My First NCA Event

By Rocky Rhodes, International Coffee Consulting

NCA 2020 Convention registration now open


I have been in the coffee industry for 21 years now. I feel I am pretty well versed in most things ‘coffee.’ That was until I went to the National Coffee Association Convention.

The attendees are made up of multi-generational coffee companies that have survived and thrived for 50, 60 – even over 100 years. I knew I had a lot to learn at this event.

The most significant difference between an NCA show and the SCA show is in the focus of the events. The companies present at NCA are also present at the SCA, they are just focused on different things. At a very high level, one show is about improving your business and the other is about improving the quality of coffee. While there is great crossover on these matters, the difference in the shows is palpable.

At NCA there are far fewer attendees. There are far fewer classes. The lectures focus on big-picture stuff like politics, consumer trends, economic forecasts, and manufacturing efficiencies while dealing with new regulations.

Also, there was an extreme focus on social opportunities to meet and greet all of those people on your ‘want-to-talk-to’ list. I went with a list of 20 people I would like to have a conversation with, and I actually got to 15 of them and had lengthy, informative conversations. People were there to ‘do business’.

At SCA there are over 10,000 people all geeked-out on new trends as they push the envelope on coffee possibilities. There is a class available on almost every topic and certifications for all vocations of the specialty industry. There are contests, competitions, and workshops that all focus on craft perfection. You can cup coffee from origins you never heard about. There is a lot of noise, and you must activate your information filter so you can stay focused on your goals.


The funny thing is, after all of these years in the industry, the people I have really enjoyed spending time with at SCA are also at NCA. The reason is pretty clear – coffee is a passion but also a business!

This realization re-emphasized something I have been teaching in my classes around the world: There is a home for every bean. I am now convinced that specialty drives the industry into fascinating directions, and the large industry leaders support the geeky habit by selling the majority of coffee.

While there is a premium paid for specialty, it only represents a portion of the industry. Without the larger players making coffee available to the masses, specialty would not exist. Without specialty driving all the new attention to coffee, the growth in new drinkers would be hard for the large players. The really smart companies have figured out how to do both.

One of my friends expressed something to me that really resonated with my own experience. They said, “We come to NCA to have the important conversations with our key customers in an environment conducive to doing business. Then when we go to SCA, we can spend our time seeing what new directions we will be focused on for the specialty industry as we will have already seen our key people.”

I will continue to attend both trade shows as I have business to do at both. I also have things to learn at both. Maybe, just maybe, my company will be one of those that succeed in being both big and special!

Rocky Rhodes is CEO at International Coffee Consulting. While claiming a first passion as a coffee roaster, he is also a Q-Arabica and Q-Robusta instructor through CQI. ICC is helping industry leaders improve their businesses through specific consulting projects and customized training services.  

Photos: Joseph Rodriguez, Professional Images Photography

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