The festival hosted three days of drinks, discussions, and entertainment for industry professionals and coffee lovers alike.
BY VALORIE CLARK
SPECIAL TO BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE
Photos courtesy of Valorie Clark
Last week, Allegra Events hosted the Los Angeles Coffee Festival, a three-day event at The Reef in Downtown L.A. that centered on the celebration of the ever-growing coffee scene in the city. In addition to hosting the Coffee Masters finals, there were also coffee cocktails, educational sessions in The Lab, and dozens of industry vendor booths.
Friday, the first day of LACF and the designated industry day, started out somewhat quietly as people settled into their booths despite a breakneck setup pace. However, the energy quickly picked up as attendees started walking amongst booths, The Lab classes started, Latte Art Live started steaming and streaming, and Coffee Masters got underway. By the time the live music started up on the Coffee Music Project stage, everyone was ready to listen and sway to the several new and brilliant voices the festival brought to L.A.
It might be easy for some to dismiss the Los Angeles Coffee Festival as another glorified trade show, but that really undermines what the festival achieves. The event has a strong undercurrent of philanthropy that makes its energy stand out from other events. Ten percent of the Coffee Festival’s ticket sales went to Project Waterfall, as Allegra does for all its coffee festivals, and the weekend showcased several other charities too.
One of the charities featured was Lunch On Me, a group that seeks to help the homeless and hungry in New York, L.A., and Hawaii. The nonprofit has also partnered with La Colombe to teach coffee skills to kids in foster care so that they have a better chance of getting a job once they age out of the system. Initiatives like this remind us that coffee is a community first and foremost.
Latte Art Live gave L.A. Coffee Festival visitors the chance to watch people make latte art in real time; all weekend, the booth hosted throwdowns and workshops. Sometimes attendees watched and cheered as latte artists poured increasingly complicated designs. Other times, people could come learn the basics of steaming or get detailed advice on how to make great latte art with alternative milks.
Meanwhile, The Kitchen featured different cooking demonstrations. Emerging Los Angeles chefs like Dale Pinnock of The Medicinal Chef, Adrianna Ford Schatz of Allergy Schatz, Henry Molina of The NoMad Hotel, and several more went up to demonstrate some amazing dishes.
As always, Coffee Masters drew a big crowd. This was the first year that the competition came out to the West Coast (normally the U.S. competition is in New York). Crowds cheered as baristas put their skills to the test in rounds of brewing, completing the order challenge, identifying origin, and more all weekend.
When Carlos de la Torre, a barista from Mexico, won first place, the crowd and the internet went wild. It was the second year in a row that a barista from a producing country took the Coffee Masters title home (after Costa Rica’s Remy Molina won in 2018). It’s a good argument for the ways that Coffee Masters tears down the privilege inherent in coffee competitions, and the producer behind Carlos’ coffee was there to see it happen.
For people ready to celebrate, the Coffee Cocktail Bar was serving up tea- and coffee-infused drinks. The menu included a Cold Fashioned, which was made using Mr. Black Cold Brew Liquor, and Tea Time, a drink made with a tea-infused Black Cow vodka.
Things truly got interesting at the vendor booths. Frinj Coffee, a collective that supports a growing number of coffee farms right here in Southern California, was giving out coffee samples. La Marzocco had their Home Espresso Bar for consumers to test out their well-known single-group home machine. In addition to supplying machines for Coffee Masters, Slayer had a booth showing off their Steam line of machines. Oatly was making affogatos with their new oat-based frozen dessert. And of course, it wouldn’t be a Los Angeles event if there wasn’t a psychic around to do tarot readings and palmistry. Luckily, L.A. Coffee Festival had two on hand.
A lot of booths contained exciting new product unveilings as well. I got a demonstration of La Marzocco’s new Swift Mini, a combined grinder and tamper. I also followed Gina, a new robotic pack mule that was showing off by following its owners around the floor. She led me to Flair Espresso, where I watched a demo of the Signature Pro 2.
All weekend The Lab was showcasing talks, demos, and workshops from industry leaders. In between rounds of exploring the booths, I attended a craft tea cocktail lesson in The Tasting Lab, led by Alvaro Olguin. In another intriguing presentation at The Lab, Anna Dair of Straus Family Creamery and Sam Sabori of Intelligentsia teamed up to give a talk titled “The Alchemy of Milk and Coffee.”
After a packed weekend of competition and events, the Los Angeles Coffee Festival proved to be a massive success, and will likely grow that much bigger once its third year rolls around.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Valorie Clark (@TheValorieClark) is a freelance writer with a background in specialty coffee. She is based in Los Angeles.