The third New York Coffee Festival attracted nearly 11,700 coffee enthusiasts and professionals to the Metropolitan Pavilion in New York City this past weekend, according to UK-based organizer Allegra Events, reflecting growth not only in consumer interest in coffee, but in the New York specialty coffee market as a whole.
“The specialty coffee scene in New York is really maturing in one way, and exploding in another way,” Allegra Events CEO Jeffrey Young told Daily Coffee News during the show’s final day. “Some of the really refined, slick concepts are now expanding. Some of those businesses who have been finding their way have been opening more stores.”
Following a similar trajectory to that of big-name, retail-focused third-wave brands originating in other cities — brands like Blue Bottle, La Colombe, Intelligentsia and Stumptown — numerous New York-born roasting brands have led this market maturation, adding upscale cafés at an impressive clip over the past five years or so. Names like Cafe Grumpy, Bluestone Lane, Gregory’s Coffee, Nobletree Coffee Roasters, Irving Farm Coffee Roasters, Toby’s Estate, Variety Coffee Roasters and Birch Coffee — most representing themselves in booths at the New York Coffee Festival — all come to mind as forerunners of this trend toward measured growth of highly refined New York brands.
“There are exciting times ahead, with a lot more big money heading into coffee,” Young said, noting the recent sky-high valuation of Blue Bottle during its acquisition by Nestlé. “This is going to give well-organized ambitious people an opportunity to grow their businesses and actually deliver better coffee to consumers.”
Though offering a “trade-only” afternoon session, as well as the Coffee Masters barista competition (won by expert barista Erika Lee Vonie) and a skills-focused “latte art live” exhibit, the three day New York Coffee Festival is predominantly consumer-focused. Young noted that the growth of New York’s independent, upscale coffee companies is indeed fueled not by brands but by consumers — those people who have developed an appreciation for finely roasted and prepared coffee, along with a thirst for more coffee knowledge.
Covering three floors, the festival offered a “Lab” program involving numerous high-profile speakers in coffee and related industries, as well as a “Sensory Experience” area led by the New York-based coffee consultancy F+B Therapy that allowed visitors flavor-focused experiences in cacao, espresso and barrel-aged coffees.
Outside of the dozens of opportunities to taste exceptional coffees — not to mention café-friendly foods, coffee liqueurs, non-dairy drinks, matchas, kombuchas and a number of other specialty products — the festival included numerous cultural elements, such a music stage, and live art. Young said the hope is that all these elements can combine for what is essentially a magnified representation of a lively, bustling café.
“All these different cultural layers — elements that appeal to different clusters — I think makes for a very vibrant cafe scene,” Young said. “Customers are very different — they are all ages, all interests — and you have to fit in. It’s not like it was 20 years ago when it was, ‘just a cup of coffee.’ There is now a depth of knowledge consumers have, and you see a range and a variety of quality products that are now completely on display at coffee shops. This is not just happening in New York; this is part of a global trend.”
Following that notion, Young said Allegra Events intends to expand upon its Festival platform — which began with the London Coffee Festival seven years ago before launching in Amsterdam and New York — with the Los Angeles Coffee Festival, the Cape Town Coffee Festival and the Milan Coffee Festival, all inaugural events being scheduled for 2018.