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Coffee Conference
13 July 2011


Like any industry, the coffee community loves to get together and talk shop.  There are coffee cuppings, barista competitions, food shows, conventions and conferences.  The largest event every year is the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) convention.  It's primarily big business, not really targeted towards small companies and definitely not specifically for Kona coffee farmers.

This last weekend was a much smaller conference that was specifically targeted towards Hawaii coffee.  It was CoffeeFest combined with the Hawaii Coffee Association's annual conference.  It was a three day event, right here on the Big Island.  It is much smaller than most conventions but certainly far more convenient for me since there were no airfare reservations required.

Holualoa For me, the activities started at 6am on Friday morning.  That's when I had to get going so I could be at the resort in time for the farm tours.  I had somehow been volunteered to organize and host these tours.  No problem, I know enough farms in the area it was relatively easy to find three willing to give tours.  The trick is finding farms that have good enough access that the buses won't get stuck.  Most Kona coffee farms don't exactly have easy access for tour buses.

The tours went great.  I sometimes feel like I could talk about coffee farming all day long.  This tour was different than most because the majority of the attendees were coffee professionals.  There were several people on the tours that know more about coffee than I ever will.  The tours are still interesting though because every farm is different.  There's always something new to see and learn.

The other conference event I had been volunteered for was a presentation on Social Media.  I am far from a social media expert.  In fact, I find most social media "experts" to be far from expert.  The presentation was more of an overview specifically targeted towards promoting and selling coffee.  Another Kona coffee farmer and I made the presentation together.  The audience seemed interested and had a lot of great questions.  I think we did a good job of explaining the basics of social media as well as pointing out common benefits and pitfalls.

Mill By convention standards, the turn out was quite small.  From my perspective though, it was even busier than a huge world-wide convention like SCAA.  The primary difference is that at SCAA most of the people are strangers while at this conference I knew nearly everyone there.  At the end of the day, my voice was sore from all the talking.

A good friend of mine asked why I go to these shows.  Mostly he was asking because he wanted to go to the beach but I had to spend the entire weekend at this show instead.  Still, it's a good question.  I don't sell any coffee at shows like this and it costs money to attend so why bother?

It's all about the networking.  Farming is a somewhat solitary business.  I'm not surrounded by coworkers like I was when I worked in an office building.  Shows like this are one of the few opportunities I have to meet with other industry professionals.  I may gain a few sales from the whole thing but mostly it's about the flow of information.  I couldn't even walk across the expo floor without stopping to talk to someone I knew.  Most of the conversations were purely social but every once in awhile there would be some brief conversation with some important bit of information that makes the whole experience worthwhile.  It's like sharing gossip at the office water cooler but for coffee farmers.

What gossip did I learn at this year's conference?  All sorts of important stuff.  Maybe you should have been there yourself.

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