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SCAE Conference 2005:
A Coffee Odyssey in Athens

By Amelia C. Levy
Photos by Charles Prager

The 4th SCAE World Speciality Coffee Conference, held at the Helexpo convention center in Athens, Greece, March 4-7, 2005, served as evidence of a growing organization with many goals, ideas and enthusiasm. Held alongside the Greek Coffeebiz exhibition, the show was chock full of new and popular events, classes and workshops, and exhibitors from all around the world. An innovative and ever changing organization, the Speciality Coffee Association of Europe (SCAE) attracted professionals to its show who are serious about promoting quality coffee in Europe and throughout the world.

Education about specialty is one of the main tenets of the SCAE’s mission, and the seminars and workshops delivered just that. Divided into three tracks - an International Track, a Greek Track in addition to workshops - SCAE’s educational program serviced anyone involved in specialty coffee throughout the chain, from grower to barista. The keynote presentation was given by Rob Simmons of LMC International and Leonidas Koudis of A.P.L. Kouidis SA, focusing on “The Real Potential of the Coffee Market in the Eastern Mediterranean and Beyond.” Classes given throughout the show included: “The Art of Making Greek Coffee”, “How to Taste Tea Latte Art”, a panel on “The Future of Robusta Coffee in the Speciality Coffee Sector”, “An Introduction to the Coffees of Costa Rica”, “The Coffees of Guatemala”, “Developing a Coffee Menu for the Greek Market”, and even the unique “Cigars, Coffee & Rum - A Lesson in Appreciation“. Other highlights were a real SCAE Board Meeting open to conference attendees, a barista certification courses, brewing workshops, roasting workshops, latte art workshops, and espresso workshops. Instructors were all prestigious and accomplished members of the SCAE, including Inga Jerkovic and Arno Schwent of Probat Werke, Nils Erichsen of Mahlkonig, Sabrina Vigilante of Rainforest Alliance, and Tim Wendelboe World Barista Champ, also members of the board, Colin Smith, Alf Kramer and Mick Wheeler.

Throughout the show, the barista arena on the main show floor was constantly buzzing with enthusiastic competitors and observers, including many attendees who felt compelled to stop in the middle of their stroll down the floor to check out what was happening. Events that took place here were the 2nd Coffee Tasting Competition, in which cuppers’ taste buds were tested to see who was the most accurate cupper; the Greek National Barista Championships, which determined which Greek barista would go on to the World Barista Championship (WBC) held this year (WBC is co-owned by the SCAA - Speciality Coffee Association of America - and the SCAE); and the brand new and innovative Coffee in Good Spirits Competition, in which baristas, barmen and women were encouraged to make their best Irish coffee and to create their own signature beverages with both coffee and alcohol ingredients. The SCAE’s first ever latte art competition was exciting too, with competitors from around Europe vying to pour the best designs on a caffe latte or macchiato, espresso macchiato, and on their own milk- and coffee-based drink decorated with their choice of tools and ingredients. All the events on the floor were extremely well attended with cheers and excited gasps as competitors tried to claim their part in coffee making history.

Meanwhile, the exhibitors around them demonstrated and provided samples of their products to what they described as “decision-maker” attendees, who were interested to learn more about the green coffee origins, coffee roasting companies, confections, brewers and espresso machines, roasting machines, coffeeshop furniture, glassware and much more offered by SCAE exhibitors and those of Coffee Biz. Needless to say, with all the southern European baristas manning the many espresso machine booths, the hall was filled with the intoxicating aroma of some of the best espresso in the world being made all at once.

One major highlight of the show was the brand new Awards for Coffee Excellence ceremony held at a special dinner. No one knew in advance who the winners would be, so those chosen by members of the SCAE, who were all able to write in their nominations, were extremely surprised to say the least; cheers of excitement were released throughout the room every time a name was read (See sidebar for awards and award winners). The winners were truly people deserving of recognition, who are quietly doing important and admirable work within the industry. This new tradition will continue at future SCAE conferences.

Colin Smith, vice president of the SCAE, says that this year he sees a lot of improvements from past SCAE shows, which have been held since 1998. “We’re learning. This time, conference organization is much improved, there are lots of workshops that are hands on and practical - all these things are helping to bring people in and for us to make a name for ourselves.”

The SCAE conference will be held next year from May 19th to the 21st in centrally located and multilingual Berne, Switzerland. Its theme is “The World of Coffee.” New classes, championships, workshops and social events are being planned already. The World Barista Championship will be held on site.

SCAE: A Spotlight on an International Organization

SCAE has 832 members in 73 countries around the world. Founded in 1998 and based in the U.K., SCAE is dedicated to raising awareness of quality coffee. “If you give people a better coffee they’ll drink more,” says Mick Wheeler. SCAE is an umbrella organization with national chapter organizations around the world run by national coordinators chosen locally. All decisions at the SCAE are democratically made: one member casts one vote. Each national coordinator can resign or be taken out by the board. Each member has this in-country person to speak with. “Any member if they choose to, can be extremely active at every level, from their chapter to the association,” says Tomasz Obracaj, president, SCAE. Aside from their conferences, SCAE spends time on many initiatives to bring specialty coffee into the spotlight throughout the world. Despite the difficulty of one organization making a unified effort across many nations with the differences in language and cultures, SCAE sees coffee as a unifying force where everyone in the industry can agree that they love this special beverage and want to promote it to the fullest extent in all nations.

Held in alternating years by either of its co-owners, the SCAE and the SCAA (Specialty Coffee Association of America), the World Barista Championship (WBC) promotes specialty in a way that appeals to a wide audience, and especially to the media. “The competition has been specifically designed as a tool to produce quality. If you have skills, you can create a quality product. It raises awareness - if the barista is useless they’ll produce a useless cup of coffee and that affects everyone else on the chain,” says Mick Wheeler.

SCAE is dedicated to education about coffee. They have successfully established four coffee and barista training centers placed strategically throughout Europe which offer comprehensive coffee and barista training courses. They have also provided many site visits for people along the chain to see producing countries such as India and Guatemala. Now the SCAE is also trying to turn that around and bring producers to see how their coffee is traded, brewed and more. They are committed to establishing more training centers throughout Europe and to developing and coordinating other educational programs.

Initiatives towards many programs to promote not only education, but communication and understanding between the diverse coffee professionals throughout Europe and the world are constantly being conceptualized and implemented, with constant discussion of the best direction and function of the organization is what makes SCAE so special. Still developing, and not quite ready financially to fund all of their ideas, SCAE is growing exponentially, and is a force to watch out for in the near future.

Tea & Coffee - May/June, 2005
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