Caffé Culture Show 2014

Doctor Espresso's fully restored and working Gaggia lever espresso machine at Caffe Culture 2014.What with all the fuss about the London Coffee Festival, it’s all too easy to forget about the Caffé Culture Show, a trade-only show all about cafés. It’s held in May every year in the soaring halls of the Kensington Olympia Exhibition Centre. It features suppliers to the café trade, from coffee machine manufacturers and roasters through bakers all the way to furniture suppliers.

I attended for the first time last year and liked it sufficiently to go back this year. It has a much more relaxed pace and feel than the London Coffee Festival, although for various reasons, I didn’t have very long at Caffé Culture this year, so ended up doing a lot of rushing around. The biggest difference I noticed this year is that there seemed to be more a lot more coffee roasters than I remember from my previous visit.

Due to my lack of time I was quite focused in my approach this year, catching up with some old friends (Doctor Espresso, Aeropress, Matthew Algie, Terrone) and making some new ones (Sanremo, Black Sheep). I also took KeepCup #1 along to make some new friends.

You can see what I got up to after the gallery… 

  • Look what greeted me when I walked in at Caffe Culture! A display by Doctor Espresso!
  • One thing I like about Olympia as a venue is the soaring ceiling of the main halls.
  • I have no idea what these people's coffee is like, but I loved the van :-)
  • I managed to catch up with the rather scary man on the Aeropress stand...
  • ... who was actually all smiles once I told him he'd converted me to Aeropress last year!
  • New this year was an Artisan Food Market area.
  • Where I found Galeta, makers of cookies, etc, but more importantly, natas!
  • No trip to Caffe Culture is complete without a nata from Galeta :-)
Look what greeted me when I walked in at Caffe Culture! A display by Doctor Espresso!1 One thing I like about Olympia as a venue is the soaring ceiling of the main halls.2 I have no idea what these people's coffee is like, but I loved the van :-)3 I managed to catch up with the rather scary man on the Aeropress stand...4 ... who was actually all smiles once I told him he'd converted me to Aeropress last year!5 New this year was an Artisan Food Market area.6 Where I found Galeta, makers of cookies, etc, but more importantly, natas!7 No trip to Caffe Culture is complete without a nata from Galeta :-)8
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So, to start at the beginning, I walked into the entrance lobby to be greeted by a display of vintage Gaggia lever espresso machines from the 1950s, courtesy of Doctor Espresso. This was just a taster of what was on offer on the Doctor’s stand (more of which later) and was a good way to start the show. Since I was in a hurry, I only did a quick circuit around the main hall, stopping off to say hello to the guys on the Aeropress stand. They had saved me last year when I was about to give up on my Aeropress in disgust (I had made the beginner’s error of following the instructions that came with it; never do that if you want it to make decent coffee). Anyway, they had shown me the error of my ways and I wanted to say thank you.

From there I continued my exploration, calling in on a few friends, old and new (see below), and passing up tempting samples from numerous cake and bakers stands before ending my brief visit at a new feature, the Artisan Food Village. This year was its first appearance and, having bemoaned the reduced role of the similar space in this year’s London Coffee Festival, I wish I’d had more time to explore it. As it was, I had to make do with a quick visit to Galeta, and sample one of the natas, a favourite of mine from last year’s show.

Then it was time to leave, with a quick dash to Paddington to catch a train for my day-trip to Cardiff

  • The entrance lobby was given over to a display of Doctor Espresso's vintage machines!
  • There were some beauties on display, including this two-group Gaggia.
  • After this teaser, what could I do except head for the Doctor's stand?
  • Pride of place went to this three-group version of the one I was drooling over in the lobby!
  • However, there were plenty of others on the stand...
  • I remember this one from last year's show!
  • There was even this little one-group machine on display!
  • However, back to the main machine, which, as a bonus, is fully operational!
  • Here Vinnie demonstrates its capabilities to KeepCup #1
  • First pull of the lever for pre-infusion...
  • Now... are we ready?
  • Here we go with the second pull for the extraction.
  • Lovely...
  • The lever slowly returns to the upright position as the coffee extracts.
  • And here's KeepCup #1 with the finished product.
The entrance lobby was given over to a display of Doctor Espresso's vintage machines!1 There were some beauties on display, including this two-group Gaggia.2 After this teaser, what could I do except head for the Doctor's stand?3 Pride of place went to this three-group version of the one I was drooling over in the lobby!4 However, there were plenty of others on the stand...5 I remember this one from last year's show!6 There was even this little one-group machine on display!7 However, back to the main machine, which, as a bonus, is fully operational!8 Here Vinnie demonstrates its capabilities to KeepCup #19 First pull of the lever for pre-infusion...10 Now... are we ready?11 Here we go with the second pull for the extraction.12 Lovely...13 The lever slowly returns to the upright position as the coffee extracts.14 And here's KeepCup #1 with the finished product.15
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The highlight of this year’s show was undoubtedly Doctor Espresso’s stand, highlighting his impressive collection of restored Gaggia lever espresso machines from the 1950s. For those who don’t know, Russell, aka Doctor Espresso, restores lever espresso machines (mostly, but not exclusively, Gaggias). Indeed, as far as I know, London’s three oldest working espresso machines were restored by the good Doctor, starting with a classic Gaggia Tipo America which takes pride of place in his very own Doctor Espresso Caffetteria next to Putney Bridge Tube Station. The next two oldest are at Soho’s Bar Italia and down by Waterloo station in the Scooter Café [appearing one day on the Coffee Spot, although I’ve been saying that for a year now!].

