By Andrew Campbell
Last month, part of the coffee labs team including Mike and Alicia travelled down to Atlanta for the Specialty Coffee Association of America’s yearly event. It was a trip that almost didn’t happen. Mike had just suffered a broken leg and was told by doctors he wasn’t allowed to fly, we’d just opened up a new coffee bar inside Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, and we were very understaffed. We went anyway.
As someone heading to the SCAA for the first time, I didn’t really know what to expect when I got there. The team consisted of Mike and Alicia (of course), Dave and Carolyn our new roasters and myself. Dave and Carolyn had never been to the SCAA either. Mike and Alicia wanted us all to attend so we could get a perspective on the scale of the specialty coffee industry, and to learn new things about how we could help improve Coffee Labs. To an uninitiated person who has only been working in the industry for a few years, or even months in Dave’s case, it can feel like you are working in a kind of bubble. Going to the SCAA fixes that problem very quickly, and permanently.
The first thing I noticed about the SCAA was the sheer size of the event and the number of people in attendance. Everyone was there for the same reason, for their love of coffee. The days started off with classes about the industry, where the whole crew split off and went to classes relating to their job with us. Mike and Alicia went to classes about expanding the business, Dave and Carolyn went to roasting and cupping classes and I attended marketing and social media classes to improve the brand. Afterwards we’d break for lunch to discuss what we’d learned in the classes and then it was on to the real fun part, walking the SCAA trade floor.
The floor of the SCAA is massive. 226,000 square feet of nothing but sales booths selling everything you could possibly imagine about the coffee industry. Walking around the floor I noticed that almost everything we use to run Coffee Labs was purchased or at least learned about at the SCAA. Walking around I found companies and contacts I had been working with since I started with Coffee Labs almost 2 years ago. Deidrich roasters, Roastar packaging, and Vessel Drinkware were there,(shout out for the awesome pint glasses this year by the way!) and that’s only a fraction.
One particularly memorable moment for me at the show was the meeting Coffee Labs and some other roasters had with Ben Carlson from the Long Miles Coffee Project in Burundi. Ben flew in from Burundi for the SCAA, and wanted to have a meeting with all of his clients to have as he put it a “state of the coffee” address. Ben told us about how things were going with his program in Burundi and the impact it’s having on the people involved on the ground level. Looking around the circle I could see how much everyone genuinely cared about what Ben was doing, and how they were all glad to be involved in the program. I was proud to be a part of this industry in that moment. It’s business, but especially in the case of the Long Miles Project it’s a business where everyone wins. The Long Miles Project is one of our best direct relationships, and from how the meeting went we think it will be a fantastic and long standing relationship.
There’s so much to aspire to at the SCAA too. We move a lot of product at Coffee Labs, but we are a drop in the bucket compared to other roasters around the country. The conveyor systems and packaging equipment they were selling would finish a days worth of packaging for us in about 20 minutes. We want to grow enough to need equipment like that. Coffee Labs wants to be a major player in the national coffee market, and we are well on our way to fulfilling that goal.
We have plans in place for our new roasting facility, and should be building it out in the coming months. We’re opening a coffee bar at the Ritz Carlton in White Plains, and we have a new and fully operational coffee bar inside of Regeneron Pharmaceuticals just east of Tarrytown. Things are moving so fast, and I’m very glad to be part of this company.