Recapping the Sixth Annual San Francisco Coffee Festival

The San Francisco Coffee Festival last month drew more than 12,000 attendees and featured some of the most notable names in coffee.


Photos by Eddie P. Gomez

The Sixth Annual San Francisco Coffee Festival recently took place at the festival pavilion in the Fort Mason Center for the Arts and Culture, with picturesque views of Alcatraz Island and the Golden Gate Bridge looming in the distance. More than 12,000 attendees filled the spacious San Francisco venue for a chance to interact with dozens of exhibitors on November 12 and 13. The festival celebrated all things coffee by offering something for just about everyone; educational panels, coffee-related arts and crafts, a latte throwdown, and live music all energized the caffeinated masses. 

Ain’t Normal Cafe, Steady State Coffee, and Mother Tongue Coffee work side by side on the pavilion floor.
Festival goers surround a shite tent in the pavilion for the company Drink Coffee Do Stuff. They have merch like coffee bags and portable mugs on display. A bearded barista in a black hat pours cold brew for a guest from a Toddy bucket.
Attendees stop by Drink Coffee Do Stuff’s booth to sample some cold brew.

Exhibitions and Vendors

With over 50 featured exhibitors and roasters on hand, good vibes were on full blast in the pavilion. Coffee giants like Equator Coffees, Ritual Coffee Roasters, Red Bay Coffee and Temple Coffee Roasters were busy engaging attendees in conversation and providing samples of their all-star brews. Dozens of smaller roasters, cafés, and coffee-related businesses offered an overwhelming diversity of products. Coffee samples ranged from liquor-infused coffee to cold brews topped with enormous helpings of delicious hand-shaken cream. Coffee-related product vendors also helped to make the festival experience a truly immersive one. The Chaga Company offered an array of products made from the hugely popular superfood, including chaga coffee. Across the aisle, Jarold Cadion sold gorgeous original art pieces that use coffee as a medium that finishes with ultra-sepia hues.  

Jarold poses smiling, with hands in pockets in his art stall. He wearsa ball cap and a Breaking Bad t shirt with Walter White's head. Laid out on the table is a big canvas he is working on, and a display of painted coasters. On the wall behind hang many different portraits of celebrities drawn in coffee, such as Prince, Biggie, Bruce Lee and Michael Jordan.
Jarold Cadion poses in front of his artwork, in which he uses coffee as a medium.

A steady stream of attendees started their weekend adventure by stopping at the red-lettered San Francisco Coffee Festival sign to snap photos with friends. Nearby, a beautiful Airstream camper packed with inventory allowed Fellow to welcome guests with a massive display of their coffee-brewing equipment. Fellow partnered with Onyx Coffee Lab to provide pourover samples of their best coffees. The crew from Onyx, Bear and Chaz, stood by ready and willing to make more coffee and answer questions for guests browsing Fellow’s selection of gear. Adding to the excitement, a line of attendees waited patiently for a chance to play a ring toss game in hopes of walking away with a colorful Thermos as live music echoed in the background. 

Coffee Panels

One of the festival’s most popular attractions proved to be educational panels. “Convos on Coffee” put the spotlight on Bay Area coffee professionals who discussed some hot topics surrounding specialty coffee. The panels kicked off Saturday morning with Jen Apodaca of Mother Tongue Coffee hosting an introduction on sensory perception. They concluded with Natalie Ma of Hangover Coffee moderating a talk on the rising popularity of ready-to-drink options.

Four panelists, two women and two men, in the Leading Coffee Pioneers panel. Each sits in a director's chair on the stage in front of a blue backdrop with festival sponsors' company names printed on it. Each holds a microphone.
George Vukasin of Peerless Coffee and Tea (right) speaks at the “Leading Coffee Pioneers“ panel during the event.

One of the most attended Saturday afternoon panels was “Leading Coffee Pioneers.” Moderated by Edie Baker of Chocolate Fish Coffee Roasters, the panel featured Paul Katzeff of Thanksgiving Coffee, Eileen Hassi Rinaldi of Ritual Coffee Roasters, and George Vukasin of Peerless Coffee and Tea. Audience members listened intently as the trio spoke on their decades of experience in coffee. They unpacked topics such as the effects of climate change in growing regions and the economic factors that shape emerging markets. Afterward, the panel took questions from audience members, providing meaningful exchanges that lasted well past the event’s allotted time. 

The top finishers at Heirloom Coffee Roasters’ Second Annual Latte Art Throwdown at the event (from left): Andrew Choi (second place), Cindy Voong (first place), and Kian Shorter (third place).

Latte Art Throwdowns

In a crowded corner of the pavilion, another immersive event proved an irresistible treat for both spectators and participants. Heirloom Coffee Roasters, the first 100% regenerative coffee brand in the United States, hosted their Second Annual Latte Art Throwdown. Nearly 30 seasoned baristas competed over the course of two days and four heats to reach the championship round on Sunday. Fans watched baristas close up as they created top-level latte designs, vying for the $1,000 grand prize. When the festival drew to a close on Sunday evening, a large crowd pushed forward to glimpse the competitors at work during the final round. Cindy Voong of Home Coffee Roasters battled Andrew Choi of Cafe Réveille for the privilege of taking home the massive trophy. In the end, Cindy won the cash with the cutest-ever seahorse design. The audience exploded with excitement when the results were announced. 

At the front of the huge pavilion is a big art stack of  bright red letters spelling out hashtag SF coffee festival in all caps.
The iconic red-lettered San Francisco Coffee Festival sign near the entrance.

Here to Stay

The San Francisco Coffee Festival proved incredibly successful. It offered more great coffee drinks and activities than humanly possible to sample in one day. It also demonstrated the continuing need for people to engage across many facets of the coffee industry. Specialty coffee looks well-positioned to build on its ever-increasing role in modern life, as well as address any challenges that appear on the horizon. The contributions of thriving coffee communities all over the world should ensure the industry’s longevity in San Francisco for years to come.

A view of the Golden Gate Bridge from the Marin Headlands.

Eddie P. Gomez (he/him) is a freelance writer based in Modesto, Calif. When he is not substitute teaching kindergarten classes, he wanders from city to city, perfecting the art of the food and coffee adventure.

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