The Mill City Roasters team had a blast last weekend at Coffee Fest Louisville. This was the second Coffee Fest event of the year, and two more are scheduled for August and November. Here are some highlights from our time in Derby City.
Day 0: Set-up and Prep
As the official Roasting Education Sponsor of Coffee Fest, we’re attending all four events across the country to meet with roasters, teach classes, and share the gospel of great coffee. In lieu of building an enormous booth, we’ve found a shortcut. We just drive the Big Red Roast Rig onto the show floor and wheel a roaster out in front of it. We’re set up in under an hour. If you’ve ever had to prepare a trade show booth before, you know how awesome this is.
The BRRR is a mobile roasting lab, a classroom, an espresso bar, and an office for us when we’re on the road. It has space for 4 commercial coffee roasters, two drip brewers, and room to work, chat, or people watch. In addition to being a great way to show off our roasters, the truck itself is a big draw.
After a quick set-up, we had some time to explore the city center. We grabbed great burgers at Muscle & Burger Bar, did some shopping, and enjoyed a bourbon cocktail at Proof on Main (when in Rome).
Day 1: Classes and Crowds
Coffee Fest is the perfect trade show for folks who are starting new businesses. The size of it isn’t as overwhelming as SCA Expo or the Western Foodservice Show. At Coffee Fest, you have the time to see all of the vendors and have real conversations. We designed a full schedule of classes and seminars, most of which were free to all attendees.
Before the show floor opened, we taught a session Coffee Roasting 101 at our booth. This 90-minute class is kind of a whirlwind overview of roasters, profiling, buying green coffee, and building blends. It’s a good introduction to the kinds of topics we cover in-depth in our In-Person Roasting 101 Classes. We had a great turnout with many eager note-takers.
An hour later, I hosted an hour-long class on Coffee Roasting for Coffee Shop Owners. Another big crowd arrived to hear my thoughts on the benefits of bringing roasting in house. The big take-aways were that roasting your own coffee can save you money, help you control quality, and allow you to scale your brand successfully. Since Coffee Fest attracts so many cafe owners, this was a discussion that really resonated with this specific audience.
We were located just a stone’s throw from the Cafe Imports booth, with it’s three large cupping tables and massive hot water towers. We could hear the roar from participants of their Two Brews and a Lie competition, where tasters try to identify a differently brewed coffee in a triangulation. There were cheers, there were tears, there was a lot of slurping.
Day 2: Coffee and Conversation
Saturday started with another session of Coffee Roasting 101, this time with an introduction on thermocouple placement and data logging from Steve. Another big group of attendees gathered to hear the session and ask questions.
Angie Davis, VP at Mill City Roasters, hosted a seminar on Roastery Architecture shortly after the show floor opened to all attendees. Angie’s background in architecture, design, and her extensive experience with roaster ventilation and installation makes her an excellent resource for anyone interested in planning their roasting space.
Her lecture was focused on designing a space that scales as your business grows, and her advice was invaluable. She shared visual examples of roasteries with thoughtful floor plans, explained what most people miss when they consider their needs for square footage, and gave tips on how to save money in the long run on freight delivery and future venting for larger machines. The class was awesome, anyone who’s planning on opening a roastery should hear what Angie has to say.
Before our next session we grabbed a snack from the Paktli booth next to us. These puffed ancient grains snack bars were the perfect sustenance for another few hours of coffee and conversation.
Steve taught the next class on Coffee Roaster Engineering and Design. His expertise on All Things Roasters was demonstrated as he explained the differences in different types of roasters, heating elements, drum construction, and airflow designs. At the end of his presentation, he took questions from the audience on everything from starting a new roastery to buying a used machine.
We had one final session scheduled for the day which was Sensory Skillbuilding. Bryant and I hosted the class together to a huge crowd. This feels like a topic everyone wants to learn more about. We explained how coffee professionals develop sensory skills, cup coffee, assess roast quality and build QC programs. Earlier in the week, Bryant roasted a delicious Peru Cajamarca to three distinct finish temperatures, and attendees were invited to taste the profiles along with us using the evaluation skills we discussed. There was much slurping and scribbling of tasting notes.
Before the day ended, I did a quick interview with Chris at the Keys to the Shop booth. Keys to the Shop is an excellent coffee podcast that covers an astounding variety of topics, and Chris is an old friend. We’re looking forward to hearing his episode from Coffee Fest!
Mill City customers Hos Roasting Co dropped off some very nice coffees, a Colombia Huila and a great blend, so we dialed those in on the espresso station in the truck to pull shots for visitors. Later, Caleb from Hos stopped by for a Roaster Q&A with Steve.
With a tired voice from so much talking, I meandered over to the Two Leaves and a Bud booth for a soothing peppermint tea. Then, it was time for another talk on Roaster Engineering with Steve and a final Sensory Skillbuilding session with Bryant and me. For the second day of the sensory class, we pulled up the cupping tool in RoastPATH and led everyone through a formal evaluation of one of the three profiles. Tasting together and calibrating on our descriptors was a great way to show how we evaluate a coffee and record our experience.
The last few hours of the show were full of visitors to the truck, long discussions about our roasters, catching up with old friends, and snacking on the bountiful treats other vendors had to offer like biscotti, waffles, and croissants.
The Big Red Roast Rig pulled off the show floor at about 5pm and Steve and Angie began the long drive back to Minneapolis. The Education and Design team, in town for one more night, enjoyed a great dinner together at Ciao Ristorante and ripped back to the hotel on Bird electric scooters. A great end to a great weekend.
We are already getting excited about Coffee Fest in Anaheim on August 6-8. We’ll be back with more classes and more coffees, and we hope to see you there!