By TODD MACKEY
Established in 2016, and since its inception hosted in Los Angeles, Chicago, and San Francisco, Bloom was created by the BGA to bring together some of the best minds in coffee. The event aims to ignite a national conversation while illuminating the ideas that emerge. Attendees listen, ponder, and respond to thought-leaders within specialty coffee as well those within related craft industries to expand and challenge culture and patterns prevalent to our industry in real-time.
Tucked neatly between two rattling New England Nor’Easters and hosted in the ever-quaint Providence, RI, the most recent Bloom Event saw the gathering of approximately 125 coffee professionals from all over New England, the Tri-State Area and beyond. As the flood of morning light poured into the Waterfire Arts Center, so did attendees anxious to spend time together, share coffee stories, and consider the material on the schedule to be presented.
Bloom Providence began with an extended networking session fueled by morning coffee brewed by various regional and national roasters. Soon Dr. Carla Martin, Executive Director of the Fine Cacao Institute, was welcomed to the stage for her presentation, More Than Mochas: Exploring Chocolate and Coffee Together. Carla took immediate hold of her audience with her command of the social history of the cacao trade, her passion for the product, and the amount of fun she was having as she challenged attendees to consider ways to elevate quality chocolate experiences alongside specialty coffee. Graciously, following her presentation, Carla organized a guided chocolate tasting for the room. From sampling methodology and flavor notes, to insights on how and why certain common practices have come to exist within chocolate production, she provided a tremendous framework for inspiring interest for better chocolate at specialty coffee retail.
Following Dr. Martin’s presentation was the first of two panel discussions for the day. Process to Possibility: Exploring Varying the Coffee Process at Origin led by Todd Mackey (Olam Specialty Coffee) and including Cheryl Kingan (Café Grumpy), Jamie Isetts (Merit Coffee), Justin Enis (Bolt Coffee), and Mayita Mendez (Irving Farm Coffee Roasters), aimed to unpack ways processing coffee at origin is driving business for specialty coffee retailers. Conversation jumped fluidly from the ways dynamic processing flavors provide important entry points for new specialty coffee drinkers to the more controversial topics of strategically aging green coffee various ways to brewing manipulation and flavor control. Particularly gripping was the negotiation of risk distribution between producers and buyers against the potential returns. The Bloom attendees engaged their panelists over the course of the session, whose grace, passion for coffee, and thoughtful approach to their respective work seemed to bring on widespread, refreshing introspection.
As the Process to Possibility panel concluded, attendees broke out to a lunch hosted in the shadow of Rosa Parks’ childhood home currently erected in an interactive exhibit in the Waterfire Arts Center. Conversation from morning sessions carried through coffee to the beginning of the first afternoon session hosted by Bailey Arnold (Gregory’s Coffee) and presented by Dr. E. Michele Ramsay, Associate Professor at Penn State: Managing Conflict and Emotional Labor. Perhaps one of the greatest takeaways of the day for many attendees was Michele’s encouragement that we should not consider conflict expressly good or bad. Her thoughtful presentation on conflict as an ever-present part of our personal and professional experiences was flanked with practical, humble tactics for how to deliver better service and support to our guests, co-workers, employees and each other.
After a brief interlude, the program transitioned to what would be the final session for the day, the second panel offering, Retailer to Roaster: The Transition to Roasting Your Own Coffee. Moderated by Candice Madison (Irving Farm Coffee Roasters), and including Angela Bryant (Primer Coffee), Christian Johnson (Spyhouse Coffee), and Kyle Bellinger (NEAT Coffee / El Osito), the session was punctuated by stories detailing hard-fought lessons learned in transition from multi-roaster café to roaster-retailer.
As Bloom Providence concluded, Satellite Events in Portland (Pacific Foods / Portand Roasting), Seattle (Miir), Los Angeles (Coffee Manufactory), and Knoxville (Vienna Coffee Company) were warming up. Thanks to host companies, local communities gathered throughout the week to discuss content distributed from Providence as well as unique presentations. All in all, Bloom Providence was a fantastic success and widely enjoyed by attendees. The Barista Guild of America is looking forward to more coffee and conversations as we Bloom together in 2019!