I like coffee and tea. I only drink one cup of coffee a day but in the colder seasons will drink my own weight in tea. I enjoy it for a few reasons. There’s a comfort in the process of it. The measuring, the tools, the steeping… Also, the tinkering element of researching the different types of drinks, trying them out. It’s a nerd thing for me. There may be a spreadsheet in my Google Docs about the different teas I’ve tried, ranked with notes. This was the basis for my excitement to see that the Specialty Coffee Association of America was holding their annual exposition in Houston. The SCAA Expo is an industry standard, not just for coffee but really for any kind of prepared non-alcoholic beverage. There’s crazy barista challenges where they create new drinks, or are going for speed and/or decoration. There’s tons of classes and certification events for those truly in the industry. And then there’s the expo floor.
AHHH, the expo floor. Samples. Free swag. New, groundbreaking products. People who are knowledgeable and excited to tell you about their things. No matter what convention or expo I attend, this is always my favorite part. I knew I needed to get in. The SCAA does have a media ticket for those members of the media to enter and cover the expo. Now, I will admit, I dabbled in a bit of a grey area here. I registered as a blogger. A blogger who’s blog was in development. “Why Lauren!” you say. “I am reading your blog right now! It’s not in development at all!” Weeeeeell, I need to admit one more thing, dear reader.
The 23rd Annual SCAA Exposition was in 2011. I know, I KNOW. I did livetweet as I was there (Twitter IS microblogging!) and Nick and I were dabbling in the infancy of a cocktail blog that never really took off. So it was true… buuuut I have to imagine I was not their ideal ‘media’ attendee. I INTEND TO MAKE UP FOR THAT NOW.
I BRING YOU… My coverage of the 2011 SCAA Exposition! Well. Kind of.
Obviously the specifics are kind of irrelevant at this point. But I thought it would be interesting to talk about the brands and experiences that stuck with me. Because, really, if something has stuck with me for three years, it probably is worth talking about. And I’m kind of making good on that promise years ago. So here we go.
Monin Fruit Purees: This would be the only picture I took at SCAA2011 that I could still find floating around. Monin you probably know from those flavored coffee syrups. This year they had introduced these fruit purees. They both excited and scared me. The samples revealed that these purees tasted like actual fruit. They were making smoothies, but I was thinking cocktails. The cocktail mixer world is plagued by mixers that have little to no resemblance to their real life counterparts. These purees could perhaps fill in and make a middle market for fruit based cocktails. They wouldn’t be involved with the trashy sticky “fruit” drinks that were heavily discounted on a “Ladies Night”, nor would they find a place in your artistically overwrought gastropub where your drink had been loving crafted by Juan, who grew the limes for your “experience” himself and sang to them daily before crushing them with a muddler he foraged from a fallen oak that nearly struck him on a midnight stroll.
The reason these purees freaked me out? Shelf stable and un-refrigerated, they were good for a year. After you opened it they were still good for a month. A MONTH. So clearly while tasting like fresh fruit it’s made from something else. I suspect magic is involved. Wizardry. Alien technology.
Bhakti Chai: Chai seemed to be a hot thing (jokes!) in 2011 and there were booths selling it everywhere. I remembered trying a lot of chai. More chai than coffee, really. For all my taste testing, I only found one brand I really liked a lot. Bhakti Chai wasn’t overly sweet, not too gingery, and not all creamy. It had balance. I talked with the guy at the booth excitedly about it and proceeded to try to hunt it down in Houston, but was unsuccessful. I’m happy to report they’ve apparently had a lot of success and managed to diversify their brand. Check them out here: bhaktichai.com
Choice Organic Tea: Organic products really seemed to be coming into the mainstream this year. A lot of booths boasted that they were certified organic and fair trade, which warmed my little ecofriendly heart. The one that stuck with me, that I still buy, is Choice’s English Breakfast Tea. It kicked the pants off of any other black breakfast tea I’d tried, and supported ideals I embraced. It was good stuff.
Kona Coffee: For all the coffee I drank, the memory that stuck with me most was what I learned from the Kona Coffee Council. You can learn a lot more on their site but generally what you need to know about Kona coffee:
- Kona Coffee is from Hawaii and named for the area it grows in (much like bourbon or champagne.), which is pretty much the perfect growing climate. It is generally very strong, very tasty, and in high demand.
- There’s a HUGE problem with Kona “blends” where people have a small fraction of real Kona coffee and mix it with a bunch of not-Kona coffee and slap the Kona name on there. This hurts the businesses/farmers that are legit Kona growers. There’s an official seal, but not a lot of people know to look for it.
Coffee Joulies: You might not remember about these, but April 2011 when SCAA was happening, Coffee Joulies were the new thing that was going to CHANGE COFFEE FOREVER. It’s the first really big kickstarter campaign I can think of. And the first kickstarter I bought in on:
Coffee Joulies basically are the hot version of an ice cube. Heat them up, put them in a cup, pour hot beverage in and they will retain their heat! It sounded magical when I heard about it and after meeting the kind creators at SCAA, it sealed the deal for me. Magic heat beans?! Made in America of recycled materials?! SWOON! By the time SCAA had rolled around I think they’d already hit their goal on the fundraising site like three times over, but the expo was one of their first public outings with them. They were heroes. They had solved a common problem: when you go back to your coffee cup from earlier and BAH IT’S COLD AND TASTES HORRID. HOW COULD I HAVE EVER ENJOYED THIS. I held the solution to this problem in my hand. When the Joulies finally were shipped out, many people took issue with that claim – their drinks didn’t stay hotter for longer. My personal experience was that if in an insulated cup I had placed heated Joulies, it did stay hot longer. Not forever, but longer.
We’re three years later now… and I haven’t used them in at least the last two. Why? Well, it’s because my problem wasn’t that my coffee would get cold. My problem was that I wandered away from it. Or looked down at my computer and looked up to find it was three hours later. My problem was never the coffee; it was ME. I never took a coffee break – hell, any break. I was running to a finish line, but I never could get close enough to it to see it was strapped onto a bullet train. Work, personal life, just chaos. Here I’d wandered around an expo dedicated to the idea of taking a minute to enjoy something… Maybe the peaceful zen in a cup that is genmaicha. The healing powers of an herbal blend. The perfect cup of joe to start my day. I took the core intent of these products and this gathering and promptly shotgunned it down with some sugar and soy milk before racing off to the next thing. I had no pause button. It took awhile to come to this realization, but I finally came to the point where I couldn’t live my life that way anymore. So I changed. I learned the importance of making time for myself. It’s why my “blog (in development)” is happening NOW. Why I’m in a part time job and going to school. I eat breakfast now, every day. Lauren of 2011 would have been shocked to hear that. And I READ. Oh my GOD, I always swore to myself I’d make time to read and now I have.
I have learned to take time for myself. I’m happier. And while the 23rd Annual SCAA Exposition wasn’t where it happened, it was a stepping stone along the way. SO BE SURE TO CHECK THEM OUT IN 2012 IN PORTLAND, OREGON! SEE YOU NEXT YEAR!