[E]arly last month, several hundred industry professionals convened at the Biltmore Hotel in downtown Providence, Rhode Island, for the sixth annual MANE Coffee Conference. The assembled baristas, retailers, roasters, and importers of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast devoted two and a half days to training, education, exploration, and networking.
MANE has evolved from a group of just shy of fifty attendees and made up primarily of baristas, to hundreds of attendees, including many producers, putting into practice the interconnectivity and seed-to-cup relationship that specialty coffee preaches.
Rik Kleinfeldt of Providence roaster New Harvest Coffee is one of the event’s founders and lead organizers. “We say it’s better every year, but I feel like we mean it even more this year,” Kleinfeldt says. “Baristas are interacting with farmers, which is the ultimate goal of an industry event like this—to bring both ends of the supply chain together.”
For importer Samuel Demisse of Keffa Coffee, an expert in Ethiopian coffee, “the comparative Peru and Colombia varietal tasting was the most interesting.”
Organizers also agreed that the hands-on sessions were the most favored by participants.
“We say it’s better every year, but I feel like we mean it even more this year,” Kleinfeldt says.
MANE is also known for its panels, which tackle difficult issues. The Effective Community Action session addressed cafés’ struggles to contribute locally and support projects at origin, while keeping business viable. Emeran Langmaid, green buyer and co-owner of A&E Coffee in Amherst, New Hampshire, challenged coffee professionals to dedicate as much energy to sharing their skills as to learning new ones. “We are so driven to understand more about coffee that it can become overwhelmingly about what we take in and not what we’re giving back,” she said in her presentation. “What are your strengths and passions, and how can you volunteer to share them?”
In his keynote speech, competitive barista and café owner Charles Babinski also issued a call to action, arguing that cafés and baristas have a responsibility to leverage their position in the fabric of a community by providing exceptional service to every single customer, regardless of coffee knowledge or drink preference.
Coffee is always a chance for positive connection, and MANE was a reminder that coffee professionals have an obligation to ensure that such valuable opportunities never go to waste.
—Rachel Northrop is a regular contributor and a sales rep with Ally Coffee.