After a successful run in Los Angeles, the Barista Guild of America hosts Bloom, an event where speakers from all realms of service share ideas with coffee professionals.
Bloom had its second incarnation this week in the West Loop neighborhood of Chicago. According to Todd Mackey, the Barista Guild of America lead for the gathering, the intention for the three-day affair was to œstart conversations about issues relevant to the craft coffee community. To broaden the scope of the communication, the BGA also filmed and broadcast the main presentations at 12 different satellite locations throughout the United States.
The festivities kicked off Wednesday night at Counter Culture Coffee’s sleek training lab with a presentation by Tim Hill, Coffee Buyer & Quality Manager for CCC. Tim spoke about Counter Culture’s recent purchase and implementation of an Optical Sorter, a machine that can be calibrated to detect color differences down to a single pixel and separate beans accordingly. Counter Culture now has the freedom to pay the farmers more for what was previously considered low grade coffee while still being able to get a great price because they are in the unique position of producing exceptional flavors from those coffees by removing all of the quakers ”beans that roasted differently due to some variance in their structure. He finished his presentation by encouraging those in attendance to experience the difference for themselves by trying coffee brewed exclusively from the quakers and coffee brewed from the sorted beans. The faces people made during the tasting were evidence that Counter Culture just might be on to something.
Thursday’s activities took place just around the corner at Prairie Productions. The first presenter of the day ”Donnie Madia, an acclaimed and successful Chicago restaurateur of spots like Blackbird, The Violet Hour, and The Publican ”spoke on ‘being present.’ He used many personal examples to craft a compelling argument for why hospitality professionals should gently combat the constant allure of technology ”particularly smart phones ”both in ourselves and in others. Comparing a line of people staring at tiny screens while waiting for their morning coffee to zombies, he says that baristas have a unique opportunity and responsibility to turn things around by actually looking each guest in the eyes and honestly saying thank you. Owning eight restaurants requires Donnie to be constantly connected to his own smart phone and gives him enough experience on the technological struggle. œWe’ve got all of this information constantly available to us but sometimes it is just noise. Sometimes it takes over what we actually want to do. During the Q&A, he suggested limiting the number of social media platforms you use and intentionally scheduling times when you are not œconnected.
Ria Neri was up next. Her talk, ‘The Value of Perspective,’ drew upon her extensive experience and success in craft beer as well as her more recent forays into specialty coffee, natural wine, and chocolate to encourage coffee professionals to answer their own internal calls to action. She says anyone who has been inspired to begin a journey of learning, experimentation, and creation as a result of a coffee œwhoa-ment should remember to, œtake ownership of what you do know, even if you think you don’t really know anything. She offered further encouragement in the form of a quote from Aristotle, œFor the things we have to do before we learn them, we learn by doing them.
The always entertaining and insightful Marcus Boni ”Vice President of Retail for Intelligentsia Coffee ”took the stage shortly after lunch and immediately offered to perform a musical number upon request. Sadly, no one asked; which must have been because we did not want to do anything to distract him from sharing his wisdom on ˜Carving a Career in Coffee.’ With honesty, vulnerability, and more than one Britney Spears reference, Marcus contrasted his own complex career path with the much more linear one typical of the previous generation and went of to say that it is absolutely essential for each person to find their own path, which might look nothing like Marcus’s or anyone else’s. His advice for doing so included looking for shared values with potential employers, being really honest with yourself about what types of jobs you will actually hate, being willing to œbuild a problem-solving muscle, and starting any conversations (both internal and external) about changing jobs really early. By doing these things, Marcus has been able to maintain positive relationships with virtually all of his past employers to such a degree that he has twice returned to work for a company he had previously left.
To finish the day, Scott Lucey of Kickapoo Coffee deftly facilitated a panel discussion involving Abi Svoboda and Andrew Timko of Blueprint Coffee as well as Andrea (Otter) Otto and Andreas Willhoff of Halfwit Roasters/The Wormhole. Focusing largely on quality decisions and the interaction between the roastery and the cafe, the discussion offered lots of practical concepts to those hoping to improve their own systems. As they spoke about quality control, it became clear that both companies see it as important to trust their baristas to choose their own ratios and profiles. Andrew says the only question he asks his staff is, œwhy? He simply wants them to be able to show intention and express it. Andreas follows up by saying, œAsking why is a huge question. It is really hard for them the first few times you ask but eventually becomes really empowering to your staff. In order to do this empowering, the Wormhole trains their baristas for 12 weeks. Having confident and capable baristas who are recording their decisions is a tremendous boon to the whole company because it provides the roasters with practical data and feedback. Otter went on to encourage shops and roasters ”whether they are the same company or not to develop specific frameworks for communication so that they care share observations and information with minimal misunderstandings or hurt feelings.
Friday took attendees just a few blocks further west to Low Res Studio for a social media workshop with several coffee media experts, hosted by 2008 World Barista Champion, Stephen Morrissey, touching on content creation and telling stories through social media. Fortuitously, Low Res is located just down the road from several impressive coffee roasteries, allowing Bloom to easily facilitate a tour of the incredible Intelligentsia facility as well as the newly renovated Metric Coffee space and the Passion House Coffee roastery.
In addition to this official programming, Ipsento Coffee, True Brew Outfitters, and New Gotham Coffee Community hosted incredible related evening events, ensuring that anyone who had come into town for Bloom was sure to avoid boredom and enjoy the rich cultural scene that Chicago has to offer. If Chicago’s version of Bloom is any indicator, the future for these events is looking very bright.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Joshua Dusk-Peebles is a lifelong explorer, experimenter, and learner. He enjoys nothing more than sharing what he is learning with other people. When he was young, he would get legitimately angry if his dad forgot to let him smell the coffee every time a new bag was opened. Unfortunately, the much less pleasant corresponding beverage kept him away from coffee until his 30s, when he smelled and then tasted a well-handled natural process Ethiopia Yirgacheffe, and everything made sense again. He plans on getting his own new-born son started much sooner. He can be reached at email@example.com or found online at duskcoffee.com.