Finding more than coffee at the Specialty Coffee Expo

Thousands of coffee professionals, competitors and enthusiasts eagerly converged in Boston, Massachusetts last weekend (8-10 April) for the Specialty Coffee Expo. Judging by the excitement and energy amongst exhibitors and attendees, the Expo was back in ‘full force’ feeling very much like the ‘pre-Covid’ Expos.

Although smaller than Expos that took place prior to the pandemic, the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA), which organises the annual event, said this year’s show attracted more than 10,000 attendees, 420 exhibiting companies, and 250 volunteers. Exhibitors travelled from 40 countries of which 20 were coffee-producing countries. North America’s largest coffee trade show also hosted US Coffee Championships (the winners can be found here) offered more than 60 lectures and 30 workshops over the three days.

For most exhibitors and attendees, this was the first ‘real’ Specialty Coffee Expo since 2019, with the 2020 event being cancelled and the 2021 Expo in New Orleans being a much smaller show (taking place during the pandemic and immediately following Hurricane Ida, which decimated much of Louisiana), thus, most did not know what to expect or admitted to having “low expectations” prior to the start of this year’s show. However, exhibitors T&CTJ spoke with were all overwhelmingly pleased with the show, saying the Expo “met or even exceeded their expectations” as they were not only able to reconnect with friends, colleagues, business associates and clients, but many had a high number of ‘quality meetings’ where business transactions were made (some exhibitors even sold their floor-model equipment at the show) or strong leads were gathered. The first two days of the Expo had heavy foot traffic, which trailed off on the third day (although this is typical for most trade shows in any industry), but attendees were still walking the show floor either looking to do business or make connections.

Admittance to the Expo required a negative rapid Covid test (within 24 hours of badge pick up) or a negative PCR test (within 72 hours of badge pick up) so many attendees – from the trade show floor to the coffee competitions to the lectures – felt comfortable dropping their masks while at the Boston Convention and Expo, which enhanced the sense of the return to normalcy (that we are all craving!)

The annual Specialty Coffee Expo is ‘the place to go’ to learn about ‘all things specialty coffee’. That is, the show highlights the latest trends (which of course includes cupping fabulous coffees from the leading specialty coffee-producing countries around the world), developments in coffee research and of course, innovations and the newest offerings in in roasting, grinding, brewing, blending, processing and packaging technologies (see the T&CTJ exhibitor preview story here).

However, one of the best aspects of the Expo is walking the show floor and meeting small or up-and-coming companies – roasters as well as equipment and packaging suppliers – and coffee producers. One such person I encountered at this year’s show is Rani Mayasari (@ranimayasaricoffee), a smart, resourceful female specialty coffee producer and Q grader from Indonesia, who had a small booth near Indonesia’s pavilion. Unable to export coffee from her farm, Java Halu Coffee (which is located in West Bandung), during the pandemic, Rani learned how to roast coffee. She then asked for donations and created coffee cups that included Java Halu Coffee in a packet, sugar, creamer, and stirrer, all hygienically sealed and protected, which Rani then donated to first responders in her community — all they needed to do was add hot water. Rani did this throughout the pandemic until she was able to begin exporting coffee again in 2021 and was at the Expo to help grow her business. I tasted Java Halu’s coffee and in my non- Q grader, humble opinion, it was lovely coffee.

Hygienic coffee cup containing coffee. Image: Vanessa L Facenda

The Specialty Coffee Expo returns to Portland, Oregon, 21-23 April 2023 (the 2020 Expo in Portland was cancelled due to the Covid outbreak), where I look forward to stumbling upon more remarkable people – with fascinating stories – like Rani Mayasari.


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