Yesterday I went to the London Coffee Festival in Brick Lane, London, the flagship event of UK Coffee Week. Friday was an industry day, with a public session in the evening, followed by the launch party. If you’ve already got your tickets, you can check out some of the things you might want to see when you go. If you are thinking of going, but don’t have a ticket, then it’s too late: the Festival is now sold out! Make sure you go next year instead!
If you are going, I have three tips for you. The first is that there is no cloakroom, so whatever you bring, you will have to wear/carry around with you while you’re there. Since it’s very crowded, best not bring your rucksack unless you absolutely have to! Secondly, do bring some water, since while there’s plenty of coffee to drink, you’ll soon get dehydrated if you don’t have something else to go with it. Finally, everything is served in takeaway cups, so if you hate waste, bring your own!
So, what did I get up to while I was there…?
The True Artisan Café/Soho Zone
This is a pop-up coffee shop featuring three of the country’s top roasters/cafés per session. Instead of wandering around London (and the rest of the country) in order to try them out, the London Coffee Festival brings them all to you under one roof. As well as the pop-up café, there are also permanent (ie they’re there throughout the Festival) stalls from the likes of Ozone and Grumpy Mule which I will be trying out when I go back on Sunday. Finally, there’s The Roastery, where the wizards at Union Hand-Roasted Coffee will take you by the hand and lead you through the mysteries of roasting, brewing and tasting coffee. Another one for Sunday, I think. Finally, don’t miss the Coffee Hit stall which has lots of coffee accessories on display (and sale). You might need to keep a tight hold on your wallet though, in case it sneaks out and buys stuff for you while you’re not looking!
However, my personal highlight was tracking down Glasgow’s Dear Green Coffee at the True Artisan Café on Friday evening. I’d only had Dear Green’s Coffee once before at Razzo Coffee in Edinburgh and it wasn’t really to my taste, being a little too subtle for me. I met Lisa, the woman behind Dear Green, and told her all this before I realised who I was talking to! I felt particularly silly at that point. However, I was rescued by her new “Treron Corretto” blend, which I had as an espresso with (at Lisa’s suggestion) whisky and honey, her take on the traditional Italian caffè corretto. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting much, but it was superb! I also tried it neat and much preferred it with the whisky and honey, which, given that I don’t like whisky and hate having sugar or anything else like that in my coffee, is high praise indeed!
Make Decent Coffee/The Lab
The folks at Make Decent Coffee are on a mission: to, err, get you to make decent coffee… Well, you can’t say they didn’t warn you! This is definitely worth visiting, even if you think you know how to make decent coffee. They have different tables, one for each brewing method. I spent most of my time on the espresso table with the splendid Phil, who gave me lots of tips to get the best out of my newly-purchased Rancilio Silvia machine. However, there are also tables for Aeropress, cafetiere, pour-over and Chemex and they are definitely worth a visit.
Opposite the guys at Make Decent Coffee you can find The Lab, where there is a series of talks throughout the day. I was there for the launch of the London Coffee Guide, which you can get with your ticket for the Festival at the knock-down price of £5 (normally £9.99). I’m a great fan of the (rival) London’s Best Coffee App for my Android (other guides are available, but only on iOS), but nothing beats having a book in your hand!
The Showroom is where the majority of the trade stands are, although there are lots of stalls of interest to the general consumer too. You should pop along to the Bespoke Water stand (right at the back) where Chloe of The Faerietale Foody is on hand to explain why water is such an important component of your coffee. Hario are also there with a range of their goodies from grinders through scales to filter systems, but the highlight for me was the ROK hand-powered espresso machine. Designed in London, just add hot water, coffee and a bit of muscle and you can make excellent espresso. Better still, you can save £30 off the normal retail price if you order before the end of the month using code ROKME99! If I hadn’t just bought my new Silvia, I’d have been very tempted.
The showroom is also where you’ll find the UKCE stage, where all the weekend’s competitions take place. The Brewers Cup for non-espresso methods, the Coffee in Good Spirits (coffee and alcohol) and the Cup Tasting competitions had already come and gone by the time I got there, but I was able to watch a couple of the Latte Art competitors in the afternoon, including the winner, Dhan Bahadur Tamang. I was a bit sceptical about the competitions since I much prefer drinking coffee to watching it being made, but I really enjoyed the bits I saw. I wouldn’t want to spend the whole day there though.
If you are going to the competitions and you actually want to see anything, get there early and a bag a seat at the front. It’s either that or watch the action on the overhead monitors since the actual competitor is usually surrounded by a media scrum! The semi-finals of the Barista Championships take place on Saturday with the finals on Sunday, as well as the Ibrik competition on Sunday morning, featuring coffee from Greece, Turkey and the Middle-east.
Artisan Market/Street Food Market – Shoreditch Zone
When you’ve had enough coffee (or just need a break) head over to the Shoreditch Zone where you will find the Artisan and Street Food Markets. These are packed with stalls selling mostly cake and bread (Artisan Market) and hot food (Street Food Market). I was able to reacquaint myself with the wonderful Arancini Brothers who I know from the Real Food Market on the South Bank. I had their 50/50 box (stew, arancini – rice balls stuffed with cheese – and salad) and had a long chat with Arthur, one of the Arancini Brothers (whose surname is disappointingly not actually Arancini!).
I also had some lovely bread which I took home for my breakfast from Astons the bakers. I had to pass on all the other lovely-looking cakes though: there were just too many to eat all in one day! I even resisted the waffles! Somehow I can’t see that happening on Sunday.
Main Exhibition/Hyde Park
Finally, there is the Hyde Park Zone, which is the main exhibition area. This is where you’ll find the music and most of the big commercial companies such as Starbucks and Costa. I didn’t spend a lot of time there, but it is worth a visit if you like looking at shiny espresso machines. And they were very shiny!
There are also a couple of gems, such as the Nata Pure stall, with the best tasting natas (Portuguese custard pastries) outside Portugal, and the Gelupo Italian ice cream stall. I was described by one of the Festival staff as the “happiest person I’ve ever seen eating an ice cream” after my visit!
There’s even a little corner at the back where they let the tea people in… I know! Tea at a Coffee Festival…
The final thing to check out, which I’m saving until Sunday, is L’Accademia di Cimbila. Being an espresso nut, this promises to provide hours of entertainment. La Cimbali is bringing a small selection from the MUMAC Museum in Milan, a museum dedicated to espresso, including some historic espresso machines through the ages and the chance to experience how espresso tasted at various times in the past. Something for me to look forward to!
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