New Brew

Wilmington Coffee Fest blends coffee drinkers, industry together

Coffee lovers prepare to raise your mugs February 1 for Wilmington’s first Coffee Fest.

What first began as a small coffee walking tour has turned into a multi-site, family-friendly festival for the masses.

KRYSTA KEARNEY, manager at downtown’s 24 South Coffee House, curated the first crawl in 2018.

Thinking about the success of bar crawls and similar multi-business events, she hoped to connect with more caffeine junkies and other shop operators.

“I had been in the coffee community here for a while, but I didn’t know anyone else other than at 24 South,” Kearney says.

Enter WILL CHACON, owner of Luna Caffè on Castle Street, who participated in the first crawl two years ago.

“By seeing the success of the first one,” he says, “I thought it’d be a good thing to continue it.”

So, a partnership began.

At the 2019 coffee crawl, their first collaboration, an estimated 2,500 attendees enjoyed roasts and brews throughout the city. Last year’s edition included the incorporation of a trolley for shop-to-shop travel, but with such high attendance, space was limited.

Cafe lines were, literally, out the door.

The duo calls the fest a “complete caffeinated guide” with two locations — Hannah Block Historic USO/Community Arts Center at 120 South Second Street and Waterline Brewing Company at 721 Surry Street — and eighty total vendors.

“Hannah Block will have all things coffee,” Kearney explains.

There you’ll find other representatives from shops and cafes, such as Social Coffee & Supply Co. and Grinders Caffé, as well as area roasters, such as Java Estate Roastery and Longboard Coffee Roasters.

And what’s coffee without a delicious treat? Bakeries such as Small Seed Bar and Cravings will join the bean experts.

Speaking of the experts, with the expansion of the coffee event into a fully stocked festival, Kearney and Chacon have scheduled a series of lectures and demonstrations. Some topics look beyond the day-to-day café operations and into environmental and historical themes of the industry.

For example, Kemp Burdette with Cape Fear River Watch will host a talk, “Environmental Issues of the Cape Fear River Basin,” at 2:30 p.m. at the Hannah Block main stage.

Thinking environmentally, Kearney and Chacon also teamed up with Wilmington Compost Company to reduce waste during the event.

“There’s a lot of water in coffee,” Kearney says, “so we need to talk about that, too.”

James Simmons of 1000 Faces Coffee, all the way from Atlanta, will host a discussion about the history of coffee and colonialism.

Several other out-of-town experts, including regional and national brands, will travel to the festival.

Last year, patrons even came from other North Carolina regions and from Charleston, South Carolina, for the crawl.

Although the format has changed, this event is not, Kearney and Chacon emphasize, just for industry folks. The happenings at Waterline nicely complement the more educational, coffee-intense schedule at Hannah Block.

Beats & Coffee (a coincidentally named music collective) will provide tunes, joined by artisans, food trucks, and coffee trucks.

“We’re excited about this new way of doing the festival,” Chacon says, “and we hope everyone enjoys what we’ve been working on really hard for a year now.”

Tickets can be purchased here ($18 regular and $32 VIP). Check-in begins at Hannah Block at 10 a.m. and is open until 4 p.m. Waterline festivities occur from noon to 5 p.m.

To view more of photographer Terah Wilson’s work, go to

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Categories: Taste