An Interview with Dean Strober, Founder

Above: 2017 US Brewers Cup Champion, Dylan Siemens

The Southwest Chocolate and Coffee Fest (SWCC) started in 2010 as a way to support local businesses. It began in a twelve-thousand-square-foot ballroom with thirty-eight vendors and attracted six thousand attendees. Today the event occupies ninety thousand square feet at EXPO New Mexico, and showcases over one hundred craft chocolatiers, coffee roasters, tea houses, wineries, breweries, and purveyors of gourmet foods who travel from all over the country to take part. During the two-day event, more than eighteen thousand people come through the doors to discover new delicacies, support culinary artisans, learn tips and techniques from professionals at our kitchen stage—and to enjoy the nonstop live music.

There has been a lot of growth in both local coffee roasters and chocolatiers in New Mexico—how has SWCC impacted and celebrated this?

When we first started the event, we traveled throughout neighboring states to solicit vendors, but in time, the event has grown, thanks to national publications, Food Network, and word of mouth. Every year we host more and more local companies. At the 2018 festival, attendees will discover at least three new coffee roasters from Albuquerque as well as new bakers and candy makers. What is most important to us is that these businesses continue to thrive and grow after the festival, so we promote them throughout the year through social media and email marketing, at no cost. We are thrilled to have an opportunity to showcase New Mexico businesses.

What are some of the educational highlights for this year’s SWCC?

This is where the festival shines this year. On the first day of the festival, we will have numerous demonstrations by the 2017 US Brewers Cup Champion, Dylan Siemens. Siemens took home top honors at the 2017 US Coffee Championship and is currently Head of Training at Onyx Coffee Lab in Arkansas, one of the country’s most awarded coffee companies. He will demonstrate numerous brewing methods for creating your perfect cup at home, the fine craft of latte art, and making and mixing the perfect espresso drink. In addition to demos by Siemens, we are thrilled to host kitchen stage seminars by local coffee greats Villa Myriam Coffee, Michael Thomas Coffee, and others.

On Sunday, attention will shift to the sweet side with demonstrations by award-winning pastry chef Darci Rochau, owner of Albuquerque’s Simply Sweet by Darci. Rochau has been featured in multiple magazines and newspapers, competed on Food Network’s Halloween Wars, and won national awards for her pastry creations, including a first-place prize on the Food Network television show, Challenge: Wild West Chocolate. Prior to the festival, Rochau will create one of her amazing sugar sculptures and, over the course of her festival demonstrations, will show attendees exactly how she makes such magical creations. Attendees are sure to leave inspired by her culinary magic.

What’s new for SWCC this year?

In addition to elevating the educational components to appeal to professionals, home cooks, and coffee makers, we have hired a team to help create interactive, educational, and totally awesome exhibits and experiences all about chocolate and coffee. These exhibits will explore how coffee and chocolate travel from farms to our homes, along with the environmental challenges that both are currently facing.

Tell us about the barista trainings and how this will be beneficial for the local coffee community.

For three days prior to the festival, in collaboration with Villa Myriam Coffee of Albuquerque, we will host professional development classes led by Dylan Siemens, one of the country’s best baristas and barista trainers. With a combination of general seminars and intimate, hands-on classes, we hope local coffee shops and baristas will gain insights and information to help them draw more attention to the small, local coffee shops that provide our communities with distinct personalities.

The classes will include: How to Train Baristas for Coffee Shop Managers, Brewing and Extraction Fundamentals, Espresso Theory and Dialing In, Brew Methods, Latte Art, and Espresso Drink Recipe Creation. Some classes will be seminar style and allow for numerous attendees, and other hands-on classes will be limited to six participants. The full schedule and class registration will be available at the festival website, with discounts provided for festival vendors.

Anything else you want to share with edible readers?

The Southwest Chocolate and Coffee Fest was started to help support small businesses. While many attend the festival to enjoy the samples provided by the vendors, we would like to remind attendees that these small businesses rely heavily on your purchase of a bag of coffee, a box of truffles, or a case of cupcakes. We invite the world to indulge at the festival, but we ask that everyone find those special treats to take home and share—and to support these businesses throughout the year.

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Edible celebrates New Mexico's food culture, season by season. We believe that knowing where our food comes from is a powerful thing. With our high-quality, aesthetically pleasing and informative publication, we inspire readers to support and celebrate the growers, producers, chefs, beverage and food artisans, and other food professionals in our community.