We just held the best CoffeeCon ever! I was awed by the quality of specialty roasters and food exhibitors. We believe we really nailed the event in total. I saw many happy faces. Attendees and exhibitors alike said, “See you next year” at the event’s ending. Several exhibitors asked how they could expand their role for future events.
Every CoffeeCon event is unique. Because I’m a coffee enthusiast, with no background in the coffee business or event planning, I’m sure we were flawed and continue to have a learning curve in the development of this event. However who we are also means there’s an element of real in our events, and a grassroots development that’s inspiring to me at least. We’re real, real giving the coffee enthusiast an authentic specialty coffee experience.
Manic – highlights of the Chicago 2015 event:
- Great location. The West Loop section of Chicago is the best so-far location. Terrific highway access, good public transit, and filled bike racks and foot traffic and nearby parking told us we’d done right.
- Cool venue. Morgan Mfg is a building predating the Chicago Fire. It’s historic, but it’s been rebuilt throughout, so it’s the best of both worlds. The main exhibit hall has full, natural daylight and modern posts, so sight lines are awesome.
- Best-ever tasting. Full array of roasts and single-origin varietals from City’s and Midwest region’s top eighteen roasters. I was determined to feature the range, from two-person shops to Starbucks, who brought only their top tier single-origin Reserve coffees.
- Some of our presentations were among the best ever. Two highlights: Turkish Coffee featuring Turgay Yildizli, World Ibrik barista champion and Christian Ott’s “The Science of Coffee”. We also heard great things about the instructors who conducted the AeroPress, Chemex and Siphon labs.
- Roasters brewed samples manually all day, meaning you could really taste their coffees in the best possible conditions.
- CoffeeCon continues to be the only pure consumer-focused event. I predicted that there will be others, including mixed events with other products and attempts at industry-consumer combined events, but I feel strongly that we offer something special, with our emphasis on hands-on learning about coffee brewing.
- Hands-on brewing labs ruled the day and got raves. You could learn Chemex, Aeropress, Hario V60, Hario Siphon, espresso or latte art from an expert who guiding you through a personal tutorial. It’s costly, but worked so well the sponsors said they’d like to do even more. They were happy to see people really learning to use their products.
- It was the best organized CoffeeCon to date, for which I thank my team, especially Edmund Sinnott, who brought a new level of planning and judgment to our proceedings.
- The sound was the best it’s ever been. We sought and found effective sound treatment to allow us to have good sound in a building that, frankly, has horrible acoustics. Most of the classes and presentations had good-to-excellent sound. We intend to expand the use of this treatment in the future and then give all presenters audio assist.
Depressive – my true confessions segment:
- Building management – The building was hot! We discovered they actually turned on the heat (in July!!!) instead of the air conditioning, before correcting the mistake mid-afternoon, ¾ into the event. They’ve got a wonderful space, but they are inexperienced in this kind of event, and obviously looking for events that require liquor purchases. If we return next year we will be required to purchase a liquor buyout, which is almost the same cost as the building rental. That may impact ticket pricing.
- Prize giveaways are one of our unique features and, as someone who’s been broke but wanted the best, I’ve made sure we had great gear giveaways at each CoffeeCon. No trade show does them. Why would they? We give away several thousand dollars’ worth of high-end product. We are exploring new ways to pick the winners from those gathered. We want to be fair. These are some pretty big prizes and, speaking as someone from a large family, I sympathize with everyone’s wish that we find a fair way to award the prizes to those present.
- At least one exhibitor was selling samples, which is forbidden in our exhibitor agreement. I feel fairly certain that the offending company’s booth personnel were unaware of the violation. Unfortunately, I was unaware of this until after the event. It was only one, but one was too many.
- Both Kenneth Davids Coffee Tasting Seminar and The Future of Coffee Panel discussion were sparsely attended. Whether this was lack of promotion or geographic location within the building we don’t know, but it was disappointing, as both are pet presentations of mine.
- Patricia suffered an injury at the venue one week prior to the event as another event was setting up, and was unable to coordinate and manage the event in the days before. We attempted to hire someone to take her place, but to be fair; it was too little time to prepare anyone adequately. Although it was our most organized event to date, some of that went unnoticed because the person onsite doing our Friday setup didn’t follow Patricia’s written instructions. I’m happy that it went as smoothly as it did, considering our hurdles.
- Some classrooms were short of A/V equipment or seating. We had these items available but Patricia, who checks on these things, was sidelined. It’s disappointing to learn we had paid for these items but they were not distributed. The home roasting exhibit was lackluster compared to previous years. The word needs to get out to home roasters that we will supply them green beans to roast if they come. I really think this is vital, as the consumers who attend are attracted to a dozen or more roasters outdoors using their various devices to roast coffee.
What’s next? We definitely know we’re headed in a unique direction. People seem to realize we’re real coffee enthusiasts, not Events-R-US. As Patricia’s injuries heal, we’re taking some time to reflect and process all we’ve learned. I’m determined to create the best event and each one has been significantly different and in most ways, better than the one before it.
I also want your input. Please post, or email me. CoffeeCon is the consumer coffee event, after all.
The list of roasters and gear manufacturers who participated in this year’s Chicago CoffeeCon Chicago are:
Abacus / Behmor / Big Shoulders / Bow Truss / Cafe Integral / Chocolate Twist / Dough Dough Bird / Espresso Supply / Goshen / HalfWit / Hansa / Ipsento / JBC / Jo Snow Syrups / La Marzocco Home / Madcap / Metropolis / NCC’s Best / Peet’s / Simple Squares / Stan’s Donuts / Starbucks / STC / Stone Creek / Technivorm / Theta Ridge / Two Brothers / Uncommon / Veruca Chocolates / WLUW
I want to end by thanking Lisa Colon of ICT. Lisa is a coffee trader. She sells green/unroasted coffee beans to roasters. She does not sell directly to consumers. Yet, she was among the first in the coffee industry to understand and rise to support CoffeeCon’s purpose to help us grow, for which I’m eternally grateful.