I think you guys are right on to something, and many of your ideas are incorporated into the current vision we have of SCAA events:
Our specialty coffee community has grown to where we have a number of different audiences. We have the new folks, who Tom describes rather well, who don't know quite what to do yet, and need an introduction to our industry, and some basic education (this is, say, the first year). We have people who have achieved that basic level of knowledge, have made some new friends and connections, and are working on their skills. (this is, say, years 2-3). Later on, people get really serious about their skills, and have achieved the level of artisan, craftsman, or real tradesman (years 4-5?). Often, at this point, people in our industry begin to give back, and teach the newcomers, and help them to interact with the community. After a few years of that (say, year 6 or 8) these folks are ready to be challenged yet again.
It goes without saying that we should deliver the best possible quality we can to every person in this community, whether they have been in our community 1 year or 5 years or 25 years.
Ok, so here is the idea:
The Exposition is the ideal place for a neophyte to come, get a sense of the coffee community, and learn some skills. They get to see the vibrant coffee marketplace on the show floor, they get to see expert baristas perform at the competitions, they meet other coffee people in the hallways and receptions (we have a number of specific events especially for that purpose). This is the open-armed welcome to our community. They can also start to develop their espresso, cupping and roasting skills at the workshops. They might go to a few classes, which deal with topics specific to their needs as a year 1-3 coffee person.
As the years go by, these people become more engaged in the community, have made a few friends, and the SCAA event begins to take on a different personality. They now begin to use it as a networking and further education opportunity. They will start to volunteer to help teach the classes they were taking just a few years before, and they might begin to engage with others in their specific profession: the Roasters Guild, the Barista Guild, etc. Their company might begin to "show" at the expo, setting up a booth to exhibit their wares and skills to the community at large.
This leads them down the rabbit hole even further. A roaster might then choose to attend the retreat, to become immersed in their profession even further, and develop their skills. A barista might get involved in the barista competitions, or might go the teaching route, becoming an expert training barista. Or, the person might start to participate in Roasters Guild origin trips and Q certification training, developing their cupping and coffee buying skills.
Before long, our intrepid coffee professional is deeply involved in the community, having developed their skills, taught others, committed volunteer time to their association/guild, etc. After a few years of this deep involvement, they need to be inspired and informed yet again, this time with a different, more specific, kind of knowledge and community. This is what the Symposium was designed to deliver.
Have I expressed this well? The recognition is that we have grown to vibrant to have a one-size-fits-all annual event, and these different expressions of our community connect us all while giving value to various segments and experience levels within our community.
I don't think the Symposium was exclusionary or undemocratic at all, instead it was an event custom-tailored for what a core segment of our industry needs in order to walk forward. Again, the goal is not to take away from the Expo side of the SCAA event, but to ADD an entirely new dimension.
In the near term, Symposium 2010 will certainly be in conjunction with the Anaheim SCAA Event, attendant with the Expo etc.
Everyone's input here has been super valuable, and has definitely informed how we will craft the Symposium and its message.
Specialty Coffee Association of America