It’s not everyday that the average Angeleno can walk into a space with movies, history lessons and lectures about coffee. From Friday to Sunday, The Reef L.A. hosted the first-ever Los Angeles Coffee Festival, drawing a crowd with varying stakes in the industry.
Despite apprehensions of a lack of local representation, L.A. showed up to its own festival; vendors like Cognoscenti Coffee, Loit Cafe and Good People Coffee Co. filled each exhibition space with the aroma of freshly brewed coffee.
International vendors, such as Teapigs and Milkadamia, also made the trip with hope of making names for themselves in the American coffee scene.
Along with the coffee, a variety of tea, milk and appliance vendors were at the festival.
One of the festival’s main sponsors, Califa Farms, sprawled out in a larger exhibition space, decorating it with hanging plants and featuring a
D.I.Y. coffee body scrub bar, where attendees could fill mason jars with combinations of coffee and brown sugar exfoliants and top them with essential oils to take home.
Silk, known for producing soy and alternative milk products, filled its exhibition space with picnic-style tables and a bar to present its barista collection — pairing cold brews from other vendors with Silk samples to hand out.
Appliance vendors like Bodum, FAEMA and Breville showcased their appliances designed specifically for baristas and cafe owners. The baristas at the Breville booth served up slices of pizza as well as espresso, with
proceeds going to the festival’s partner charity, Project Waterfall. Many
over-caffeinated visitors stopped into their small faux grass plot to sit down and munch on what was the only food amid of coffee booths.
USC locale Nature’s Brew was also represented by Unity, a New York
City-based roaster that provides beans used in Nature’s Brew beverages. Adam Strauss, co-founder and head of the L.A. Unity branch chatted with passersby about the growers and farms that Unity has relationships with.
“We emphasize our relationships with the farmers,” Strauss said. “There’s this one guy in Colombia [and it] takes two weeks just to get to his farm — and it’s by horseback — but we do it. Fostering those personal relationships, that’s what it’s about.”
Students who frequent Nature’s Brew can look forward to Unity’s Caturra beans, which are used in the shop’s cold brew. This year, Unity is roasting Ethiopian-sourced Kossa Geshe, and will introduce Colombian-sourced beans next year.
“The farm [the Caturra is from] is called Laderas Del Tapias,” Strass said in an interview with the Daily Trojan. “That’s a farm we’ve been buying from for four harvests.”
A presentation room just off to the side of the exhibition room featured talks themed around coffee and related industries, and also rooted in social and environmental issues. Adam Carr of Seven Miles Coffee Roasters kicked off Friday’s presentations with his talk “Environmental Sustainability in Cafes: Cradle to Grave Analysis,” setting the bar for each half-hour slot with an energetic examination of the possibilities of environmental protection in this industry.
Two educators from Stumptown Coffee Roasters, Kristi Persinger and Erica Shafer, discussed the ways we can support women and the underexposed gender divide within the industry in their talk, “Women in Coffee.” From the beginnings of female coffee makers’ contributions — like Melitta Bentz’s invention of the paper coffee filter in 1908 — to today’s women taking charge of farms, winning competitions and starting their own businesses, Persinger and Shafer also provided a quick but thorough overview of the history of women in the coffee industry.
Saturday featured eight speakers while Sunday saw only five, all of whom tackled a different aspect in the coffee and tea industries most would not stop to think about — from historical roots in colonialism to how roasters use data analysis to better their brews.
THE TASTING ROOM
The Tasting Room, a more intimate space fitted with two long wooden tables, allowed guests to share cups of joe and conversation.
Friday started off with the Art of Tea 101, a historical look into tea and its background. Despite speaking at a coffee festival, Art of Tea CEO Steve Schwartz sat at the table and expressed the importance of tea in society today, particularly among the younger demographic.
“Millennials are becoming more and more into coffee, but tea just as equally,” Schwartz said. “Because of the Boston Tea Party, we [as Americans] shy away from tea, but it’s really a central part of our culture.”
He said he was surprised to find many vendors and visitors were international, and spoke about tea’s role in each of their cultures. The majority of the Tasting Room sessions were centered on tea rather than coffee, a break from the focus of the main room.
In addition to the panels, talks and exhibition booths, parts of the main area served as spaces for events like Latte Art Live and Coffee Mixologists L.A. Allstars, featuring baristas and bartenders serving up beautiful designs of cream on espresso in the festival’s early hours and mixing up deceptively tasty concoctions in the afternoon.
The Coffee Art Project submissions adorned a far wall — entries included a scene from sitcom “Friends” constructed entirely out of coffee beans; paintings of strangers sharing cups of coffee fittingly represented the coffee theme, and many had already been purchased by the second day of the festival. In another room, movie submissions to the Coffee Movie Project were screened throughout the day, with films centered on coffee.
As the weekend came to a close, attendees walked away from the festival dizzied from an excess of caffeine, yet brimming with new skills and a more holistic view and appreciation of an industry that comprises a daily ritual for many.