By Tymika Lawrence
A few weeks ago, I attended my first MANE conference. Pretty insane, considering that I’ve worked in coffee for six years, but there you have it. As I rode the train to Providence, I cycled through all the typical first time, pre-event jitters. What will the classes and events be like? Will I know a lot people? Will I make a fool of myself on my panel?
The very first event put all those anxieties to rest (well, all except the last). At The Coffee Woman I was warmly greeted, and there was a palpable excitement in the air. There were a few people I knew, but many more friendly faces that I didn’t and would come to know over the weekend.
And most exciting, there was a common thread through all the events I attended at MANE — they were all focused on progress. Not just the development of important technical and sensory skills, like the (excellent) Palate Development class I took, but also the progress required in areas that are harder to address. The Coffee Woman event facilitated conversations about gender equality in coffee. It celebrated the successes of women in coffee, and it highlighted where progress still needs to be made.
In his keynote speech, Charles Babinski delved into what makes his cafes special, but he was also frank about the challenges he faces and the need to address racial diversity in coffee.
It celebrated the successes of women in coffee, and it highlighted where progress still needs to be made.
During the incredible “How did I get here?” panel, Benjamin Paz told us how things have improved for his family since they started growing specialty coffee, and Colleen Anunu reminded us that there is still a lot of work to be done (on the supplier side) to ensure that our coffee-buying practices are good for producers.
My “Growing Pains and Gains” panel went off without a hitch, in great part thanks to my fellow panel members. Scout Rose and Katie Duris from Joe Coffee Company curated thoughtful questions about what growth in specialty coffee looks like — both for companies and coffee professionals. And Liz Dean from Irving Farm and Jess Steffy from Square One were open about the opportunities and challenges that come with growth.
This is what made MANE so special — this spirit of community, celebration and most importantly introspection. This is what will keep specialty coffee moving forward. And it’s what makes it a community I’m proud to be a part of. •
Tymika Lawrence is the East Coast Partnership Manager with The Genuine Origin Coffee Project.