When Sarah Allen, editor of Barista Magazine, asked me to write an article for the June/July 2009 issue, I thought "no problem." To me, fifteen hundred words was plenty of room to write about everything cool on the show floor. As the article progressed, even two thousand words wasn't enough - which is how this post evolved.
Held during the third week of April at the Georgia Congress Center, the annual Specialty Coffee Association of America's Exposition is the coffee industry event of the year. For the past four years, I've been quite involved during the show whether doing things as a member of the Barista Guild of America's (BGA) Executive Council, managing the BGA trade show booth, teaching espresso classes, competing in the United States Barista Championship or doing machine calibration for the World Barista Championship - in other words, it's been a busy four years.
This year, I've been pulling away from all the volunteer work and decided to attend the SCAA as just another attendee - an attendee with no commitments, class schedules or volunteerism. I wanted to see the show as many other people see the show.
Lots of people spend countless hours volunteering their blood, sweat and tears for the SCAA and the payoff has always seemed paltry to me. Give up X amount of hours volunteering and get your attendee fee paid. In the past, that X amount of time turned out to be so much that there wasn't enough time to do much of anything else. All that work and money spent on travel, accommodation and food with not much in return. Hard to justify for small companies.
By no means is the SCAA a very large trade show. While it's the biggest in the coffee business, it's still dwarfed by a number of other shows I attend during the year. Over three show days, they allot fifteen hours of show time to the vendors and the attendees, and while it sounds like a lot of time, I found out that it just wasn't enough to tour the floor, chat with vendors, taste coffee and really get into the products you found interesting. The SCAA needs to expand the floor hours from 12 noon to 5pm to 9am to 5pm.
While I did find myself crunching to get everything crammed into the limited show hours, I did find some cool stuff that I wanted to include in the article but couldn't because of space limitations. Here are some of those products:
Roaster On The Run.
Coffee-Tech FZ-RR 700
One of the more interesting things I saw on the show floor was this copper-barrelled sample roaster. Designed to take anywhere, all you need is some sort of heat source, whether open flame, radiant or whatever. Simply plug the unit in, add heat and roast - wherever you are in the world. Operation seemed simple and easy enough though, because of its' size, there isn't a way to see the coffee or use a tryer of some sort. But if you're stuck in the wilderness of Papua New Guinea and want to roast a sample, this could be the ticket.
Metropolitan Tea Timer
Timers are a handy barista tool and Metropolitan was showing this small, sandglass tea timer with multiple time settings. It always seems difficult to find a decent hourglass timer and this one has three settings for a variety of uses.
Green Guru Blow Out Series
These were some of the more interesting "accessories" on display at the show. Green Guru is a Boulder, Colorado based company specializing in using reclaimed materials for its' products. They were showing their Blow Out line of wallets and pouches that utilize 98% reclaimed rubber from bicycle inner tubes.
Taking the first test for the BGA Barista Certification.
As a barista myself who happens to own the company, the barista certifications I see floating around seem dubious at best to me. If my standards are focused, what good does some general certification do for me and my company? It's a question I've been asking for years. This year, the BGA's certification program is coming to fruition and I think it has the best chance of becoming the most meaningful certification program out there.
As I wrote in the article, I had the opportunity to spend some time with Heather Perry and Scott Lucey. They're passionate and committed to the program and have come up with a curriculum that I think has the best potential of producing certified baristas with a skillset that is applicable for any quality operator. It may be a couple more years before a solid baseline of baristas has formed but as I sat in on the lectures and reviewed the test material, I was impressed with the depth and precision expected from a candidate if they expect to pass certification. This is one program to watch in the coming years.
In the world of espresso machines, it seems as though not too much happens for a couple of years and then Wham! Everyone is rushing for progress. 2009 was one of those years. Suddenly, it seems that everyone is thinking about pressure profiling.
Scace 3P Installed.
Techno wizard Greg Scace is at it again with a new pressure profiling device that will retrofit onto any espresso machine. Simply disconnect your pump, wire up this unit and voila! Pressure profiling! Digital controls will ramp up (or down) the pressure as you see fit. The caveat: since you're retrofitting your existing machine, the profile will only work on one brew at a time, but the controller will compensate if you run additional groups. Expect the unit to cost about the same as an expensive home espresso machine and from Espresso Parts.
I really didn't get much of a chance to check out the Hyrda being demonstrated at the Intelligentsia booth because it was always busy being used to make espresso for attendees and the booth was just plain busy. But I hear good things about it from the Synesso devotees.
Emily works the Slayer.
Easily the most hotly anticipated espresso machine in the industry today and I want to like the machine - especially with it's steampunked good looks, but I'm confounded by the fact that the Slayer people actually want to argue that the Slayer looks nothing like the Synesso. That's about as absurd as if Synesso stated that their machine didn't resemble the old La Marzocco GS.
