We Can’t Stop Thinking About These Five Things From the 2024 Specialty Coffee Expo


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Cover photo by Jenn Chen

Now that the 2024 Specialty Coffee Expo has concluded—and our caffeine levels have balanced back out—it’s time for me to reflect on all the exciting things I saw.

The annual event, which took place in Chicago at the McCormick Place Lakeside Convention Center, was buzzing—the show floor was filled with innovative new products, coffees from around the globe, and eye-catching experiences. 

Attendees saw everything from a Barbie-inspired La Marzocco Linea espresso machine (if Barbie had a pink espresso machine inside her Dream House) with Brew Grind Water to a soundproof recording studio to share coffee stories at Covoya to an immersive virtual reality experience with Cropster

Plus, an appearance from Jeremy Allen White at Eversys! Okay, maybe I just saw a cardboard cutout. 

There was lots to see and experience at every turn, but five things really caught my eye:

The Much-Hyped Aiden Precision Coffee Maker

Launched thirty minutes before the show floor opened on Friday, April 12th, the Aiden Precision Coffee Maker by Fellow took everyone by storm. 

Fellow has developed a reputation for making quality brewing equipment popular among coffee professionals and home brewers. On the first day, proof of the brand’s loyal following was on full display as I walked into the convention center lobby. 

In conjunction with its trade shows, the SCA holds a competition called Best New Product Awards that recognizes new products across ten different categories. As I browsed the Best New Product awards area in the lobby, I received a message from a non-coffee industry friend: 

“Have you seen the new Fellow brewer?” 

Sure enough, I was standing right in front of the Fellow Aiden. I snapped a photo and sent it to him. 

The Fellow Aiden Precision Coffee Maker isn’t the first home coffee maker to claim it brews “pour over quality” coffee, but it is among the first to allow brewers to access, create, save, and share brewing profiles via a cloud-connected smartphone app. Each coffee available from the Fellow Drops program will also come with a custom brew profile from the roaster, which is sent to the brewer via the Aiden app. Each profile enables users to manipulate brewing variables such as bloom and brew temperature, pulse frequency and timing, bloom/brew ratio, and more. 

At the Fellow booth, I had the opportunity to try coffee from Verve Coffee Roasters brewed two ways: one cup brewed via a pour over and the other with the Aiden brewer. I noticed that the cup brewed on the Aiden coffee maker had a more “traditional” coffee profile with notes of brownie batter and molasses, a slightly heavy body, and mild acidity. That same coffee brewed as a pour over had more acidity and a delicate body. 

Both were great, but what I found exciting is that the Aiden lets you play with and set up brewing recipes that could recreate both flavor experiences. Automatic coffee brewers are generally pretty straightforward—press a button and go—but the Aiden gives users control over their brewing parameters and play with their coffee. 

Fellow’s entrance into the coffee maker market signals a demand for more advanced brewing technology at home. Much of this technology has already been available in high-end home espresso machines and interactive scales such as the Acaia Pearl, but now batch and single-cup brewers are getting in on the fun. 

A Stunning New Way to Brew With the Mano3 PRO-H2 

Automated pour over brewers aren’t a new technology. From Starbucks’ old Clover brewer (RIP) to the PoursteadyMarco SP9, and the line of Tone brewers, we can safely call automated pour over machines a fixture in specialty coffee bars.

However, what caught my eye about the Mano3 PRO-H2 by Mano Korea wasn’t the purpose of the machine but rather the aesthetics and functionality. 

Instead of pulsing water over the top of a pour over brewer, this machine rotates 360° horizontally and manipulates the height of the entire brewing vessel. Using an external app on an iPad, baristas can control all brewing parameters and save recipes for brewing repeatability.

The device’s physical movement and sleek modern design immediately catch your eye. It certainly caught mine from across the show floor.

Robots: They’re Just Like Us?

Love or hate them, robot baristas took over many booths across the show floor. 

Over at the Wingman Cobot booth, makers of what can only be described as barista robot arms, Expo attendees watched as robots Joy and Tom brewed up coffee and espresso drinks. At Richtech Robotics, Adam, a two-armed robot with a body resembling Disney’s Baymax character, wowed attendees with its drink-making and dancing abilities. 

Did the robots themselves capture my attention? Not really. I’ve seen these before and read endless articles about the inevitable robot takeover. What caught my attention were the conversations happening around the booth. 

Some spoke of the robots’ inability to communicate with guests, deliver customized drink orders, and create an experience that encourages guests to return. Others discussed the return on investment of these robots in comparison to the average barista wage/salary in their local area. 

For reference, Joy, the pour over robot from Wingman Cobot, cost (a show special price!) $49,000 plus tax. Of course, that’s before the software subscription monthly fee, monthly maintenance fee, and installation fee. 

The Micro Roastery Revolution is Here

Similar to automation, electric and automated roasters are carving their place in the roasting world. Multiple electric coffee roasters were displayed at Expo, including the new DR3-E from Diedrich Roasters, the Roest P3000, and Bellwether’s Shop Roaster. As the name implies, electric roasters don’t rely on gas or other natural resources to roast coffee. Many can be plugged in and are ready to roast immediately, eliminating the need to install ventilation. 

While electric roasters can have a positive impact on reducing a business’ overall environmental impact, the addition of these roasters signals another interesting industry trend: the cafe-to-micro-roastery pipeline.

Roasting coffee used to be an impossible dream for most coffee shop owners. With electric roasters, some that rely on or utilize automated roast profiles, many coffee shops can switch to roasting their own coffee easily and with less upfront costs.

The Collision of Coffee Tradition and Future

If there was one theme that kept coming up throughout Expo, it was the intersection of the coffee industry’s tradition and its future. 

The clash between new and old was evident on the floor. On one end of the floor, attendees got cold brew samples from legacy brands like Toddy and automated options like the Ace Brew Bomb or Hardtank from FETCO

Atomo Coffee served coffee-free espresso samples made from ingredients like millet, caffeine from green tea, and date seeds. At the same time, coffee producers from around the globe met with buyers and coffee professionals to forge new relationships.

I overheard intriguing conversations about polarizing topics like co-fermentation processing methods and private equity. Everywhere I turned, from formal settings like lectures to informal gatherings, it felt like people were struggling with big ideas, representing a nexus point in the coffee industry. 

On the surface, it may seem like the different “generations” of coffee are at odds. But we all want one thing: the continued prosperity of the coffee industry and all those who labor within it. 

How we get to that point is an ongoing conversation we’ll have at future events to come.

Oh, and don’t forget Jeremy.

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Anne Mercer

Anne Mercer is a freelance writer specializing in helping brands and individuals carve out their space in the specialty coffee industry. She is also the co-owner of Victus Coffee, based in West Hartford, Connecticut. Visit her website at annemercer.com.

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