Recapping the Specialty Coffee Expo in Chicago: Service Tech Edition

We take a look at the classes, parties, show floor activities, and more at this year’s Expo from the service technician’s perspective.

BY JON FERGUSON
SPECIAL TO BARISTA MAGAZINE

According to a recent Specialty Coffee Association communication, the Specialty Coffee Expo in Chicago, which took place April 12-14, had “more exhibitors, attendees, and events than ever before in our 30-year history.“ This came as no surprise after seeing the endless list of available activities, booths, and after-parties to attend during Expo. Whether you are a green buyer, roaster, café owner, barista, or service technician, there was no shortage of opportunities to learn and engage with others.

Giannia wears a brimmed hat and raises a glass.
Gianni Cassatini, seen here in 2015, is greatly missed by the coffee community. Photo by Barista Magazine.

In Memoriam

As many specialty-coffee professionals know, in November of last year the global coffee world lost one of the brightest shining lights in our community, Gianni Cassatini of Nuova Simonelli. His love for people and the coffee industry he surrounded himself with day to day will be remembered for generations to come.

Separately, La Marzocco and the coffee service tech community lost Daymond Jordan, a well-known and beloved technician who passed away in January. La Marzocco USA’s website states Daymond “left his mark on everyone at La Marzocco starting with his role as Starbucks’ first ever coffee tech in the early 1990s all the way up to the current year, where he dedicated time restoring espresso machines at the Bakke Coffee Museum.“

Daymond wears a casual jacket with hands in pockets outside a brick building.
Daymond Jordan, a Seattle native and well-known and adored coffee technician, passed away in January. Photo courtesy of La Marzocco USA.

In honor of both Daymond and Gianni, and those communities around the world that knew them, this recap of the Specialty Coffee Expo in Chicago will be from the perspective of a coffee service technician.

Kicking Off the Week

Specialty Coffee Expo week in Chicago for coffee service technicians launched with “Understanding Electrical: Espresso Techniques and Tips,“ an in-depth course led by Pat Boyt of Boyt Enterprises hosted at SteamVolt, a well-known and highly respected Chicago-based coffee service company, founded by the late and legendary Jim Karr. The eight-hour in-depth electronic course touched on electrical foundations, board components, and repair.

Pat wears a beard and speaks in front of a PowerPoint.
Pat Boyt of Boyt Enterprises leading a course on electrical foundations at SteamVolt in Chicago. Photo courtesy of Erin Michael Chase.

Nick Barnett, technical director at SteamVolt, says, “SteamVolt held a sold-out class with Pat Boyt of Boyt Enterprises. … The first half of the class was a lecture, followed by a hands-on workshop repairing damaged espresso and coffee brewer boards.”  

Spencer Perez, founder of Coffee Machine Service Co. in Chattanooga, Tenn., was in attendance and enjoyed Pat’s presentation. Reflecting on the experience, Spencer said: “He is a treasure of a human, not just for his beautiful mind, but for his warm sense of being. I’m deeply grateful to have spent time there.”

Thursday evening, if you were attempting to select which parties to attend with a service tech-focused agenda in mind, you still had to be several places at once. Mahlkonig celebrated their 100-year anniversary, Rancilio welcomed guests to Chicago with a night of 1990s Chicago nostalgia, and Proud Mary, La Marzocco, and Yeti, along with Black Rabbit Service Co.’s Coffee Breath, hosted an evening of cocktails, served through a modified Linea Mini into a Yeti tumbler.

A line of techs hold up a signed piece of the newly-built Service Layer Linea machine.
The Service Layer booth with Kent Bakke and several of the many Service Layer members and volunteers in attendance. Photo courtesy of Sam Baughn.

The Service Layer: Building a Machine

The Expo show floor opened Friday morning with plenty of anticipation. Have you ever wanted to see a 2012 La Marzocco two-group Linea Classic AV be remanufactured in real time, from frame to finish, during a trade show?  Well, it happened, and in the truest form possible. 

The back plaque on the machine reads: Service Layer Remanufactured TM SCA Expo Chicago 2024. Machione donated: Ryan at Caliber Coffee 
Labor donated: Service Layer Members
Parts donated: La Marzocco USA

In tribute to Daymond Jordan- The Original Coffee Tech
Service Layer Remanufactured, donated by Ryan Baughn at Caliber Coffee, with labor donated by Service Layer members and parts donated by La Marzocco USA. Photo courtesy of Erin Michael Chase.

An independent group of service technicians from across the United States gathered at the Service Layer booth over the weekend to showcase and demonstrate the collective skill and craftsmanship involved in repairing espresso machines. The booth organization and remanufacturing project was an extensive collaboration between a long list of independent service companies and individuals.

Matt Campbell, owner of Invoke Coffee Sales & Service based in Youngstown, Ohio, says, ”Independent tech companies from around the world joined forces at Expo under the banner of ’Service Layer.’ Over the course of the show, they rebuilt a 2012 La Marzocco Linea Classic from the ground up. The frame was donated, and powder coated by Caliber Coffee, the parts were donated by La Marzocco USA, and the labor was donated by Service Layer members. The completed machine was signed by Kent Bakke, and the building members, and the machine will be donated to Workforce High, which is a local Chicago 501(c)(3).”

