Friday around noon, I rolled into Pawtucket with two cars full of Pavement Coffeehouse folks, not really knowing what to expect from my first time at the awkwardly named MANE (mid-Atlantic NorthEast) Coffee Conference. In the end, the conference totally exceeded my expectations. Every class or panel I attended was worthwhile, and some were truly extraordinary.
With a registration fee of only $100, it made a really nice alternative to the much pricier, but also awkwardly named, Camp Pull-a-Shot. A wide range of experience levels from new baristas to old-school shop owners and roasters were represented. Perspectives were diverse, and discussions were lively.
Here are some highlights!
Processing and Fermentation with Katie Carguilo
Processing and fermentation was the first class I attended at MANE, and it was awwwwwwesome. I think the material came from the Counter Culture pro series curriculum, and was taught by US barista champion Katie Carguilo. This class was easily the clearest overview of processing methods I’ve ever come across (though there are definitely some good articles and blog posts out there), and it ended with a cupping of 8 different process lots of Aida Batlle’s Finca Mauritania: regular washed, shade dried, washed in Ethiopian style, washed in Kenyan style, Sumalvador (like Sumatra process, but in el Salvador), pulped natural, natural and verde (underripe). Dope:
keynote address by James Hoffmann
I think almost everyone in attendance was a bit too “socially lubricated” from the “cocktail party” to have good notes or photos from this, so I can’t really recount it in any detail, but I do recall thoroughly enjoying international coffee superstar James Hoffmann’s speech. The imperfections of current equipment and best practices in roasting were discussed (“nobody in the world understands coffee roasting”). So, you know, admit when you could do things better and chat with others and seek solutions and contact manufacturers etc. James also made the point that you don’t have to go into roasting, and you shouldn’t because it’s dull.
a trip to origin
This panel discussion with producers (Adolfo Reyes Portillo), importers and roasters was truly enlightening. Particularly interesting was the discussion of the Cup of Excellence. The CoE was valuable for getting this Honduran producer recognition for the quality of his crop, but was too risky a format to continue selling coffee that way (the price at auction is too much of a gamble). Consensus on the panel was that the CoE elevates the work of producers, but direct trade relationships are a much more stable way to sell high quality coffee.
Adolfo finished by praising the dedication to coffee preparation at other levels of the chain, comparing that dedication to his at the farm.
confessions of a barista competition head judge
The big news from the “confessions of a barista competitor” panel came from the smiley mouth of Dan Streetman, head judge extraordinaire. Apparently, baristas will be required to use sponsor grinders in competition. The age of the competitor prep room full of Roburs lugged in suitcases from distant locations is over, for better or for worse! (after US regionals, as I understand it?)
sprudge’s “how did I get here?” roundtable
This late-night television style interview series led by Jordan of Sprudge was just plain charming:
I heard some critiques, but for me this discussion of concepts in retailing coffee (led, again, by the masterful Jordan of Sprudge), was the highlight of the event. Everything from line flow and workflow and design to brew methods and coffee quality came up in the talk.
My fav concepts from this discussion:
- on several occasions, Alex Bernson brought up the concept of using design to give the barista and customer the space and time to communicate across the counter from one another, whether through line flow or a manual brew bar.
- Anne Nylander’s insistence on devoting a serious portion of the hypothetical million dollars for her dream coffee shop to training. Priority one on my list as well!
- Matt Banbury made the point that elements that can be designed and built into cafes to increase profits generally also make customers’ experiences easier. Which begs the question: why aren’t we all more actively seeking to do this??
- RAISE YOUR PRICES and prep your staff well to give consistent answers about the new pricing
- James Hoffmann asked, perhaps rhetorically, if we are keeping cafes less profitable by not serving food (or not serving more food than we do). There wasn’t time for a full discussion, but the answer: YES.
Plenty of food for thought. Discussions were lively for me and the Pavement Coffeehouse crew as we lunched at a chain restaurant and, subsequently, drove back to Boston. Things are happening, y’all. Things are happening.