My free pass to the coffee trade show came from my friend Bill, the proprietor of Tea Source. You really should check out his place -- either one of his retail stores in St. Paul or his web site. His business is unusual even among tea shops in that Bill sells all his teas in looseleaf bulk. I know people from around the country who have gotten hooked on these teas and can find nothing like them locally (so they order from Bill by mail). In the spirit of Livejournal, you might even want to take the little quiz that's designed to help you determine what teas you might like (these are questions he'll ask you in his store if you ask for advice): How to Choose a Tea. Bill exhibited at the Trade Show (there's less direct competition for him than at the Tea conferences -- yes, the Tea conferences), and had some passes to distribute. He decided that I was the sort of person who'd enjoy the hooplah, and he was quite right in that.
The exhibitors were not just representatives of coffee growers, or coffee distributors. The exhibitors presented a variety of products ranging from industrial-level packaging machines to cola syrup to baked goods to what Bill calls "tea crap" (strainers and teapots and the like) to software packages. Oh, there was so much I should have kept a notebook, but you get the idea. There were dozens of fully-realized coffee shops set up on the trade floor. I spent my first twenty minutes or so marveling at the logistics. The cabling alone was vast -- there was probably as much electricity available as a small town might need. And how did people transport and set up entire store displays, and coffee counters? There were continuous film loops playing of coffee growers in various countries. Bill says that when this conference is held on the coasts, the trade show is even bigger -- notably so.
I have no real conclusion here about our culture or business, and I can't really say I was surprised by anything except the sheer size and complexity of the setup. But I did want to report that there are more ways to have fun on a spring Saturday than you might have imagined.