For the first time in a number of years I decided to attend the Specialty Coffee Association of America's Annual Conference and Exhibition, billed as "The Event" in Houston, Texas. Last year I had attended the World Conference on Coffee put on by the International Coffee Association in Guatemala and since so much has changed in the intervening year of the coffee market I was curious as to how the SCAA would be dealing with the new market reality. The SCAA presented a Symposium for coffee professionals two days prior to the Conference proper, and it was that offering that attracted me most.
Well, okay, if I were really honest, the Symposium was a waste of time and money on my part, with the exception of being able to spend a lot of time with some old industry friends that I haven't seen in some time. The content of the Symposium, though, was lacking, especially when compared to what was presented in Guatemala. Perhaps I was expecting too much from this trade association, and I doubt that any trade association is capable of real dialogue on global matters.
What trade associations do well, however, is show new equipment and there was new equipment a plenty on display in the exhibition hall.
First up for me was the La Marzocco booth. Marzocco is enjoying a sort of renaissance of late after an abysmal year due to the economic crash. They had just moved into a new factory in Florence and it was a real struggle. Despite the perception in the SCAA as being a manufacturer heavy weight, Marzocco is a tiny company. This year, even with sales rebounded, they produce 10% of what a mainstream espresso manufacturers like La Cimbali and CMA produce.
They have been clearly busy in the development department as they were displaying a number of very cool machines, most notably the new Strada. The Strada represents their top of the line, displacing the GB5. So now there are currently four lines on offer, the venerable Linea, the FB80, the GB5 and the Strada.
The Linea gets the addition of the mechanic paddles to have three variations: the MP, mechanical paddle; the EE a semi-automatic rocker switch; and the AV, our favorite, with volumetric dosing. All of the machines will now be PID controlled for brew temperature, replacing the old mechanical thermostat.
The poor GB5 and FB80's are sort of the forgotten middle children in the line, and to be honest I barely looked at them. The principal difference, that I can see, between these and the Linea are the addition of preheaters for the brew boiler. Customers can choose the same variations as the Linea.
The Strada was the star of the show. This machine comes in two variations, the MP and the new EP. The MP being the same mechanical paddle arrangement as on the Linea, the EP being an electronic version. Instead of the mechanical rotary pump, the EP uses an internal gear driven pump that allows for infinite pressure profiling while brewing. What's more, one can program a brew pressure map and the machine will reproduce this profile on the fly. Very cool!
Aside from geeking out over the new stuff, what really made my heart happy was seeing the Linea respected again. For a long time we have loved these machines. Many of our clients use rescued ex-Starbucks 3 and 4 groupers in their bars and to see these machines recognized as classics is long overdue. They are rock solid reliable and make great espresso.
Also at the Marzocco booth was a lot of new stuff from Marco. This is equipment made for the growing Pour-over Bar market. On hand was the new Uberboiler with electronic scale, and special grinders. A lot of activity around this stuff as Pour-over Bars are the new rage.
However, on the other side of the exhibition hall at the Baratza booth there was a prototype machine on display that pretty much makes Pour-over Bars obsolete. A fully programmable hot water delivery machine for use in pour over brewers such as the Chemex. The water sprayer rotates around the top of the brew funnel and can be programmed for any determined pulse brew. The designer has yet to decide whether to target the commercial or home market yet but the device easily out performs any manual operator. So much for the Brewers Cup!
Speaking of pour over brewers, an old friend, Kevin Knox, was attending and strongly suggested I check out a just introduced brewer called the Sowden Softbrew. This device essentially renders the Press Pot and the Chemex obsolete in every respect. Easier to use than a Press Pot and the Chemex, but with the best attributes of both. Outstanding flavor clarity and no sediment. I didn't take any pictures but I bought three cases!