On the hottest September 15th in SoCal history, Barista Nation LA drew well over a hundred attendees from throughout the Southwest to the Beyond The Grind warehouse in the tech canyons of industrial Anaheim. Guests were treated to a full slate of lecture programming from some the brightest minds in the business, and all of it absolutely completely free of charge (which rules, obviously). We ourselves took part as panel guests, DJs, photographers, and audience members – sometimes all at once. Here’s some highlights!

Beyond The Third Wave (Anne Nylander, SCAA)

The day kicked off with a crackerjack presentation from Anne Nylander of the SCAA. In her own words: “The purpose for this lecture is for us to get an understanding of what we’re even talking when we say ‘Third Wave’, and how we got there.” Ms. Nylander first offered a succinct history of the progression of specialty coffee, starting with Peet’s in 1966, the formation of the SCAA in 1982, and the beginning of Starbucks retail operations in 1987. “We have a lot of information out there, but not a lot of history – especially recent history – of how the industry has progressed,” Nylander told the crowd.

Her presentation paid proper due to Starbucks, and specifically to Howard Schultz for his commitment to retail. She pointed to a few major landmarks in the ongoing progression of the industry, specifically the SCAA’s “Coffee Cupper’s Handbook” from 1995, David Schomer’s Ergo tamper, and Trish Rothgeb’s oft-referenced landmark article from the Spring 2003 issue of The Flamekeeper, where the phrase “Third Wave” was coined in relation to specialty coffee.

The lecture closed with the formation of the Barista Guild, the creation of BGA certification, and the codification of level one and two barista certification programs – “a certificate that any professional barista can take with them as a tool to present to an employer at any cafe.” To Nylander, the industry’s historical infancy is immensely fascinating, and her lecture asked the audience to look at specialty coffee’s progression in terms of the longue durée – which is to say, the industry has come so far in such a short period of time, and that’s an inherently exciting proposition.

Beyond Barista Business Tools (Jonathan Sepulveda, Beyond The Grind)

Meanwhile, Jonathan Sepulveda of Beyond The Grind hosted a freewheeling, informal crowd-sourced presentation on hospitality, customer service, and small business realities. This was our first experience with the folks at Beyond The Grind, and their own sense of hospitality and professionalism was evident not only in this lecture, but in our interactions with them as hosts throughout the day. Learn more via Beyond The Grind online.

Beyond The Basic Roast (Mike Perry, Klatch Coffee; Austin Amento, Augie’s Coffee Roaster; Chuck Patton, Bird Rock Coffee; and Martin Diedrich, Keane Coffee)

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This was really a pretty cool panel line up, featuring four roasters with more than 50 years of roasting experience between them. On one end there was Mike Perry of Klatch Roasting, whose opening remarks all but stole the show: “My first trip to origin was to Nicaragua, during the Sandinista conflict. At that time, there was no thing called Direct Trade – it was just going and meeting the farmer. I had asked our partners there if it was safe to travel, and one of them told me – ‘No problem! I carry a gun!’ ” On the other end, you have Austin Amento, whose Augie’s Coffee Roasters are still very much in the brand-building growth phase, new and young and establishing themselves. Hearing this different perspectives was fascinating.

All four roasters prepared a special roast for the event, using the same honey processed coffee from El Salvador. Samples were batch-brewed for the crowd on the Curtis Gold Cup Brewer, affording the audience to discover and discuss the differences in roast profile between each. There were no shortage of great quotes from this panel, and here’s some of our favorites:

If you put bad coffee in a great roaster, it’s not going to turbo-charge it. You won’t magically create good coffee that way.” – Chuck Patton, Bird Rock Coffee Roasters.

Raw coffee has 200 some agreed-upon chemical constituents to it. Roasted coffee has 800+ – so 600 of those are developed in a period of 10-16 minutes.” – Martin Diedrich, Kean Coffee.

I thought I drank a lot of coffee when I was a barista. Now I’m a roaster, and I realize that I was wrong.” – Austin Amento, Augie’s Coffee.

If you want to be a really great roaster, spend time at the cupping table.” – Mike Perry, Klatch.

Beyond Equipment Maintenance – Why? (Clayton Jones, UNIC)

Meanwhile, Clayton Jones of Unic lead a rough-and-ready boot camp on machine maintenance, with a heavy emphasis on Urnex cleaning products. “They’re the industry standard,” Mr. Jones told the audience. “I carry them, and I recommend them.” Mr. Jones clearly loves talking about cleaning and maintaining machines, which makes him a very specific and wonderful type of coffee machine gearhead. Taking questions from the audience, Mr. Jones talked at length to Unic’s expansion into Asian boutique markets, and extolled the virtues of Unic’s Stella di Caffe line of VIPER espresso machines (Variable Infusion Pressure and Extraction Regulation). Learn more about UNIC here.

Keynote Address: “Barista First and Always” (Peter Giuliano, SCAA Symposium Director)

Peter Giuliano’s keynote address was delivered during lunch service, while the assembled attendees munched down on cold sandwiches and pasta salad. Mr. Giuliano was the first president of the SCAA who started as a barista, and this fact served as the theme for his presentation as a whole. He showed the crowd photos of himself at origin, cutting the ribbon at a WBC event, and in other high-profile situations – all with a photoshopped yellow arrow pointing to himself that read “Barista”.

In many ways this speech served as a template for Mr. Giuliano’s new role at the SCAA Symposium Director, a role that will bring with it many changes to this year’s Symp2013 program. Some quotes from the presentation:

The act of being a barista is an important social good in the world. Coffee isn’t our purpose. Making people feel good and do good things is our purpose. Coffee is the tool we use to do that – and we want to be really good at it.” – Peter Giuliano. 

“It’s my opinion that baristas make the best coffee roasters, baristas make the best coffee buyers, and baristas make the best people to interact with coffee farmers. So keep those things you’ve learned being a barista with you as you go forth into the coffee industry.” – Peter Giuliano.

Part 2 of our Barista Nation LA recap coming soon!

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