types of stories... sigh. This is a preemptive strike - here I am at a cafe in downtown Portland on day two of the trip. |
Getting to the show was a bit of a challenge though. We attended a rock concert the night before, in Vancouver (the Tragically Hip, and it was awesome), and by the time we got home from that concert at 1:30am, we had only 3 hours to sleep before hitting the road. Some six and a half hours after that, we arrived in Portland, and went straight to the show at the Memorial Coliseum at about 1pm, not even having a chance to check into our hotel. But we made it, and we spent three days in the beautiful city of Portland, checking out the sites, checking out the stores, and definitely checking out the show.
Day One at NASCORE
Friday was primarily a meet and greet day for me, and especially for my girlfriend who has never met these people before. For myself, many of the folks I saw on day one were people I only knew via email or on the phone, so it was definitely a get acquainted date.
After signing in, we hung out in the large conference room hosting the Regional Barista championships, checking out the preliminaries. I saw a lot of Baristas (note the capital letter "B") from small and large chains, as well as independents, and I have to tell you, I thought it was seriously cool to see Baristas from chains like Peets and Seattle's Best and Tullys (I'm not sure if Starbucks was represented or not). Why was it cool? Because it means that at least some people within these big chains think the barista can be a Barista, as in someone who does it at a higher, artistic and developed level. I'm sure they would have also liked to get a winner in the bunch, but just by sending their staff to Portland, these big chains recognize that being a Barista goes beyond just some brainwashing through corp-manuals and videos they show new staff. Kudos to the chains!
I got to meet Sherri Johns and her husband Danny, the organizers of the North American Barista Championships last year in Anaheim at the SCAA show, and organizers this time around at the Western Regional Barista Championship at the NASCORE show. I also got to converse with several of the opening day Baristas, and get caught up with a fellow who's becoming a friend, Dismas Smith, the reigning N. American champion.
After an hour or so, I was ready to check out the eye candy on the show floor, but not before Anastasia from ESI saw me and showed off the latest wizzy thing from the workshop: a dual level tamper designed to provide perfectly level, perfect volume shots. Wowsa. It's a work in progress, but looks really promising.
| ESI's booth, Anastasia, Gina, and John (shaved head) representing. |
The Show Floor
Next for me was the show floor. My first day I toted around my Coolpix 4500 digital camera, something I'm still not very confident in. The photos I took showed the lack of confidence - I couldn't get my external flash settings right. (the second and third day, I used my Nikon F80 SLR with much better results).
I stopped by ESI's booth to say hi to Anastasia again and John Blackwell, the "resident troubleshooter" and inventor at ESI (John is one of the main guys behind the Swift Grinder, amongst other things). I also stopped to ogle my machine of desire these days, a La Marzocco FB70. The ESI folks were VERY kind enough to let us stow our various "gear" in their booth till the end of the day (remember, we hadn't checked into the hotel by this point). I was weighed down with notebook computer, two camera systems, and a variety of other goods.
Then we started prowling the floor. My first main stop was by Fresh Cup's booth, to introduce myself (in person) to someone I'd been chatting via email with for a while - Karen Foley, Editor in Chief of Fresh Cup mag.
When I grow up, I wanna be like Karen.
Let me clarify that. You'd be surprised how few people are actually behind Fresh Cup magazine. It's not a lot. Think 'count with two hands'. But Karen and team put out one slick, well organized publication. On top of that, she has her hands in a lot of things, including helping out organizing things like the NASCORE show, being involved in the SCAA (committee member, involved with seminars, etc), and many, many Fresh Cup related events and jobs. And on top of that, she has a husband to take care of!
Whenever I think managing CoffeeGeek is a bit too much, and the workload is high, I just think about the excellent job Karen does, and get inspiration from that, and I stop feeling so sorry for my own pitiful workload :)
My next stop was Espresso Supply's booth where I chatted with Jane for a bit. She's become a fan of this website, so here's a shout out to you Jane! Hi!
As a true CoffeeGeek, I like stopping by booths like the Espresso Supply stand. Why? Because they have all the goodies! Lots of toys, accessories, books, and more toys for the hardcore espresso freak. Want a 57mm tamper made of polished wood and steel? This is the booth for you. Want a 1.5 ounce, calibrated shot glass? They have your hookup. Want a book on how to raise little espresso kids in Montana? They can probably get it for you.
