Nik Virrey of Zoka Coffee prepares to win a latte-art competition on Saturday at Seattle Center's Fisher Pavilion.
Roughly two-thirds of the photos I took


Seattle Center Gets Caffeinated With the Northwest Coffee Festival

Nik Virrey of Zoka Coffee prepares to win a latte-art competition on Saturday at Seattle Center's Fisher Pavilion.
Roughly two-thirds of the photos I took this weekend at the Northwest Coffee Festival are blurry. Considering the rate at which everyone in attendance was moving, and the high probability that I was a bit jittery myself, this doesn't come as a surprise. (It is actually more surprising that a third of the photos aren't blurry.)

After 10 days of coffee crawling its way around Seattle's cafes, the Northwest Coffee Festival finally gathered into one tangible event at Seattle Center's Fisher Pavilion over the weekend, providing a unique opportunity, for anyone who cared to purchase a ticket, to meet and mingle with some of the best in the coffee business. Strollers containing bored toddlers zipped through the room at the behest of adults unaccustomed to such abundance of espresso. People clustered tightly around a center stage to observe the magical world of competitive latte art. And late into the night, Twitter experienced what must have been a disproportionate number of posts complaining about insomnia, all of them bearing the common stamp, "#nwcf." Ah, Seattle.

A re-imagining of the flavor wheel.
While coffee (the substance) is famous for its potential to bring all manner of people together in one communal activity, coffee (the business) is infamous for its tendency to isolate itself from the public through exclusive trade events, complex jargon, and (let's be honest) a reputation for elitism. In light of this, the lovely thing about the Northwest Coffee Festival was its direct opposition to isolation through an open-door policy. Beginning June 8 with the publication of the coffee-crawl map in Seattle Weekly, 48 cafes and additional venues (such as Whole Foods) began hosting events on a first-come, first-served basis, no trade experience required. From coffee tastings and pairing events to workshops on brewing and talks about Fair Trade, the multi-day, city-wide "crawl" offered opportunities for barista trainers, cafe managers, and master roasters to connect both with each other and with consumers.

But the real excitement arrived over the weekend, in a two-day event filled with live music, chocolate vendors, and lots and lots (and lots) of coffee.

Stumptown Coffees at the Northwest Coffee Festival.
Zoka Coffee was there, winning latte-art competitions.

Caffe Vita was there, showing off their manual-lever espresso machine (the old-school kind, responsible for the idea that a barista "pulls" a shot of coffee).

Victrola Coffee was there, teaching people how to home-brew like the pros.

In fact, a lot of people were there. And the one thing I continue to hear from everyone in the aftermath is how thrilling it was, not just to drink a lot of coffee, but to meet a lot of the people you often only know by reputation (or online presence)--the people who roast the coffee you love, or train the people who make your coffee how to do what they do.

For a first-year event, the Northwest Coffee Festival was a fantastic success, and apparently has every intention of being back next year. So put it on your mental calendar, and keep an eye out for a second annual event! You won't find better coffee in this city, and you'll be hard-pressed to find people who know more about what they're serving you. And for the price of a $15 ticket, it is actually impossible to find such access to live music, brewing instruction, tasting guidance, world-class coffee, chocolate samples, or coffee-cocktail demonstrations anywhere else.

Most of my photos from the weekend look like this.
Just start practicing now and make sure you know how to adjust your camera's shutter speed to compensate for increasingly shaky hands . . .

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