Roast! West Coast
Coffee People
Coffee People: Coffeefest NYC

Coffee People: Coffeefest NYC

A Triumphant Return.


DAY 1: 

I planned to sleep on the Redeye from San Diego to JFK. I was mistaken. Sleep is not an option there. Lesson learned.

It doesn’t take long to realize I’m home (metaphorically). I'm on the LIRR to Penn Station, passing Kew Gardens. I’m watching the houses lined up alongside the tracks—narrow and tall in cookie-cutter rows. It isn’t yet light out.

My hotel lets me check in early (shout out to the Holiday Inn), but I still can’t sleep. I wander down 7th Avenue and stop into Variety Coffee Roasters and Super Nice Coffee for a drip and an espresso, respectively. The sun has come out, and it is unseasonably warm. I wander slowly to the Highline.

I wish I had been more intentional, but I’m just soaking it all in as I make my way back towards the Javitz Center and Coffeefest. The people, the trash, the signs, the old blended with the new, the languages, the green amongst the towers of steel, and the sense of purpose.

When I left New York for the West Coast, the Highline wasn't completed. It seems as if the world is up here waiting to take a snap of a blossoming cherry tree against the backdrop of a skyscraper. I’m damp by the time I arrive at check-in. The crowds haven’t been allowed in yet, but I’m here with Roastar, so they let me in with the vendors.

As I make a first lap through the Coffeefest side of the event (there is a restaurant and food service trade show on the other side of the room), it is clear that many of the same vendors I’ve seen at other industry conventions are here.

I say hello to a few familiar faces and meet a few new ones. It feels a bit like going to summer camp. These are festival friends, and it puts me at ease. The people are coming, and after getting myself a cappuccino from the baristas at the Califia Farms (alternative milk) booth, I’m ready. Let’s talk coffee.

From Left: A sign that says "Good Coffee. This way." An arrow points to the left and a wide NYC sidewalk is in the background. Center: A latte with a flower heart latte art on top sits in front of cartons of alternative milk products. Right: An FDNY ambulance is parked in front of a tall brick apartment complex. Block letters on the side of the building say "COFFEE." An EMT looks into the back of the ambulance.
Walking around NYC and my morning latte from the Califia Farms booth.

DAY 2: 

I finally slept, albeit not a lot. I didn’t collapse onto my hotel bed until after a long, long walk down to Madison Square Park and back before having beers with a few new friends in West Chelsea. I’m fairly tired. It is time to look for breakfast and coffee.

The coffee is easy to find. I stop at Joe’s Coffee on Union Square for a drip, then Intelligentsia at the Highline Hotel for a shot and a drip. The courtyard is uber-cute, and I enjoy my cup in the shadow of a red double-decker bus converted into a coffee cart.

My morning walk has taken me further from the convention center than expected, and I have to hustle to get back. I still haven’t had breakfast. There are too many options. I overwhelm myself thinking about it and panic buy a bagel with cream cheese from a corner vendor. It is at this moment, I have a very New York moment in two parts.

Part 1: I almost ran into Julia Roberts on a coffee run of her own. I mean that, literally. I could have knocked down America’s sweetheart. I was looking at my phone, and when I looked up, we were nearly shoulder to shoulder, and I had to swerve towards the buildings. She definitely doesn’t know she is in my NY story, and I wouldn’t interrupt someone on a coffee run.

Part 2: I turn a corner and make eye contact with a gentleman standing by a car. It takes a second for me to realize he’s peeing into a grocery bag. A shopkeeper shouts and sprays a hose in his direction. He just smiles at me. A rat runs out from under the car into the hose's spray and about faces back whence it came.

One block later, I’m walking in the sun along the Hudson River path, looking past the sailboats and saying Hello to New Jersey. The convention, when I arrive, is the convention.

From Left: A bag of coffee with art from the Evil Dead film is held up to the camera. Center: The other side of the bag is held up showing the Catfight Coffee logo. Right: A black-clad punk rocker poses with host Ryan Woldt (jeans, blue and white flannel) with a bag of Catfight Coffee on the convention center floor.
Acey Slade and I talk packaging design. @catfighcoffee

I talk coffee bag design with Acey Slade, the founder of Catfight Coffee. He also happens to be the touring guitarist for the Misfits and, at one time, the bands Dope, Murderdolls, and Joan Jett & the Blackhawks. In a twist, the salesman from the Petainer (cold brew kegs) booth across the way used to jam with the band Buckcherry, and he stops by to see if they know any of the same musicians. They do.

“Catfight Coffee is the greatest coffee in the universe, which cannot be dispelled,
so nobody can prove me wrong on that.”
• Acey Slade, Founder of Catfight Coffee

Then I chatted with Vincent Vela, who is here officially representing the Chamber of Commerce, and unofficially his favorite coffee company, George Howell Coffee in Massachusetts.

Hanging at the Roastar booth affords me the opportunity to meet numerous coffee roasters looking for packaging for the first time. They’re learning, and because I’m there, I’m also learning. Roastar’s new Valved, Peel & Stick covers for the tin cans solve a big problem for roasters looking to offer (or take a chance on) a recyclable package that looks cool without needing to invest in a seamer.

After “work,” I take advantage of the weather and walk the streets further and further into lower Manhattan. I find my old office and wander around a bookstore. If I have one big reflection on how the city’s infrastructure has changed in the ten years since I’ve been gone, it is that the bodegas are being replaced by legal weed stores. In California, edibles seem to be the more popular form of imbibing. Here, clouds of smoke settle in front of the corner stores.

From left: A sign proclaiming Roastar as the Best New Product award winner. Center: A golden tin can with a peel and stick cover. Right: silver peel and stick covers for tin cans stacked on a table.
The new valved, peel, and stick lids for Roastar’s tin can packaging option.

DAY 3:

The weather is nasty. Wind whips off the river, turning most of the umbrellas I see inside out. Rain spits in violent sheets. I walk the streets looking for the sidewalks with the most scaffolding. I curse at my decision to leave the purple pocket umbrella hanging on the back of the door at home.

I lowered my head, pulled my raincoat hood down, and powered towards Coffeefest. I’m so focused on minimizing the soak that I forget to stop at Think Coffee Roasters. On my walk, I’ve passed by at least two locations. Luckily, this is a coffee convention, and the baristas at the Cafe Imports booth keep my mug full.

Today, I met Delany Groff from Buunni Coffee in my old neighborhood of Washington Heights and Shelby Thorn, who is opening a coffee shop outside of Sacramento. Talia Arroyo is the barista at the Created Co. booth. She brews me a latte with syrup from Proper.

My intake of coffee has been non-stop for nearly 72 hours. I’ve been talking coffee and entrepreneurship and packaging and alternative milks and improvements in roaster afterburner technology. I need a nap. I need a month of naps, because this was just a warm-up for the Specialty Coffee Association Expo in Chicago next month. See you there.

From Left: A bearded man in a grey hoodie and ball cap holds a white coffee bag up to the camera with the Roastar logo prominently featured. Center: The entryway door at a cafe has the word COFFEE in black on gold going up the side of the building and the phrase "Be Optimistic" inlayed in gold on white tile on the ground. Right: A red double-decker bus serves as the background for a white espresso cup and saucer sitting on table. Ivy hangs from the bus.
New York feels like home. I’m not the cranky, ol’ coffee drinker there. I’m the nice guy!



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