It’s Spring again: Green is starting to appear in the northern latitudes; the NBA playoffs are just around the corner; you realize that you haven’t filed your taxes yet; and the annual Specialty Coffee Association’s Expo is coming up.
This year will be my fifth consecutive year attending. I’m starting to feel like a “local,” but I’m well behind my some of my friends, like Rick Peyser, who has been to all the Expos except one since 1990, and Ben Corey-Moran, who has probably been attending since before he could grow a beard!
As a local, I recognize many familiar, friendly faces. I can anticipate the rhythm of the week. I know some of the “secret” spots to have a meeting in the middle of the Expo. And maybe most importantly, I know where to get a free beer or two. It’s taken a while, but this year I have a much better idea of what I want out of these intense few days. I know with who I want (or need) to talk to and I’ve highlighted the sessions that I want to attend that addresses some burning issues for me.
Yet despite my best planning, I’m bound to have an impromptu meeting near a pop-up cafe, get some coffee, talk about the origin/preparation/taste/projects/life/surfing and then end up running late. But the serendipitous unscheduled meetings and interactions with people outside of your network that happen at the Expo can be memorable and unexpectedly fruitful. For instance, in Atlanta, I met my tocayo, another Kraig with a K, who works with Starbucks. In my 40 years of existence, I’ve only met one other Kraig with a K.
How can a relatively new participant get the most out of their SCA experience? This year, Blue Harvest and CRS Nicaragua are sponsoring the participation of Flor de Dalia for their second time to Expo. Flor de Dalia is a medium size multi-sector cooperative (323 members) located in the municipality of Tuma La Dalia, just north of Matagalpa, Nicaragua. Flor de Dalia has been working with Blue Harvest, principally on commercialization and improving their coffee quality. This year, we have helped them sell certified coffee to Equator Coffee and Keurig Green Mountain.
I recently spoke with Flor de Dalia General Manager Wiston Vilchez about his previous experience at SCA, which was in Atlanta in 2016.
“We had received some [financial] help from ADDAC, an NGO based in Matagalpa, to attend SCA. It was overwhelming. We are in a bubble here in Nicaragua. We don’t have that much exposure to the greater coffee sector,” Wiston said. “I didn’t have all of the contacts, so it was hard to meet people. I had brought coffee to cup with a prospective client, yet I couldn’t get it into a session with Nicaraguan coffees because I hadn’t registered beforehand. I was lucky enough to meet the manager of SOPPEXCCA [a 2nd level cooperative in Nicaragua], Fatima, who introduced me to a few people and offered to help orient me.”
I asked Wiston what’s going to change this year, who he hopes to meet and what he hopes to get from those encounters.
“I’d like to meet Ted [Stachura of Equator Coffee] in person. I’d like to meet Keurig [Urs Stuker] so that I can know my clients in person and we can work together better,” he said. “I’d like to learn about what people are saying about the market [tendencies]. The prices have been really low this year. I’d like to meet other potential clients for conventional and certified coffees. I’d like to learn about alternative processing.”
Wiston’s experience isn’t unique. I know many of my Latin American colleagues get overwhelmed at the Expo — especially on the first few trips. There are too many options for how to spend your time, including activities outside of the Expo. You have to navigate logistics in another language, which you may or may not speak well. Your network only goes so deep and it’s hard to meet people you don’t know.
With that in mind, we’ve put together some advice for Wiston and others:
- Do your homework. Take a few minutes to prepare and figure out what you want out of your short time at SCA. Look at the schedule. Make your own schedule and figure out where and when to meet people.
- Use your network. Do you not know how to contact someone? Surely someone in your network knows. Ask them to help you out and make an introduction. Either via email or in person at the Expo.
- Show up and don’t be shy. There are lots of places to meet potentially new and interesting clients/partners/providers. Show up. Smile, say hi and introduce yourself.