I’ve enjoyed more than a few trips to Portland, Oregon over the years, but this trip might have been my favorite. I’ll secretly admit it’s likely because the smell of coffee may have actually drowned out the smell of other familiar Portland odors, including patchouli, rain, & sweaters that haven’t been washed in days.
Ok, ok, Portland, I’m sorry. You really are hip, fun, and, quite honestly, accepting of everything and anyone, including the random collection of thousands that landed on your doorstep for the Specialty Coffee Expo last week.Between sips of coffee and beer (my goal being to enjoy over the day in that order), it’s an event every year that I love attending. The sparkly, shiny coffee gear displayed and touchable on the show floor alone is enough to make a coffee lover explode with over-caffeinated joy. But the experience is much more than gear. The specialty coffee world is really cool in a way that’s not common of other industries. There’s a genuine motivation to share knowledge and experience to make everyone better. Even though coffee is a huge industry, the specialty world seems to play like a tight family, motivating everyone from the coffee grower to the roaster to the barista to be the best they can be at their craft. Cue the group hug here.
The whole event is about producing an amazing experience in that final cup that we all love to sip. Classes, lectures, events, and products, plus people in the supply chain from growers, to importers, to roasters, to café owners mingle together to learn and share.
Opening night included a speech by the president of Honduras (wait, what?) gushing about the pride his country has in sharing its coffees with the world, to a latte art “throw down” of baristas going head-to-head with stage-poured drinks. None of it stopped there, of course. This caffeine fueled weekend included numerous events featuring liquids by Portland’s best breweries and distilleries, blow-up-suit sumo wrestling, Portland’s famous food trucks, and very little sleep.
Attention to the daytime classes was thankfully fueled by the Barista Guild coffee bar – a free to sip-as-much-as-you-wish coffee stand in the middle of the show that featured different coffees brewed by some of the best baristas in the country. Anyone could sit to watch the U.S. Barista, Taster, or Brewer competitions, or taste the Coffees of the Year, just to name a few side-shows happening that this 3 ring circus of coffee.
Only one painful memory lingers between the fun and learning, which I soon hope to erase: I found myself trapped in a 3 hour course on coffee decaffeination, with nothing in the room but decaf. Not that decaf isn’t lovely, mind you, but the timing was terrible for me and my partially hung-over, sleep-deprived self. I got through the class, test and all, but I’m going to hold that grudge for a while.