Liz Clayton is the newest contributor to Sprudge.com, and will be covering SCAA / USBC after-hours all week long.
It was said by the ancients that a drizzly arrival to your convention city bodes good luck, and if so, this year’s SCAA promises to yield an abundant supply of misty charm. The rainy days before SCAA threw open its well-guarded doors were ones of moisture breaking through the sun, and quiet coffee shop invasions by the “I’ll have a macchiato, a shot, and a pour over of your most expensive” set. Reports rolled in of New Seasons and Whole Foods staffers blindsided by the spike in requests for heirloom fennel, organic star anise, sustainably sourced Marionberries, and anything that could possibly remind you of a cherry pie or oatmeal raisin cookie.
I myself escaped the chaos somewhat in favor of a slow, calm-before-the-storm approach to the event, hiding out in restaurants and cafes where you might only run into one or two other convention attendees at a time. This gave me plenty of time to study the Sprudge Party Portal page, while only occasionally being distracted by people interrogating coffee shop employees about exactly how many hours they do cold brew in Portland vs. Michigan.
But as anyone who’s been to college (or Williamsburg) knows, the real weekend starts on a Thursday. Thursday night’s opening festivities rolled in like grey clouds from the ocean, promising to quench the thirst (if not the dance fever) of throngs (if not scores) of coffee people thoroughly drained from Symposium, not to mention the preliminary waves of the United States Barista Championship. A welcome reception at the ConCen gave way to action, as this reporter bemusedly found herself in a carpeted van cab with past, present and future former employees of Intelligentsia Coffee and Tea, the driver instructing the over-count members of our party to “get down on the floor”, as we were shuttled to the Ace Hotel, where supposedly they would be food available at Clyde Common (so long as the coffee buyers, producers, and World Barista Champions already clustered near the bar hadn’t eaten it all first).
I attempted to catch the eye of the wearied, yet occasionally polite Happy Hour-crushed bartender while drunk 24-year-olds on vacation chatted up my married friend about coffee. (“We’re not in Portland for the convention,” she said, “we’re just here for living!”) I consumed pickled grapes while Norwegians, Canadians and Australians swarmed gently (in that non-American way) around the crowded pillars of the bar, a throbbing hot mess of $3.50 double IPAs and borrowed iPhone chargers. Soon enough it was time to go (no more outlets left for my phone charger).
I had heard there was a throwdown happening somewhere so off I wandered to Public Domain, whose logo features a terrifyingly intimate face-on-face tamper motif, only to be whisked (for the second time that day) into a passing Sprudgemobile™. We were off to some kind of flair bartender party being hosted by Imbibe and Roast Magazine, where the city’s finest mixologists were given free reign with a surfeit of Torani syrups.
Spirit of ’77 was the place, and in fact is the spot three if not thirty more SCAA parties will take place this weekend — I’m seeing shades of Octane Coffee, April 2009, only I don’t think this joint has a parking lot. Though each party is uniquely hosted, only the drink specials will change as the room shifts benefactors night to night, while offering the comforting continuity of a nondescript room whose loose basketball theme belies a thankfully clean bathroom setting. This party was invitation-only, probably intended to cut down on the kind of people who like to freeload Fernet, cheese balls, and mini Italian subs (“I think this is cut up Jimmy John’s,” sussed one Milwaukee native). By 10pm the party had swelled to critical mass and even people who’d competed in barista competitions for the better part of their adult lives were forced to wait outside and stare at adorable foster kittens next door, purring and flopping around the look-in window of the Virginia Woof Hotel. Luminaries and nobodies alike waited desperately for someone, anyone to leave the party so that one more soul could be allowed entry, and thus access to the hot cheese balls. And though we were in the shadow of at least one of the night’s Thursday Night Throwdowns, no one walked into the crowded room with an oversized novelty check…what a letdown.
The night peaked for me when a certain tamper heiress got rowdy and knocked a MOO-ville milk scion into collision collusion with my jaw: suddenly I had a headache and I hadn’t even tried the tequila! Time to walk home past the crusty donut hipsters and the guy with the chihuahua I already met at the bus station, and call it a night. Like a wise man once told me: never party on the first night, and other than that chihuahua…I think most of us may have saved our strength.