A&F Staff Writer
As the leaves begin to change and fall, the aroma of freshly roasted coffee will soon drift along Ralph and Depot streets in Asheville’s River Arts District.
Stu Helm, Asheville food writer and host of the radio show “The Food Fan,” and Angie Rainey, owner of the online coffee subscription service Coffee Crate, created the Asheville Coffee Expo last year to provide a place for people to experience the coffee scene in Asheville and western North Carolina.
Helm and Rainey will present the second annual festival from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sept. 30. It allows attendees to taste a variety of roasts, meet the roasters, and learn more about coffee roasting.
“I noticed, because I go to a lot of food festivals, that there was no coffee festival. I decided to see if I could start one,” Helm said.
Both Helm and Rainey develop and maintain connections in the community with local roasters and bakers through their personal and professional lives, making them a strong team to put the festival together.
“We had limited experience and we didn’t really know what to expect the first year when we applied for our application with the city,” Helm said. “We estimated that maybe 400 people might show up to our festival and afterward we took a poll of people who had been there and we all agreed that probably about 2,000 people cycled through the event during the entire four hours.”
After last year’s success, Helm said this year’s expo will feature more vendors, extend from Ralph Street in the River Arts District to Depot Street and host an after-party at Burial Beer Co. PennyCup Coffee Co. will host again, providing its roasting machine and other equipment for the event.
Jonathon Flaum, founder of Farm to Home Milk, will also help the festival by providing milk so vendors do not have to bring and refrigerate their own.
“We serve a lot of coffee shops and see them as partners. We’re close, so we support and honor these shops,” Flaum said.
Flaum said he will also make some new changes for this year’s event. He will supply goat milk in addition to cow milk for a goat milk latte art contest.
The expo features three competitions for baristas to participate in to win prize packages including latte art, cappuccino and freestyle contests and a ballot to vote for the best cup of coffee, Helm said. A panel of three judges determines the winners of the barista competitions, while the public decides which vendor will receive the “Best House Cup” trophy.
Black Mountain’s Dynamite Roasting Company currently holds the coveted trophy. Josh Gibbs and Andy Gibbon started the company in 2008 after several years of playing music together and brewing coffee as a hobby.
“We were excited to participate in last year’s first coffee expo,” Gibbon said. “Western North Carolina has a thriving coffee scene full of passionate people doing interesting things. But it is rare that we get a chance to all be in the same place at the same time, demonstrating why Asheville is an exciting place for coffee.”
Gibbon said they try to bring a few unique coffees sourced just for the expo. This year, they found a few experimental-processed fair trade and organic microlots on a recent sourcing trip to Honduras.
“We were thrilled to be awarded the “Best House Cup” last year. We have had the cup proudly on display at our coffee bar. We would be thrilled, of course, to repeat this year,” Gibbon said. “We work hard to source and roast the finest fair trade and organic coffees we can find and love that people are enjoying them.”
ShareWell Coffee Co., another participant in the expo, was launched by Candice Pritz in 2016 with her husband, Zach, who has a long history in the coffee business. They lived in Michigan when they decided to start their own coffee company.
“The first week we moved back to Hendersonville, we heard that there was going to be the first ever annual Asheville Coffee Expo,” Pritz said. “We decided we needed to giddy up and have our ducks in a row to be there. Even though we hadn’t even roasted or served our coffee to the public, we pulled it off. So last year, the first Asheville Coffee Expo, was our true birthday as a company.”
Pritz said the expo provides the community with a demographic committed to coffee and supporting small and local businesses, making it a great addition to the area. She plans to participate in future expos because combining forces with other roasters and businesses helps feature the area and the amazing coffee it offers.
“We are strictly roasters; we don’t have a café,” Pritz said. “So for us, this is a treat because we get to literally hand a cup of our coffee to someone and connect. We get to share about the farmer behind each roast, our approach, what notes we get and what notes they get.”