London Coffee Festival 2014: Cups

The London Coffee Festival LogoWelcome to the second of my Saturday Supplements on the 2014 London Coffee Festival at the Old Truman Brewery on Brick Lane. This year I attended three of the four days; Friday (the industry day) and Saturday and Sunday (public days) and rather than writing about each day, I’m doing a series of themed posts. The first one was a general round up of the festival, while this one focuses on cups. Yes, cups. Cups played a big part in my festival experience this year.

Regular readers will know that I am bit militant when it comes to cups. Good cups maketh good coffee. Well, not quite. Bad cups ruin good coffee; bad coffee in a good cup is still bad coffee. It just looks slightly better.

I have quite a collection of coffee cups at home, especially espresso cups, but I’m always on the lookout for more… In particular, I’m always on the lookout for good reusable takeaway cups. If there’s one thing I can’t stand it’s espresso in a paper cup. Fortunately for me, this year’s festival was a good one for cups.

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Plenty, Rittenhouse

The A-board outside Plenty in Rittenhouse, proudly displaying its coffee credentials with local roasters Rival Brothers and Square One CoffeeWe continue my mini-coffee tour of Philadelphia with Plenty. It seems harsh to call Plenty a chain, since there are only two of them, but there you go. I visited the second one, on Spruce Street, which has only been open since Thanksgiving last year. It’s in the area known as Rittenhouse, just south of the centre, around the corner from such luminaries as Elixr [coming soon to the Coffee Spot].  The contrast between the bustle of Elixr and the relative, relaxed calm of Plenty was striking.

Plenty was introduced to me as a “sandwich joint” which, I feel, is understating its coffee credentials. With local Philadelphia roasters, Rival Brothers, providing the house blend, and guest roaster, Square One from Lancaster PA (not Lancaster, Lancashire, and not, as I first read it, London’s Square Mile!) providing the beans for the pour-over and guest espresso, it’s coffee credentials are pretty decent.

Add to that perhaps my favourite space in Philadelphia (although it had plenty of competition from the likes of Menagerie Coffee and Ox [coming soon to the Coffee Spot]), a great atmosphere, amazing cakes and probably the best cup of coffee I had in Philadelphia and you have a clear winner! Ironically, the only things I didn’t try were the sandwiches…

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Render Coffee

The Render Coffee logo, from the sign outside. The words RENDER COFFEE above a line-drawing of an anvil.I think I’ve found a new favourite in Boston. Head a few blocks along Columbus Avenue past my favourite breakfast spot, Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe, and you’ll find Render Coffee, just before the junction with Massachusetts Avenue. Ironically, I found it from the other direction, walking south along Mass Ave from Pavement Coffeehouse on Boylston. Although only 10 minutes from Pavement, the contrast couldn’t have been sharper, going from the busy Pavement to the relatively laid-back calm of Render. Quiet, but not empty, it was a relaxed and relaxing place to spend the afternoon.

Like Pavement, Render serves Counter Culture as both espresso and pour-over, along with guest coffees (both from Gracenote Coffee during my visits). One of the things I really liked is there’s no bulk-brew filter coffee. Instead, Render only offers hand-pour. There’s also an excellent selection of food and cake.

Long and thin seems to be a theme for Boston coffee shops and Render is no different in this respect. Accessed by a short flight of steps up from Columbus Avenue, you can sit right at the front and watch the traffic go by, or better still, sit at the back where there’s an excellent fireplace and conservatory!

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London Coffee Festival 2014: Round-up

The London Coffee Festival LogoIt’s that time of year again. Funnily how quickly it comes around. Yes, it’s the London Coffee Festival at the Old Truman Brewery on Brick Lane. Once again it was my pleasure to attend, this time for three days; Friday (the industry day) and Saturday and Sunday (public days). Last year, I wrote two Saturday Supplements, one for each day I attended (Friday and Sunday). This time I’m doing something a little different, writing a series of themed Saturday Supplements, each one covering different areas, but combining my experiences across all three days.

So, today’s Saturday Supplement will feature a general round-up of the festival, what I made of it, the highs and the lows, and what was different this year from last. The remainder of the series will cover the kit (in two parts), the UK Barista Championships, food and the coffee itself. I drank an awful lot of coffee over my three days, but still didn’t really touch the massive range that was on offer.

(“Kit” probably needs a few words of explanation: by kit, I mean the shiny espresso machines, fancy grinders and cups. Yes, cups. Cups played a big part in my festival experience this year.)

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Zappi’s Bike Café

The perfect espresso, with beans from Ue Roasters, in a classic black cup from Zappi's Bike CafeA short stroll down St Michael’s Street, just off Cornmarket Street, Oxford’s central thoroughfare, is the Bike Zone, a bicycle shop. What’s not immediately apparent, except to those in the know, is that it’s also home to Zappi’s Bike Café, one of Oxford’s best-kept secrets. Indeed, even walking past might not give it away, such is the small size of the sign, which advertises the presence (on the first floor) of this lovely little coffee spot.

Zappi’s Bike Café is not quite as well hidden as Newcastle’s Flat Caps Coffee, but it’s in that league. The small sign, well above eye-level, and a menu, painted on the door, are the only real giveaways. Even then you have to negotiate your way up a narrow, switch-back staircase and the make your way through the display room, past all the bikes, before you get to Zappi’s itself.

Zappi’s focus is on coffee, toasted sandwiches and banana bread, of which the staff are rightfully proud. The coffee comes from the local Ue Coffee Roasters, supplemented by a regularly-rotating guest blend. All the cakes, sandwiches and, most importantly, the banana bread, are made in the tiny kitchen behind the counter.

