By Kim Elena Ionescu, Counter Culture Coffee
Symposium is our community’s annual opportunity to come together and address, collaboratively, the big issues we are all grappling with and trying to understand. Sometimes these issues emerge as threats, as coffee leaf rust did in 2013, and other times, they present us with the chance to learn from each other’s experiences and forge new ground in a dynamic, competitive market.
Past delegates to Symposium can attest to the intensity of each year’s curriculum: the intent is to pack as much thought-provoking information into two days as possible, but the sessions are organized thoughtfully around key themes in search of a balance between breadth and depth of knowledge. This year’s topics continue the SCAA Symposium tradition of gaining elevation: by taking a bird’s-eye view of our industry, we are better equipped to identify the threats and opportunities most critical to our survival and our ability to thrive.
To begin at the beginning, The Heart of It: Quantifying and Optimizing Specialty Coffee, seeks to examine the core issues that we grapple with on a daily basis within our businesses and organizations as we pursue growth, sustainability, new markets and technological improvements. In addition to reflection on these issues, attendees will be exposed to data drawn from original SCAA research that adds context to our lived experiences. In 2014, Symposium delegates learned from some of the world’s leading sensory scientists that we have barely begun to understand how our coffee tastes. This year, The Cutting Edge of Sensory Science will further Symposium’s commitment to promoting greater understanding of the many factors that influence how our brains and bodies understand flavors and tastes (and it will, of course, include palate-expanding experiences).
It’s impossible to deny the scale of the obstacles, from climate change to market volatility, that face our global supply chains. With the resource that is at once the most ubiquitous and the most scarce as a lens, Water: The Invisible Driver of Coffee, will demonstrate how every significant topic in coffee, from agriculture to the futures market to the taste of the brewed beverage, depends on this critical resource. Likewise, given estimates that women perform 70% of agricultural work worldwide and hold 70% of tipped, food-service jobs in the United States, the question posed in Gender Equity: Can Shifting Our Focus Improve the Coffee Supply Chain? will present an area of great need as a one that is likewise brimming with potential.
Finally, though change can be challenging, if not downright uncomfortable, we must constantly look out for new opportunities in order to strengthen our leadership of the coffee industry and coffee’s position as a global leader in agriculture and food and customer service. Out of the Box: Unexpected Innovations in Coffee, provides a forum for exploring emerging ideas and a platform for a new generation of coffee industry thinkers to share their vision for what coffee is becoming.
Because topics on the leading edge of coffee tend to be controversial and the Symposium audience doesn’t shy away from debate, this year’s event will see the return of the popular discussion salons, which provide a forum for attendees to engage speakers directly and delve more deeply into the subjects they find most compelling. Also returning are the popular conversation lounges, where delegates can stay connected to the lectures and also connect to one another. These supplements to the roster speakers are crucial parts of the Symposium experience, because while world-class speakers and diverse topics help broaden our minds, the work is ours to do and there’s no group better equipped than this curious, passionate band of coffee obsessives.
Kim delights in exploring the areas where coffee and business interests overlap with environmental and social themes. When not tackling assumptions about sustainability in specialty coffee, she spends her time cupping coffee, writing and speaking on behalf of Counter Culture Coffee, where she serves as a coffee buyer and the company’s Sustainability Manager.