Coffee Fest, the long-running trade show for the industry, makes its final 2021 installment in Portland, Ore.
BY KATRINA YENTCH
BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE
Photos by Katrina Yentch
Being based in Portland, Ore., it was disappointing but understandable to hear that the 2020 Specialty Coffee Expo was canceled due to COVID. So it was a pleasant surprise to experience another trade show take place within the same halls of the Oregon Convention Center just this past weekend.
Coffee Fest has been taking charge of the U.S. return to coffee trade shows this year, launching editions in San Antonio, Tex.; Atlanta; and Anaheim, Calif., throughout 2021. With restrictions in order like masking and vaccine card requirements in select cities, the brand has been doing its best to ensure a safe return to our beloved in-person gatherings.
At Coffee Fest PNW in Portland, the World Latte Art Championship Open came to a close, with Walter Proph Alarcon once again crushing the competition to finish in first place. Massive crowds gathered to be a part of the action, and many people traveled across the country to pour stunning designs.
The show floor buzzed with more than 40 booths, many of which were ready to serve up samples of their best offerings. From Caffe Vita’s warm and welcoming rebranding (and delicious new light-roast options) to dozens of pastry vendors filling the hall with comforting sugary scents, there was an especially positive and exciting energy to the trade show this time around.
Vendors embraced the opportunity to speak with consumers and attendees one-on-one, and many walked away with trinkets like sustainable mugs, espresso shots, and reviving juice shots. Some of the most common exhibitor categories we noticed amongst the booths were syrup manufacturers, newly launched roasting brands, and wellness drinks. If there’s one thing that COVID has emphasized in coffee shop culture, it’s the need to incorporate more healthy options to coffee shop menus.
Apart from vending, consuming, and pouring, one of the most beneficial parts of attending a Coffee Fest is getting to sit in on plenty of educational seminars. These classes speak not only to business ownership, but are also keen to trending topics in the food and beverage industry.
On Friday, workshops took place on topics such as social media marketing and navigating your business as a drive-thru—the latter of which spoke to the takeaway nature of the coffee business during the pandemic. Another class, which took place on both Friday and Saturday, was about the world of tea. Despite tea being a common item to find at a café as a less caffeinated alternative to coffee, it seems to once again be getting more attention as a beverage we should be caring even more about in preparation.
On Saturday, three more workshops covered the same subject matter of popular drinks and takeaway culture, but with even more nuanced topics. Cold brew continues to take over café menus, yet the way we brew and prepare it has certainly advanced over the years. Alto Cold Brew gave a breakdown of the basics, while Michael Ryan of Threadbare Coffee Company spoke to the pains of staffing shortages over the past year, offering new strategies for an otherwise timeless topic: hiring, training, and retaining great staff. Finally, Christian Jolly from Trade Wind Coffee provided insights on another style of takeaway coffee service—the mobile coffee cart.
Coffee Fest is continuing on a high note in 2022, with three shows already scheduled to take place in Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York. As the industry continues to rapidly innovate and re-adapt during this time, we look forward to seeing what kind of programming and entrepreneurship takes place to offer insight and friendship for fellow coffee friends. Oh, and plenty more latte art. Always here for the latte art.