A return to vibrancy and caffeinated excitement at the SCA Expo

It was “déjà vu all over again” at the Specialty Coffee Association’s (SCA) Specialty Coffee Expo, which returned to Portland, Oregon for this year’s event (21-23 April) with the feeling and atmosphere of past Expos (Seattle, Atlanta, Boston 2019) returning. Many will recall that the SCA Expo was originally scheduled to take place in Portland in April 2020 but was cancelled due to the pandemic. It was wonderful to have the show in such a coffee-centric city (although Portland is not the same city post-pandemic as it was pre-Covid, which was a topic of conversation among many exhibitors and attendees, but that’s a blog for another day…).

This year’s Expo was vibrant with exhibitors and attendees back to pre-Covid levels with all the activities and caffeine-induced excitement and frenzy to go along with it as people raced around the Oregon Convention Center from meetings to lectures to workshops to competitions to cuppings as well as to attend many other events that took place on and off the show floor (World of Coffee’s Think and Drink, the IWCA breakfast and Coffee Quality Institute lunch) and around the city.

The annual Re:co Symposium – also in Portland – was held just prior to the Expo and rather than its annual welcome reception, the SCA held a party for exhibitors on the eve (20 April) of the show. On opening day, before the doors officially opened just outside the show floor, the SCA held a reception with live music, coffee and treats.

During Re:co and the Expo, the SCA released the Beta version of the Coffee Value Assessment, an evolution of the association’s cupping protocol and form. The updated cupping protocol is part of a years’ long endeavour to evolve the way the industry captures information about valued attributes in coffee into a modern system underpinned by user research and sensory science best practices. The SCA cupping system was last updated in 2004.

Country pavilions returned with representation from origins such as Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Hawaii, Guatemala, Indonesia, Jamaica, Panama, Uganda, and of course, Brazil and Colombia, among many others. It was reassuring and refreshing to see so many producers back at the Expo. Sylvia Achebet, executive director of Masha Coffee, who made the trip from Uganda, excitedly commented how she was “out of samples” because there was much interest in Ugandan coffee. Several others at the booth, including Dr Emmanuel Niyibigira, managing director of the Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA) and James Muhangi, general manager of Rubanga Cooperative Society Limited (which represents several farms), echoed the sentiment, noting what a “good show it was for Ugandan coffee.”

Vinicius Estrela, the executive director of the Brazil Specialty Coffee Association (BSCA), said the Expo was the ideal venue to introduce buyers (and coffee enthusiasts) to new Brazilian coffees (the US is the biggest buyer of Brazilian coffee, importing eight million bags in 2022). The BSCA presented some unique flavours and aromas such as floral, citrus, red fruits, chocolate and nuts, from varieties such as Arara, Catuaí, and MGS Paraíso among others at the show. He said that there is a new ‘flavour revolution’ taking place with Brazilian coffee.

“Because of new technologies and fermentation methods, there is a lot of experimentation going on so we are able to create new Brazilian profiles such as higher acidity and complexity, and different levels of sweetness,” Estrela explained. For example, a Natural, Catuaí 44 from Caparaó was one of the newer profiles being displayed. It was more acidic and had peppery notes. I tasted several coffees including a specialty Robusta from Rondonia, all of which were lovely. It was apparently a highly successful show for the world’s biggest coffee producer as the BSCA issued a release announcing that 29 producers secured USD $20 million in sales at the Expo.

This 2023 event also hosted several competitions – the first full competitions cycle since 2019 – including the US Coffee Championships (USCC), concurrently with the Expo. The winners were announced at the close of the show on 23 April. The 2023 US Coffee Champions are:

  • US Cup Tasters Champion: Jake Donaghy, Olympia Coffee Roasting
  • US Barista Champion: Isaiah Sheese, Archetype Coffee
  • US Brewers Cup Champion: Wenbo Yang, Artly Coffee
  • US Roaster Champion: Andrew Coe, Elevator Coffee
  • US Latte Art Champion: Piyapat Lapteerawut, Coffee Project NY
  • US Coffee in Good Spirits Champion: Sam Schroeder, Olympia Coffee

Next year’s SCA Expo will take place in Chicago, Illinois, 11-14 April — most attendees and exhibitors expressed excitement about the show taking place in the ‘Windy City’.

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