There are so few outlets in the world of coffee dedicated to the exchange of ideas. Bloom, a young event run by the Barista Guild of America with support from the Specialty Coffee Association, has been designed to do just that. The main event features a variety of speakers and panel talks, with a key element of each opening up into public engagement and question and answer sessions focusing on pushing the boundaries of where conversations about coffee usually go in the cafe, office, or roasting floor.
Intelligentsia has always been heavily committed to promoting the exchange of ideas. Nine years ago in Colombia, Intelligentsia hosted our first Extraordinary Coffee Workshop, in which we gathered farmers and producers from around the world to participate in a week long series of talks, forums, cupping, roasting, and tasting workshops, all in the name of spreading new seeds of thought and promoting the exchange of ideas. One famous story that always comes to mind for me is when producer Don Fabio Caballero from Honduras learned a new post-fermentation soaking technique from coffee producers who came from Ethiopia at the ECW in El Salvador. The idea posited that re-saturating the coffee once more in water to help control moisture and density during the drying stages, preserving more delicate flavors when it would be stored in a green state in a warehouse or during shipping. I had just so happened to be travelling in Norway, and a well known roaster in Oslo had always complained about coffees from Honduras rarely surviving the trek across the Atlantic and showing up after the long journey tasting flat and papery. But that year, he was floored by Don Fabio’s coffees and their dynamic complexity.
I like that story because it really touches on how tiny those details can be and how large the impact can grow. A stray piece of knowledge in El Salvador travelling from Ethiopia back to Honduras carried beautiful coffees to Oslo where a person from Chicago just happened to be able to explain to a Norwegian why they were so stunning in that moment. Information and ideas have power, and each new person who receives that nugget is then infected with that power: not only do you see the immediate impact from the audience, but everyone who interacts from thereon out with anyone who bore witness to the original presentation becomes a new host for those ideas to spread.
Bloom becomes that exact opportunity once a year in a different city across the United States. When we were approached with the opportunity to become a title sponsor of Bloom San Francisco 2017 and host the kickoff event, it seemed like the absolute best fit. On Wednesday, July 26th, Intelligentsia’s San Francisco Roasting Works hosted Bloom’s kickoff event featuring a panel of members from the Barista Guild of America and the Barista Guild of Europe discussion unification, as well as a wine tasting from natural wine producer Martha Stoumen previewing her talk about natural wine production at the next day’s main event. While both the panel was extremely informative and allowed for the audience to dig into hard questions (“If I’m Canadian, and the BGA and BGE are merging, who represents me?”), and the chance to taste Martha Stoumen’s almost immediately sold out wines was a sublime rarity in itself and definitely gave structure to the talk for the next day, for me, one of the best moments of the whole kickoff evening was just being able to exist in the space and watch our panelists and speaker become immediately accessible. The official presentation might end, but the conversation never really stops — especially, since, during the panel, a new email address was created to specifically create dialogue amongst all the Barista Guild Executive Council.
A major theme this year that seemed to weave it’s way through every presentation was “opportunity.” All four main presentations — from Mokhtar Alkhanshali’s talk on pursuing specialty coffee in Yemen, the panel on convenience opening new doors for specialty coffee, a dive into natural wine production from Martha Stoumen, to the deeply personal group work led by Boss Barista podcast hosts Ashley Rodriguez and Jasper Wilde on acknowledging and confronting privilege as a step towards new dialogue — all centered around ideas that at their core there’s a chance for something new to grow. That opportunity could be the pursuit of further sustainability along the coffee chain, or creating a wide new swath of specialty coffee consumers to purchase it. The opportunity might be growing stronger parallels to specialty agriculture that’s happening in our backyard and learning, or learning how to look inwards and listen outwards to examine the finer points of relationships around us and how the things we carry with us can always be impactful on the people and communities that coffee exists in.
The opportunities don’t have to stop there, however. In September, the Extraordinary Coffee Workshop will be coming to Intelligentsia’s San Francisco Roasting Works to continue on the core value of exchanging ideas. For the first time ever, the ECW will feature a day open to the public on September 29th, and if you can make it, we’ll see you there.