CoffeeFest Portland – Breakdown

Aspiring to become the definitive trade show designed for one-and-all involved in the specialty coffee and gourmet tea business, Portland’s Coffee Fest dished out a uniquely sessionable experience.  Formerly based in Seattle from 1992-2013, Coffee Fest seems to have found its permanent home in Portland, due to its supreme sessionability.  I distinctly liked the sessionability of this year’s Coffee Fest.  

I’m just trying out the new buzzword used in judging one of Coffee Fest’s many sessionable events.  

Sessionability is synonymous with drinkability, the term previously used in judging the enjoyability factor of the espresso.  In other words, sessionability is the sum of the qualities that cause you to return to the cup again and again.  I think the origin of the word hails back to session IPAs from the beer world – an easy going, enjoyable beverage that you can sip all afternoon.   

This was my first year at Coffee Fest.  I loved it.  My immediate impressions are that it was small, friendly, and full of amazing education.  

Since it was small, it felt intimate but was still large enough for me not to be fully aware that there were major contests taking part in the far side of the room.   At the end of the aisles, in which really cool stuff was on display to touch, taste, or play with, was staged America’s Best Coffee House contest and America’s Best Espresso contest.  In the next room was the Latte Art Tournament.  I liked that the two contests were in the same room as the main showroom floor because I didn’t feel like I was missing anything and it added a unique pulse to my wanderings of the enticing aisles.  I saw Public US praised as America’s Best Coffee House; I witnessed Anchorhead dominate the America’s Best Espresso tournament and even had a shot of the winning Aricha; and, I watched Steven Lim crowned as America’s Best Latte Artist.  More on these events in a sec.

I don’t know if it was me or what they put in Portland’s water, but people were super friendly at Coffee Fest.  I spoke with countless industry agents and had a great time learning about what they do.  I tried coffee from Haiti; I met an importer and farmer from Kenya; I ate probably the best waffle I’ve ever had in my life (and I’ve lived in Europe); and I got to play around with the SimpliPress – a clever take on the ubiquitous French press.  It was a fun weekend.

Regret: I wish I had made time to take some of the free* educational classes taught by the geniuses that live among us.  Geared at dewy eyed café owners, aspiring all-star baristas, roasters, importers, environmentalists, not-for-profits, and just good old coffee folk, these classes offered a seriously overwhelming amount of knowledge and were *paid for with every $40 entry fee.  Seriously.  A staggering amount of classes were offered.  I made a promise with myself to take as many as my $40 allows next year.

I liked the design of the contests.  And I liked that they were easily accessible… except the Latte Art Tournament.  It’s obviously hard to see the foam on a cup from the back of any room, so they televised a birds-eye-view of the latte art above the bar on a screen.  But you couldn’t see that either.  Overall, they could have used the space wiser for the Latte Art Tournament; perhaps the bar in the middle of the audience with many screens around the perimeter for the audience to see would work better.

However, the other two events were placed perfectly on the main showroom floor.  I was so close to the Best Espresso competition baristas that I could’ve timed their shots.  Competitors had the option to use one of four espresso machines for their espresso: two Nuova Simonellis and two Rancilios.  The judging panel based their decisions on four criteria:  body; complexity; aftertaste; and the new wave term for drinkability, sessionability.  I thought America’s Best Coffee House contest was a cool idea and they even built a miniature cafe as the stage and judged the competitors on a panel of adjudicators’ experiences as they were served by three members of the café staff.  At stake were service, quality, and professionalism, but ultimately, pride.  

These coffee contests are becoming more unique, interesting, and laid back yet serious all in one… I hear they’re throwing coffee in Dublin now as form of new contest.

I’ll be sure to come back to Coffee Fest next year as it grows, matures, and develops its already established sessionability.       


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