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Specialty Coffee Expo highlights best new products

From the March 2019 issue.

All eyes will be on the Specialty Coffee Expo this April, but the World Coffee Championships won’t be the only event in the spotlight. A fleet of new products are making their grand debut and could be stealing the thunder.

It’s been said that winning the World Barista Championship (WBC) is the best platform to secure yourself as a household name on the competition circuit. In some cases, winning the prestigious event entitles the winner to a year of trade show appearances, sponsorship opportunities, travel, and ambassador roles. It’s not uncommon to find the winner’s face enlarged on a giant billboard for a new model grinder or line of milk pitchers.

However, being awarded the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) Best New Product has a similar effect, and it’s longer lasting.

“The Specialty Coffee Expo has become the place people come to preview their new product or innovation,” says SCA Chief Research Officer Peter Giuliano. “Specialty coffee is about excellence, it’s what drives our whole industry, so it’s natural that companies and individuals want to celebrate the excellence in the products they bring, and those coming to the show are always very interested in what the most excellent new products are.”

The Best New Product Awards have been a long-running feature of the Specialty Coffee Expo. Each is judged on their quality and value to the specialty coffee and tea industry in one of the award’s 10 categories. It includes commercial or consumer coffee or tea preparation, service equipment, coffee accessories, specialty beverage and flavour additive, packaging, food, and open class.

The judges look for a product that embraces creative excellence in innovation, industry improvements, design, education, agro-economy, and science. This year’s entries must be new to a company since 23 April 2019.

SCA Chief Events Officer Cindy Cohn says this year’s line-up of products already promises some interesting new inventions from the technology and coffee preparation categories.

“Lots of people are debuting new products, but there is one tech entry I think will be spot on – technology is one area that keeps getting better. I would also keep your eyes on the coffee preparation category, which is always interesting,” Cohn says. “Equally, I think the collections of information and app development are giving cafés more valuable information they can use to help run their business with, so when it’s available, it makes for an interesting product.”

The other popular category Cohn says is reflective of the current market trends is the developing interest in cold brew products, which five years ago was “nearly non-existent”.

“It’s a really progressive category,” Cohn says. “The awards have been running for about 15 years now and it’s always interesting to see the volume of entries in each category. However, our product standards remain. Last year there was no winner in one of our categories. Regardless of quantity of entrants, we won’t award a product that is not deserving of SCA’s high standards.

“[The SCA is] putting its name alongside the products to endorse them and support them. It’s huge to have that SCA Best New Product seal for a year. For emerging new businesses, winning gives them an incredible lift in the market.”

One such business that knows the impact of winning the SCA Best New Product (Technology) and Best of Show Product Award is Coffunity, a smartphone app that provides instant information and reviews for coffee consumers around the world.

“Winning both awards was really exciting. It was kind of a pat-on-the-back for us from the specialty coffee community telling us ‘we know what you’re doing and we love it, so keep going’,” says Andrea B. Pacas, CEO and Co-Founder.

“It not only confirmed that what we are doing with Coffunity is something that the coffee industry needs and wants, but that they are willing to support us in doing it. It changed life for us in a sense of making us want to be better every day.”

When Pacas first read the application requirements for the awards, she knew Coffunity could be a strong contender.

“I got really excited because we had excellent answers for all the questions they asked. Our project is more than an app, but a platform that can unite, educate, and improve the coffee industry world wide in many ways. We knew our product was worth displaying in that way,” Pacas says.

Her advice to new innovators who want to enter the awards is to focus not so much on having the perfect exhibit display, but an impactful pitch to show attendees and judges. Show passion and present a project that contributes in more than one way to the coffee industry.

“There are a lot of good things in the market, but having a product that is driven by improving the industry is most special,” Pacas says.

Since winning the Best New Product Award, Coffunity has been featured on online and print magazines, and was presented during the 2018 US Coffee Championships. The Coffunity website also proudly wears the Best New Product logo, a “very important validation”.

