About 12,000 people are expected to attend the annual specialty coffee trade show, running through Sunday. For the first time this year, the expo on Sunday is also open to coffee enthusiasts among the general public who buy a $50 ticket.

Share story

Wine barrel-aged coffee is a growing trend. So why not something like its inverse: coffee beer?

Indeed, coffee beer — beers brewed with coffee — has been taking off, as evidenced by the breweries offering samples at this year’s Global Specialty Coffee Expo.

The annual trade show by the Specialty Coffee Association opened Thursday and runs through Sunday at the Washington State Convention Center. It’s expected to draw about 12,000 attendees.

For the first time this year, the expo on Sunday is also open to coffee enthusiasts among the general public. (Their $50 tickets will allow access to the show floor and competitions such as the U.S. Barista Championship, but not to lectures or classes.)

The pros attending Friday could sit in classes on espresso and milk steaming fundamentals or introduction to sensory analysis, or attend lectures on strategies for green coffee buyers and challenges such as coffee leaf rustthat threaten coffee crops. Huge expanses of exhibition booths featured everything from coffee beans to espresso machines to coffee mugs.

One area, called “Uppers & Downers,” was dedicated to coffee beers. And it was apparent there that lighter coffee beers are on the rise.

Darker beers, such as porters and stouts, have been the most popular for brewing with coffee, with both beverages boasting similar dark, roasted flavors. But as high-end coffee connoisseurs have increasingly been moving toward lighter roasts — the better to taste the unique flavor profiles of the microclimates in which specialty coffee beans are grown — so too have the beers that breweries use to pair with them.

“You get more fruitiness and acidity [with a lighter roast] that pairs well with golden ales and IPAs,” said Tiny Sipes, a roaster with Hotbox Roasters, which paired with Oskar Blues Brewery, both of Longmont, Colo., to create a Hotbox Coffee IPA.

Indeed, Seattle’s Georgetown Brewing Company won a gold medal last year at the Great American Beer Festival for its Gusto Crema Coffee Ale, a cream ale brewed with medium-roasted coffee beans from Caffe Umbria.

To make that beer, Georgetown Brewing made a cold brew using Caffe Umbria’s coffee beans, then blended it with the beer right before it’s carbonated, said Crystal Sturm, event coordinator for Georgetown Brewing.

Friday also kicked off this year’s U.S. Barista Championship, with 36 contestants.

In the first round baristas had 15 minutes each to prepare and serve espressos, cappuccinos, and a personally designed signature beverage for six judges.

Contestants talked about the drinks as they were preparing them, describing the ingredients and what notes to look for — “sugar cookie, macadamia and a finish of dark chocolate fudge,” said one contestant — while judges critiqued both the sensory experience of the beverages and the baristas’ preparation techniques.

The semi-finals take place Saturday, with the final round scheduled for Sunday.

The contest was last won by a Seattleite in 2014, when Laila Ghambari, director of coffee for Cherry Street Coffee House, took the crown.