Don't get me wrong, the machine looks good. It's low-slung with a black body riding on cast metal legs and hand-carved wooden actuating handles - sexy. But the protruding groupheads, as well as the top-mounted steam wands and rotating-handled steam actuators - there's no mistaking that the Slayer took design cues from the Synesso Cyncra and it irks me that anyone would actually argue that point - as though people are that stupid. It's offensive.
Beyond that, the Slayer offers variable brew pressure in the form of multi-stage settings on the actuator handles. Results from the baristas I talked to were mixed but I suspect that's more due to being jammed onto a show floor with dozens of other eager baristas breathing down your neck for a turn at the machine. In a controlled setting, with coffee you are familiar with, I'm betting the Slayer could be a serious challenger to the Synesso cognoscenti.
Working the LM Prototype.
Leave it to the old and venerable La Marzocco to lay low, like a lion in the weeds, waiting to spring upon it's prey and decimate them without mercy. Since being removed as the machine sponsor of the World Barista Championship, La Marzocco has seemingly been playing it quiet. And then they unveiled their new machine prototype.
Forget what you've read above. Those machines are great but the La Marzocco trumps them all. Variable pressure per grouphead and not pre-programmed like those above. On this machine you can vary the pressure up or down manually with the paddlegroup controller. Push it to the right up to 12 Bar, or back it down to the left. No pressure is left behind. Beautiful. Find the ideal profile? You can then save that profile and play it back during successive brews. Amazing. We were blown away. Everyone else is stuck on offering profile brewing with programmed pressure points, La Marzocco has jumped into the deep end by offering infinite variability.
But like any blockbuster movie, this machine is just a teaser. Housed in an FB80 body, the new machine will be completely redesigned for release sometime in 2010. Arrgh!
Compak K10 Doserless Timer
Compak K-10 Timer
While much of the barista world chases after the Robur E, I just don't "get it." I've been a fan of the Compak K10 since 2006. Perhaps there's something in the barista world that just believes that Mazzer is the only option (or that ridiculous Anfim stepped grinder) but we've been pounding and grinding on the K10 for over three years now and it's an absolute workhorse that's easy to use, fast and cool. Luckily, Compak has been busy updating the grinder and keeping it up with the times and they took some time to show me the latest update to the K10: a doserless timer.
With the ability to set grind time to 1/100 of a second, the new K10 should be a killer. The side mounting of the readout and controls dampens my enthusiasm slightly (but is nowhere as infuriating as the knob on the Anfim) but I'm expecting great results to continue from this grinder and will be using the new K10 timer in our new shop opening before fall 2009.
Malykke Grinder and French Press Boiler
I wrote in the article a little bit about this grinder and I want to stress the fact that I severely want one. I'd love to have a couple of them mounted on the wall of my new coffee joint but we've come so far in weighing coffee for consistent results that dose grinding via timer seems like two steps backwards - especially when the unit uses weight to determine the size of french press you've hung from the grinder.
If that seems confusing, the Malykke grinder can be operated by hanging a french press from the spout. As it hangs, it presses against a weight sensor that has been preprogrammed to know that your 32z press pot weighs X amount of grams and once it senses that weight, it knows to grind for Y seconds. All Malykke needs to do is work on that programming so that once the grinder has been weighed, it automatically tares and then grinds Z grams of coffee into the press pot. If they can overcome that hurdle, then this could very well be the best grinder ever built.
Things come in waves and one of the new waves in coffee seems to be the controllable water heaters.
It's been on the market for a little while now but the Wilbur Curtis Company has their new Fresh Aeration water tower that will inject fresh air into the heated water to keep it lively. Along with a digital temperature readout, this simple water heater looks like it will topple the ground held by Bunn and Fetco in the water tower segment.
Marco Uber Boiler
Brought to the attention of the barista world by 2007 World Barista Champion James Hoffman, the Marco Uber Boiler is an ongoing project that brought some prototypes to the 2009 WBC Bar where I had the chance to check it out. Without a doubt, it is the coolest-looking water boiler on the market and is very promising but the surface-mounted readout and controls are just begging for a pot of water to be spilled on them and fry the electronics - but the scale slash water drain is tre cool.
French Press Boiler at work.
French Press Boiler
Sharing the same booth with Malykke was the company (who's name escapes me and I can't seem to find on the Internet) who shook the roof a few years ago with their counter-mounted single-group espresso machine. Essentially, this French Press Boiler is the same chassis as the espresso machine but made to brew and dispense hot water for press service. Housed in clear plexiglass to show off its' innards, the boiler pulses and times the water. It's intensely good-looking but the MSRP is $5,000 - which is four times more than the comparable Bunn water tower that most shops use for press service.