Our paths had crossed at two earlier events nearly two years after starting my blog in San Diego. The events were prompted by an early interview with Peter Giuliano (formerly of Counter Culture Coffee out of Durham, N.C), who had moved back to his native Encinitas to work with the SCAA. Coffee was beginning to open up to the general public going the path of wine and beer with consumer facing events, such as cuppings and tastings. I was interested in seeing these kinds of events in San Diego.
As a result of another early collaboration with Chuck Patton, of Bird Rock Coffee Roasters, Coffee For A Cause was born. CFC events focused on brew methods, local roasters and a local cause. The result, an electric and memorable interaction between coffee geeks and coffee novices alike. People were having fun talking coffee, tasting and discussing best practices all the while becoming fans of a roaster they may not have known existed before.
Not long after these events, we'd see each other and throw out wild possibilities for future events. Then, sometime this last August, we all decided that we were tired of reading about what other coffee cities were doing. We wanted to do something here in San Diego. We just needed a plan. We needed to start building.
It seemed vividly clear to us that San Diego had enough amazing coffee to support an enthusiastic coffee culture. We didn't care why it had failed to take-off in the past. If a blogger, videographer, barista and roast master can sit down at a table and get excited over the potential that lay dormant within the coffee community of San Diego, then there had to be others like us yearning for a thriving coffee culture and community.
Fast forward to September. We had a venue. The like-minded Coffee & Tea Collective; a community building force in North Park. The "Collective" is woven into their mission and, Daniel Holcomb, the owner, immediately communicated that he didn't want the event to just be about Coffee & Tea Collective. He agreed that a pour over bar featuring other roasters in the coffee community would be a great way to achieve this. We were on the same page, and could not have asked for a better host to soft launch the newly established San Diego Coffee Network (SDCN).
We had a foundation. Now it was time to get others on board. No sooner had I sent the press release out to all our local roasters for the TNT on October 17th, then a call came in from Lauren Doucette of Cafe Virtuoso. They had all been at Barista Nation and came back pumped about starting a coffee network only to find, much to their sheer delight, that while they were out, building was underway. Not only did they say yes to coming out and supporting this first Latte Art Competition (TNT), they immediately offered their venue for the next event (scheduled for Dec. 5th).
After building out this first event, our nerves were a flutter. Excited. Hopeful, but measured. We'd anticipated 40-60 people. Much to our surprise, an overwhelming 100 plus crowded in. Among them, 19 Baristas from as far North as San Francisco and as far South as Ensenada, Mexico. In addition, early specialty coffee pioneers in San Diego, such as Karen Cebreros of the IWCA (featured in Uncommon Grounds) and John Rippo of The Espresso (featured in NPR's Coffee Week) came out in support. Three local roasters participated at the pour over bar--Cafe Virtuoso, Dark Horse and Bird Rock Coffee Roasters. Barista Magazine happily sponsored a few give-a-ways and InterAmerican and Bodhi Leaf (green coffee importers) came out in support with SWAG to boot. Later, I became aware Klatch Coffee from L.A. was in the house, and we were given SWAG from Four Barrel out of San Fran's Mission District.
We couldn't have manufactured such a crowd, or show of enthusiasm and support. It seems we'd tapped into the collective conscious of San Diego and hit liquid gold; a grass roots desire to see a culture around coffee manifest itself. All we needed to do was provide a space and time for this kinetic energy to flow freely and unobstructed. And boy did it flow. For a space that allowed for little more than breathing room, the energy that night never faltered. It was akin to a rock concert. Just a bunch of sweaty happy people having a great time watching baristas battle it out with hearts in crema.
I guess what I'm trying to say by revisiting this sequence of unfolding events is some really cool things can come from sitting down in a bar with a hand full of like-minded quasi-strangers excited over what could be. We set out with just a little planning and building, and a lot of faith that the community would provide the rest. The result was more than we could have dreamed.
Jessica Percifield writes San Diego Joe, A Coffee Blog on Tumblr, and is a Co-Founder of the San Diego Coffee Network.