SF Coffee Fest was in full force yesterday.
Food festivals in the Bay Area have been getting more and more criticism lately as overcrowded, under-resourced and chaotic events marked by very long lines. A criticism that I feel is well deserved and quite accurate unfortunately. SF Coffee Fest was only slightly better than most of these, the SF TeaFest held the same day in the Ferry Building was much worse, thousands of visitors packed like sardines in endless lines and sauna like conditions. We didn't stay there for more than a few minutes before escaping to the farmers market outside.
But the Coffee Fest, hosted in the up and coming neighborhood of the Dogpatch where development is at a break-neck pace, was a better experience albeit still very, very crowded. Unfortunately, in the Bay Area, food events are about the most popular thing to do, so it's attended by everyone and their brother, with Instagram streaming in full force. These aren't the events of hobbyists of previous generations, rather, anyone young and connected to social media and caught up in the whirlwind of social media "influencers". I think the median age in the crowd was about 23.
Coffee Fest is a great deal different than CoffeeCon and other similar venues. Coffee Fest really focuses only on coffee, and actual beverage service to the visitors, and I was able to grab some really incredible coffees and run into many local industry friends who had some great things on offer. I attended CoffeCon a few years ago, but was doing a roasting demo, so I missed the main event. Seeing the vendors setting up and tearing down at the end though, I could see it was much more gadget focused as apposed to serving just coffee.
I snapped some pictures and noted a few nice developments. Namely, a few amazing Ethiopian offerings (Gesha Village Auction Lots) and a few others. My friend Eli Solomon of Voga Coffee with their GroundControl brewer was there with his brewer on bar for three different vendors. The big hit for them was their partnership with Dandelion Chocolate here in the city, where they've created a blend of coffee and cacao nibs, for a remarkable brew, made up on the Ground Control. The fragrance in the cup reveals little, but once you sip it, it unveils itself into something really quite nice. There's a delicate harmony of subtle, but exotic chocolate notes, graced by bright, crisp coffee.
This (regretfully blurry shot) is Eli next to the Ground Control. He had a very busy morning, connecting with crowds of people across three different vendor stations.
Here's my buddy John Laird of AKA Coffee and a part of the team that created the Roastery coffee roaster I mentioned on HB a few months ago. It's a very neat roasting design that offers very precise control, almost no noxious emissions, and a bunch of app based tech behind it to support online ordering and choosing specific profiles. They had three Gesha Village auction lots on offer. I bought two, the Champion's Reserve, and a honey processed Bench Maji. John has a great connection with Gesha Village coffees simply because his daughter has been working with Willem Boot for many years, and has worked thru all the various samples they offer, dialing in the roast profiles on them for AKA.
The Roastery (newly named) came by way of Carbine Coffee, who worked rather stealthily in the Mission District, building this neat roaster.
John, along with the CEO/Founder, Dylan Bird.
A bunch of cool swag as well as their previously mentioned Gesha Village auction lots in cool little white plastic containers. I gladly bought two.
Music in the corner added to the already near deafening volume in the room.
My favorite Honduran coffee person! Mayra Orellana-Powell (left) of Catracha Coffee, was also there along with many cafes featuring Central American farmers. We owe Mayra a debt of gratitude for her efforts in the past ten or so years to get higher quality Honduran coffee into US markets. She works with Royal Coffee and a few local roasters who source coffees directly thru her, namely RoastCo in Oakland. She was featured, along with the hard working farmers in Honduras in a wonderful documentary, The Way Back to Yarasquin, available here
Many top named local cafes were on site offering both brewed coffee and espresso drinks. Here's Cris Mendoza of St Frank.
He works primarily at the Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, at St Frank's small but popular coffee bar. The line was too long for me to interrupt to bother him, he had one of the longest lines for his espresso bar in the whole venue, but the line moved fast. Cris has built a very respectable team and customer service model with St Frank, focusing on fast, direct service. There's a great article about that here
I had just weeks previously, discovered a new (to me) organic dairy offering really high quality milk, who also happened to have a table there. They were giving samples of their incredible milk and various products, I even went home with a cute little container of a 6% whole milk that went into my morning capp today. When I feel like splurging on the best milk, I'm usually looking for 100% Jersey Cow milk. These guys, Alexandre Farms, offer grass fed milk that comes from various cows, but it was equally delicious as the other top-tier dairies in California that I love ( St Benoit).
I forgot to take a picture of the best coffee beverage of the day, but one spot was offering a refreshing drink made of cold brewed Ethiopian coffee, with a shot of Irish cream syrup ( dear god!) and topped with soft whipped cream. It was incredibly refreshing in the hot, crowded venue and went down quickly. They also had one, slightly similar, but more of a mint julep type drink shown here.
Upstairs there were even more vendors, but slightly less trafficked. It was nice to see several Mexican roasters/coffees on offer.
Visitors have to weight the extra cost of early-bird attendance against the large crowds at the regular times. I'm glad to have ran into several folks I knew and got to try some great coffees.