Specialty Coffee Expo Reflections: A Refreshing Return to Authenticity in a Post-Covid-19 World

The annual Specialty Coffee Expo drew coffee professionals and enthusiasts from around the world to the colossal Boston Convention and Exhibition Center over the weekend of March 7. For the first time in over two years, this year’s expo returned to the scale and breadth of pre-pandemic events. The Specialty Coffee Expo, which is held in a different city each year, is the nation’s largest gathering of speciality coffee professionals. Every aspect of the coffee industry was represented at the convention, from roastery engineers to branding designers, rural farmers to small coffee shop owners. All attendees, whether coffee professionals or not, were welcome to attend lectures and workshops on topics ranging from food service incorporation to coffee roasting chemistry. This year’s convention attracted over 420 vendors and over 10,000 attendees, each bringing a unique set of perspectives and experiences shaped in some way by the Covid-19 pandemic.

After postponing the in-person convention in 2021 and opting for a hybrid option, 2022 was the convention’s most normal year in a long time. A rigors testing policy and recommendations for mask use aided in ensuring a safe return to connection and community in the world of coffee. The Covid-19 pandemic struck the coffee community hard, forcing many shops to close permanently and only a select few to continue operating via mobile or to-go ordering. Nobody escaped the economic shock unscathed: coffee farmers in the far reaches of the Earth were unable to sell their wares, and coffee shops were unable to market them to an isolated and at-home society.

While the pandemic’s effects will continue to be felt for years to come, the decline in case numbers and increased vaccine availability have allowed for a return to normalcy, or rather, a new normal. This optimism extends to coffee as well. The Specialty Coffee Expo 2022 was a beautiful and passionate representation of coffee’s perseverance and rebirth in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic’s trials and tribulations.

The coffee farmers themselves are one of the pillars of post-pandemic authenticity. From Indonesia to Yemen, from the remotest reaches of Ethiopia’s highlands to the Brazilian rainforests, coffee farmers from every coffee region of the world attended the convention, proudly representing not only their beans but also the culture that produces them. One such example is La Esperanza, a coffee farm in Colombia. The representatives of La Esperanza stated that they are third-generation coffee farmers who represent not only their country but also their families’ heritage. Offering 11 distinct bean lots, or varietals, La Esperanza produces some of the most successful South American beans available today. Their geisha beans are particularly challenging to process due to their low yield and proclivity for misfermentation. In the speciality coffee market, their natural processed geisha beans are scarce. La Esperanza asserts that they do not grow beans and offer varietals for the sake of convenience, but rather to remain true to their farm and to their forefathers who spent decades nurturing the same plant they do. By pursuing the highest-quality beans possible and adhering to their ideals of quality and authenticity, even at the expense of production value, farms like these serve as beacons of hope in an ever-changing coffee industry. Passionate farmers like those at La Esperanza, who are overjoyed to be able to sell their beans again, exemplify the unwavering desire to remain true and authentic.

Although La Esperanza represents the earliest stage of coffee production, the consumer side of the transition to authentic, transparent production is also evident. Minor Figures is a London-based oat milk company that has expanded into the United States, leading the way with an unwavering commitment to their roots as baristas and, more importantly, coffee lovers. Minor Figures produces oat milk for baristas.

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