Over the weekend, New York once again hosted the annual Coffee Fest trade show. Held annually in three of the key coffee cities of the US: Seattle, Chicago (as opposed to San Francisco?), and New York, it is one of the largest coffee trade exhibitions in the world, providing café retailers the opportunity to tour and talk with hundreds of vendors, as well as learn how to improve their business and provide a better customer experience.
Each day started with several hours of classes geared to help cafes and retailers improve their knowledge and business, covering the full spectrum from what to consider before opening a café through how to bolster your long-standing coffee-based business with a higher quality tea program. The first class I sat in on highlighted an eye-opening statistic: that up to 95 percent of espressos served in American cafes are not true espressos but strongly brewed coffee sold, unfortunately, at espresso-based prices. Hint: the espresso needs crema (which is derived from the emulsification of oils trapped in the coffee bean). Rapidly disintegrating foam is not crema.
In addition to panels and lectures, the mornings offered the chance to observe several competitions showcasing the skills and dedication of some of the region’s best baristas and cafes. Three tournaments were conducted during the three-day show: America’s best coffeehouse competition, the best espresso, and the world latte art championship open. The latter drew 64 competitors from around the world, including quite a few from Japan (the winner came from Boston). In the best coffeehouse category, New York’s’ own Café Grumpy emerged as the winner.
At noon, 300 exhibition booths opened for the next five hours: old school bean importers, product developers focusing on sustainability, and even software technology-based entrepreneurs. One of those, Keycafe, offers an ingenious key exchange service useful for New Yorkers and visitors alike that seems only tangentially related to coffee.
The most important role, though, was perhaps Toddy and Ceremony Coffee Roasters, who provided a non-ending stream of caffeinated drinks near the entrance to the exhibition hall. Ceremony, winners of the espresso competition, offered pour overs and espresso-based drinks continuously and cheerfully to everyone who asked. Their Rwanda beans on the first day delivered an espresso so lively, so arrestingly delicious, that to sip it is to remind yourself why a well-pulled shot is like no other drink or taste experience in the world.
See photos from the show on the next page.