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[Photographs: Erin Hulbert]

People from all over the East Coast flocked to the Meadowlands Exposition Center in New Jersey last weekend to experience a taste of the specialty coffee tradeshow Coffee Fest, held from March 5 to 7. This gathering of coffee enthusiasts originated back in 1992 in Seattle as a way to connect specialty coffee producers with its growing fan base.

With my press pass around my neck, I glanced through my Coffee Fest Official Show Guide to plan out which booths I had to visit. I started at catching the tale end of the Latte Art Competition, where one of my coffee heroes, Erin Meister of Counter Culture Coffee, was competing. Meister had five minutes to prepare and another five minutes to pour three impeccable lattes, which she most certainly did. Three reputable judges decided which of her masterpieces was the most exquisite and awarded her a score that tied her for first place for the Friday competitors. With Erin being the hometown hero, the entire audience cheered as her score was revealed. The Show Room opened shortly after and I was ready to explore this coffee carnival.

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Coffee Fest Showroom.

The sky is the limit in this huge New Jersey warehouse. Classes for just about anyone interested in everything from roasting beans, to creating new profit strategies, or a special seminar by Dr. Smoothie are all available, and from their short blurbs they seem anywhere from extremely informative to down right entertaining. As I stepped onto the showroom floor I noticed all walks of life enjoying the festivities. I was reminded of a perfect marriage of my child years eating Costco Samples and accompanying my father on his yearly pilgrimages through the Seattle Boat Show.

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Intelligentsia Chemex

I had to check out to the big boys of the industry: the Intelligentsia, Counter Culture, and Espresso Parts booths. All three full of wide-eyed connoisseurs salivating over the straight shots, pour-overs, and latest espresso gadgets. The Astoria booth with its fancy new espresso machine with exposed group heads covered in a beautiful coat of Ferrari red (is there really any other red?) was a sight to behold, while the samples at the Hale and Hearty station curbed your hunger when you just couldn't eat another complimentary biscotti.

The next time I go to Coffee Fest I'll take full advantage of the seminars and guest speakers—and perhaps steer clear of the pastries. I may even enter in the latte art competition and show off some skills.

Coffee Fest may be over in New Jersey, but it will be taking place later this year in Minneapolis from June 4 to 6, and Seattle from October 29 to 31. Visit coffeefest.com for more information.

About the Author: Erin Hulbert, a native Seattleite, has been in the coffee world for well over a decade working with and learning from some of the most influential coffee minds in the industry. She now lives in the West Village in New York City, where she teaches, consults, and recently finished her first book Finding the Grind: A Barista Guide, due out this year. She also can be found pouring lattes as one of three trainers at Joe on Waverly Place. Read more from Erin at her blog Finding the Grind.

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