Kent Bakke (the “KB” in La Marzocco’s KB90) visits with Frank Freeman, technical director of SteamVolt, at the Service Layer booth. Photo courtesy of Matt Campbell.
Scott tightens a piece on the machine.
Service Layer member Scott Jones is the owner of Espresso Medic, based in Margaret River, Western Australia. Photo courtesy of Stephen Metzel.

Ryan Baughn, owner of Caliber Coffee, a coffee equipment sales and service company based in Stoughton, serving Central and Southern Wisconsin, mentions, “Kent Bakke stopped by the Service Layer booth and chatted with members about his life as a tech. He left his signature on the Linea Classic they rebuilt in honor of beloved tech Daymond Jordan.”

Autumn looks incredulously at the camera while Luke smiles at the pamphlet of Marty's tech notes while Marty points something out in it.
Autumn Pruitt (left) and Luke Pruitt (center) of Hardy Coffee Co. in Omaha, Neb., receiving Marty’s Tech Notes from Marty Roe (right) of Workbench Coffee Labs. Photo by Jon Ferguson.

And it wasn’t a complete show without bumping into yet another legendary coffee tech, Marty Roe of Workbench Coffee Labs in Kansas City, Mo., handing out what some have described as a “tech-zine” filled with a collection of Marty’s handwritten notes and detailed drawings, forming a quick reference guide filled with tips and other helpful information. The title page leads in bold writing with his well-known motto, “Make it work in your head.”

Night Life

Following long days on the show floor, both Friday and Saturday nights were filled with plenty of options for espresso equipment and service tech-focused professionals. On Friday, the Chi-Town Wine Mixer, Synesso’s 20th Anniversary Party, and the Coffee Technicians Guild Party were all well attended. 

A large group of people gathers for a photo of the Coffee technicians Guild meet-up in a fancy room.
The Coffee Technicians Guild meetup hosted by Lavazza in downtown Chicago, overlooking the Magnificent Mile. Photo courtesy of Brady Butler, Trail Blaze Coffee Academy.

Saturday evening followed with a long list of events, starting off with Washed & Naturals hosted at Metric Coffee. Black Rabbit’s “Double J” hosted the screening of Coffee Breath’s Chicago episode, featuring the likes of SteamVolt, Dark Matter Coffee, Everybody’s Busy, and others. Simonelli Group North America hosted a party filled with gratitude, camaraderie, food, drink, and a special moment raising a toast in memory of our beloved Gianni Cassatini. As the evening extended into the wee hours, many ended up at La Marzocco’s Expo Party, which is basically considered a tradition and a mandatory attendance for La Marzocco fans.

Mike is squatting and the floor and shows the components of the undercounter machine.
Mike Myers, founder of Mavam, leads a hands-on demonstration of Mavam’s new undercounter super-automatic espresso machine. Photo courtesy of Erin Michael Chase.

SteamVolt

The Sunday of Expo often establishes a more relaxed pace for events and show floor activities. Coffee service techs were given the opportunity to attend one final send-off event at SteamVolt. Nick Barnett, technical director at SteamVolt, comments, “Sunday’s ’Off and On: A Brewing Demo’ opened up (SteamVolt) again for a much milder sit-in, encouraging anyone to stop by and check out equipment from Mavam, Mazzer, Synesso, and La Marzocco. Machines were up and running, and techs were brewing coffee with the panels off so you could get a glimpse of what goes on inside. Demos were done on each piece of equipment, and Mavam founder Mike Myers and Joshua Boyt (head of sales) were on hand to demonstrate Mavam’s new undercounter super-automatic espresso machine.

Ryan and Rebecca look inside the machine from the top.
Ryan Baughn (left), owner of Caliber Coffee, with Rebecca Jones (right), a technician at SteamVolt, looking over the final Service Layer Remanufactured™ La Marzocco Linea at SteamVolt Sunday afternoon. Photo by Jon Ferguson.

“Because of the SCA Expo and Service Layer, both events were attended by some of the best technicians in the industry. Our team at SteamVolt could not be happier with the turnout and the wonderful connections that were made,“ says Nick.

Coffee Breath

The Sunday afternoon entertainment portion was provided by a screening of the film Coffee Breath with Double J, owner of Black Rabbit Service Co., in attendance, along with plenty of pizza to go around.

On a screen, two people stand with arms out. Below the screen is a skate deck in pink with "Coffee Breath" written on it in green slime font.
A Sunday afternoon screening of Coffee Breath with Jason “Double J“ Johnson, co-owner of Black Rabbit Service Co., hosted by SteamVolt. Photo courtesy of Erin Michael Chase.

If there was a theme that seemed universal this year in the coffee service tech world, it would likely be a strong sense of camaraderie and appreciation for each other and those who have come before us. Byron Betts, owner and technician at Harmony Coffee Service in Mount Vernon, Wash., commented on the involvement with Service Layer and the activities at the booth in Chicago with, “We are all standing on the shoulders of giants.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jon Ferguson (he/him) is currently residing in Siem Reap, Cambodia, focusing on writing about the world of espresso equipment and service. After nearly two decades of experience across various facets of the coffee industry, he continues to enjoy every moment of it. 

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