Bloom: Coffee Conversations in Motion is a new event series from the Specialty Coffee Association of America the Barista Guild of America. Planned to be more than a standalone event, Bloom ran its inaugural program on March 3, 2016 at the sunshine-filled Hudson Lofts overlooking downtown Los Angeles. Content was later streamed to five satellite locations across the country, for other communities to contribute to the dialogue. In Los Angeles, four conversations were on the program, and first up was Charles Babinski (Co-founder, G&B Coffee and Go Get Em Tiger).
Babinski discussed the importance of a barista’s understanding and execution of service, rather than just seeing them as the last part of the chain. He also covered ways G&B Coffee adjusted service and layout to suit their space. “We are constantly finding ways to efficiently make coffee,” he told the crowd, “and oftentimes they run counter to preconceived notions and industry noise.” Babinski and his team are passionate advocates for well-executed batch brew, as opposed to brewing each individual cup of coffee by hand. “We found batch brewing was better suited to [our] style of service than brew-by-the-cup. It helped us make the actual coffee—not the theoretical coffee—better [because] it suited the customer experience.”
Next up was Sarah Bennett, a freelance journalist whose writing has appeared in LA Weekly, O.C. Register, and First We Feast. Bennet drew from her experience covering the craft beer industry in a speech called “The Necessary Beerification of Coffee,” giving an outsider perspective on what specialty coffee can learn from craft beer. Bennett spoke about parallels between beer and coffee, such as current trends in breweries to focus on terroir of hops and the use of heirloom grains. “People are waiting in line to spend $130 for six bottles of beer. How the hell did we get people to pay that much for beer!? How did we create this valuation?” she challenged the audience. “It wasn’t always this way. Craft beer has only come about in the last five to six years.”
Next up, in her talk “Quality is a Moving Target,” Katie Carguilo (Quality Analyst, Counter Culture Coffee) opened with a question: “Do coffees that taste good always do good?” and surmised “Most of us in this room would answer ‘yes’… [but] the truth is less linear. Associating the quality of a coffee with the quality of life for a farmer is an oversimplification.” Carguilo went on: “We’re in coffee because we’re super passionate about it. Passion in the way you and I understand it isn’t reality for the other side. You know what farmers are passionate about? Getting paid more money, and it’s not happening.”
Carguilo admitted her talk was just the start of a conversation, so I followed up to ask her what different players in the industry can do. “I want baristas to think about ways to ‘sell’ consumers on a coffee outside of stats and tasting notes,” she told me. But that’s not all: “I want baristas and cafe owners to figure out innovative ways to command higher prices for all coffees, not just micro-lots. I want cafe owners to demand transparency from the suppliers they work with. I want roasters to strive not just for high quality but also ethical sourcing. I want countries to adopt stricter labor laws.”
After these opening speakers and a break, attendees regrouped to view A Film About Design, a new 16-minute film produced by Nathan Slabaugh (Media Specialist, World Coffee Events) which gave special attention to Nordic cafe design via Klaus Thomsen of Denmark’s The Coffee Collective. After viewing the film, attendees engaged with a panel of three coffee-space designers: Kyle Glanville (Co-founder, G&B Coffee and Go Get Em Tiger), Jesse Kahn (Wholesale Sales Manager and Training Center Design, Counter Culture Coffee), and Arion Paylo (Director of Cafe Development, Blue Bottle Coffee); which was moderated by Björg Brend Laird (Co-founder, Supersonic Coffee).
“I really enjoyed the energy,” said Lauren Deal (Director of Community Outreach, Local Coffee, San Antonio) who spoke at the Austin satellite. “We talk about how we’re coffee professionals but these other fields have conventions and inspirational books. We don’t have those things in coffee, so it’s really good to be in a space where we’re all unified under one idea.” Look for more Bloom events to be announced in the future as the conversation grows.
Elizabeth Chai (@chaiamericano) is a graphic designer and freelance writer based in Portland. Read more Elizabeth Chai on Sprudge.