“[It’s given] us a lot of leverage when presenting our startup to new investors, as well as being different than other businesses that are trying to do something similar,” Pacas says.

The other award set to gain attention at this year’s SCA Expo is the SCA Certified Home Brewer Program.

SCA’s Giuliano, in charge of running the Home Brewer Program, says most people are unaware of the rigorous requirements to become a certified home brewing machine. SCA has based these requirements on decades of industry knowledge and research. They work with engineers at University of California, Davis Coffee Center, to test against these standards. All SCA Certified Brewers have met these requirements, which are based on proper water temperature, brewing time, and ability to brew within the SCA Golden Cup recommendations. If a brewer passes all of the tests, it is recognised as an “exemplary home brewer” and joins the shortlist of SCA Certified Brewers on display at the Specialty Coffee Expo. Brands already featured in the lineup Bonavita, Oxo, Bunn, Cuisinart, Behmor, Breville, and Technivorm.

“It’s amazingly difficult to become certified. In order to gain certification, home brewing machines have to perform within a narrow temperature of 92°C to 96°C – it has to reach 92°C within a minute of the brew cycle and can’t exceed 96°C. It’s a tight window,” Giuliano says. “Building a small appliance that sits on your counter and can achieve that temperature precision is an amazing feat of engineering.”

It takes about 30 hours to test each brewer. Tests from the SCA are performed in collaboration with the UC Davis Coffee Center engineering department. This includes a detailed uniformity of extraction evaluation procedures to determine how good or bad the brewer extracted the coffee.

“Most of the time the brewers don’t pass. It’s a miracle when they do,” Giuliano says. “There is an adjustment period so the brewers can be resubmitted for testing. It just goes to show that when you see the machines on display at the Specialty Coffee Expo, which at present is about 13 models, you can appreciate what they’ve gone through. It gives you confidence they’re the best on the market, and also an indication how many have failed. There’s a big difference in the market between those that are certified and those that are not.”

Giuliano says the volume of entrants in the home brewing category is evidence of the growing consumer market.

“Our main mission is to make better coffee available to more people including better quality equipment, so this category really touches consumers and that’s special for us. It’s also been lovely to work with companies making excellent coffee brewers. A lot of the time they haven’t had exposure to the principles of coffee we have in our industry, the things we know that make great filter coffee,” Giuliano says.

“We get to be an advocate for those standards and principles, and increasingly it’s been a collaboration with the manufacturers to help them in the design of the machine. They have made a big commitment to produce a brewer that presents excellence in coffee over convenience or affordability. These are the brewers for people who are focused on coffee flavour.”

For the first time, attendees to the Specialty Coffee Expo in Boston can sample filter coffee direct from the certified home brewing machines on the show floor. SCA’s Cohn says this is one example how the Specialty Coffee Expo is giving coffee enthusiasts the opportunity to come into the dedicated coffee world, watch the World Barista and Brewers Cup Championship, try some impressive coffees, explore the Design Lab and Roasters Village, observe the latest new grinders and brewers for the home market, and “embrace coffee excellence in their life”.

“The SCA creates a unique place of relevance for casual coffee drinkers but there is a volume of sophisticated coffee enthusiasts. This space has been growing the past seven years. Although we are a focused trade show, we recognise people are doing home roasting and brewing with elaborate machines and spending huge amounts, so why not celebrate coffee with us?” he says.

From 12 to 14 April, the Specialty Coffee Expo is expected to welcome some 13,000 attendees from more than 75 countries. Many come to North America’s largest coffee expo as an annual pilgrimage, some just for the coffee championships, but Giuliano promises the sold-out exhibition space will indeed unite the international coffee community.

“It’s not an American show at all. Specialty coffee is global by its nature. That’s what we love about it,” he says. “We try to frame things for the international community as much as we can. We want to welcome everyone and really celebrate the international diversity community that makes specialty coffee.”

The Specialty Coffee Expo takes place from 11 to 14 April in Boston, Massachusetts, United States.

For more information, visit coffeeexpo.org

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