SCAA programming kicked off today with the 2012 Symposium. Attendees came from over two hundred companies worldwide, representing the entire chain, including producers, mill owners, coop managers, agricultural machine manufacturers, government heads, exporters, importers, roasters, buyers, baristas. On the docket for this impressive assembly: To continue last year’s discussions of market volatility, climate change, strengthening the supply chain, defining specialty, and capturing consumer interest. Heavy stuff, man.

Scheduled breaks between speakers were filled with lively conversation, fueled in no small part by a large coffee service, organized by La Marzocco’s inimitable Sarah Dooley and featuring service from plenty o’ fine folks from across North America, including Canadian Barista Champion Josh Hockin (Transcend Coffee), several members of the Cafe Imports team, multiple US regional champs, and even some damn good tea from the folks at Rishii.

The #symp2012 hashtag was lively and active, managed by SCAA spitfire Lily Kubota, featuring rhetorical questions from @thenervouscook, “hot damn!” moments from @trishrothgeb, questions from @coffeeshrub, rabble-rousing comments from @sweetmarias, insight from @ajustcup, and celebrity look-a-likes from @sprudge. Watch this tag for more commentary and goodness all day tomorrow.

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Symposium 2011 addressed problems in the industry; Symposium 2012 is all about finding solutions. Major topic of the day: the inevitability of market volatility, and ways producers can prepare for risk and market fluctuations.

Frank Dennis’ slide expose on the rise in popularity of “single-serve” – he didn’t say it, but he meant k-cups, capsules and pods. THEY ARE PENETRATING HOUSEHOLDS, PEOPLE.

Ric Rhinehart’s tomato analogy was an effective one. Heirloom tomatoes are delicious, commercially produced tomatoes are blah. Coffee is in many ways the same way. “Pathological collaboration” was the buzzword du jour. Atlas Coffee’s Craig Holt delivered a stirring presentation, dropping gems on the audience and imploring green buyers to play a more active role in the lives and livelihoods of the farmers they’re partnered with. “It has to be in the growers best financial interest to sell to you. THAT is a sustainable relationship.”

Day one of Symposium offered a lot of information, a lot of pyramid charts, a lot of research…some seriously heady topics for the first day, targeting the assembly of producers, exporters and importers. These kind of days at Symposium are challenging and fascinating; tomorrow should be a little more outright fun, with Nick Cho’s panel interview of Oliver Strand, Melissa Allison, and Julie Wolfson, and an opening soft-shoe number from Stephen Morrissey and Doug Zell, specialty coffee’s answer to Abbott & Costello.

Check out this awesome #Symp2012 coverage from Meister, and follow Sprudge tomorrow for more.

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