Before I say anything else here it must be said: everyone at Sprudge and everyone everywhere knows there's not a lot that feels more frivolous in the light of last week's events in Boston than drink-making conventions and the parties that celebrate them. As much as we love those drinks and our industry and our people and our parties, our coverage here details and pokes fun at the nightlife spectacles that are part and parcel with specialty coffee's grand gatherings. It's meant to be part of the lighter side of life, and the beautiful stuff of enthusiastic people and their passions.
We're hoping not to diminish the serious and senseless violence that took place just after SCAA ended, but rather to celebrate the fun we had in Boston. The enthusiasm that courses through this industry runs parallel to the dedication of those who love the marathon, the city of Boston – hell, even the Red Sox – and any other niche passion that brings people together to work hard and do awesome. We had a great time, and send nothing but the most buoyant wishes that the city's wounds heal quickly. – LC
It would be disappointing to roll up to a town the day before a coffee convention – this being the 2013 SCAA Event and United States Barista Championship in Boston – and not have the baristas at the local cool spots call you out immediately. Of course, you have to be alert enough to understand what they're saying, which I was not when I thought I heard the nice young man at dwelltime ask me, “Are you here from another dimension?”
“Uh,” I stammered. “Sort of? I'm here from New York?”
It turns out he wondered if I was here for the convention. This was not off to a good start.
My assignment this week, beyond photographic duties, was to once again capture the after-hours frisson of the SCAA and USBC nightlife for Sprudge.com: what were the must-hit parties, who would have the best watered-down mixology, whose selection of Whole Foods hummous would prove the most delicious? And who better to send than a weary photojournalist whose interest in after-parties focuses on such key features as: what might the snacks be like? And are there chairs? It turns out that even when these questions are answered, even when one puts their best party feet forward, it can be harder than you think to go out at night.
Let's start with Thursday. After the opening ceremonies in the grand ballroom, wherein I totally scored a free cup of water, I was quickly kidnapped by benevolent friends in the direction of a lobster roll. After my first day of convention food (by which I mean, starvation), this was as good a party as any I could ever, ever imagine. There was a Boston TNT going on that night, hosted by Espresso Parts. While deciding my next move, I heard from an inside source that there were going to be pupusas at this throwdown. I then heard from my source that the scene was a “shit show!!!” Point taken. I am pretty sure I then went back to the hotel to rest up for Friday.
Before any good Friday night of thrill-seeking in Beantown, of course, it's best to lay a groundwork of food first. I had a lovely dinner with my New York compatriots from Dallis Bros. Coffee, where Anne C. began pre-partying with a drink that engulfed her in clouds of dry ice. We were off to a good start. We were off to a not-as-good-start once we climbed into Mike D.'s car, however: I did some terrible multi-task navigating of Boston's incomprehensible noodle-tangle of roads, all while trying to keep driver Mike on course while taking into account his slight left-and-right dyslexia. It's better for Mike if you don't give him directions like “turn left” or “turn right”, but instead point him towards or away from something he can see. As Anne was in the passenger seat at the time, my directions quickly became phrased in relationship to her, e.g. “Go towards Anne when you get to Mass Ave” or “Go away from Anne”. We got to Somerville, after much mistake-making on my part, and saw that the party at Counter Culture Coffee‘s training center was raging, with people dancing on the cupping tables as we first went past. Looking for parking, we continued to loop around the neighborhood, and had to make a right turn to maneuver back to prime parking territory. “Up at the next corner,” Mike D. confirmed with me, “I'm just going to bang an Anne?” Again, I stress: this was all my fault.
We arrived safely arrived at the Counter Culture party, but I couldn't understand why C. Whitcomb was standing outside on the street, under an umbrella (it wasn't raining) and just shaking his head at me. I don't like to ask too many questions, so I proceeded inside for a quick site survey.
