Possibly the only thing less cool than being known as specialty coffee's least enthusiastic party reporter is being at a party and having people know this about you. “Oh! You're reluctantly partying,” friends say. “Can I get you a drink?”
That said, there's nothing reluctant about reporting on reluctance itself. And despite what others may think, I dove into this year's Specialty Coffee Association of America Event after-party calendar like a sensory judge on a tray of half-sandwiches. Where would the best places to hide in large, unruly nightclubs be to have unsatisfying, constantly interrupted talks with close friends? Which party would be the unsafest? The wettest? Would anyone ever work up the nerve to throw the coffee community a foam party, or are those so 2002 now?
Most who attended this past week/end's shenanigans in Seattle already know the score on coffee convention afterparties. That fine balance between supposedly exclusive and not-really-at-all-exclusive events, some of which will be soaked in alcohol, while others will be in massive sports bars with lines too long to actually obtain said alcohol. Some parties will involve the making of coffee, while others will eschew that particular gambit and cut straight to the people-trying-to-hook-up. What's a somewhat square, spoken-for girl who might just rather be home with the cats and the internet to do? Suck it up and put on her party hat.
While it's true that the event, and its attendant parties, kicked off Thursday night, I like to warm up to an assignment. While Marcus Boni hosted what sideways videos posted to Facebook reveal was a star-studded opening ceremonies party back at the convention, I escaped the gauntlet of Reg Barber selfies and cut up to Capitol Hill out of necessity: new shoes, ideally dry ones. Did you know it rains buckets in Seattle in April, and even if you think “it's spring now” you are not very smart if you only bring canvas shoes on a trip to this place at this time? I didn't think this one through (and neither did Stephen Morrissey–hope those apricot Vans made it home unblemished) and went to take care of this task.
As fate would have it, or rather, the plan I'd had all along, I then attended a rock show at Chop Suey, where fate actually then did intervene and cast me in the path of a party crasher columnist for The Stranger. I let him know about a couple of key events on the weekend's radar, and made plans to meet him there. Look! I did party reporting work without even having to attend a party! That, my friends, is exactly how the pros get it done.
After a long, slightly late day on the US Coffee Championships event floor, a night of simultaneous partying lay spread out before me. There was a Coffee Kids party at Pike Place Market. An exclusive, perhaps-not-so-partyish party at Roy Street Coffee and Tea, where James Hoffmann and Colin Harmon would discuss the Victoria Arduino Black Eagle espresso machine and the new Mythos grinder, respectively. Over at Stumptown 12th and Madison would be an Aeropress contest. The Roy Street thing was at 6 opposite Coffee Kids, but it was closer if I wanted to go to Stumptown afterwards. Someone in passing mentions a Ritual party at a rum bar. When was I going to eat? Looks like dinner could be at Dick's.
I put my money on potential canapés at Roy Street, if Howard Schultz wasn't going to finish them first, and headed for this non-Starbucks-branded Starbucks to watch the talks. I manage to burst through the velvet ropes just after the wine and mingling and just as a PowerPoint was firing up. I've got timing. Mr. Harmon, unamplified, was a bit hard to hear with my mouth full of cheese curd (delicious!) but I believe he explained something called “Pocket Science”, then did a brief impression of the noise of a coffee grinder which brought the house down. I encounter Ben Bicknell, who's off to an Atlas Coffee Importers party at Melrose Market, and begin getting texts from The Stranger's party crash guy, who is now at Stumptown absorbing Aeropress culture. He tells me it is packed, and that there is free beer and “craft pizza”, which is starting to sound good now that the charcuterie here has been picked over. I grab Sprudge photographer Charlie Burt, who is hungry, and we head over.
Stumptown is packed already at 8pm–must be people here to see the Aeropress finals. Charlie and I talk our way past the one-in-one-out doorman as “press”, and scope the scene. Free IPA and a choice of two rosés upstairs. (How genteel!) Downstairs, a brick pizza oven has been rolled up to the back gates. Charlie hits this up while I try to watch some coffee being made in Stumptown's cupping room. It's warm, and, more to the point, very very loud, between music and the dulcet tones of Sarah Dooley and Ben Kaminsky‘s highly amped emceeing. I begin getting texts from another party–this one in Brooklyn, at my apartment, where a house-sitting family of five from Michigan has begun hitting my liquor stash and playing parlor games with stuff I have lying around the house. Charlie gets a pizza; I don't. I'm glad everyone is having a better evening than I am.
My cousin Aaron, a civilian who works at Seattle's pizza-esteemed bar The Crocodile, texts me from the Equal Exchange party taking place there at that moment. A band named The Jesus Rehab is about to play. Pizza and IPAs are being served. This sounds familiar. I am frozen immobile by the possibilities. Charlie and I sit quietly upstairs with the other party columnist and his girlfriend for awhile until the conversation naturally devolves to cat photos. Time to bounce.
I'm exhausted! After a protracted debate over where Seattle's best/nearest burger is, Charlie and I walk down to Lil Woody's. The burger is good, and mostly nearby. Fellow Sprudge member Zachary Carlsen, aka my boss, joins us for a bite to eat. That Atlas party is around the corner at Melrose Market! We should go!
We head around the corner to the concrete cave beneath Melrose Market for the party formerly known as Totefest, once the stuff of hotel legends and now a big loud thing with flapper costumes and the constant feeling of a drink being spilled imminently upon you. There's a hastily printed sign stuck to the wall that says “CUPPING IS NOT A CRIME”. There are, here and there, mixed nuts. A dance floor might save this party for me, but none is forthcoming. I overhear a guy telling someone coffee comes from cherries, and it's time to go. Zachary orders an Uber cab and we head back downtown. The driver is from Sidamo, but tells me after everyone else has been dropped off that his mother preferred coffee from Yirgacheffe. I have 4% battery left on my phone, and fall asleep.
Liz Clayton is a Sprudge.com staff writer based in Brooklyn. This marks her third consecutive year covering the up-late culture at the SCAA Event. Read Liz's dispatch from 2013 here. Read here 2012 report here: Part 1 and Part 2.