After spending the weekend in Charlotte, NC at the Specialty Coffee Association of America's 2006 conference, I'm catching up with the blogging world at Fowler's Food and Wine in Durham. With it's warm warehouse atmosphere, broad selection of gourmet goods, and free wi-fi, Fowler's is one of my favorite places to stop for coffee when I'm in the area. Today I enjoyed a chocolatey, nutty double shot of Intelligentsia's Black Cat espresso followed by a bright, slightly fruity French press of their Ethiopian harrar. Great stuff!
Of course, there was no shortage of excellent coffee available for the tasting at the conference. I was there volunteering at the Barista Guild of America booth, pulling shots of our sponsors' coffee and encouraging baristi to join us. The BGA is a young trade group of the SCAA, formed to foster communication among baristi throughout the country and encourage the best industry practices. Take a look at the BGA's open forum here and, if you're a barista, do consider signing up.
When I wasn't working in the booth, I was out on the exhibition floor or watching performances at the United States Barista Competition. The latter was dominated by the aforementioned Intelligentsia, with three of the six finalist spots going to the company's competitors. Though I had to depart before the finals, word is that Intelly's Matt Riddle took first. I'll link to more complete information when it's posted.
The exhibition floor was huge, but the one thing people couldn't wait to see was the new model of the Clover. As mentioned here previously, the Clover is a remarkably precise, single-cup coffee brewer. In person it is both larger and faster than it appeared online. The entire brew and clean-up process takes less than a minute and in most of that time the operator's hands are completely free (perhaps to complete a transaction with a customer). I was especially impressed with how easily the controls can be worked via two knobs and a digital display -- if Apple designed a user interface for coffee machines, this would be it. The coffee it produced had a very nice clarity and cleanness in the cup. After seeing it in operation, I find it easier to picture in a retail environment.
The real fun with this machine would come from tasting numerous coffees side by side with it, or tweaking it to get the very best extraction from a particular coffee. There was no time for that on the show floor, however, leaving me with me one more enticement to own one.