On June 4, 2016, Industry City in Brooklyn was on an all-day caffeine buzz. Over a 1,000 attendees flocked to the warehouse campus located near the waterfront in Sunset Park. By 9am, the CoffeeCon’s exhibitor floor was alive with the aromas of mocha, caramel, accented by hints of cherries and floral.
Areli’s President Steven Chiocchi, photographer Bill Mangino and I checked in and helped ourselves to our first (of many) cups of coffee, we soaked up the surreal moment before us. CoffeeCon – A convention, like Comic-Con or E3, all for coffee. How did this happen?
Five years ago…
Kevin Sinnott was traveling the world, working on a documentary called, ‘Coffee Brewing Secrets’ where he interviewed some of the industry’s top professionals on some secrets of the trade. After getting the opportunity to interview George Howell, Erna Knutsen, Kenneth Davids and many others, he felt inspired. He wanted to create a live experience where people could learn from industry experts face to face, but more importantly, he wanted to create something he himself would be excited to attend.
‘I have to admit I invented it only because I wanted to attend it. Coffee is so often compared to craft beer and wine, but while each of those beverages is ready to consume when you get it, the finest coffees require a final step called brewing, a significant difference.’ Kevin explains.
They held their first CoffeeCon in 2011 in Chicago, and in the last five years have hosted a total of 9 conventions, in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York. Industry City marked their second appearance in New York and was the perfect setting to complement the overall theme.
At The Present Time…
By 11am the floor was packed and bustling with brands like Bodum, Hario, Rusty’s Hawaiian, ReAnimator, and Gorilla Coffee lost among the crowds of attendees at their booths. Throughout the day, we had the opportunity to talk with some of the exhibitors to see what they thought of the event.
The inventors of the original French Press, Bodum was present and accounted for as they recently decided to jump back into the coffee and tea community. Daniel from Bodum had said, ‘We loved the fact that it was so laid back, yet very professionally organized.’
With over 1200 attendees at the event, it’s a good thing it was well organized. As you walked through Industry City’s campus along the lines of booths you felt like you were part of a selective community, one driven by what we all love, coffee. There was an unspoken camaraderie with each of the exhibitors, offering an extra hand or space to work.
One of Toby’s Estate’s booth runners was actually hanging out at the Bodum booth, giving out free samples of Toby’s Estate coffee brewed with a Bodum French Press.
Matt from Philadelphia’s ReAnimator Coffee also shared his thoughts on CoffeeCon, “…what we loved most about the event was the consumer focus and the fact that most in attendance were just coffee lovers. A lot of times with conventions/conferences/fests, the audience is more industry focused, and everyone is there with an agenda of some sort.”
If there was any type of agenda at CoffeeCon, it was to spread the good word of coffee! For many of the exhibitors, time on the floor gave them a great opportunity to have meaningful conversations with consumers, while also getting feedback on their own products.
A Fresh Take From The Locals
‘CoffeeCon gave us the opportunity to share our product directly with a community that we value. It was the perfect place to introduce our take on coffee with like-minded coffee enthusiasts.’ Mache of Tom’s Lemon Coffee told us.
The local Brooklyn Brewers brought their old-school coffee cart and fresh new spin on coffee with them to showcase their new drink to a niche audience.
Besides the amazing exhibitor presence, there were educational sessions throughout the day. These ranged from Cold Brew labs and latte art to water quality and tasting like an expert. Kevin Sinnott actually described the overall concept of CoffeeCon perfectly, saying it’s really just a cooking school in disguise. “My dream is for everyone to learn to brew coffee. That would improve coffee taste more than any farming or roasting innovation.”
Learning From the Creme de la Crema
CoffeeCon did not shirk on the talent they had for their sessions that Saturday. It was apparent they seek out the top people in their field to be guest presenters. While some are inventors, others have started movements. Some of the day’s speakers included the Father of Third Wave -George Howell, 2015 US AeroPress Champion Rusty Obra, and many others.
Throughout the busy day, I had the chance to sit in on three sessions, including both of the speaker’s above as well as Jim Schulman’s water quality workshop. Each presenter easily demonstrated why they were chosen with their overflowing knowledge and stellar qualifications in the coffee world.
Taste Like An Expert
The first session we went to was George Howell’s ‘Taste Like an Expert’ VIP session. Even though Howell has become such an influencer in the coffee industry, his demeanor was extremely friendly and welcoming.
The amount of information he imparted on the attendees was amazing, as he discussed the pivotal components of a good tasting cup of coffee before diving deep into each of the key points. From there, we tried a variety of different brews and beans from different regions to identify how they each have their own characteristics. This session alone was worth the entire day in Brooklyn.
AeroPress: Becoming a Master
I was interested in the next session because AeroPress always seemed overwhelming to me. From the AeroPress itself to the brewing method it just seemed like a lot of work for a cup of coffee. After sitting in on Rusty Obra’s workshop, “AeroPress: Becoming a Master,” I quickly realized I wasn’t brewing the coffee correctly. By learning about the elements that made up a great cup of AeroPress coffee, I gained some perspective for my next attempt.
Prior to his session, Rusty had spent most of the day helping out at Aerobie’s exhibitor booth which featured his family’s Rusty’s Hawaiian coffee. He realized many were in the same situation as myself. “I had numerous people say that they have an AP but have no idea how to use one properly. So, it was my job to walk them through the process,” which he did effortlessly during his workshop.
My next try at AeroPress may not be a championship cup, but it should taste a whole lot better!
Water: The Silent Majority
The last session we were able to catch was Jim Schulman’s ‘Water: Coffee’s Silent Majority’ workshop. Here Jim discussed what components can affect the taste of coffee after it’s brewed, which is something we tend to overlook.
The water quality itself plays a major role and does not come down to hard or soft pH levels but the TDS concentration, which is made up of minerals, metals, vitamins, and other organic dissolved solids. This is why using distilled water to brew coffee will result in a coffee that tastes much different than using tap water. Actually, we learned that distilled water is not recommended for brewing coffee. Overall Jim was able to take a subject like water and keep it engaging throughout the entire workshop. It was definitely a great session to catch before we had to head out!
What’s Next for CoffeeCon?
All in all, our first CoffeeCon experience was great. We had the opportunity to try some of the best beans and blends out there as well as some interesting products like Nitro cold brew and sparkling lemon coffee. When I asked Patricia what CoffeeCon in the years to come looks like, she explained how this is only the beginning. They aim to always build something better, with plans on expanding the event to two days to offer more opportunities for learning sessions and social events.
It doesn’t look like they’ll have any trouble finding exhibitors, as all of them expressed how much they enjoyed being at the event and part of such a close-knit community. In the end, it looks like the founder Kevin Sinnott got his wish, creating a fun and educational event he himself would be thrilled to attend.
“While I want coffee to improve in flavor, I still stay grounded. I’d still prefer a good cup of coffee shared with a friend to a superlative cup alone.” – Kevin Sinnott