$caa in hotlanta

We’re off to the Specialty Coffee Association of America (scaa) conference in scintillating “Hotlanta” today. In a way, I wonder why I go. I count among the disaffected, I suppose. At one time “Specialty Coffee” really meant something, defining itself in opposition to commercial/industrial grade coffee. Now there are so many things crammed under the roof of Specialty, it’s hard not to feel squeezed out. I don’t know what we are … Fourth Wave, Micro-Lot Specialists, DIY … it always seems silly to think of such terms and even sillier to apply them. Maybe it’s my history. Since I am from an artsy background, it reminds me of photography, which was (supposedly) my field of focus. Photography as a technical skill gives you a lot to talk about with other photo geeks, bracketing half-stops, and backlight compensation. But when it comes to the ideas, what you really do, well, you might be better off talking to your pet dog than most photo people; just because you share a method doesn’t mean you have shared goals. It’s like that with the coffee trade. You could sit next to a fellow coffee buyer on a plane trip to an origin country, and have nothing substantial to talk about but the weather. Of course, the opposite can be true to, which is why I still go to the $caa, armed with a dim hope. In reference to my crafty use of the $, I have to consider this: what furthers our ability to find better coffees to offer our customers, $3000 spent going to the scaa (Josh comes too), or $2500 spent on a great origin trip, cupping, visiting farms, understanding local issues, forming new relationships. For sweet maria’s it’s the later, of course. Two footnotes to this grumpy post: a. I volunteer to help roaster trainings and cupper trainings at scaa and I find that worthwhile for me and others, and b. the branch of the scaa called the Roasters Guild, especially the intensive RG retreat each year, is very, very worthwhile.
Incidentally, I will try to send a couple pictures to the web log from there 1. an image of the stupidest coffee product I find (there will be a lot of competition in this category) and 2. something new that is actually sensible and of good quality. That might be tough.

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3 Responses to “$caa in hotlanta”


  1. 1 Polites

    Tom, do you ever do home-roasting clinics or anything like that at the Oakland store? I grew up in the Bay Area and occasionally come back to visit. Thought maybe I could plan around such an event should it come around. Currently living in Arizona.

  2. 2 JitteryCoffeeCup

    i’m heading that way this morning too. hope to see you there. this is my first time going to a SCAA event.

  3. 3 Arby

    Hello Thompson, fellow readers. I recently registered at another coffee site, coffeegeek.com, and they ask joiners whether they like, love or live for coffee. I answered ‘live for coffee’. Maybe I should do so before claiming to do so. Folks like yourself live for coffee. But I don’t mean to be insulting, because I did take your point that there is more to life than just what we are passionate about. And therefore more to talk about. My point is just that from my ‘net’ travels, recently, I’ve come to appreciate that I’ve got a LONG way to go before I’m living for coffee, even if I like it a lot.

    My interest, and dream (since I’ve got some big obstacles to overcome), is to have my own coffe shop or espresso bar. See? I don’t even know what the heck to call it. Maybe I think too much. I’m trying to learn coffee, of course. And it seems to me that I need to stick with the jargon. A ‘sampler’ is not a ‘trier’ in coffee roasting field. But I initially thought so. I fairly quickly arrived at that ‘note to self’ moment when I read numerous statements online about coffee samplers and the triers on roasters.

    And I was thinking recently about the term ‘specialty’ as applied to coffee shops and roasters. What a confusing term! I never heard of the Specialty Coffee Association of America until I read about it yesterday online. Honestly, It has, for me anyway, a bit of a bad connotation and I wasn’t sure I understood how it was being used. I’m a bit of a purist (this ‘is’ snobbish and I know it) in that I don’t care for flavored coffees, not even naturally flavored, if there’s such a thing. And I’ve always thought that coffee that folks ‘fool’ with fell into a category called ‘specialty’.

    So, I did find your above blog entry to be rather interesting.

    Thanks for info. I enjoy your passion for – living and thinking about how you do it.

    Later…

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