SCAA: A Year in Retrospect and A Look Ahead

Membership in the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) continues to possess a value beyond savings and discounts. This incredible community of coffee professionals is at the forefront of innovation and inspiration in specialty coffee. Engaging with peers at every level of the coffee supply chain, SCAA members are able to achieve amazing things through these collective efforts. With almost 2,000 member companies representing over 40 countries around the world, SCAA membership is diverse and growing. With a mission to recognize, develop, and promote specialty coffee, SCAA works to provide opportunities for its members to make connections, gain knowledge, develop skills, grow their business, and take part in defining the future of specialty coffee.

The SCAA’s annual Exposition and Symposium, The Event, is the premier gathering place for the specialty coffee industry. In 2012, the SCAA welcomed almost 10,000 attendees to the 24th annual Exposition and over 400 industry leaders to the fourth annual Symposium in Portland, Oregon. Over 1,200 attendees participated in SCAA Skill Building Workshops at the Exposition and over 80% of the lecture rooms were standing room only. The city of Portland was an amazing host for this event, providing attendees the opportunity to immerse themselves in one of the most vibrant specialty coffee communities in the world.

Last year’s Symposium offered a program focused on solutions and outcomes. Speakers presented cutting-edge industry data and research findings about the specialty coffee consumer, exploring ways in which the industry can begin to understand and identify with the coffee drinker, reinvent the coffee game, and re-envision the retail experience. The Specialty Coffee Consumer Report, based on the research from one of these sessions, was recently released and can be acquired through the SCAA Store at Other sessions explored supply chain issues and the coffee market, how to evolve the business model, and highlighted some interesting parallels between specialty coffee and other craft industries.

SCAA recognizes that the future of our industry is seriously challenged by factors such as climate change, land and labor pressures, and a lack of research to identify appropriate and innovative ways of increasing the available supply of high quality coffee. By supporting initiatives such as World Coffee Research (WCR), these issues can be addressed as an industry, and SCAA has been at the forefront of these efforts. To learn more, please visit

Part of this effort to better understand the relationship between quality and the environmental factors that affect it included hiring a coffee science manager, Emma Sage, who has been highly involved with WCR. Emma traveled to Sudan earlier this year in search of wild Arabica coffee. Read more about the trip here. Additionally, SCAA recently held its first ever coffee science origin trip to Brazil. This trip was designed to build understanding of the technical, agronomic, and scientific techniques being utilized as they support and influence the value of specialty coffee. Read Emma’s recap of this coffee science origin trip here. Emma has been busy in her first year at SCAA, having also finalized a literature report on coffee and health which is available for download here, providing insightful information about the possible health effects of coffee consumption.

SCAA is continuously working to widen the scope of educational offerings and certification opportunities that are available to members of the specialty coffee community globally. The newly established SCAA International Education Licensing Partnerships (IELP) program allows partners to provide SCAA education to coffee professionals around the world. Sasha Jade of IELP partner Coffee Logic International shared some thoughts on the program, saying, “The Australian specialty coffee market is a well-developed coffee market, albeit a very espresso-based market. Ironically, for such a competitive national industry, formal coffee education for professionals, while very advanced for baristas, has until recently been pretty well non-existent for cuppers and roasters. This has all changed thanks to the SCAA International Education Licensing Partner (IELP) program.”

Membership in the SCAA is a declaration of a commitment to excellence and a desire to produce a higher quality cup of coffee, but it is also an indication of a willingness to take a look at the global issues that affect the supply of specialty coffee. Coffee is uniquely positioned to drive globally sustainable concepts that produce positive outcomes across multiple industries and points on the supply chain. The SCAA has numerous entry portals for concerned and responsible coffee professionals to pledge their commitment to a more sustainable industry and world. The SCAA’s newly launched Low Impact Café program provides resources for members to reduce their footprint and save money in the meantime. To learn more about how you can get involved, please click here.

In 2011 and 2012, the Roasters Guild (RG) annual Retreat event sold out weeks in advance, and the 2012 Retreat was the largest ever, with an education program that tripled the offerings available in 2010. Roasting classes at the SCAA Event regularly sell past capacity and are usually among the first classes to fill. The RG Certificate Program has more than 200 students actively pursuing the Level One and Level Two Certificates, just two years after the first three individuals completed Level One requirements in April 2010. By all metrics, both concrete and anecdotal, RG is growing.

“The educational opportunities that the Roasters Guild offers are unparalleled. Even the most veteran coffee roaster will find new approaches, fresh ideas, and new relationships when thrust into the center of the Guild activities. It has been said that teaching is the best way to learn, and many have experienced that to the fullest in their years being involved in Roasters Guild activities,” says Roasters Guild Executive Council Chair Phil Beattie.

A noticeable shift in active membership has accompanied the positive growth of RG membership and the RG Retreat. While early Retreats and Roasters Guild Executive Council members included business owners and company decision makers almost exclusively, the membership ranks have grown steadily over the years to include full crews of production roasters, lab techs, importers, and (thrillingly) many producers as well. For the first time in RG history, a producer sits on the RG Executive Council.

