Coffee Fest a learning experience for Plate 21Written by Brian Bohnert | | email@example.com
Coffee Fest 2012 was more than a latte art competition to Sandy Spang and her crew at Plate 21. It was a learning experience.
From June 8-10, Spang and her best baristas attended the convention in Chicago, which showcased everything new in the coffee world, including advancements in equipment and technique, as well as the newest coffee tastes and textures.
The event brought together some of the world’s most talented coffee businesses and enthusiasts.
“It was full of a lot of really great people,” Spang said.
From equipment vendors to roasters to coffeehouses large and small, Spang said the convention was an opportunity for coffee businesses around the world to network and share new ideas, all with the goal of learning from one another.
“It’s not just attended by [coffee shop] owners, it’s attended by equipment vendors, roasters and all sorts of people passionate about coffee,” she said.
Spang purchased new equipment for Plate 21, and also brought back new coffee brands and flavors in order to offer Toledo coffee “it has never seen before,” she said.
“We bought a new grinder developed just for pour-over brewing and we’re going to bring in new coffees,” she said. “When you stay in Toledo and you don’t go to these things, you don’t get to experience all of the new things. … We even had contact with roasters from Seattle. Coffee attracts tremendous folks.”
Latte Art Championship
A featured event at the convention was the Latte Art Championship, a 64-bracket, head-to-head competition between the most talented baristas from around the globe.
All competing baristas had three minutes to pour a drink they were satisfied with. Once the decorated beverage was poured, it was photographed and put on a screen for the audience to see before being presented to the judges.
The drinks were judged on five categories: aesthetic beauty, definition, color infusion, degree of difficulty and creativity, and speed, according to the event’s website.
First prize was $2,500, second place received $1,000 and third place received $500.
Plate 21 baristas John Amato and Andrew Trumbull represented the business in the competition, with a third barista serving as an alternate. While neither placed, they were all grateful for the opportunity and eager for next year’s event.
“It was really neat spending time with some of the best baristas in the world,” Amato said. “It was really great to be a part of that culture.”
The biggest challenges Amato said he and his peers faced were learning the protocols and working on equipment they had never worked on before.
“It was so much different,” he said. “It’s like you’re driving an automatic car your whole life and someone puts you in a manual.”
Spang said she is proud of her baristas and that the knowledge gained from the competition will prepare them to be serious contenders for next year’s Latte Art Championship.
“They have the competition experience; now they need equipment experience,” Spang said. “I think we’re at the level it takes to compete on an international level, but we just need to learn the equipment. I think we stepped it up. We’re there and we’re not done.”
‘Community’s living room’
Plate 21, located at 3664 Rugby Drive, in Toledo, opened Sept. 29, 2009. Then-Mayor Carty Finkbeiner cut the ribbon to the new coffeehouse, welcoming it to the community.
“This is what we need in our community. These are the kinds of businesses we need,” Finkbeiner said.
Spang, who said she wants the shop to be used as the “community’s living room,” said the date was not only the grand opening of Spang’s business, it was also National Coffee Day.
“What serendipity,” Spang said. “We had no idea that we were opening on National Coffee Day.”
Aside from new equipment, Spang said learning from other professionals at Coffee Fest has given her and her colleagues a new outlook on the future of the business.
“That is why you go to places like that,” she said. “It moves you up to a new level. We’ve got a lot of exciting new stuff coming in and we’re really excited about all of the ideas we’re going to be implementing. It was a very productive weekend.”