Espresso Supply also had the device that, once upon a time, I was the only guy to have in a private home in N. America - the Bodum MiniSantos (or as I like to call it, the eSantos Jr.). If you're looking for this excellent brewer, call them up and get a decent price on the unit.
My next stop was the Kauai Coffee booth, where I once again hooked up with Donn Soars of the company. Our main topic for conversation was the Maui Moka saga. Maui Moka is this precious tiny little bean that packs a massive chocolate wallop. Kauai may step in and do something about the missing bean (Kaanapali Estates, the company that grew Maui Moka, has gone bankrupt), but it's looking like this might not happen now. The reason? Maui Moka is a very, very difficult bean to grow, harvest, process, ship, and roast. It's not cost effective, according to Donn. I did my best to convince him otherwise, and I even talked about setting the bean up as a limited run, cache only, home roaster only bean. Even if they produced maybe 10, 20 bags a year, I know it would all be gobbled up, and home roasters would pay the elevated price of getting this bean. We'll see...
I continued to walk the floor for some time, checking out all the coffee and espresso booths in a cursory manner, keeping mental notes about which booths I would stop in on the next day to have more detailed discussions. Crossroads Espresso was at the show, as was Rancilio, Astra, and a few other manufacturers and importers of espresso machines.
I also saw a lot of tea stuff (well, it was Portland...) and a lot of the additive, cumulative, flavorative stuff that makes espresso purists wince - you know, powders, instants, flavours, smoothie type things. Hey, I like a nice frappuccino on a hot day just like anyone else, but to see the extent that these drinks take over the show room floor... Give me a guy showing how a 20 lb tamp is worse than a 30 lb tamp in a very intense way anyday.
Which segues me into the Josuma booth. I did get to see Dr. John of Josuma, who was doing his usual best to try and educate floor walkers about the quality that espresso can achieve. I feel that it is mostly a losing battle for Dr. John, as many of the attendees at the show (by my eavesdropping) seemed more interested in saving 2.3 cents per cup than boosting quality and consistency in their shops. Don't they get it?!? By boosting quality and consistency, you can make MORE MONEY!!!
| John Blackwell of ESI - one cool dude. |
The end of the day on the show floor came when I headed back to have a short conversation with John Blackwell about the state of affairs in super automatics. I really like John's way of thinking when it comes to espresso, and I never fail to learn things anytime he talks. I got fodder for an eventual article on the site, down the road.
Day One Highlights
Two highlights for me on my first day, other than meeting a lot of very cool people, was the Barista competition and the Astra booth.
The Johns' have done an excellent job staging this event, and it was very slick and professional looking. The banquet room where it was hosted was large and they had a giant projector tv fed by two cameras showing behind the scenes stuff and the Baristas up close and personal.
The first day (prelim) Baristas were pretty nervous to my eye, but they all did well and I would be happy to drink a shot pulled by any of them.
The other main highlight was my visit with Richard Hourizadeh of Astra Espresso. Richard is an enthusiastic engineer and designer of the machines under the Astra line, and I was happy to see he had a new product specifically designed and built in the US.
We talked quite a bit about the home consumer and prosumer marketplace, and I felt very refreshed after our discussions - here was a manufacturer who "got" the N. American marketplace! Well, for the most part. I told him that I consider it a necessity to put accessible hot water on any prosumer machine, and his brand new machine (I don't even know the name yet), so great in many ways, lacks a hot water wand. I suspect he purposely withheld it to prevent sales creep from his higher priced models, but remember - I take a full point off the rating of any prosumer machine that doesn't provide instant hot water and/or an easy way to cycle the heat exchanger boiler. This machine, so great in so many ways (I'll talk about it more soon) lets me down in this one regard.
Day one Photos
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| A Peets (my first ever), a half a block from my hotel. Not a bad way to start the day. Spotted some Barista competitors there too! |
| New, 100% made in the US, Astra home machine. Beauty, but no hot water tap! |
| Astra catering machine, available in 110 and a variety of configurations. |
| Rancilio booth, with all the home (and catering) things shoved to a corner. :) |
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| Big hall were the barista competition went on. I wished there were more people, but this was the prelims. |
| Jason Bennet of Peet's Coffee steps up, as the judges look on. |
| An unidentified Barista practices before his 15 minutes of fame! |
| The Faema E61 Legend put in an appearance at the show. WOW. |
Day Two at NASCORE
| Blake, from Coffee Messiah |
The second day started particularly late for me - mainly because we got a bit caught up on shopping that day (I bought an iPod, the 10gb model).
