I just returned from San Francisco, where I attended Slow Food Nation, the first-ever conference/meeting/food fair dedicated to the slow food movement. Basically, the idea was this: bring together a bunch of folks who were active in crafted, traditional, and delicious foods, and present their work to the general public on a large scale. We've known about this for a while, and were thrilled when we were approached to participate in the event. Here was the idea: bring together coffee people who are most active in the farm to cup coffee movement, and give those attending Slow Food Nation an unforgettable coffee experience, with a special focus on the coffee producer.
The coffee portion of the event was "curated" by the coffee team of Eilee Hassi, of Ritual Coffee Roasters, Tony Konecny, known to the coffee world as Tonx, and Andrew Barnett of Ecco Caffe. These folks organized an incredible team of coffee people, too long to list, who brought wonderful coffees and amazing expertise to the table. I arrived in San Francisco on Friday morning, not entirely knowing what to expect. I was a little early, so I was able to spend time visiting such bay area coffee landmarks as Ritual in the mission district, Four Barrel coffee roasters just down the street, and Blue Bottle coffee. All had incredible coffee and were wonderful folks, but that is another story entirely.
I finally made my way over to the "Taste Pavilion," where we were to do our coffee presentations. I was astounded by the space: a large warehouse on a dock at San Francisco's Fort Mason was filled with whimsically designed structures dedicated to the foodstuffs to be featured at the event: bread, native American foods, fish, pickles, honey and preserves, charcuterie, cheese, chocolate, ice cream, wine, olive oil, tea, and of course coffee (fresh produce and prepared foods were featured at the "victory garden" locale, in the plaza facing San Francisco City Hall.) Anyway, I went straight to the amazing coffee pavilion, which was designed by architect Douglas Burnham. The more than 2,000 square foot space was designed as an intimate place for thousands of people to taste coffee. Two hallways with wooden tables would serve as coffee tasting areas, where guests would be guided through a tasting of three different coffees out of small, beautiful, ceramic cups (by Heath Ceramics). The coffee was brewed by a platoon of 6 Clovers. In front, another hallway housed 4 La Marzocco GB5 3 groups, where 8 baristas could simultaneously pull espressos and macchiatos into Nuova Point brown bettys (espresso equipment provided by Espresso Parts NW). To get to the coffee tasting halls, adventurers needed to make their way down a passage lined with words and photographs related to the long journey coffee makes from seed to beverage. My breath was taken away by this amazing space.
The first thing I saw upon entering the space were boxes of Counter Culture coffee. Mark Overbay and Tim Hill had perfectly orchestrated the roasting and shipping of coffee to arrive at the perfect time for the event. Thanks! We soon began our preparations: getting everything squared away, machines dialed in, and getting all the "taste captains," our word for tasting leaders, well informed on the coffees we would be serving. We had a wide array of coffees at our disposal; all producer-specific lots from roasters like Ritual, Terroir, Intelligentsia, Ecco Caffe, Verve, Stumptown, Barefoot, and Counter Culture Coffee.
Making a long tale short, over the next three days, we exposed thousands of people to amazing coffees. Attendees got a flight of three coffees to taste against each other, and as many single-farm espressos or macchiatos as they could choke down. I spent all three days engaging with all sorts of folks, talking so much coffee I got hoarse. It was incredible. Deepening the experience were some very special guests: producers from Ethiopia, Mr. Abdullah Bagersh; Guatemala, Mr. Edwin Martinez; and Colombia, Mr. Camilo Merizalde. It was great to have producers there to represent their own coffees. Speaking of representing, I even got the chance to work two shifts on the espresso machine, pulling shots and macchiatos of Finca Mauritania Pulp Natural for the people. Like a dream come true. Meanwhile, I also did a speech on coffee at the Victory Garden Soapbox, led a panel discussion of the visiting coffee producers at the Long Now Foundation's museum space, and touched base with what seemed like the entire food movement.
One thing we coffee people kept saying about the event was how awesome it was to work so collaboratively with great coffee people. There was a large contingent of great baristas, roasters, and producers from all over the place including New York, Portland, L.A., and of course the Bay Area. Every one of these people was incredibly skilled, passionate, and filled with the desire to impress upon the foodie world the importance and value of great coffee. I was so proud to work with these folks, they did us all proud. It is impossible to list everyone, but if you watch this little movie you get a taste of how the experience was for the attendees. [Click here to watch now.]
I could go on and on, but suffice it to say that it was an amazing and exhausting experience. Word on the street is that there will be another Slow Food Nation next year, I'll keep you posted ….