Carabello Crew Attends Specialty Coffee EXPO in Chicago

This April, five of us traveled to Chicago to participate in our industry’s annual Specialty Coffee Association EXPO, a worldwide gathering of coffee professionals that represent every sector of the coffee supply chain. Sixteen THOUSAND people descended on McCormick Place just south of Chicago for four days. Producers, equipment manufacturers, roasters, agronomists, importers & exporters, makers of milk alternatives and syrups, every profession you could possibly think of related to coffee was present. 

Our merry band consisted of yours truly (Justin) and my wife Emily, along with our Chief Operating Officer Emily Shinkle, our Lead Roaster Shannon Savage, and our Wholesale Account Manager Misty Barnes. We arrived excited to dive in. Here is a small recap of what we experienced. 

Emily and Emily try the new flavor of the year

Shannon: "It was really great connecting with all the people again—people I haven’t seen in years. Like Drew Zent from La Manita (coffee importers), who I have known since my days at Boston Stoker. Having lunch with Jessica Boo from Cafe Imports (first time we ever met her in person) after having years of phone conversations about coffees we were purchasing from her was so great. I attended a lecture on buying green (unroasted) coffee and inventory management that was really insightful and helped me see some ways we can improve in that area of our business."  

Shannon and Justin spend time with Todd Mackey from Covoya Coffee

Misty: "It was my first time going to anything like this, and it was so great to put faces with names of so many people that I hear about all the time. Todd Mackey from Covoya Coffee Importers, Christian LeSage from Honduras, Luis Alberto’s children Luis Jr. and Maria Josue—to name just a few. I had a really good conversation with the folks at Cropster, a software platform we use for roasting and inventory management. It was great to see the show floor and see everything that’s there that you don’t even think about. Being in one room with people from all over the world was really special. It was amazing walking the floor and seeing people from Kenya, Colombia, Honduras—just everywhere—speaking their languages and all talking about coffee." 

Misty meets Juan Valdez from Colombia

Emily S: "For me, the global-ness, the international-ness of the coffee industry is just really special to see. I enjoyed meeting people who were just starting out in the coffee industry—getting to answer their questions and encourage and affirm them felt special. I enjoyed lectures that shared industry trends and how to get free earned media from local news stations." 

EMily S gets ready to enter the SCA show floor

Emily C: "The event was so big this year—the biggest they ever had! The last show we attended was post Covid in 2021, which was very poorly attended. Coming off the heels of that, this felt extra big. Meeting Christian LeSage, one of our newer relationships in Honduras, was a highlight for me. I get a lot of inspiration looking at branding and new products, seeing the new brew merch, and searching the show floor to see if there are things we should consider carrying—for example: what is the industry saying is the flavor of the year? Are there new manufacturers I should be working with? Etc.

Emily C and Marysabel Caballero of Honduras show of EMily's Bean Bag Tote

My best new discovery this year—banana milk! Yep, and I promise you that you will see it in a drink this year. I was also paying attention to what the booths look like and how they are set up in order to plan for our future events like Columbus and Cincinnati Coffee Fest, as well as discovered some updated packaging we can use in the future—like the coffee tins from Roastar.

Last but not least, I enjoyed the lecture I attended on how to get the most out of your origin travel.  I plan to incorporate some new ideas into how we plan our trips so our employees can get even more out of them when they go."

A cool booth Emily saw

Justin: "For me, it is all relationships, all the time. I got a lot out of some brief interactions with some people I have a ton of respect for: Kevin, owner of Saint Frank Coffee in San Francisco, who is just passionate about bringing love into his community through his business. I have heard stories of him for years from Benjamin Paz, the Honduran coffee producer and friend we work with, so getting some face-to-face time was really special. Christian, owner of Bon Cafe, an exporter in Honduras who we have been buying through for several years now, and one of those humble men who really understands our industry and has such good insight into the supply chain and what is happening on a macro level. And Dean Gallagher, owner of Five Senses Coffee in Australia, who spent time with me over breakfast, allowing me to ask him the types of small biz owner questions it is hard to find people to ask. I was so positively impacted by spending time with him—it meant a lot, especially since they operate at such a high capacity. I was encouraged by these men’s buoyancy and excitement; it breathed a fresh wind into my sail. 

Justin and Emily run into Ben Carlson from Long Miles Coffee Project
Justin and Shannon have lunch with Jessica from Cafe Imports

One more thing…I enjoyed getting my team connected to people we work with all the time, as well as the team building we experienced while we were there together. It was such good and positive relationship time. 

Attending events like these are always inspiring, and even though each of us came back with more to do the following week—has anyone figured out how to leave for three days and not have more to do when they return?—going was worth it. 

Boss Babes