For the biggest coffee weekend of the year—the 2019 Speciality Coffee Association Expo in Boston—we sent intrepid journalist and Chocolate Barista founder Michelle Johnson onto the showfloor to put her finger on the pulse of what’s new and exciting in the coffee industry today. Here is what she found.

Coffee POGs Are Most Certainly Now A Thing

Only 90s kids will remember the popularity that surrounded POGS and slammers back in the day, and thanks to Jen Apodaca and Jessica Caisse, they made a HUGE comeback for SCA Boston. George Howell, Umeshiso, and Boss Barista POGS were being traded like Pokemon cards on the EXPO floor, and I couldn’t figure out if we were in 1995 or 2019. If there was a winner for having the most coffee POGS, Alicia Adams absolutely takes the cake (pictured). I didn’t grow up with POGS and quite frankly, didn’t know what they were until this weekend. But after collecting a few of my own, I realize they’re a lovely reminder of the fun, not-so-serious side of the coffee world. I expect this to become a new tradition for SCA.

I Tasted The Best Coffee I Ever Had. Ever.

One of my favorite parts of Expo is getting to taste so many different coffees from nearly every origin around the world. I went hard this year participating in an Ethiopian coffee cupping, indulging in multiple Califia oat milk lattes, and drinking World Brewers Cup competitor coffees in the Activities Hall. At the Sustainable Harvest Relationship Coffee booth, I tried the most delicious coffee I’ve ever had. Period.

Roasted by Colo Coffee in Bogota, Colombia, this Eugenioides species microlot from Colo’s Ancestros series (a series of coffees highlighting rare heirloom varieties native to Colombia) tasted like a berry fruit juice BOMB. Jamil Hallasso Holguin of Café Inmaculada, the producer of this coffee, happily poured me a second cup while we talked about its juicy, sweet characteristics. It was a wonderful example of the duality of countries that are producing and consuming. They know better than anyone how their coffees should taste!

Claw Machines (And Other Lottery-Style Games) Are In

The Fellow Products booth was consistently packed throughout the weekend thanks in part to their claw machine where Expo attendees could try their luck winning Stagg EKG kettles and other swag. Did anyone actually score a Stagg EKG? I’m not sure. I heard more people bragging about the fact they couldn’t grab anything than the opposite. Over at Baratza’s booth, you could try and scratch your way to owning the new Baratza Virtuso+ with a lottery ticket, but I’m not sure anyone won that either. Better luck next year, folks!

Visible Diversity At Expo? You Got It!

Let’s be real: a consistent critique of Expo and many coffee industry events is the lack of diversity on all sides—from those standing at the booth to people in attendance. This year’s event looked different and I mean that in the best way possible. As I walked around the floor, I saw people from different backgrounds talking to people about equipment, apps, and the state of the coffee industry with respect to the C Price (which is currently at $0.90). I heard coffee described in English, Japanese, Spanish, and Swahili. Two Asian women from China and South Korea were crowned as our World Brewers Cup and World Barista Champions, respectively. While there’s always more work to be done, it’s important to take a moment to celebrate how far we’ve come. It’s in these moments we can begin to imagine more possibilities for the coffee industry as we continue to grow.

Many Babies Had Their First Expo Experience And We Loved It

Photo by Paige Hicks

Many coffee professional parents will be adding “Baby’s 1st Coffee Expo” to the baby book as the next generation of coffee lovers were in high attendance this year. We spotted Erica Escalante, owner of The Arrow Coffeehouse in Portland, Oregon with her daughter, Lupe, in tow in the Activities Hall (where the competitions were held), as well as several other coffee children. This portion of the Expo was the only place infants and children under the age of 12 were allowed according to the Specialty Coffee Association’s show policies.

Fortunately, friends and colleagues alike stepped in to help watch Lupe and any other babies so their parents could take some time to see the rest of the show. Coffee parents are starting to sound off about this show policy and how it bars access from people with children who want to remain focused on their careers. We’ll be sure to keep an eye out for how this conversation develops. In the meantime, I’ll be swooning over all the baby photos from the weekend.

Tell Your Grandparents: Frozen Coffee Is The Future

Don’t worry, there will be dedicated round-up of coffee tech from Expo, but I spent a considerable amount of time at the Cometeer Coffee Capsule booth going from hard skeptic to a believer. I’m already an advocate for frozen coffee—frozen beans vacuumed sealed at the optimum point post-roast to be enjoyed months, even years after the fact. But Cometeer took it in a different direction. They extracted the best parts of already brewed coffee, apparently at its peak state, and froze it inside these 100% recyclable capsules for use whenever you see fit. I tasted the Counter Culture capsule brewed via Keurig and was pleasantly surprised by how great it tasted. The coffee had clarity and distinct but subtle fruit notes. It should be no surprise that Cometeer won 2019 Best New Product, and we should expect to see more from them soon!

The EXPO Sneaker Game Was On Point

There was no shortage of heat on the EXPO floor, and we’re not talking about water for coffee brewing. We love a good sneaker here at Sprudge and while in the hometown of Reebok, I made sure to keep an eye out for the latest fire people wore to coffee cuppings on the show floor. I was so far from disappointed. Spotted on foot were Lebron 15’s, Adidas, and every style of Nike in multiple colorways—Huaraches, Air Max 97’s, and bedazzled (!!!) Air Force One’s.

The coffee industry’s Dad Shoe Dad himself, Nick Cho, took it to another level with Balenciaga Track Sneakers while demoing the new Wootz Grinder. Of course, those were just one of several rarities he brought to show out. I think my favorite shoes this weekend were on Gio Fillari (@CoffeeFeedPDX, Sprudge, Nike), who blessed us with the Air Max 97 Off-White. To round it out, I came to Expo with my own heat that I saved specifically for emceeing the World Brewers and Barista Competition—the millennial pink Aleali May Jordan 6, a recent drop from Jordan Women. Next year when SCA lands in Portland, the collision of sneakers and coffee will be even more apparent and perhaps, intentional.

Michelle Johnson is a news contributor at Sprudge Media Network, and the founder and publisher of The Chocolate BaristaRead more Michelle Johnson on Sprudge.

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