I had no idea what that even meant before I had the opportunity to attend, but it involved coffee and I figured if “Con” meant convention, which it did, How could I possibly go wrong? I’m no coffee expert and I was looking forward to becoming, at least a little bit, more knowledgeable about it.
I assumed that I would be in store for a great education on what make a good coffee bean. I mean, that’s what make good coffee, right? It took all of about 30 minutes for me to learn that there’s a lot more to great coffee than just a great bean.
Sure, the bean is essential, but like great wine or craft beer, the bean is really about what you like. What your taste buds tell you. Do you like a deep, dark roast? Or are you more of a bright, crisp flavor person? The varieties are endless.
What really struck me as soon as we walked in were the amazing varieties of preparation! There are so many methods for preparing a great cup of coffee! Unlike wine or beer that might get poured a certain way or have a particular shaped glass that highlight the flavor, coffee is your chance to actually create. Since I love to create in the kitchen, coffee was the perfect palette.
Counter Culture Coffee, a company originally founded in Durham, NC, has a history of educating people in the finer points of coffee making. Represented by Josh Dug at CoffeeCon Chicago, they presented on a variety of way to manually brew coffee.
Not to say that your drip machine or your Keurig at the counter aren’t fine ways to prepare coffee, but whoa! I felt like I was back in college taking a chemistry class again! Knowing the conversions for volumes and weights, determining the best temperature to brew a particular coffee, depending on the method…did you know that lower brewing temperatures bring more acidity while higher temperatures will enhance the sweetness of your brew? Me either!
If you’re thinking about brewing some coffee, take the time to study a few methods like siphoning or Chemex. Look up the Aeropress online or a traditional French press. It really makes a difference when preparing a great cup of coffee.
Sound complicated? It really isn’t. Like anything the terminology sounds overwhelming because you aren’t used to it, but really once you get a feel for the different options available, it’s really just taking the time to understand why and how temperature, time, beans, grind, method and cup affect the taste and finding the one you love.
If you simply don’t want to learn all of that, there’s a great option out there that gives you the convenience of a fast brew cup while building on some of the important preparation techniques at the same time. It’s called iCoffee by Remington. Bruce Burrows, whom I was fortunate to meet at CoffeeCon, has patented a preparation method that takes advantage of the convenience of the machine while incorporating the importance of steam, time, and immersion in the process to create a better cup of coffee. Currently iCoffee is available at a variety of retailers in their original SteamBrew machine but soon, they will add the convenience of the K-Cup and you will really be impressed. We were treated to a great demonstration of his new machine and could instantly tell the difference. Look for it!
At this point, I thought there wasn’t much more I could learn about coffee, but boy was I wrong. Probably the most interesting and impressive session I attended was by The Alliance for Coffee Excellence, about their Cup of Excellence program, presented by Anna Abatzoglou. First, Anna is passionate about their mission. Cup of Excellence is a competition conducted in 10 coffee producing countries to score and rate coffee, much like a wine rating, and auction the coffee; bringing great coffee to consumers around the world while improving the profit and incomes of local coffee growers.
I didn’t know there was a system for rating premier coffee, let alone one who’s mission it is to bring money back to local farmers. The Cup of Excellence competitions are designed with the mission statement in mind; “By discovering and supporting exemplary coffees worldwide the goal is to provide sustainable economic rewards to high quality farmers enhancing overall transparency, provide top notch education and build quality infrastructure in the global industry”. The level of scrutiny is unprecedented. From the pre-selection through the top ten, the competitors will go through 6 different levels and in each competition, as many as 9,020 cups of coffee will be analyzed! Thanks Anna, for being so passionate about your cause!
Click here to read a bit about the winning farmers.
Of course, what would a convention be without taking a stroll through the vendor’s area and enjoying a few wonderful cups of coffee?
First up was Stone Creek Coffee from Milwaukee, where the motto is “It’s 7am somewhere!” Hailey Herriges, the Shorewood Café manager, was patient with my lack of knowledge and helped me understand the Aeropress, a method much like French press but with results that are more filtered and that uses air pressure to shorten the brew time and extract the flavors from the beans. She made me a cup of Guatemala Lot 20 and it was love at first sip! It had a rich full body, sweet with hints of cocoa, hazelnuts, and bing cherries. I loved the AeroPress so much, I came home with one.
During my adventure around the vendor area I met Anna Reuss, representing Big Shoulders Coffee. She and her interpreter (sign language) engaged us in great conversation and shared her story. Anna, who is deaf, wanted to attend CoffeeCon as a guest blogger but needed an interpreter for the day. Tim Coonan, owner of Big Shoulders Coffee, wanted to be represented but didn’t have the staff, so Tim paid for the interpreter and Anna represented Big Shoulders well. We were so impressed with the company that Mark and I stopped by on our way out of town for one more cup!
It was a great pleasure to meet Kevin Sinnott, creator of CoffeeCon and to be included as a guest blogger to this great event. There is another event about to take place in San Francisco and who wouldn’t want to have a great cup of coffee by the San Francisco Bay!
And my sincere thanks to Jennifer Stinnet, who invited me to attend and write about the experience. I hope we get to do more!