SCAA: Commingling with Consumers
In an article on the SCAA conference that I penned previously, I wrote, "You haven’t lived until you’ve walked into a room where there are twelve 3-group La Marzocco machines lined up and ready to go." This type of enthusiasm is fairly common among industry members of the SCAA, but through my involvement with the Consumer Espresso Lab, I discovered that the Consumer Members, or C-Members, are equally as fanatical about espresso; in some cases, more so. For as excited as I had been to play barista with those 3-group La Marzoccos, the C-Members attending this session were so thrilled to take a look at our variety of machines that quite a few of them showed up for a sneak peek well before the lab began. Now that’s passion.
In a nutshell, the Consumer Espresso Lab was an opportunity for C-Members to get some hands on time with a variety of machines as well as exploring some espresso machine history and theory. The SCAA had invited three vendors, including Whole Latte Love, to provide machines for the hands on portion of the lab, and commissioned Jim Schulman and Fortune Elkins to head the event. Both Jim and Fortune are C-Members that are heavily involved with the SCAA, so it was nice to see that they were asked to run a C-Member event. Having seen Jim on the Reverse Panel the day before, I had experienced the depth of his coffee knowledge and was really looking forward to the presentation he was scheduled to give. I was also very eager to meet Fortune, who I was familiar with through an article she had written on CoffeeKids for Whole Latte Love. Knowing that Fortune and Jim had such dedication to the coffee industry as consumers had really impressed me, and the possibility of meeting more who shared the same level of interest and involvement compounded my excitement for the lab even further.
The plan was this: Jim would give a presentation to start off the class, then the attendees would be broken into groups to go over some espresso-making techniques followed by "play time" with the available espresso machines and grinders. Unfortunately, there were some technical problems with Jim’s PowerPoint presentation, so the plan went out the window, and the free-for-all began!
The next hour was pretty much a blur. Everyone was milling about, trying to get a look at every machine and a shot from as many as possible. The attendees were very diverse in their experience, so Fortune gathered a small group of "newbies" and went over some basic techniques that would get them on their way. Others wanted to talk about everything from troubleshooting with their machine to home roasting, so there was plenty of energetic conversation and just plain old fun!
I finally did meet Fortune, and after hearing her ideas on a "Girl’s Guide to Fixing Your Espresso Machine," she introduced me to some other folks who had a part in making sure the event went smoothly. For their help, thanks should be extended to Danny O’Neill, former SCAA president and owner of the Roasterie, and Cindy Chang of Counterculture Coffee, who was our SCAA conference committee liaison. I got to speak to both of them about our espresso machine setups for a bit, but we all ended up sharing our disappointment over the problems Jim was having with his presentation. I know that Jim did get the technical problems worked out toward the end of the session, but I wasn’t able to watch his presentation at that time. Hopefully I’ll get another chance to see it at some point!
I also had the chance to talk to several of the other C-Members about Whole Latte Love and the items we had on display. Figuring there would be quite a few folks at the session, Todd Salzman and I brought several machines to make sure we could accommodate the group. We had three Gaggia machines in tow, as well as a Salvatore semi automatic and three Expobar machines-one of which was a "top secret" prototype that’s still in development. We also brought several grinders, including the Gaggia MDF, Rancilio Rocky, and Mazzer Mini Electronic, and a multitude of tampers, knock boxes, frothing pitchers, timers, and thermometers.
Having a variety of machines there provided not only an opportunity for consumers to get some hands on experience with them, but also an opportunity for us, the retailers, to learn from our customers and give something back to them. As one of the people responsible for the content on the Whole Latte Love website, I felt as if I had struck gold; the comments and questions everyone had about our machines gave me an excellent example of how the consumer mind works and what types of information they look to us for that we can improve upon. In addition to this, we wanted to give something tangible back to the C-Members, so the names of the attendees were collected throughout the session for a drawing at the end. Vendors donated t-shirts, coffee, various accessories, and machines to be given away to some of the consumers, and Whole Latte Love sent one ecstatic C-Member home with a Mazzer Mini Electronic!
The Consumer Espresso Lab was a prime example of what sets the SCAA apart from other industry organizations. Although it is about coffee, it’s also about culture and the cultivation of relationships between businesses and consumers. It extends beyond the normal corporate parameters and allows for a network that benefits its members personally and professionally. It’s an organization I’m proud to be a member of, and a group of people I’m honored to know.