Field Report from the Specialty Coffee EXPO

It's been a little bit over a month since we returned from EXPO and we are still processing and feeling the vibrations from it. 

From April 6-10th, a small team from Little Waves Coffee Roasters traveled to Boston to represent our business at the Specialty Coffee Expo. "EXPO," as it's often called, is a global gathering where folks from all parts of the value chain come together to showcase their coffees, to network, to make business deals, and to compete in their respective fields in the U.S. Coffee Competitions. Competition categories include barista, brewing, latte art, roasting, cupping, and coffee cocktails. 

I have been attending EXPO since 2013. I remember my first year attending as a coffee shop owner -- I was so overwhelmed by the number of classes, lectures, booths, and people to meet. I was, however, underwhelmed by the representation of people like me (immigrant Latinas who owned coffee shops in the U.S.). I was searching and could only find one other person present at EXPO at the time, but I was too shy to engage with her in a deep conversation. Then in 2017, when I returned to EXPO as a coffee roaster, I was happy to see that I wasn't the only woman roaster in the room. But still, we women of color could count the total number of us on one hand.

This year was the first time we have ever had a booth in EXPO's Roaster Village. We (Leon and I) brought Mariah, Cocoa Cinnamon's Director of Retail;  Maricarmen and Luna, two of Little Waves Coffee's Production Roasters; and Susie, Little Waves' Wholesale Account Manager, who helped set everything up and run a successful booth and popups. Our hopes and purpose in attending were to connect with the producers we work with, to connect with other folks in our industry, and, ideally, to make some wholesale connections. This was the first EXPO for our three team members, and it was Leon's and my first time at EXPO since the pandemic started.

This was also my first time attending Re:Co (Regarding Coffee)! Re:Co is a pregame to the EXPO; it's a series of discussions and presentations where thought leaders come together to share ideas about moving our industry forward. I was there as a speaker in my capacity as a Coffee Coalition for Racial Equity (CCRE) board member. It felt empowering to be in the same room as other leaders in our industry, and it was an honor to support the great, decades-long work of Phyllis Johnson and the work we do for the CCRE.

Since Little Waves Coffee won Micro Roaster of the Year, we wanted to show up at EXPO and share who we are with our industry. To do this, we served a rotation of our relationship-sourced coffees and decorated our booth to represent what is unique about us, our makeup, and our approach. It was definitely the most colorful booth in the roaster's village with all of the papel picado and sarape decorations we brought! We could see the impact it had on other people of color in the room to see us there, and it was beautiful to see our team members, who are predominantly women of color, recognize the power of their representation in our industry. It contextualized for them the reality of what it means to be a Latina-led, women- (of color) forward roasting company. 

EXPO was also a great opportunity for some of our long-time team members to meet the folks responsible for producing the coffees that they roast and dial in on our retail bars. We had the pleasure of having a few of our producing partners present their coffees at our booth and at our industry popups (such as GH Grinding and Brewing, JNP Coffee, and Cropster, among others). The array of coffees we presented each day drew a crowd of regulars made up of our industry colleagues each morning -- we got to brew the coffee they drank before going to their own booths, which, in some ways, was the greatest honor.

Besides showing up to represent Little Waves Coffee Roasters, I was also there to support and represent the Coffee Coalition for Racial Equity, which is dedicated to creating pathways to have more Black Americans represented in all sectors of our industry. We had a booth right next to Little Waves Coffee Roasters, where we featured 7 different Black-owned roasting companies as well as one coffee producing company from the U.S. Those companies were Cxffee Black, Boon Boona Coffee, Blue's Coffee & Tea Co, Southeastern Roastery Coffee & Coffee Lab, Rusty's Hawaiian, Sepia Coffee Project, and Verb Coffee

It truly was overwhelming to observe and absorb the beautiful experience of representation. I know our Little Waves team members felt it, but we could see how the folks that visited our booths were also impacted by it. It's nice to feel seen, to feel like you belong, and to be honored for your work and for the quality of your product. Those rooted reverberations trickle on to everyone involved in the process of what we do as Little Waves Coffee Roasters.

Our Little Waves team hustled and talked to new friends more than we have in the past two years. It was both overwhelming and fulfilling. We returned home exhausted but also filled with momentum and drive to continue on our path. I share our experience because y'all are a huge part of our story and our continued success and for that, we are always grateful.