Other than the chance to drool over all the shiny espresso machines, catch up with the lovely Vanessa and say hello to some of the staff from the Caffetteria, the undoubted best part of the whole experience was having an espresso made for me on another of the Doctor’s restored Gaggia Tipo America machines. This, I believe, will be going into Doctor Espresso’s new Caffetteria over at Clapham Junction.

My espresso was made by Vinnie, a man who equalled me both in quality of beard and waistcoat (you can’t beat a man with a good beard and waistcoat) and topped it off with a very fine flat cap (anyone would think he was giving Joe from Flat Caps Coffee a run for his money!). Needless to say, my espresso was excellent! With thanks to Russell, Vanessa, Vinnie and the team. 

  • Next stop was the Matthew Algie stand to catch up with Lee Hall, the London coffee rep.
  • Last year, Lee opened my eyes to a lot of things about filter coffee...
  • However, I'd ended up with a lot of Matthew Algie filter coffee at the London Coffee Festival, so I was keen to catch up with the espresso offerings, especially the two seasonal blends.
  • Normally I'm not a fan of big, bulky espresso machines, but I've a soft spot for the Elektra.
  • I went for the Craftly Little Number 1 as a piccolo, seen here gracing Keep Cup #1.
  • After that, it was on to the Terrone Coffee stand...
  • This is weird. Normally I don't get this close without Edy Piro photobombing me!
  • However, Edy was away, in Italy, I believe, so I was just left with his wonderful coffee...
  • ... and his colleague, Leonardo, who made me a lovely flat white.
  • Here's Keep Cup #1, proudly showing off Leonardo's latte-art next to Terrone's Ciclista blend.
  • Terone was sharing the stand with Eureka Grinders who have some lovely looking machines!
  • Final stop was Black Sheep Coffee, who I'd also met at the London Coffee Festival.
  • I was relieved to discover that for once it wasn't my rucksack cluttering up the place!
Next stop was the Matthew Algie stand to catch up with Lee Hall, the London coffee rep.1 Last year, Lee opened my eyes to a lot of things about filter coffee...2 However, I'd ended up with a lot of Matthew Algie filter coffee at the London Coffee Festival, so I was keen to catch up with the espresso offerings, especially the two seasonal blends.3 Normally I'm not a fan of big, bulky espresso machines, but I've a soft spot for the Elektra.4 I went for the Craftly Little Number 1 as a piccolo, seen here gracing Keep Cup #1.5 After that, it was on to the Terrone Coffee stand...6 This is weird. Normally I don't get this close without Edy Piro photobombing me!7 However, Edy was away, in Italy, I believe, so I was just left with his wonderful coffee...8 ... and his colleague, Leonardo, who made me a lovely flat white.9 Here's Keep Cup #1, proudly showing off Leonardo's latte-art next to Terrone's Ciclista blend.10 Terone was sharing the stand with Eureka Grinders who have some lovely looking machines!11 Final stop was Black Sheep Coffee, who I'd also met at the London Coffee Festival.12 I was relieved to discover that for once it wasn't my rucksack cluttering up the place!13
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Of course, Caffé Culture wouldn’t be Caffé Culture without lots of coffee and my espresso at Doctor Espresso’s stand was just the start. Last year, one of the most informative parts of my visit was when I went to a tasting at the Matthew Algie Stand. Here, Lee Hall, Matthew Algie’s London Coffee Rep, helped put me on the path to great filter coffee by demonstrating just how different coffee can taste when prepared with different methods.

This year I popped along to say hello and catch up with Lee after the London Coffee Festival. I’d come away from that encounter loaded down with filter coffee, so this time I was keen to catch up with Matthew Algie’s new seasonal espresso blends. I’d tried these at the Coffee Festival and found that I’d really liked the Crafty Little Number 1 with milk. Naturally I was keen to try it again and it didn’t disappoint! For more on what I made of Matthew Algie’s new range of hand-roasted coffee, check out my London Coffee Festival post.

