New England’s Coffee Scene Brews Up Its Own Coffee Festival

signage at the entrance to the Northeast Coffee Festival.

The recent Northeast Coffee Festival took Concord, N.H., by storm.

BY MADELINE JONES
BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE

Photos courtesy of Northeast Coffee Festival and Sarah Fleming for Random Acts of Candid

Small cities in central New England might not be the first place that comes to mind when you think of amazing coffee, but a regional festival based in New Hampshire is working hard to change your mind. 

Behind the Fest

Specialty coffee has been well-established in the region for more than 20 years, with roasters ranging in size from micro-roasters like East Alstead Roasting Company (from, you guessed it, East Alstead)– and Outerlands Coffee, (Salisbury N.H.), to mid-sized and larger roasters like Wayfarer Coffee Roasters (Laconia) and Rare Breed Coffee (Nashua & Manchester). The whole length of the region, reaching as far south as Snowy Owl (Sandwich, Mass.) and MEM Tea (Boston), was represented at the Northeast Coffee Festival (NECF) in Concord, N.H., earlier this month.

Love and effort have been poured into the event, now three years running. NECF is the brainchild of Wayfarer Coffee Roasters’ founder and CEO, Karen Bassett. Karen says of the festival’s inception, “We know that coffee is so pivotal in connecting people that we decided to find a way to create a hybrid event to connect coffee professionals with coffee consumers.“ She adds, “When the first festival drew 3,000 people, we knew we were onto something.”

A band plays on NECF stage.
Local musicians provided additional entertainment throughout both days of the festival.

Gathering in Concord

While the first two incarnations of the festival took place in the historic city of Laconia, this year co-hosts Revelstoke Coffee took the reins in introducing the festival to the capital city of Concord, just a few blocks from the state house. Support from the local coffee scene was essential to making the third NECF a tremendous success. Karen says that in partnering with Revelstoke they “expanded the educational programming, outdoor market, and live music to two full days, and doubled our educational sessions—40-plus sessions!—to provide greater value to our pass holders, drawing 6,000+ people to the festival over the two days.”

A street is closed off to make room for a market with tents and booths.
Festival-goers swarm the Community Market on Saturday.

Inside Northeast Coffee Festival

The festival included a diverse collection of events, including panels with guest speakers from importers like Arango Specialty Coffee, Covoya, and JNP Coffee, as well as coffee-adjacent Third Wave Water and others.

A public Community Market filled a two-block portion of South Main Street in Concord. Purveyors included ceramicists, tea sellers, coffee roasters and cafés, and a plethora of food trucks, such as the Mobl Nobl. Live music from local artists gave attendees the opportunity to dance off their over-caffeination.

Two people steaming milk together at a workshop.
Christian from Pressed Cafe + George Howell guides an attendee through steaming milk.

Instructive Coffee Workshops

One of the highlights from the festival for all-access pass holders was the workshop series hosted by the Capitol Center for the Arts Bank of NH Stage. The series covered espresso (with Madeline from Rare Breed Coffee), milk steaming and latte art (with Christian from Pressed Cafe + George Howell), plus an intro to “Machine Whispering” from Sure Shot Coffee Service. Specialty tea preparation was also covered by Margaret Gay from 27 Teas and Meg Tartasky from MEM Tea. The workshops filled the minds of professional baristas, coffee aficionados, and newcomers alike with broad and deep information about coffee, espresso machines, and tea.

A man with braids and an apron cleans an espresso machine wand.
Casey, bar manager at Revelstoke Coffee, helped ensure each La Marzocco was ready to go for each competitor in the throwdown.

Cupping Opportunities

Cupping was also a significant part of the programming, curated by Emeran Langmaid of Rare Breed Coffee. Festival goers were exposed to a variety of origins, processing methods, and varieties.

Special guest Double J of the mini-docuseries Coffee Breath was also in attendance, hosting screenings on both days of the festival.

After the festival, Double J shared with Barista Magazine, “It was amazing to see so much enthusiasm for specialty coffee from the New England residents and baristas. The Coffee Breath screenings were a hit and there was a lot of engagement and enthusiasm about the show!”

On a stage, baristas work on their latte art during a throwdown. A dj plays at one table, while 3 espresso machines are set up around the stage.
The Bank of New Hampshire Main Stage was absolutely packed with spectators and competitors for all 12 rounds of the throwdown.

Latte Art Throwdown

Of course, no coffee event is complete without a latte art throwdown. Several independent baristas as well as experienced latte-throwers competed for prizes including Baratza grinders, a full Chemex set, and merchandise from additional sponsors. Throughout the event, Alex (co-owner of Revelstoke) tossed La Marzocco T-shirts into the audience.

Karen thanked the equipment providers especially, saying, “We are so grateful to be partnering with companies including La Marzocco and FETCO for the equipment.” 

A vendor pours coffee into a paper cup.
Sampling a variety of different processing methods at the Rare Breed Coffee booth.

Why Not DIY?

Thinking of getting your own local festival off the ground? Karen offers this advice: “Ask for help. Know your strengths and bring in partners who can fill those gaps and connect you to people who are outside your network. Focus on connecting with your local community for sponsorships. Build in opportunities to connect with those who are investing their time and resources to support your event.” And, she added, “Have fun!”

NECF has already been asked to return to Concord next year, May 2-3; follow them on Instagram for more photos and details to come.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Madeline Jones (she/her) has worked in specialty coffee for over eight years, managing cafés, wholesale accounts, barista training, and more. When she isn’t sipping on some ’spro, she is probably spending time with her cat or making gin martinis (extra olives, please.) This is her first article for Barista Magazine.

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