Grow Your Own Buzz: Reporting From Los Angeles CoffeeCon
My veneration for coffee started when I was little, long before I had cupped it and even longer before I took interest in how it was grown and roasted. There was something really special about watching my grandparents make a pot of hot coffee in the morning, holding their ceramic glass in hand as if it were gold, savoring every sip and visiting with one another. One year I was offered a cup of coffee and surely I accepted, my cup requiring gobs of cream or sugar. I felt like an adult because I become apart of the experience. The experience, which includes The Art & Craft of Coffee, is something that Kevin Sinnott recognized was of growing importance to consumers in this industry and around the world.
In 2012 Sinnott launched CoffeeCon in Warrenville, Illinois– an event celebrating the process of making and tasting coffee, which attracted over 1,000 people. Two years later, he decided to host conventions in all the major cities throughout the U.S., beginning with Chicago. San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles quickly followed. As the conventions grew, so did the attendance of national experts and coffee lovers alike. The premise of the convention was simple: here would be an event where coffee lovers could learn about where their coffee comes from, new and improved brewing methods, and the latest innovations and products in the world of coffee. Guests would of course also be able to taste over 30 kinds of coffee, and attend lectures from industry experts.
Two weekends ago GC attended Los Angeles’ second-annual CoffeeCon, sponsored by the Intercontinental Coffee Trading Organization (which sources coffee producers from around the world so that your local coffee shop can supply unique varieties). We began by attending a presentation by Demitasse Café — which opened five years in Little Tokyo– on Kyoto-style coffee. The barista explained that there are different flavor profiles with hot and cold coffee, even when brewing the same bean. “This can be attributed to the solubility,” he explained. “When we brew coffee hot, it kick-starts the brew, but cold water creates an extended brew time because the bean is not as soluble.”
He went on to explain that your average slow drip takes 3-6 hours for best quality, but that their café has honed a 16-hour brew time that slowly coaxes the solubles into water, which in turn provides a sweeter and more syrupy body. “As of right now we start off by weighing 2,900 grams of water (which is roughly 3 liters); 50 percent concoction water and 50 percent ice. Then you have to flip this delicately-balanced mechanism on the top cylinder upside down,” he demonstrated.
“There are two globes (also known as carafes) below, which work with the displacement of air and water to keep the gravity consistent. The cylinder is where we pack in 150 grams of coffee grinds— roughly a cup-and-a-half, ” he explained. “But coffee always demands for us to be artists because after everything we do, scientifically and mathematically, what it really comes down to is how much we enjoy it. Only through tasting, feeling, and loving the coffee can we arrive at that. We learn the brew method so that we can go against it.”
Post-lecture we were injected back into the realm of caffeinated chatter and waited in a line that wrapped around the hallway to sample Nescafe Dolce Gusto. Their automatic system can make both hot and cold coffee, and it can even froth milk. The second most popular sampling was at Portola Coffee Lab, who won “Roaster of the Year” in 2015. Around another bend, we ran into Jay Ruskey of Good Land Organics, who had sold over 30 coffee plants as of noon. Ruskey, a celebrated California coffee grower, was slated to give a presentation on breaking the coffee belt rules by successfully growing his coffee in Goleta, California.
Additional favorites at the convention included James Coffee Co., who debuted single origin coffee from Nicaragua, Honduras, Ethiopia, and El Salvador, as well as their own blends stamped with their signature owl logo. Scotty D’s allowed us to sample the infamous Blue Mountain coffee from Jamaica, which was just as rich and flavorful as Anthony Bourdain claims it to be.
As the afternoon wound to a close, we stumbled upon the world’s first all-in-one brew system, the Cafflano, and sipped more coffee from Groundwork and Warbler. We ended our day with a tutorial on the legendary Hario Siphon Method (which is often thought of as “the best way to brew”) as part of a live-brewing demonstration by Joshua Bonner of Foxy Coffee. He explained that the Hario Siphon is the quintessential “coffee bong”, and that functions by using two chambers that force the water vapors, at a brisk boil, into the upper chamber. Once the coffee has finished brewing, gravity forces the water through the siphon tube, into the lower chamber, and away from the grounds. This vacuum pressure system dates back to the 1830s and still produces a clear brew today. We have respect for its taste, its history, and the theatrical element of tiny particles moving throughout the syphon tube.
If you’re interested in learning more about coffee farming, roasting, and brewing, stay tuned for a CoffeeCon near you!