And in this case, corn is the new King. What in the world, you may ask, does that title have to do with coffee, or more importantly, you? We’ll get to that, I promise.
We spent the day today at CoffeeFest. If this sounds like fun, then I should explain that while it does brings to mind Festivus, it’s not a Fest, per se, but rather a trade show for the coffee industry with 209 exhibitors. It’s smaller than the big show of the year, SCAA, but it is more specifically aimed at those involved in the cafe and restaurant segment. Which really isn’t us, exactly, but we wanted to look at some new stuff (that will be the topic of a future post in a few weeks!), so we made the trip. On the ride home, I realized that most readers of this blog probably couldn’t care less about the trade, which is at it should be. So let’s talk about something you do care about. You. I figured I would write about my impressions of the show from the perspective of what you, the cafe consumer, might start to see in the upcoming year… new technologies, new products, and clever upgrades to existing products that impact your daily coffee.
Which brings me to the title of this post. Far and away, the trend that leaped out at me was the transition to more environmentally friendly packaging. Biodegradable cups lead the charge, followed by biodegradable, compostable food containers, eating utensils and other goods that were previously made from plastic. And this stuff is nice. The technology underlying most of this innovation is polylactic acid, or PLA. In its finished form, it looks kind of like the love child of styrofoam and paper. I find it kind of ironic that the discovery of PLA dates to at least the 1930’s and possibly to the 1890’s, despite the title of the linked paper (an exciting NEW packaging material) which actually contradicts itself on the “newness” of PLA. In any case, look for an onslaught of eco-friendly packaging materials; time to go long in Cargill and short Dixie.
The other things likely to impact the consumer are improvements to the status quo. One cool thing I saw was a new version of the Java Jacket, but by a different company (whose name I cannot recall or decipher from the exhibitors list – but I do remember they are out of Red Bank, NJ). This new cup sleeve has a built in cardboard strap, like a lanyard, that allows you to carry your coffee like it’s on a string, which is really useful when your hands are full. Very simple, very useful, very cool.
To go along with the cup sling is a simple spill-proof lid that essentially places a baffle between the coffee and the existing lid to prevent it from sloshing out the hole. Again, simple but innovative. Last on my list of top 3 is a real Back to the Future kind of thing, the Coffee Coin. Looking like something from the town of Bedrock, it is a pottery disc that is reusable version of the old fashioned punch card. It can also be a gift card, or any other kind of card. More source reduction, nice.
On a trade related note, I must complement the guys at Bunn. I stopped by their booth to complain about my pourover airpot brewer (see this post for the full story). After patiently explaining to me that I really bought the wrong brewer for my expectations, and that I really should have gone for the model that cost four times what mine did, they realized I was still in their booth. So after providing me all the disclaimers, the tech guy told me how to get under the hood and make it behave the way I want it to; this will require some new parts, which they agreed to send me for free. Way to go, Bunn.
Continuing my tradition of closing a post with tangentially related, nearly senseless ramblings, I feel compelled to comment on a few other highlights. First, we got to meet the Coffee In Action girls. We’re looking forward to their visit to our shop in a week, I’m sure we’ll all blog about that. The other is a little Mexican joint we stopped at in Richmond on the way home, La Casita. My fundamental principle on restaurants is never go to one that there are more than two of (it used to be one, but I have recently, and reluctantly, adjusted to allow for some entrepreneurial success), and La Casita meets that criterion, just (we went to the Brook Road location). If you find yourself in Richmond with a hankerin’ for chile rellenos, you must stop in.
Keep a lookout on these pages for an announcement about the result of our trip for our business – we think you’ll like it.