For those convening upon Boston this past weekend, there was no shortage of great coffee at mini-cafes popping up outside, over, around, and through the 2019 Specialty Coffee Expo. But of course, when you get right down to it, there will always be those superstars of the pop, those who pop a little EXTRA with the best coffee or the longest lines or biggest buzz or deepest DJ grooves. Here’s what our team on the ground spotted on the scene of see and be seen coffee pop-ups.
Seattle-based Miir is an “it” vessel manufacturer these days, whose sustainability mission as a reuseable cup company walks the walk with a giving program that contributes grant money to philosophically aligned projects like providing clean water to the Asian subcontinent, or bicycles to help Zambian students (and teachers) get to school. The B Corp’s Seattle flagship is LEED-certified, and let’s be honest—the cups are also stylish af, which is why all the coffee brands you love already use them.
And which is also why fans of the brand—and free stuff—lined up for times upwards of one hour Friday and Saturday mornings to get some of the most coveted swag of the convention: SCA Expo-exclusive Miir mugs, which of course you could have topped up with Verve coffee brewed in Miir’s ingenious fold-flat pop-out travel drippers, or with the same roaster’s Nitro Flash Brew coffee. Once in hand, the Miir Expo cup proved to be the perfect fashionable accessory to flash while lounging around the modern furnishings of the Miir booth flipping through Verve’s latest Farmlevel journal, or admiring numerous displays of other Miir designs out of which one was not currently drinking. And if you so happened to be sucked out of the calming Miir oasis and back into the vortex of the show floor, that same cup proved perfect for sustainably sampling coffee from all the other great pop-ups out there.
It’s almost not even news to say that La Marzocco‘s Expo presence drew a bustling crowd, but let’s go ahead and say it: this equipment company is always on the vanguard not only of coffee tech but of roaster/barista relationships. The LM booth at Expo is a perennial nexus of activity for those looking for an excellent espresso drink from a quality roaster (maybe one they’ve never tried before) made on a beautiful machine.
This year the company drew attention for its angular new KB90 machine, built with barista ergonomics in mind, like portafilters that slide straight in. But the La Marzocco booth—or should we say, booths, as the company’s appeal is large enough to have literally spilled across the convention aisle—was also a hotspot for roasters from all over to pop up throughout the event. The list of guests on the La Marzocco booth included, but was certainly not limited to, such names as Tandem Coffee Roasters, George Howell, Linea Caffe, Metric Coffee, Pavement Coffeehouse, Joe Coffee Company, Ruby Coffee Roasters, Variety Coffee, and Onyx Coffee Lab. You were pretty much guaranteed NOT to get a bad coffee if you came through—and that’s the kind of guarantee we can all pop about.
Chicago-based Dark Matter flipped the show floor script a bit with a corner cafe/booth that pumped out good music and good energy while drawing in a crowd that felt like community—no small task in a building that looks like a slightly upscale airplane hanger. First, the company went big on color: from bringing in a vanload of tropical plants, to hanging a huge, vibrant mural from Chicago artist Dan Grzeca with the artwork for the brand’s new This Caffeine Kills Fascists coffee blend. Guests brewed in color as well, on loud, proud Origami coffee drippers, and Dark Matter’s flamboyant “coffee cold” cans (with names just as trippy as the can art, like Brown Acid and Black Splash) were on sample too.
But beyond all the posi vibes emanating from the actual, you know, marketing, Dark Matter’s was also a booth with a meaning: Hope For the Day, a suicide prevention and awareness group, shared space alongside the coffee crew, offering community outreach and their “it’s ok not to be ok” messaging. It was uplifting to come by this booth again and again during the show (and not just for the caffeine).
If there’s an importer with a stealth reputation for fun it might just be Atlas Coffee, which doubled down on its Expo presence with both a high traffic coffee pop-up on the main show floor as well as a coffee bar in the World Coffee Championships Roaster Village. At either location you were likely to find pro baristas alongside traders alongside coffee producers, sharing both coffee and stories.
On the exhibition floor, Atlas’ bright, sort of picnic-chic cafe stall cranked out guest roasts all through the day surrounded by those who’d brought the same coffees to this (highly!) drinkable point from their origins as green. And while it might be a little easier to impress the masses roaming glassy-eyed up and down aisles of de-gassing valve technologists and water wizards, Atlas held its own in the Roaster Village alongside the likes of full-time, full-on retailers like ST. ALi, Stumptown, locals Broadsheet, and many more. When we visited, Sumatra’s Ketiara Cooperative was the featured origin, the kiosk graciously hosted not just by Atlas’ own staffers but by the co-op’s leader, Ramah, who also offered woven Ketiara wristbands to visitors. You can’t drink a coffee under much more origin-storybook conditions than these, folks.
Leave it to Chemex to do something both totally stylish and a little elusive all at the same time. Tucked away on the second floor of the convention center—which of course you’d easily find if you had diligently attended all of the lectures you’d planned to—popped an epic Chemex kiosk, its glassy-Rube-Goldberg-esque towering waterworks providing a stunning spectacle bathed in natural light. These hometown heroes—okay, home state—okay, home commonwealth—lived up to their reputation of timeless good-looks, offering a variety of brews on lovely new glass single-cup Chemex X-5 drippers, spinning dizzying rings around the barista (don’t try this at home) in a handcrafted artisan bar. The drippers were paired with new Chemex “Chettles” (oh yes they did), induction-heated water kettles with gooseneck spouts. (They’re also cool to the touch and dishwasher safe, for those of you teaching your children to brew alongside you.)
From the grand presentation (yes, that’s a Chemex as big as your torso at the top of that crazy display) to the new products on display to the respectful murmur that always accompanies this classic brand, you’d think that might be enough. But no—in a seating area adjacent to the Chemex pour-over bar was the pièce de résistance—a Chemex The Game station, projecting the truly unique game onto a big screen for all around to see your successes (or failures) at reliving the life of Chemex founder Dr. Peter Schlumbohm, filtering out the nastiest bits of coffee brewing in search of that perfect cup. As we sat basking in the late-afternoon glow high above the trade show floor, living out our fantasies as an 8-bit inventor, one couldn’t help but think they’d achieved a glory almost as crowning as having your own gold-plated Chemex hood ornament.
Liz Clayton is the associate editor at Sprudge Media Network and the co-author of Where to Drink Coffee. Read more Liz Clayton on Sprudge.