Earlier this month, coffee professionals from across the American Northeast gathered together for a cherished event on the annual coffee calendar: the Mid-Atlantic Northeast Coffee Conference, known simply as MANE. This year's reportage on Sprudge was in the capable hands of Eric Steven Tessier, a Sprudge correspondent based in New England. Over a few days in Providence, Rhode Island he captured the sights, moments and flavors of MANE, one of America's truly essential grass roots coffee events. We join him on the opening evening of the conference…
Providence, Rhode Island, is a beautiful New England city in the middle of a revival. The Providence Biltmore, where MANE was held, is a historic hotel which opened in 1922. With the backdrop of a colonial town brimming with vibrant fall foliage—inside spaces with names like The Grand Ballroom and The Garden Room—attendees sucked up coffee knowledge and were inspired by coffee gods. The weather was good, the vibes were positive, and the atmosphere only made things better.
The Coffee Woman
While soaking in the hip and chilled out vibes in one of Providence’s nightclubs a crowd of coffee lovers participated in a talk centering on a huge issue: the face of coffee in the USA is still predominately male and white. Legendary coffee producer Aida Batlle gave us insights into being a woman in the El Salvador coffee industry. Other panels talked on subjects such as being a woman in customer service, safe work environments, and the dream of being seen as “Coffee Humans” rather than Coffee X, Y, or Z.
Before the speakers went on stage at “The Coffee Woman” event I navigated through the growing crowd of coffee folks and did my part to help conquer a mountain of pizzas at the concession tables. Catching a whiff of some nearby coffee vapors I found Emeran Langmaid of A&E Coffee and Tea hanging out with a diner style BUNN brewer and a hefty bag of Kenya AA Rutuma Ngandu. She confessed that with no specialty hardware around she worked the brewer’s little red shift and a timer to brew with more care. There was even talk of a MacGyver style bloom. The coffee was spot on and Langmaid’s reputation as a truly tenacious coffee boss was born.
In a workshop led by Aida Batlle a few lucky cuppers grabbed the chance to taste the same coffee crop processed in over a dozen different methods. From natural processing to Ethiopia or Kenya methods, slurpers saw first hand how the preparation of the cherry effects flavor. Perhaps most mind blowing were the experimental processes, in which the bean was soaked in either fruit tea or cascara tea before drying—talk about flavor bombs.
Billed as a chance to “experience aromas and tastes you will never forget,” spoon-wielding coffee lovers tasted and cringed at a series of taints, defects, and faults at the cupping table. Watching cautious faces as they produced a loud slurp and then shook their heads and squinted their eyes was an experience that I won’t soon forget. Ferment, mold, and phenol defects, yum!
Many baristas got the chance to hone their skills in various classes throughout the conference. AeroPress recipes were shared, the basics of espresso were introduced, latte art was poured, Chemexes were caressed, and machines were dismantled and prodded. Coffee geeks were united and—for once—felt like an obsession with cherry pits really was normal behavior. For those of us in the trade hands-on practice, the ability to taste and see different techniques, and the opportunity to ask experts questions made the conference a success.
Charles Babinski’s Keynote Speech
The 2015 US Barista Champion and founder of both G&B Coffee and Go Get Em Tiger gave a memorable and inspiring keynote that stirred hearts and minds. The theme of Babinski’s talk was “Keep Building,” and in it he encouraged the growth of small businesses across the specialty coffee industry lest we “…all end up in the cold brew aisle of the grocery store.” He rallied us with phrases like “we need more great coffee shops, this is their time to thrive,” and “we make communities great,” encouraging a community and employee centered industry. “To make a great experience for a customer you need something other than a great recipe.” Amen.
Palate Development Faces
For a lot of us at MANE the two-part Palate Development class led by Bailey Arnold of Gregory’s Coffee and Todd Mackey of Olam Specialty Coffee was an eye-opening, lip-smacking experience. What is taste? How do we taste? How does your brain work? All the big questions were tackled. As we explored sweet, bitter, salty, sour, and umami some truly memorable taste-faces were produced. Later we were all blindfolded and forced to sniff plastic containers full of mysterious substances—all for the love of coffee.
Gregory Zamfortis: Beer Hawker
We all enjoyed ourselves a bit too much at the realization that Gregory Zamfotis, the face of Gregorys Coffee, was tasked with divvying out drinks to panelists and participants during the “How Did I Get Here Panel.” Have a question for the panelists? Then you get a beer from one of the most recognizable coffee people in the Northeast. Do you want an IPA or a Belgian-style White? The man in the glasses has got you.
Closing Panel Gets Real
The closing panel titled, “How Did I Get Here,” took an abrupt turn from career stories to the challenges that coffee farmers and their families face, when Colleen Anunu of Fair Trade USA shared her concerns. What conditions do families on the origin side live in? How do we uplift the people producing the coffee we love so much? How can we get consumers to care? There were many questions, but the answers still escape us. Talking about it, however, is a start. If you are reading this then chances are you care about coffee. I implore you all to care about the whole chain of production and not just the flavor notes. Talk to your suppliers, your buyers, your producers. We can keep this conversation going. We could brighten someone’s face with a cappuccino while giving a farmer a better life.
For a complete list of MANE 2016 sponsors, please see here.
Eric Tessier is a freelance journalist based in New England. Read more Eric Tessier on Sprudge.