Specialty Coffee Expo 2021: a risky, but understandable decision

A nearly deserted Canal Street is seen in New Orleans, on Sunday 29 August 2021. (Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg/Getty Images - sourced via CNN)

New Orleans is the ideal city to host a trade show because it openly welcomes visitors of all kinds – both tourists and conventioneers. Its residents love food, fun (no city has more festivals and events focused on food and beverage), and of course, coffee — its special blend – coffee and chicory – is the basis for the famed “café au lait,” which I think is a city requirement on all menus…In fact, the concept of the “coffee break” was supposedly invented in the Big Easy (and likely served with a piping hot beignet)! So, when the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) announced that the 2021 Expo would take place in the Crescent City (NOLA has many nicknames), I was excited — and not just because I have a lot of family living there and throughout Louisiana.

However, when the SCA decided to postpone the Expo from April to September (30 – 3 October)  – and understandably so – I was immediately concerned. Why? Because the most active months of the hurricane season – June 1st to November 30th – in the Southeastern United States are August and September, and October has also been quite active the last few years (I wrote about this in a 2020 column after the move was announced). In 2020, five named storms hit Louisiana, which broke the record for most strikes in a single season. Hurricane Ida hit Louisiana on 29 August 2021, the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, joining 2020’s Hurricane Laura and the Last Island Hurricane of 1856 as the strongest storms to hit the state — all had top wind speeds of 150mph. The devastation is catastrophic and more than two weeks later, many residents are still without power, internet and phone service — and it is still incredibly hot and humid here (I am in New Orleans as I was here visiting my parents when Hurricane Ida struck and am still dealing with the aftermath).

Fortunately for the SCA, those exhibiting at the Expo and for those attending, power, internet and phone service have been restored to all of Orleans Parish (similar to a “county”) where New Orleans is located. This includes uptown/Garden District and downtown (the CBD, Warehouse District and French Quarter, and the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, where the Expo is being held. The ENMCC sustained “some water intrusion and light roof damage.” Per a statement issued by the ENMCC, “Events at the Convention Center can continue to occur without interruption. An international event of several thousand attendees will begin moving in on 27 September.” (Updates on the city and convention center are available at: www.neworleans.com/updates.)

Given that Covid cases started spiking in the state again over the summer, particularly in Orleans Parish and neighbouring Jefferson Parish, and then Hurricane Ida hit so close to the start of the show, deciding whether to proceed with the Expo or cancel it had to be a difficult decision for the SCA. In a statement issued 10 September, Yannis Apostolopoulos, CEO of the SCA, announced that the Expo would go ahead as planned but all coffee championships (US Coffee in Good Spirits, US Cup Tasters, and US Roaster Championships and the US Latte Art Competition) would be postponed to 2022.

Explaining the decision to go ahead with the Expo, Apostolopoulos said that many coffee companies rely on Expo for their businesses. “This is especially true for producers, importers, exporters, manufacturers, and allied businesses around the world. This is the main reason we do a trade show — we’re using our convening power to bring buyers and sellers together, business to business, person to person. This has enormous value, and these companies need this.”

He said the SCA carefully assessed the financial risk involved with the decision to proceed with the event. “Expo is the largest specialty coffee event in North America, and we have been in contracts since 2016. While that took time to assess, we also took a long look at the risk to our fundamental values and mission in making this decision.”

Apostolopoulos shared that the SCA has been in contact with New Orleans and convention center officials daily and they’ve been “assured it’s safe and will be ready.” He added that Expo provides huge value to the specialty coffee industry, but the SCA is also “determined to make sure it brings value to the city of New Orleans, and to its wonderful coffee community.” As such, the SCA will be donating 50% of all attendee revenue to New Orleans coffee businesses to help them rebuild.

Hurricane Ida aside, we’re still living in a pandemic world, so Covid protocols remain in place. The SCA is requiring a negative PCR test valid within 72 hours of badge pick up, regardless of vaccination status. The full list of requirements can be found at: coffeeexpo.org/covid19-safety.

New Orleans, business owners and its residents need something to celebrate (we all do for that matter), and a coffee trade show is a good start. I’ll be at the Expo (though no booth this year), so I hope to see some of you there!

Just a reminder that Tea & Coffee World Cup presentations are available 24/7 through 8 October so if you have not yet done so and are interested, please visit: www.tcworldcup.com.

Safe travels and be well!

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