Sweet Maria's Home Coffee Roasting

SCAA conference 2007 - Specialty Coffee Association of America (there is more than one SCAA after all)

Okay, I never was class president, or a member of the prom committee, or a volunteer at the rotary club car wash. SO maybe it explains why I like to observe the SCAA from the sidelines, and with a bit of suspicion. So perhaps it seemed fitting to have the SCAA conference in May 2007 at the SCAA's home base of Long Beach, and perhaps it explains why I find Long Beach itself equally creepy in that all-too-sunny sort of way. So an apology in advance for my snarky comments. I am sure there is something good to find about all this, and in fact I did: I met about 5 people I didn't know before who were really nice, and who do very respectable things in their respective coffee businesses. But by and large, I have trouble filtering out all the horrors I see, the eye-ball-searing displays and brain-numbing conversations that you just can't seem to escape. And maybe it is worse that other people seem to be okay with it all, able to brush off everything, and focus only on what interests them. It's a skill I lack, as I drag myself back to the hotel room after a day of cupping, talking, and walking around the trade show floor like a babbling zombie. Really SCAA, it's me, not you ...

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long beach california, boat harbors, hotels, and what have you. sorry for all the snarky comments to follow, but having grown up in so cal, i find something very uncanny about all this ...
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the giant fake pond outside the hyatt regency, by the convention center and aquarium. the pond seems completely devoid of life, save a couple ducks. why not a garden, why not a restored wetlands?
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the aquarium, which seems somewhat more appropriate than the many landlocked cities that built them in the 1990s "aquarium boom". then again, you have the biggest port project in the us within a stones throw, that completely destroys the local ecosystem that the aquarium recreates and celebrates - a bitter irony.
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in that vein, simulation seems to be the norm. i suppose little is native to long beach, or not much people find worthy of celebration, so you have fake irish pubs ...
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...and fake cantinas. there's the outback, the chilis, stuff like that too. i am sorry, but it makes oakland seem culturally "deep", which is not something I think about much while driving down international boulevard.
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there are also these little simulated islands with "tropical" palms in the outer harbor of the port. it goes with the real relaxed "island style" of container ships, 12 story cranes, and diesel fumes.
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there's the queen mary, which is a rather large curiosity. i wish i had stayed there - you can't argue that as a totally generic experience. maybe next time.
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some strange tower that seemed to be receiving trash deliveries.
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play 2 win? I guess not.
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enduring freedom? was this boat part of some iraq war offensive? if so, it's all over now.
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a bit of the past, ripped out, waiting a new home. actually it was a home - for a few homeless folks sleeping under it.
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there are arts in long beach.
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here is their work.
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smile - you are at a convention, and don't you feel out of place? my shirt seemed appropriate. front: deficiencia mental ; back: me ayudares?
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some nifty new sieves for grading ground coffee, a great alternative to a $2500 setup.
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a colombian sample roaster, around $1000 but capable of only 100 grams, and pretty rough construction.
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the higher end version of the same roaster, about 150 gram capacity, and still a bit rough. you could see from the metal castings how crude it was.
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now here is the super-deluxe sample roaster. it's the new project between marty curtis and primo roasters, and will set you back a mere 10 grand.
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lotsa roasters at the show. all the usual suspects with a few additions: probat, diedrich, ambex, toper, joper, neuhaus-neotec, sta impanti, renegade, loring, us roasters, fresh roast systems and others i forget. its a real mix of qualities, high to low. nothing that really gets me too excited except for the loring, and the primo sample roaster.
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the clover was all over. many people were showing their coffee with it (i think clover lent out a bunch of machines), and the clover booth was packed. folks, i love this machine, the unwavering integrity behind it, and the idea of elevating brewed coffee to this level, but sometimes the cup just isn't there. the machine needs to be "tuned" for each coffee very carefully, so from what i tasted it was a bit hit-or-miss. i especially enjoyed the Sumatra Lake Tawar and the Ethiopia Idido Misty Valley. The brazils didn't do it for me, nor the panamas we played around with. that doesn't mean i don't endorse this machine, and encourage you to find a cafe with one and try it...
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i did a couple of the roaster's guild cupping sessions. derek and i both did the indonesia/asia one, which i am convinced was actually 100% papua new guinea. the coffees were good, solid, and one in the png was exceptional.
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here is derek at the cupping table. the previous day we did panamas and those were really nice too. the esmeralda gesha was stunning as always, imbalanced as it is, you simply cannot help but be impressed. another lot from mama cata had gesha in the mix, and was very nice.

There's much more to say, but I am too tired of thinking about the whole thing. I was deeply scarred by the U.S. National Barista Competition, and that will take more than a week of recovery. Folks, you just can't believe what they are doing with an espresso machine (and beyond) but it exceeds all forms of existing fetishism. It is truly bizarre ... the music, the outfits, the discourse, the judges crawling all over to see every detail of every step in preparation, and the drinks ... jeez, the signature drinks seem utterly nauseating in both their desperation to attain originality, and in their substance. Now, there is nothing wrong with it all per se, but as for me, it just makes me shudder. I also had the misfortune of being sucked into judging "best new product, consumer coffee item" with involved evaluating a frozen cappuccino mix (yum, i mean yuck), a lid that makes you suck up your tea through foam filter material (unappealing), a colorful travel mug (now there's a unique item (not) and such things. And i did my duty diligently, while cursing myself for stupidly agreeing to the task.

After a few days of recovery, I feel like the show is still worth it, even for an incompetent like me. My approach is this: I go when it is in a city I want to go to, or (as in this case) so close to Oakland that it is an easy trip. My first show I went to as Mr. Sweet Maria's was Denver, then San Francisco, then Miami, then Boston, then I skipped Atlanta, then Seattle, then I skipped Charlotte, then Long Beach, and yes ... I think I will go to Minneapolis nest year.


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