When I got to the show, I ran into Chuck of Coffee Wholesalers outside just as he, his wife and dad were leaving the show. We got caught up on some beans he's carrying and a few other things, but he was already running late.
I then found Roberto Bresciani from Nuova Distribution, the American importers of the Nuova Simonelli line, amongst other machines. We talked about their products for the consumer, prosumer and office coffee market, and I talked to him a bit about the Grinta grinder, which I felt needed some work. I was pleased to find out that the average retail price is now lower, around $200 or so, give or take $20. At that price it is more of a deal, although I'd still go for an MCF, due to its stepless grind system.
I made it into the show, and caught only the tail end of the Barista championships. I got to see an amazing Barista named Blake, Coffee Messiah in Seattle. Blake didn't finish in the top six, but he's a "lifer", as they say in some circles, a Barista for 11 years, and loves it enough to possibly do it his whole life. I loved the guy's style on stage - when he pulls a great shot, he goes into this pseudo Elvis thing, doing karate moves behind the machine. That and the pompadour hairstyle and big muttonchop sideburns complete the artistry he brings to his craft. If you're ever in Seattle...
After watching many other skilled Baristas, including the eventual winners (wait for it...) and runners-ups, I hit the show floor again.
Show Floor, Day Two
My first stop on Day two was the Burgess booth, to have a chat with Tim from the company. We mainly talked about the Giotto and a few other machines in the ECM lineup that Burgess will be bringing in soon.
It's a good chance that you'll soon see the Botticelli II machine over on these shores soon, plus Tim told me confidentially that there are new machines in the pipe from ECM very soon, and some of them are designated for home and office use.
I also saw a pretty nifty innovation that will be coming to the venerable ECM Giotto very soon - an insulated steam wand you can touch and move while steaming! Tim demonstrated the effectiveness of this wand by gripping it (it's currently on the commercial machine line) while running full steam out of the wand. I was very impressed - the wand doesn't look much thicker than a traditional wand. It will be cool to see it next year on the Giotto.
I stopped by the Astoria booth, but the fellow wasn't very interested in talking to me. He didn't know what the CoffeeGeek site was (fair enough), and didn't place much value in talking to a dude from a website (hrmm). They had some interesting looking machines, but I was kind of turned off by the episode, so I moved on.
My next stop was Boyds' booth to talk about the Technivorm line of machines.
See, the Technivorm is a machine designed to brew a perfect cup of coffee. But your average joe doesn't know it exists. I have been after Boyds' since the SCAA show in Anaheim to send me a couple of the machines to do a detailed analysis on them and to help publicise a line of coffee brewers that do what I hope and dream all coffee brewers could do - brew at near perfect temperatures. Not a hit and miss thing like most coffee brewers, but really paying close attention to what's important - filter basket temperatures.
The good news is, the folks at the booth were much more receptive to getting a few machines in my hands than they were at SCAA Anaheim. I still have to follow up with them, but it looks good. I think when I mentioned how well the Capresso machine did in a recent first look, they became more determined to send a few Technivorms my way.
Other booths I visited included a couple of syrup reps (DaVinci, Oscar, Torani), and a lot of "ancillary" businesses, like cup makers, accessory shops, and the like.
| Dan (left) and Tim (back to camera) at Burgess booth. |
Later in the day, I hooked up with Dan and Dawna Hughes of Espresso People, partially to discuss business (the company I work for, WebMotif Net Services, Inc., is currently designing the new EP website, which should launch any day now) but also, and to be frank, to "geek out" with a very cool retailer who is almost as interested in cool espresso machine technology as I am. Dan and I trolled the floor of the show together while Dawna and my girlfriend went off and did wimmin stuff (shopping, hair, stuff like that).
Okay, that preceding sentence was sexist, stereotypical, and insulting. I retract it. And I am not (ow) under duress.
