That’s right. The rumors are true my coffee loving friends. Caffeine Crawl is coming to San Diego! For those of you who do not know what Caffeine Crawl is, allow me to elaborate. Jason Burton, the Founder, took some time to do a Skype interview with me yesterday to talk about this revolution sweeping the coffee world giving everyone, not just industry pros, an inside peek into the specialty beverage world, specifically the still somewhat mysterious world of specialty coffee.
While wine and craft beer have successfully indulged their fans in events both educational and experiential, specialty coffee’s big events are still largely preaching to the choir, according to Burton, aimed at people in the ‘industry’ rather than the folks that buy coffee for consumption.
"That’s messed up. It shouldn’t be that way… I go to beer festivals and wine festivals and it’s the complete opposite. It’s mostly consumers. So, we brainstormed and I guess it would be two summers ago now on how to solve that… at the time we were doing a lot for the cocktail world and I was traveling around the country going to cocktail bars and also coffee shops…"
After working on branding in the high-end restaurant and cocktail scene, Burton began working with Roasters in the Midwest like The Roastery. He immediately saw the lack of events geared toward coffee lovers as a missed opportunity for Roasters, and in 2009, Caffeine Crawl was born.
Ordering coffee is such a rushed event, there isn’t time, really, for the Barista to talk about the coffee or what they are doing for a perfect extraction, unlike when you order a beer or a glass of wine, says Burton.
“[With] cocktail bars one thing I really noticed was that you have time to interact with the bar tender—they’ll tell you a little bit about how they made the drink. The pace is slowed down. And in coffee, I don’t know if it’s more of a routine, but [we] don’t appreciate how much it should cost… and the time factor and people are in such a rush… and I think it does two things: I think it puts the Baristas in kind of a bad mood sometimes because they’re passionate about it and they don’t have a chance to articulate what they’re doing… even if someone cares… it’s eight fifteen in the morning, they’re trying to get out the door, and the other thing is the consumers are sometimes too shy to ask a question…they don’t want to ask, or ask a dumb question or bother the Barista… so that was the whole origin of doing this to break that barrier…”
Caffeine Crawl strives to slow things down a bit in order to engage the senses, educate and demonstrate in a way that is memorable and gets people thinking about the beverage in a whole new way. Don’t worry tea lovers, unlike some coffee events that forget all about you, Caffeine Crawl includes teas as many Roasters are also purveyors of specialty loose leaf teas. Burton and his team also partner with craft beer and other specialty drinks to create an overall ‘backstage’ experience for specialty beverage lovers. Don’t like coffee, tea, craft beer or wine? There’s chocolate. Burton explains why chocolate was such a natural offering to include:
"We figured instead of doing just coffee…tea always gets ignored…and there’s a huge movement with bean to bar chocolate…and American craft chocolate makers or chocolatiers…there’s so much of an overlap in their process and how they work with origin in the same way that coffee roasters [do]…"
Burton and his team at The LAB in Kansas City have grown the events year over year starting in the Midwest, but reaching as far as Vancouver, B.C. and Denver. This year, they’re going Coast to Coast; they were just in Boston, and are shooting for San Francisco in June (date TBD).
When I asked Burton whether San Diego could expect them to do a Crawl here anytime soon, his answer was YES. I wanted to slam my coffee cup down as if in the in-zone and start doing my happy dance. I was sure it was my cyber stalking that had finally paid off, but as it turns out, I’m not the only one in San Diego who reached out to them requesting that they do one here. Oh, and eat your heart out City of Angels! America’s Finest City beat you to the punch…or rather to the Crawl. Our coffee culture may just be brewing, but what we don’t have in L.A. Time’s and New York Time’s reviews, we more than make up for in community enthusiasm. Don’t worry, we’ll send you an invite (wink).
It usually takes about 6 months to organize such a large scale event, says Burton, so San Diego can expect Caffeine Crawl in the first quarter of 2014. A lot of work goes into communication and logistics. Working with many independent, small businesses and brands has unique challenges, but the events that have come together as a result, Burton says, have been worth it.
Recently, Burton’s noticed a cross-over in the Coffee and Craft Beer worlds, so we can no doubt expect to see that organically grow together in San Diego and hopefully be a unique offerring at Caffeine Crawl San Diego in 2014.
Part of the reason we’re primed for an event of this scale, acknowledged Burton, is the enthusiasm people like me have for our growing coffee community. He wouldn’t even know San Diego had a coffee culture or community brewing under the ‘surf’, if I hadn’t reached out to him and let him know what was happening in coffee here. For me, it’s a great feeling to know I’ve been a catalyst of sorts.
Speaking of good feelings. Caffeine Crawl caught my interest not just because it is an awesome event, but also because it gives back to the communities it comes into contact with. An event with coffee that gives back to the community? Hello, that’s how this girl defines s-y-n-e-r-g-y.
Each Crawl closes with a raffle of 8-20 items via an after party, with the main prize donated by Baratza out of the Bay Area; a Burr Grinder that retails for $400 and change. All the proceeds go directly through the chosen charity; in most cases, local food banks. The only time they did a giveaway rather than a fundraiser for charity was during their last event in Boston; the weekend of the Boston Marathon and the Annual SCAA Symposium.
"It was a tough weekend for a lot of people…" Burton noted solemnly.
That’s all the coffee news that’s fit to print this hot Friday afternoon San Diego! Until next time, happy coffee-ing!