Today marks the first day of Sigep in Rimini, Italy. The event takes place over the course of five days, and I’m lucky enough to be here for the first three. This is the 35th year for the event that is serves as a celebration, trade show and competition space for the gelato, pastry, chocolate, and coffee industries in Italy.
Riding into town last night from Bologna on a bus, I couldn’t help but wonder if anyone would actually be at the show. Rimini is known as a resort/beach town, and the road along the strand is full of hotels, restaurants and clubs (not to mention a number of boardwalk-style amusement parks, go cart tracks, and marinas). But this being January, many of those places are closed and boarded up for the winter. Watching out the window of the bus, the town looked desolate and even a little depressing. (Though the temporary ice rink outside of my hotel and the corresponding laughter and yelling of children crashing into the sideboards gave it some hope of levity.) All in all, though, while I could see how jammed this place is going to be in June when the World Barista Championship and the Specialty Coffee Association of Europe’s World of Coffee event rolls into town, for this week, I thought, it’s going to be a trade show ghost town.
But I couldn’t have been more wrong.
As our bus from the hotel (carrying the judging delegation for the Italian Barista, Latte Art, and Coffee in Good Spirits Championships and me) pulled up in front of the expo center, streams of people were already making their way from the car park, bus stops and train station to the front entrance. And inside the building, the crowd filled the entry hall as frantic ushers tried to get badges scanned and welcome everyone into the sprawling event space.
To either side of the main atrium, show halls go on for what seem like miles as booths of vendors selling equipment, supplies, and gelato, baked goods, confections and more drew the attendees towards them with loads of free samples, demos, and of course the ever present booth babes.
Straight in front, however, in a great position, is the competition space for the coffee events. It’s a great location for the Italian baristas to showcase their skills, and help promote specialty coffee in Italy. Of course it also helps that there’s a Nuova Simonelli with 2009 World Barista Champion Gwilym Davies pulling shots (along with many Italian volunteers) right in front.
But what has really floored me about Sigep so far is what a small part of it coffee is. I thought that of the four main components of the show, coffee, confections, gelato, and chocolate, that coffee would be the biggest. This is Italy after all. They are known for their dedication (and creation) of many of the things we associate with espresso. But no, the largest slice of Sigep by far goes to gelato, followed by baked goods/pastries/confections. They’re both natural complements to coffee, so it’s cool to see them all represented here.
But while I’ve said there are three coffee competitions here. They’re not the only ones. The WBC will be here in June, but you don’t have to wait that long to see a world champion crowned in Rimini. Here at Sigep, there’s also the world championship of gelato making! There’s also a world championship for pastries, and that’s another thing that ties the separate industries together. The people working in them are just as passionate about their work as people in coffee are. And it’s something that I hadn’t really considered before attending Sigep. I get a little blinded covering the coffee industry, thinking that the passion, dedication, and excellence I see on a daily basis with coffee professionals is unique. It is without a doubt always great to see people so devoted to their craft and artisanal craftsmanship. They are kindred spirits of baristas. I’m excited to see what else Sigep has in store.