It was unclear if there was beer left. There was still dip. Someone was holding a newborn baby. I saw 40 empty cups with only ice. Where was the music? J. Hoffmann's here, and he's going “next door”, which I think is the same party only in a different room. Maybe that's where the beer and music are. Award winner Dan Streetman says the cops are here. He's soaking wet with his own perspiration. Moments earlier. he had been grinding against other industry leaders atop the CCC custom cupping tables. Now, Counter Culture's Daryn Berlin is standing atop the tables explaining that “we have been clearly told by the authorities that the party must end.” Well, at least we had that scenic drive to Somerville! The party quickly migrates to the sidewalk and the parking lanes, where Peter D. is smoking an E-cigarette. Someone starts a rumor that it was DJ Sprudge themselves who called the cops, so they could go home and take a nap. Everyone disperses somewhat to try and figure out the next (poor, sad, unfortunate) not-too-sketchy bar to take over completely, a few people who drove get pre-pulled over by the cops, and one guy is asking for local tips because he is on a Good Will Hunting tour of Boston. It is no longer hailing outside.
I end up with a tiny group at a late-night Peruvian place with a live band and a competing group of coffee people who have split their dinner tab into about 300 separate checks. Back to the Harpoon brewery? Too much ambiance. We head to the Lord Hobo for one, and I go the heck to sleep.
Saturday Night! The mind boggles. In fact, what's more boggling than a party that shuts down the moment you arrive? A party you're never allowed into in the first place! My scouting team and I headed over to the La Marzocco/Cafe Imports / Barismo / George Howell event at “Space With a Soul” – the space with a soul! – which started at 5, during the finals announcements for USBC. It was already at capacity by 6:45. Even R. Willbur was forced to stand on line outside the venue, which is pretty unbelievable because he works for La Marzocco, and is R. Willbur. Someone came out from within and cautioned: “It's hot, and all they have is cheese,” but despite how appealing this sounded there was no getting in anytime soon. I followed my team to a bad Mexican bar, then disbanded in search of food with LA and Chicago kids, only to watch them settle on eating last-call deli sandwiches in a grocery store. It was going to be the kind of night where I went to eat a hamburger by myself while playing Carcassonne on my telephone at the bar and went to bed early, and that was just fine with me. I heard reports that a few other parties had generated more success: the Roasters Guild party was supposed to be good, and somewhere in town James H. reported in as being covered in spray cheese. I'm not sure if this was entirely true or not, but I'm sure that party was great too. So was going to bed at 11.
Last but not least, who doesn't want to chase down a week/end of involuntary starvation and scavenged sponsor coffee by hitting up a totally bumpin' sweetener party? Thanks to Natvia‘s antipodal generosity, ticketholders for this final-night soiree were greeted with a dance party of interesting proportions, featuring a real-life bouncer at the door, a photo-booth with comedy hats and glasses, and the crown jewel of all barista parties: a cash bar.
I arrive in a complete stupefaction of fatigue, on the edge of sleepy tears. Gianni C. is wearing a sailor hat, outgoing United States Barista Champ K. Carguilo is shaking people from Wisconsin with urgency, and D. Latourell is NOT on the dance floor, or even on this continent. Lara G. from the SCAA insists I sample her drink: a salty, acerbic martini that tastes like green olives mixed with lighter fluid. P. Ramirez and I smoke a couple of candy cigarettes and talk about sleeping. There are no cabs. The Boston Marathon will be run tomorrow, or at least partially run, because the world is fucked up in ways we in the first world part of coffee tend to remain blissfully ignorant of far too much of the time.
I myself call it a night: it's time to return to my cousin's home, and normal life. Time to eat meals again, hold cute babies, and think about the bigger picture beyond how long a walk it is to the door of the convention center and whether they've considered installing a monorail. In a few days, I might even think about having another cup of coffee.
Liz Clayton is a Brooklyn-based writer and photographer, a Sprudgie Award winner, and a regular contributor to Serious Eats. Her debut book of coffee travel & photography – “Nice Coffee Time” – is due out Spring 2013 from Press Pop / Tiny Person.