A crowd watches center stage at the Morial Convention Center. Two competitors present their hardest work to a panel of stalwart judges. Green mint cups of milky-brown latte art. An announcer counts down to a judgement decision, at which they point collectively towards the winning cup. The winner advances to the next round of the Latte Art Competition.
The first annual NOLA Coffee Festival, slated for Friday September 15 and Saturday September 16, brings together the Gulf South's best roasters, baristas, and coffee lovers to celebrate their favorite caffeinated beverage. Described as "an annual industry trade show and consumer festival created to celebrate the joy of coffee products and to celebrate the many people who serve this industry from farmer to distributor to roaster to shop owner and barista," the Coffee Festival is the first of its kind in New Orleans. While the Crescent City doesn't quite have the same popular consciousness of Seattle or Portland as a "coffee town," this event surely makes it feel like it's getting there.
With over 60 exhibitors representing home bases everywhere from Metairie to Washington state, the event had more than a fair share of different drinks to choose from. French Market Coffee staff threw single-serve coffee grind packets, Mardi Gras-style, from their reconstruction-French Market float that has seen previous use at French Quarter Fest and the annual Sugar Bowl parade. Many of the biggest highlights were in fact the most independent coffee roasters, such as Gretna-based wholesaler Sean's Pinched Beans passing down roasting techniques from generation to generation, or Covington's Haven Coffee preparing for its big store opening on the north shore later this month. While the samples may have been espresso-sized, there was no end to how much caffeine was available in that convention center hall.
The event was created with a deliberate hybrid-trade-show feel, both conducive to local and regional business discussion while also maintaining a broad appeal for local coffee lovers. The more profession-oriented aspects of the show ranged everywhere from industry panel discussions on everything from coffee outsourcing and production chain tips, to more fun, competitive challenges like Friday's Latte Art Competition and a "Barista Pentathlon" set for Saturday (cleaning a station in record time, serving drinks as quickly as possible without spilling, and more surprisingly practical skills put to the test). While Friday was oriented more as an industry trade show, the Saturday exposition is set to be more consumer-facing and general-audience. Maybe it'll be fun for the whole family, but the event is absolutely certain to be super-fun for the family coffee lover.
The NOLA Coffee Festival is set for September 15 and 16, in Hall B of the Ernest Morial Convention Center. The full schedule and exhibitors' list can be found online at https://nolacoffeefestival.com/.