Besides, they didn't get their hair done. They just went shopping.
I wrapped up the day by hitting the streets of Portland, first looking for some cool café scenes (I anonymously visited Stumptown Coffee and it was good), then we did more of the tourist thing, hanging out in Pioneer Square for a while, hitting a few other cafes, then eventually making it to a very cool Irish pub to have dinner with Dan and Dawna. I may have even got drunk, I can't remember.
Day Two Pictures
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| Doug from Boyds' Coffee, telling us about their wares. |
| Another Day, another stop at the Rancilio Booth. Glenn Surlett is wowing the crowd. |
| Dismas Smith, N.A. Barista champ, and Andy from a California espresso shop discuss tactics. |
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| Unidentified Barista doing his stuff. I liked the creativity and "characters" that showed up for this competition! |
| Another unidentified Barista, doing her stuff. The pressure level was high for all competitors. |
| Mini Grimac made an appearance at the espressopods.com booth - first time I've seen one. |
Last Day at NASCORE
My final day at NASCORE involved attending a few of the seminars and talks, catching the wrapup and finals in the Barista competition, and trolling the floor again. Oh, I also did a minor schwag hunt. I'm getting so brazen at that, I embarrass myself.
I caught the tail end of a very interesting seminar called "Educating Customers in a Retail Setting". I wish I could have caught more. It was especially interesting to me because I'm a member of the SCAA's Consumer Retail Marketing Committee, and one of the things I'm personally pushing in that committee is better tools for retailers to educate their customers. I'm a firm believer of the axiom that an educated customer can be your best customer, and I also believe retail can do well when they create strong bonds with their customers.
| Bronwen announced as the winner (her machine is in the background). |
| The winning barista, her trophy, and her win-schwag in the background. |
| Bronwen and Danny Johns. |
| Winning Baristas: Heather Perry, Mark Phaff, Bronwen Serna, Chris Davidson, Stephen Vick, and Emily Piercell. Sherri Johns is behind Bronwen. |
| Top three winners with their cafe owners, and Sherri Johns in front. Somehow, John Blackwell weasled into this photo :) |
My show notes show that folks from Batdorf and Bronson Roasters out of Olympia did this seminar, though I can't be 100% sure - I arrived very late. Again, I wished I could catch more, but what I did catch was cool. Stuff like cupping nights, educational pamphlets, and just plain talking to your customers was emphasized.
I also caught a bit of the Professional Barista Techniques seminar by folks from Dillanos Coffee Roasters, but it seemed a bit basic to me. I know there's a need for the basics to be taught, but I preferred watching the Barista competition... which is what I did next.
Zoka was a tour de force on this final day. Two of their Baristas were in the finals, and a third, Bronwen Serna, representing Hines Public Market Coffee in Seattle (but also working near-full time at Zoka) was also in the finals.
All the Baristas on the final day (all that I saw - I missed a few) were excellent. More than excellent - they were the pride and joy of their respective cafes and coffee houses.
But a couple stood out for me. Chris, from Zoka is so cool and calm up on stage, and he pulls killer shots. But Bronwen - wow. She's this short little bundle of energy, and she's one of the most intense, passionate Baristas I've ever seen. She nailed all 12 drinks she had to build, and in the end, the judges agreed with my opinion (without even consulting me! Huf!) - Bronwen won the competition.
Winning means she got a damned fine catering machine (I was told it was a Saeco machine, but it didn't look like no Saeco - can anyone identify from the photo?). She also got an all-expenses paid trip for two to the North American AND World Barista championships, to be held in Boston at the SCAA show next April. How cool is that. When they announced the winners, it confirmed in me what I thought about her and her passion for quality espresso - she cried and showed a lot of emotion upon winning. Way to go Bronwen!
Here's the top six finishers (thanks to Karen Foley for providing me this info - I lost my handwritten notes):
1st Place: Bronwen Serna, Hines Coffee in Seattle
2nd Place: Stephen Vick, Zoka Coffee Roasters & Tea Co. in Seattle
3rd Place: Chris Davidson, Zoka Coffee Roasters & Tea Co. in Seattle
4th: Heather Perry, Coffee Klatch, San Dimas, Calif.
