Editor’s note: Our friend Josh Taves wrote to tell me about a really cool concept event that Allegro Coffee was hosting in Denver, Colorado, at the end of July. Organized like a TED Talks kind of thing, but for the coffee industry and by the coffee industry, “It’s All About Coffee”—organized by the Rocky Mountain Craft Coffee Alliance—would bring together some of the industry’s brightest minds to discuss and ponder specialty coffee issues in the areas of science, philosophy, customer service, and more. I asked Josh—who works as an account manager in the wholesale department of Dogwood Coffee—if he would write about the event; Josh was one of the invited speakers. And he totally delivered. Check out his story below about this groundbreaking event. Special thanks to Miguel Vicuna of the Barista Guild of America for the photos.
Article by Josh Taves
Photography by Miguel Vacuna
Way up high in the mountains lies a little town that most people in the coffee industry forget about. It’s a place where you feel a little more rugged just for being there and the water is so sweet and clean, you forget whether or not you filtered it. It’s a place called Denver and believe you me, it is about time that our industry took notice.
I recently traveled to Denver to participate in the inaugural “It’s About the Coffee” lecture series put on by the Rocky Mountain Craft Coffee Alliance (RMCCA) and the Barista Guild of America (BGA). The RMCCA is an awesome group that has sprung up recently with the intention of building community in the industry, exploring the boundaries of what quality coffee can be, and how to effectively communicate that to the growing consumer base. They have done such events as a community forum hosted by Novo Coffee, a coffee-beer collaboration with Odell Brewing Co., roasting workshops with the Roasters Guild, and of course latte art competitions.
“It’s All About the Coffee” was conceived at the most recent meeting of the RMCCA leadership board and is already a huge success. The goal is to create an ongoing lecture series (bi-annually) similar to TEDx with the focus on trends and new ideas in the coffee industry. The inaugural event was held on July 20th and was hosted by Allegro Coffee Co., in Thornton, Colorado.
First up was a talk by James Lopez. James is a local barista and coffee professional that is currently working with AmeriCorps. He offered a unique perspective on our approach to service and customer interaction. Drawing on principles of Zen Buddhism he was able to effectively communicate the ways in which we as coffee professionals can change and affect the world around us for good.
Following James was Jonathan Jarrow, owner/operator of Harbinger Coffee Co. in Fort Collins, CO and former North Central Regional Brewers Cup Champion. Jonathan is a well respected name in coffee with a lot of experience and everyone listened intently as he spoke about his journey through coffee and how he got to where he is today. He discussed how to make a career for oneself in coffee and reminded us all that the end goal of our industry is not the finite details of the perfect cup, but rather the people that drink that cup.
For a change of pace, Sarada Krishnan was asked to speak next. Sarada is the director of Horticulture at the Denver Botanical Gardens and is one of the most well respected coffee agronomists in the world. She spoke about her beginnings of growing up on a coffee plantation in India and then coming full circle to now owning two coffee farms in Jamaica after studying botany and biology. Sarada has recently been commissioned by World Coffee Research to work with Emma Bladyka (the Director of Coffee Science Research for the SCAA) as well as several other researchers. The goal of their commission is to try and find rumored wild strains of coffee varietals in the newly formed country of South Sudan. Up until this time it was believed that wild coffee only existed in modern day Ethiopia, but Sarada and her team are now exploring other regions Southwest of there. This research is extremely valuable in the development of new cultivars that could potentially be resistant to diseases and drought. Their research also grows our understanding of the biological evolution and history of the coffee plant as well as opens new doors to advances in cup quality.
Following Sarada was a short coffee break. Everyone in attendance was encouraged to bring a special coffee to share. Allegro opened up their brewing lab and everyone got to gather around as coffees from all over were passed around. The end goal of this lecture series is to start conversations among the Rocky Mountain coffee industry. This was a purposeful time and space for everyone to share their thoughts on the lectures so far, share their favorite beans, and build new friendships.
When we all eventually gathered back into the lecture area, we were greeted by a large wooden model of grinder burrs. Scott Rojohn is a retired Aerospace engineer turned coffee enthusiast (You’ve heard people say that “coffee isn’t rocket science?” Well, for Scott it is). He owns a company called FoxRun Coffee Roasters where he offers precision tuning of grinders and coffee equipment. His basement looks like the coolest coffee lab you have ever seen! Scott talked about the minute (as in 1000ths of a inch!) differences that can occur from one espresso grinder to the next at the factory and how that can make two seemingly identical espresso grinders behave very differently. He also talked about the necessary balancing of individual grinder burrs and how precision milling of the internal parts of your grinder (a service he offers) can lead to better cup quality and huge increases in consistency.
Scott was a tough act to follow but I was chosen to be the fifth speaker of the night. Based on the presentation that I gave at the 2013 United States Barista Championship, I gave a talk about the general chemical makeup of espresso. The goal was to lead a discussion to try and determine what exactly espresso is and how we as a community define it in the age of pressure and temperature profiling. We looked at insoluble solids, organic acids, gases, water, fats, and sugars in espresso and how each is affected during its time in the espresso machine. We also touched slightly on the origin of each of these components and how they play their part in defining what espresso is.
Last but certainly not least was Chris Schooley. Chris is a coffee roaster that works for the SCAA and Coffee Shrub. Through his many years in the coffee industry Chris has gained considerable knowledge and respect from his peers. Chris spoke on a topic that is very hotly contested in our industry today: education. Chris is married to an Elementary School teacher and so he was able to draw from his expertise in coffee and from his observations of his wife and melded them together to discuss how coffee roasters talk to customers. More often than not the issue is baristas talking with customers, but seeing as how Chris is the champion of roasters issues, he decided to take an alternative route to the education topic and followed through with his typical aplomb.
Afterwards more space was built for discussion as we reconvened at a local bar to discuss the issues we had just heard about. Overall this event was a huge success that I am excited to see grow and progress. I am a firm believer that out of space comes great ideas and the folks at RMCCA are doing a top-notch job at creating space for discussion amongst the amazing coffee community in the Rocky Mountains.