Asheville foodies who keep up with local restaurant reviewer Stu Helm know he is just as serious about his coffee as he is about his food. Whether chatting about local shops and brews on his AVL Food Fans podcasts or highlighting them in his social media interactions and reviews on Ashvegas, Helm makes it clear that he adores a good cup of joe and wholeheartedly supports the local coffee culture.
Now Helm, with the help of Coffee Crate owner Angie Rainey and PennyCup Coffee Co. co-owners Amber Arthur and Bill Tanner, will take that support to a new level on Saturday, Oct. 1 — which is, appropriately, International Coffee Day — by hosting the inaugural Asheville Coffee Expo. The city of Asheville will shut down Ralph Street in the River Arts District for the day, allowing the festival to center on PennyCup’s flagship café and roasting operation.
The free event will offer something for all ages and tastes. Many local coffee shops will be on hand, of course, selling their brews, but Asheville bakeries, sweets businesses and artists will also have booths. And children as well as adults can compete for prizes in uphill coffee sack races in Murray Hill Park.
Meanwhile, baristas can sign up to take part in a latte art contest (judged by River Arts District artists), a freestyle espresso competition and a cappuccino throw-down. There will also be demonstrations and workshops that should appeal to both devoted coffee fanatics and industry professionals. For instance, Jonathon Flaum of Farm to Home Milk, who has donated 20 gallons of milk for the event, will offer a class for both baristas and the public on the importance of using high-quality milk in lattes.
“Our goals for the Asheville Coffee Expo are to bring the local coffee industry people and coffee drinkers together for one day of supercaffeinated fun. But we respect decaf drinkers and will also have other beverages available,” says Helm. “We believe strongly that really good coffee — truly great coffee — isn’t for an elite clique of effete geeks, but that it is the people’s drink, and we want to celebrate it with everyone.”
Helm says he was inspired to create the expo, which he sees as “part convention, part festival,” after he noted a lack of coffee at the Asheville Wine and Food Festival’s annual dessert-focused event, Sweet. “That prompted me to think that a coffee-based event might be a good idea,” he says. From there, he approached Rainey, whose small-batch local coffee subscription service, Coffee Crate, had once been an underwriter for AVL Food Fans.
“I didn’t hesitate at the idea,” says Rainey. “What a great opportunity to bring the community together around something we love. There are so many talented coffee people in the area. We wanted to highlight that talent and, more simply, have fun.”
The expo also has a charity component — a suggested $1 per person entry fee for the sack races will be donated to Buncombe County Special Olympics. However, the organizers stress that people are also welcome to enter the races for free.
Helm notes that although his event-production experience has so far been limited to one weeklong stoner-rock festival he put on in Chicago many years ago, the city of Asheville has made the process of coordinating the logistics of the Asheville Coffee Expo relatively pain-free. “They have been great about helping us to block off Ralph Street behind PennyCup for the day of the event and walking us through the steps of filling out applications and insurance forms, anticipating safety issues, locating blockades, dealing with electricity etc.,” he says. “Asheville seems to be a city that wants festivals to happen, and we appreciate that.”