I took part in providing the coffee service at the TED conference in Long Beach, CA this past February. The TED conference is a collection of talks given by inventors, scientists, sociologists, programmers, teachers, entertainers, and people working on projects that could have dramatic impacts on society in both large and small scales, all built around particular themes (conferences.ted.com/TED2013/). A pretty heady time but honestly the majority of people seemed to be rather open, approachable, and genuinely curious about everyone, and really into the coffee.
The coffee program was put together by the Roasters Guild and Barista Guild of America, with the Roasters Guild sourcing the coffees from roasters all over the country and the Barista Guild providing the actual service at the conference. Eight coffees were selected from the 36 submissions. There were over 30 baristas from all over the world as well who volunteered to take part in this unique coffee set up at coffee bars throughout the event campus. There was even one DIY bar set up with various manual brewing devices and a one group La Marzocco GS3 which is a hot rod of a little machine.
When we talked about the coffees with the attendees we made a point to not just say where the coffees were from, but who had roasted them and what they had tried to bring out in the coffees through the roasting, talking more about the things that the attendees might taste in the coffee rather than details that they might not be able to identify in the cup. The idea was to really promote craft and the collaboration within the coffee community.
We also made a special point not to tell people that they couldn’t have cream and sugar, and made them the drinks they asked for instead of correcting them or otherwise. I know that that sounds pretty simple, but it was actually a pretty big deal. Instead of saying no to sugar, we told them that we had selected a particular sugar because we liked the way that it brought out certain aspects in the coffee. The idea was to deliver service in such a way that it promoted being excited about the coffe you got instead of embarrassed for liking it a certain way.
One thing that I thought was especially cool about the conference is that I was approached by a number of home roasters. I was so excited when they’d come up to chat about equipment and roasting. I’m not surprised as those of us with this bug come from all different walks of life, but it was really great getting to have these conversations in that setting, with all those big ideas going around and some of us just can’t get roasting off the brain.