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Brewsmiths Coffee & Tea

The Brewsmiths logo, a smiling yellow cup next to the words 'brewsmiths coffee & tea'Tucked in under a railway arch right beneath Birmingham’s Snow Hill Station, the first word that springs to mind when stepping into Brewsmiths is “cosy”, followed by “friendly”. If I was allowed the luxury of three words for a wider description, I’d go for “upmarket greasy spoon”. Perhaps a half-way house between greasy spoon and coffee shop would be more accurate (eight words).

Whatever the description, Brewsmiths is a lovely place, a neighbourhood coffee shop under a railway station. In that respect it’s similar to Coffee Affair, although that’s where the similarity ends. Although there’s a comprehensive coffee menu with piccolos, flat whites and ristrettos rubbing shoulders with more traditional espressos, lattes, cappuccinos and mochas, Brewsmiths doesn’t aspire to Coffee Affair’s level of coffee geekery. The food is also more down-to-earth, although, in common with Coffee Affair, it’s all produced on the premises.

Brewsmiths has been a feature of the Birmingham coffee scene for a while, but since Christmas Eve it’s had a new owner, Andy. I never visited it back in the day (I got close though, arriving at ten past three last summer only to discover Brewsmiths closes at three) but Andy tells me he’s not changed much.

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The Espresso Lounge

The Espresso Lounge sign, promising "A Revolution For Coffee Lovers"The Espresso Lounge in Tring was the second (and sadly final) stop on my recent mini-road trip. Not very far from my first stop, Kings Langley’s Fred & Ginger Coffee, the Espresso Lounge is a very different beast, but with the same end result: an excellent place to stop for coffee.

Set in a lovely old building on the High Street, the Espresso Lounge takes a slightly more traditional approach to its coffee. Run by husband and wife team Aron (barista, front of house) and Clare (chef, kitchen) you are assured of a warm welcome and some wonderful food and cake (I did indulge this time!), all cooked in the kitchen at the back.

The espresso blend, along with a single-origin Kenyan Peaberry (for pour-overs) are roasted especially for The Espresso Lounge, although Aron confessed that he would like to get into roasting his own beans in due course. Indeed, I was impressed in equal measure by Aron’s knowledge of, and passion for, great coffee. A fan of the New York coffee scene, Aron cut his teeth as a barista on a coffee cart in lay-by on the near-by A41 before moving indoors to set up The Espresso Lounge.

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Fred & Ginger Coffee

A delightful piccolo in a glass from Fred & Ginger CoffeeOn the West Coast Mainline out of Euston and a few minutes from J20 of the M25, Hertfordshire’s Kings Langley is a place I have undoubtedly sped past many times in both train and car. However, drawn by the lure of Fred & Ginger Coffee and the need to take a break for lunch on a long drive north, this was the first time I had ventured into the village itself.

With free parking on the High Street right outside the shop and a free car park just around the corner (where I went) Fred & Ginger is a more-than-adequate alternative to the (non-existent on this stretch of the M25) motorway services. It’s also close enough to make it feasible to pull off for a quick stop. Or, indeed, a leisurely lunch.

As if to celebrate my arrival, the pouring rain that I’d driven through all the way there stopped, the clouds blew away and the sun came out. I think I like Kings Langley! As for Fred & Ginger itself, this is a coffee shop which would grace any town/city in the country with superb coffee, great food, friendly staff and a lovely atmosphere. You really can’t go wrong!

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London Coffee Festival 2014: Preview

The London Coffee Festival LogoHow time flies! It only seems like yesterday that I was heading for my first London Coffee Festival, wondering what delights it would hold. Now I’m looking forward to next weekend when this year’s event will once again grace the Old Truman Brewery in Brick Lane!

For those who don’t know, the London Coffee Festival is the flagship event of UK Coffee Week and the UK’s leading coffee festival. Consisting of six festival zones (down from eight last year) and 13 areas of activity, there’s food, music, art and, of course, coffee!

If you want to know what I thought about it last year, you can read my 2013 Preview and see what I made of Friday’s Industry Day or Sunday’s Consumer Day. This year the format is very much the same, with industry days on Thursday and Friday and three-hour consumer sessions on Friday evening, Saturday and Sunday.

My first piece of advice is that if you want to go, get your ticket now! They are selling fast and I confidently predict that by next weekend they will have all gone. With that caveat in mind, I present my preview of the London Coffee Festival 2014!

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Prufrock Coffee

Seen outside Prufrock Coffee. I'm not quite sure what it is, but I like it!Prufrock Coffee on Clerkenwell’s Leather Lane, sits at the edge of the City of London, near the border with Camden and Hackney. It’s one of those legendary names in London coffee, with an equally legendary director in Gwilym Davies, along with Jeremy Challender and Klaus Kuhnke. Of course, if you don’t move in London coffee circles (I don’t really; I’m not convinced I’d recognise Gwilym if I fell over him!) then all this means nothing, leaving Prufrock to stand and fall by its success as a coffee shop.

Given how busy it was during my visit, I’d say it was doing fairly well in the success stakes. The clear focus is on the coffee, which comes from London’s Square Mile (no great surprise, given its links with Gwilym). There’s Red Brick and an Ethiopian Debllo single-origin on espresso and a pair of single-origins on pour-over, one through Aeropress (Buzira from Burundi) and the other through V60 (a Juan Ticona from Bolivia).

There’s a limited cake range, with breakfast (until 11.30) and lunch (until 15:30), all prepared in the small kitchen behind the counter. While I was there, the smell of toasted banana bread kept wafting over; for once I resisted.

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