5th: Mark Phaff, Espresso Express Ltd., Seattle
6th: Emily Piercell, Coffee Klatch, San Dimas, Calif.
(ed.note: San Dimas? Good to see there's much better things coming out of that City than just Bill and Ted :))
The rest of the day involved walking the floors a bit more, talking to the same people again (always a pleasure on my part - seriously, but I don't want to bore you, the reader). One person I had an interesting talk with was Max Orsini and his new push for herbal coffee - coffee infused with herbs. I'm not sold, but I have an open mind; I invited Max to write an article for our website at a future date, and to send some samples for us to test.
The last bit of my day was making future plans with guys like Mike Ferguson from the SCAA, whom I would see again six days later at the fall SCAA conference, also in Boston. Mike gave me a bit of the chills when he told me just how involved I would be at the SCAA fall conference, but I have to say, meeting him was another one of the major highlights of my Portland trip. Mike is a credit to the SCAA, and here's the real bonus - Mike has heaps of respect for you, the average CoffeeGeek reader, as does most of the folks involved in the SCAA committees and board.
This is really good news for all of you, and you'll find out exactly why in the weeks and months to come.
It was a full three days, and I awarded myself by going, quite unabashedly, on the prowl for samples, freebies, "schwag". Actually I did want genuine samples for things like contest prizes, and for "entertaining" my cadre of product testers who help me with tastings and such. So I got much poundage in coffee, much syrups, a muchly amount of biscotti, and even some frozen drink mixes like the good stuff from Mocafe (thanks guys! The stuff tastes awesome!). It almost broke my heart (or at least the sweet tooth) when the Ghirardelli guys wouldn't pony up anything. I'm such a schwag slut. I gotta work on that.
To be serious for a moment, the NASCORE show... what did I think of it?
It was larger than I thought it would be. There were a lot of booths on the trade floor, and it seemed like the range of seminars was good, though I would have enjoyed more workshops. The Western Regional Barista Championship was first rate, and a jewel for the show - Sherri and Danny Johns did such an amazing job with that.
I didn't like the high amount of non-specialty coffee stuff. There was a lot of tea stuff (to be expected in Portland, to be sure), and there was a lot of candy, a lot of powders, and even some instant stuff. Pods are gaining popularity, much to my chagrin. Yes, I know pods have their place and in many cases can raise the bar on the quality of coffee you get from a place, but you know what? In my book, it isn't specialty coffee. It isn't coffee in any high quality format. I know this will offend a few folks who I am on very friendly terms with, but I wish the mission to finding convenient, consistent espresso didn't take the pod route, as it has. The bottom line for me is this - if it was ground more than a few minutes ago, it isn't good for espresso. No matter how many gases you throw at it, no matter how expensive the packaging system.
I felt that the organizers of the show did a very good job pulling it off. As a Coffee Geek, I was sated, for the most part. If the show didn't have the Barista competition, it might be another story. What could they have done more? More emphasis on pulling in manufacturers and importers of equipment would be a good start. There was an okay amount of this, but some of the big boys of the prosumer / consumer market, like Gaggia, Saeco, Pasquini, or even Krups and Capresso were absent from the show.
There was very little in the way of "consumer" espresso machines evident, which is a shame. I'd love to see the day where an independent retailer carries a line or two of quality home espresso machines in their store. Maybe some independents were at this show, hoping to find some products to carry, but there were none, other than the Rancilio Silvia, and then up the price range to the Astra and ECM Giotto machines and beyond.
I think the key to getting quality, high end espresso in the storefront is tied to getting quality, well built machines in the home. Retailers may think "oh, if I sell a high end machine ($400 avg price) to my customer, they're going to go home and never come back to the shop" but that is very narrow, horse-blinder thinking in my book. They forget the historical purpose of the café - it is a social thing as much as an injection of caffeine thing. At least on the west coast. Make your shop sociable and inviting (even dives can be sociable and inviting - it's all about attitude and service), and customers will come - even those who own $2,000 machines. How do I know?
I'm that demographic.
But this is fodder for another complete article, and I don't want to get into this too much in depth. Suffice to say, I was impressed overall with the NASCORE 2002 event in Portland, but also saw room for improvement and expansion. And being the CoffeeGeek I am, I have to close with this:
A little less tea, a little more quality espresso, please!