Wednesday, February 28, 2007

CoffeeFest Chicago 2007: part I

This post may end up being a two or three part entry, rather than a single long one. For those who didn't know, this past week was a vacation, of sorts, for me although a fair amount of my time away from the Stump was coffee-related. This past weekend (actually Thursday night thru Sunday afternoon) Kim, Cheyenne and I traveled to Chicago for the CoffeeFest event at Navy Pier. It was a fantastic weekend!

We split up and attended several classes and training sessions that covered everything from coffee basics to advanced espresso blending, marketing and branding to smoothie prep and yerbe mate' (the next big thing?), "boring" stuff like P&L and staff management to the more exciting advanced barista techniques, and so on... We also learned a good deal from talking with numerous vendors each day, about their products (both familiar and brand-new) and how to prep and use certain equipment. They say if you go to a convention or seminar and come back with one worthwhile bit of knowledge to make your business better (improve quality, increase business, have more fun, etc) then it was a worthwhile trip. Well, we came back with several worthwhile ideas, along with a recharged sense of mission.

We arrived Thursday evening after an enjoyable and too brief stop in Milwaukee and UWM to visit with my ol' compadre Jeffrey Hayes, Professor of Art History and Liberal Studies. A collection of art works that Paul Phelps, Jeffrey and I organized into an exhibition some years ago for the Haggerty Museum of Art is currently being displayed at the UWM Union Art Gallery (click here for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel review). The work comes from the hand of artist and preacher Prophet William Blackmon, and it was great to see it up on walls again.

Prophet Blackmon in front of a few of his paintings (the cross-shaped piece behind him is from my personal collection).

On to Chicago...We arrived at our hotel (Hotel 71), got settled in and after getting a restaurant/cigar bar recommendation from the concierge (a fellow cigar aficionado named Jose) we head right over to Sullivan's Steakhouse. Everything was excellent and I had an absolutely awesome porterhouse, done to perfection, followed by a monstrous piece of "Death by Chocolate." Sullivan's has a very cool cigar bar upstairs, but we were pretty tired and did not partake of the atmosphere this night.

Friday morning we got up early and hit the streets to make the 20 minute walk to Navy Pier. Sessions on barista techniques, business management and marketing filled the morning. Afterwards, we visited with some vendors, most notably Jay Lijewski from Dillanos Roasters. This company has spared no expense in their marketing materials and image. Their booth was by far the coolest of the show and their literature looks awesome...just the right blend of retro and vintage cool. And Jay, the rep we spoke with, was great...the dude's got the look and a great attitude. My impression of Dillanos is that everything they do is top notch and that the people who work there genuinely love their work. And their coffee is pretty darn good too... (almost as good as Two Rivers Roasting!). Sorry I don't have any images to post for this day; I took some pics but don't know what the heck happened to them.

Next, Coffee Cupping 101... and home roasting with McGuyver...

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