Marquette Wire

Coffee lovers explore different kind of Milwaukee brewers

Photo by Photo by Casey Beronilla

Photo by Photo by Casey Beronilla

Casey Beronilla

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The local Italian café scene intrigued TJ Sizemore while on a trip several years ago. He particularly admired the passion and care with which the baristas crafted each individual drink. His observations in Italy sparked a new perspective on the interaction between the creators and the consumers.

Upon returning home to Atlanta, TJ began what he calls his “knowledge journey” by developing relationships with the baristas in local coffee shops and familiarizing himself with the city’s coffee scene. He put that knowledge to use when he moved to Milwaukee and began the process over by building amicable relationships with Milwaukee’s baristas. He established himself among local roasters, and about four years ago, approached the Riverside Park branch of the Urban Ecology Center as a potential venue for monthly coffee tastings. The public warmly received these monthly tastings, so TJ’s next step was to launch something bigger — a festival dedicated entirely to the appreciation of coffee.

Sizemore’s wife and Marquette graduate Tanya Sizemore called the festival her husband’s “brainchild.” Born in 2013, this coffee-lovers festival was held at the Urban Ecology Center, and on Sept. 19, 2015, the third annual Milwaukee Coffee Festival was held at this same location. Between last year and this year, attendance increased from 650 to over 2,000.

Strategically placed just outside the festival grounds (no pun intended), a roaster demonstrates coffee-making to attract passers-by with the rich coffee smell before they even reach the festivities. Upon entry into the Urban Ecology Center, whose design is a twist of rustic and modern, the festival founder and his family greet coffee lovers at a table promoting his new endeavor and the event’s retail partner, Pendulum Coffee. Vendors fill the rest of the main floor with services and products such as snacks and coffee memorabilia. The lower floor is used strictly for coffee education. At classes offered throughout the day, festival attendees can learn about the brewing process at sessions like “Science of Coffee Brewing” or “Farm to Cup.”

The top floor of the festival is the main attraction, where coffee roasters from the general Milwaukee area each have a table to display products. Guests travel from table to table, interacting with the local roasters to learn about each brand’s unique brewing process. Festival goers have the chance to sample and purchase the coffees that pique their interest. TJ Sizemore particularly enjoys this part of the festival because the juxtaposition between each coffee display allows people to explore, recognize and appreciate the differences between various coffees and develop their own individual palate based on the variations they come to taste.

The vendors’ backgrounds differ as much as their coffees. The festival features established names, brands that are still newcomers in the Milwaukee coffee scene, and everything in between. Some roasters express firm beliefs in the ethical processing of their coffee, while others brag about sustainability or online memberships.

The roasting processes vary as well — one roaster cold brews coffee and infuses it with nitrogen, but another incorporates knowledge from a background in the wine industry. Each roaster comes to the festival for a different reason. Some want to promote their brand’s name among more established roasters, while others join simply because they believe in educating the public about the art of coffee. Through the unique tastes of each brew, the diverse philosophies speak for themselves.

Unlike festivals that gain profit or donations for a cause, this annual BYOM (Bring Your Own Mug) event is completely free.  Its purpose is purely to raise awareness and appreciation for the coffee culture, while helping to promote some local roasters at the same time.

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