Issaquah company generates buzz for Coffee Fest

October 26, 2010

By Warren Kagarise

The state convention center is due to transform into a colossal coffeehouse soon, as hundreds of baristas, coffee roasters and entrepreneurs cram the downtown Seattle space for Coffee Fest.

“If it looks like coffee, smells like coffee, tastes like coffee or is coffee, you’ll find it at Coffee Fest,” David Heilbrunn, president of the organization behind Coffee Fest, said in a pre-convention interview.

Coffee Fest is the handiwork of Issaquah-based Lifestyle Events Inc. The company has produced 59 of the coffee tradeshows since 1992.

The upcoming event runs Oct. 29-31 at the Washington State Convention & Trade Center. The last Seattle tradeshow, in late September 2009, attracted about 8,000 attendees and exhibitors.

The lineup includes coffee vendors aplenty, classes and a latte art championship — a chance for sure-handed baristas to turn out elegant patterns in the steamed milk atop espresso drinks.

Other highlights include a coffee origin challenge — a taste test to determine if beans sprang from the ground in Kona, say, or Ethiopia — and a similar aroma test.

The tradeshow is limited to coffee-industry insiders, but the latte art competition is open to everyone.

“If you ever get a coffee handed to you that has a beautiful, crisp rosette pattern on the top, within that cup is a taste sensation unlike — probably 75 percent of the American public — has to this day experienced,” Heilbrunn said.

Remember: Taste trumps aesthetics, even if the pattern looks too good to sip.

“While it looks almost too good to drink, eventually you go, ‘Man, I paid 3.50 for this,’” Heilbrunn continued.

In addition to the Seattle convention, the company has plans for specialty-coffee trade shows in Chicago, San Diego and Waikoloa, Hawaii, in the months ahead.

“Everything you would find in an upscale coffee shop on either side of the counter — including the counter — you would find at Coffee Fest,” Heilbrunn said.

The affair has attracted competition from the Specialty Coffee Association of America, another industry group. The organization plans to hold conventions in Seattle in 2014, 2015, 2017 and 2018.

Heilbrunn said representatives from Coffee Fest and the Specialty Coffee Association of America plan to discuss the dueling conventions in early November.

“The fact is, competition is the American way,” he said. “It maybe lacks some class on their part. That’s fine, we’ll compete with them and, quite frankly, when all is said and done, we’ll be the stronger property, just as we arguably are today.”

Heilbrunn said the success of Coffee Fest and independent coffee shops can be attributed to caffeine — a substance the self-described pusher called “the last legal addiction.”

“If you could get 800 people legally addicted to dropping by your shop four times a week, you’d be a very happy owner indeed,” he said.

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or Comment at

If you go

Coffee Fest Latte Art Championships

  • 8 a.m. Oct. 29
  • 10 a.m. Oct. 30 and 31
  • Washington State Convention & Trade Center
  • 800 Convention Place, Seattle
  • Learn more about the championships and Coffee Fest at the convention website.
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