The 2012 RG Retreat was a resounding success this year, selling out for the second year in a row and offered a finely tuned program that spoke perfectly to the two pillars of the RG: community and professional development. For many years attendance had swayed to more than 70% being first time attendees, with many shops sending in new roasters in training in order to drive quality in production back home. While that is still evident with 60% first-time attendees this year, that number also speaks to the fact that many experienced roasters felt a draw back to Retreat. This is hugely important because the range of experience at Retreat delivers the diversity of approach and knowledge that is key to the success of the event.

As RG membership has grown from double-digits to almost 500 at the end of 2012, that growth has come from new and smaller companies participating in RG activity as well as companies with long-time RG participation among one or two key staff growing to participation of five, ten, or more staff members.

Christopher Schooley, Immediate Past Chair of the Roasters Guild Executive Council, comments, “I was immeasurably fortunate to have started working as a coffee roaster at the same time that the Roasters Guild itself was just starting. Working for a company at that time that was not only very quality focused, but also very focused on advancement of knowledge and skill gave me access to so much, but the greatest thing it gave me access to was to the Guild and the community of coffee roasters who came together at it’s beginnings in order to champion the art and craft of coffee roasting, as well as push us all to share and learn from each other.”

The Roasters Guild continues to be at the forefront of professional development in the specialty coffee industry and is pivotal in promoting the skill sets of cupping and coffee evaluation which have dramatically changed the way we talk about coffee quality as an industry. The RG continues to push further to work towards answering important questions about the impacts on coffee quality.

These last two years have also seen the Guild becoming progressive in exciting new ways. A key element has been added to the Retreat programming, driven by the quest to further understand impacts on coffee quality. One of the defining elements of specialty coffee that will help us to help the consumer truly understand what specialty coffee is, is a tasteable difference. At the 2011 Retreat, with the hard work of RGEC member and coffee producer Emilio Lopez, we were able to take a very close look at coffee processing and its impact on coffee quality. This year, SCAA Coffee Science Manager Emma Sage and Dillanos Coffee Roasters, home of Roasters Guild Executive Council Chair Phil Beattie, lent their expertise and resources to a study looking at product quality stability after roasting.

This shelf life study included the active participation of RG members through countless remote cuppings. This is a bold new frontier for the Guild; driving professional development, the expansion of the roasting community, and building the mechanisms to answer questions about coffee quality while empowering our members to be active participants in that process. But this all hinges on roasters who are not just only interested in membership, but who are interested in participation as cuppers and tasters, volunteers, instructors, and crucially, members who are willing to be leaders themselves.

The Barista Guild of America (BGA) has made extraordinary strides and has shown tremendous growth over the past year. With over 1,000 members, this guild of professional, passionate baristas has grown over 50% in just two short years. The introduction of a new east coast installment of the annual Camp-Pull-A-Shot, has allowed the BGA to widen their reach and make educational programming, training, and certification accessible to baristas around the country. Additionally, SCAA educational licensing partners provide opportunities to earn a BGA certificate in countries around the globe.

The BGA’s vision is to be the world’s most important network for the professional barista. They work to provide baristas a community dedicated to innovating, sharing, and demonstrating best practices in coffee preparation. With these goals in mind, the BGA moves forward, into a new era and a new realm of possibilities. Coffee is changing and baristas are at the forefront of this revolution. The BGA now has a solid infrastructure for providing information, knowledge, and skills to the barista community.

The inaugural Camp-Pull-A-Shot in 2010 solidified the need for an industry event focused on baristas, and by providing opportunities for community building and exposure to new ideas and techniques, each year this event has sold out. These types of events add tangible contact points for BGA members and increase membership value for individuals who make it a point to participate in these activities.

This fall, Camp-Pull-A-Shot also saw the first ever installment of a new program called Symposium@, which was initiated by SCAA Director of Symposium Peter Giuliano, and brings Symposium content to other events where SCAA has invested membership. This Symposium@ programming focused on the relationship with the consumer. Giuliano presented the findings of consumer studies carried out by former SCAA Deputy Executive Director Tracy Ging, in which she looked at what people thought specialty coffee was, and what they’d like it to be.

The resounding answer from consumers was that they were looking for a love affair with coffee. This idea was further explored in a Roundtable discussion led by SCAA Coffee Design & Experience Coordinator Christopher Schooley, Giuliano, and BGA Executive Council Vice Chair Trevor Corlett. Attendees were also joined at the roundtables by the SCAA Board of Directors, with President Max Quirin addressing the group, discussing the very important role that baristas play in the specialty coffee supply chain. Roundtable topics focused on bringing romance back into the relationship with the consumer, as well as how to approach, learn from, and collaborate with a specific group of consumers: those who worked in craft industries themselves. This Symposium@ program paired with the Roundtable Discussions as a follow up was a huge success, and we look forward to delivering this experience to many more events throughout the coming year.

Additionally, the Barista Guild has been offering their Level One and Two exams at regional events throughout the country, and will be continuing to add educational opportunities and certification exams at events such as regional barista competitions and local industry events. With just over 400 Level One Certified baristas and over 50 Level Two Certified baristas, momentum around this program is clearly growing. Level Three programming will be offered at select events throughout the year, and look forward to increased offerings at this year’s Exposition. The BGA is also planning their very first coffee trip to an origin country. They will visit Brazil in the summer of 2013!