This year’s SCAA event was big, to some first timers maybe even overwhelming. I think the vast majority of attendees found what they were looking for, whether it be industry connections, a new espresso machine, or perhaps just directions to the nearest restroom.
The competitions were awesome. The events ran smoothly, the presentations were cool, and for the most part all things seemed to be in the right place at the right time.
Do you know why? One word: Volunteers.
A whole army of people just like me and you—people nuts about coffee who wanted this weekend to be great—put in hundreds of hours of behind the scenes labor to make sure that it was.
Events on this scale don’t just happen, and they aren’t cheap to put on. That’s what makes it even more miraculous that so many people were willing to give their time away for free, just so you and I could stroll through the event, enjoying ourselves, knowing that all the little details would be taken care of.
The volunteer base this year seemed to fall into two categories: people who felt their skills and expertise could be put to use, and people who were seeking a greater coffee education by getting behind the scenes and close to the action.
Either way, there was a lot of work involved and we should all take a moment to thank those who gave their time.
James McClurkin joined us all the way from Boston where he has plans to open his own café next fall called Ground Up Coffee Company.
He spent the first two days as a porter and buser in the competition arena and was given the task of prep timer for the U.S. Barista Championship finals on Sunday.
While watching the championship-level baristas do their magic, McClurkin quickly realized one important thing: “that I didn’t know as much as I thought I did,” he said. “Some of the signature drinks blew me away and I’ve been thinking about how that can affect what I do in my café. And the personalities of the baristas make a lot of difference.”
McClurkin attended last year’s event in his hometown of Boston, but said the size and scope overwhelmed him. Having a year to prepare for the 2014 event, he was able to put in his volunteer hours and focus his attention on what he knew he needed to learn.
“This one was more focused; I knew what I wanted to go for. I’ll be back,” McClurkin said.
Though McClurkin may be new to both café ownership and volunteerism, he nonetheless has experience over Kaylee Breshon, a college student whose introduction to the world of specialty coffee was right here as a volunteer at SCAA 2014.
“I’m a home barista which is one of the reasons I volunteered—it seemed like a good way to get into the coffee culture,” Breshon said.
The Olympia, Wash., native has been on site since Wednesday and got the chance to participate in several parts of the event.
“At first I was helping set up, then (Saturday) I was cleaning the espresso machines in the arena, and today (Sunday) I’m helping to pack up,”
She said the biggest takeaway for her was getting the opportunity to work around professional grade equipment.
“’I’ve never actually touched a real espresso machine before so getting to learn how to clean one was really awesome,” Breshon said.
Unlike Breshon and McClurkin, Ricardo Valdes is a longtime member of the specialty-coffee world. The Mexico native came up to Seattle this year because he felt his skills and experience could be of assistance to the international crowd.
“There was some translation to be done with some of the farmers and producers and other people who might need some help with Spanish, Portuguese, and stuff,” Valdes said.
The owner of Bold Coffee said the best part of his business is having the ability to be his own boss, but also to have the ability to come to events like this one.
“It’s nice to be able to help,” Valdes said, which perfectly sums up the reason that most volunteers choose to give their time.
Despite wearing bright orange shirts, most volunteers kept to the background, but if your experience was a good one, then they did their job correctly.
Top photo courtesy of the SCAA. Article photos by Jeremy Martin.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jeremy Martin is a freelance writer and photographer who has reported on coffee, craft beer, college sports, and business for a variety of publications over the past six years. A veteran of the café industry and graduate of Western Michigan University, Jeremy lives in Seattle where can often be found making sandwiches from whatever is left in the fridge and cracking wise for the amusement of his adoring wife Amanda.