From there it was onto the Terrone stand, where, for once, I wasn’t photobombed by Edy, the man behind Terrone. I say this with some disappointment since I missed his twirling moustaches! All I was left with was his latest blend, Ciclista, which I’d tried at the London Coffee Festival in an interesting concoction which included ice and balsamic vinegar. This time I was able to have it as a flat white (or the Italian version, Bianco Piatto: literally “white plate” if you believe Google Translate). This, I have to say, was much more to my taste!

My final coffee stop of the day was a brief one to say hello again to the guys at Black Sheep Coffee. They are trying to rehabilitate the much-maligned Robusta coffee bean: you can see what I made of their coffee in my post on the London Coffee Festival

  • From ancient to modern: as well as Doctor Espresso, I also called in on Sanremo.
  • There were some nice machines on display, including the Verona, used at the UKBCs.
  • ... and the Verde, a green (and not just in colour) espresso machine.
  • However, pride of place when to the brand new Opera espresso machine!
  • ... and who did I find behind the controls, but old friend Donovan from Rave Coffee!
  • Designed by committee, the Opera is a modern machine with levers! Although, according to Doctor Espresso, who popped over while I was there, they need to be bigger!
  • It also has lots of interesting dials and numbers...
  • But, I hear you ask, does it make good coffee? Well, we tried some of this from Rave.
  • So, let's give it a go... First, weigh an empty basket...
  • ... then fill it with ground coffee...
  • ... and weigh it again to ensure we have the right amount.
  • Next, give it a good, firm tamp.
  • And off we go!
  • The coffee's looking good here.
  • Almost done. Meanwhile, Donovan's steamed the milk in readiness.
  • Let the pouring begin...
  • The pattern begins to form...
  • Just add the finishing touches...
  • ... et voila! Lovely latte art. The coffee tasted pretty good too!
From ancient to modern: as well as Doctor Espresso, I also called in on Sanremo.1 There were some nice machines on display, including the Verona, used at the UKBCs.2 ... and the Verde, a green (and not just in colour) espresso machine.3 However, pride of place when to the brand new Opera espresso machine!4 ... and who did I find behind the controls, but old friend Donovan from Rave Coffee!5 Designed by committee, the Opera is a modern machine with levers! Although, according to Doctor Espresso, who popped over while I was there, they need to be bigger!6 It also has lots of interesting dials and numbers...7 But, I hear you ask, does it make good coffee? Well, we tried some of this from Rave.8 So, let's give it a go... First, weigh an empty basket...9 ... then fill it with ground coffee...10 ... and weigh it again to ensure we have the right amount.11 Next, give it a good, firm tamp.12 And off we go!13 The coffee's looking good here.14 Almost done. Meanwhile, Donovan's steamed the milk in readiness.15 Let the pouring begin...16 The pattern begins to form...17 Just add the finishing touches...18 ... et voila! Lovely latte art. The coffee tasted pretty good too!19
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For my final stop of the day, I popped into the Sanremo stand. I’d managed to completely miss Sanremo at the London Coffee Festival, despite the launch of the much-heralded Opera espresso machine and the fact that it was the supplier of the Verona, the official machine of the UK Barista Championships. So, I rectified this at Caffé Culture, where I got a run-down of the new machine and caught up with Donovan of Rave Coffee Roasters, who was pulling some shots with Rave’s Hunda Oli Ethiopian single-origin beans.

The Opera’s claim to fame is that it was designed by a committee of world-famous baristas and engineers. Now, design by committee has a bad name, but the first thing I will say is that they’ve produced a beautiful-looking machine. It’s even got levers, although Russell (Doctor Espresso himself), who had popped over to say hello, thought they should be bigger.

Other than its technical innovation (for details of which, I refer you to the Sanremo website), from the barista perspective, the advantage of the Opera is the consistency of its output. In a long discussion with Andrew Tucker of Sanremo, we both agreed that the days of a speciality coffee shop having a single bean/blend and always making the coffee the same way are long gone. Even shops which have a regular espresso blend from a single roaster are increasingly taking guest espresso these days and many are rotating their beans on a regular basis.

As I know to my own cost with my dalliance with espresso at home, each bean requires its own particular handling, be it the grind, water temperature, extraction time, pressure profile through the extraction, amount of pre-infusion and so on. This requires a considerable process of calibration for each new coffee (a process known in the trade as “dialling in”). Having watched baristas at work, I can tell you that dialling in can be a time-consuming (and wasteful) process.

However, the joy of a machine such as the Opera is that once you have dialled in a particular bean, you can upload the settings to an Android app (much as is the case for filter coffee with the Steampunk machine) and from there, you can send to all your machines (if you own a chain of coffee shops) or simply store it for future reference. Alternatively I can see this being of use to roasters, who could provide a profile (or recipe as they seem to be increasingly known) along with the beans to any coffee shop they supply. Of course, this presupposes everyone has Operas in their coffee shops, but it’s early days yet!

I should also say in defence of my barista friends who carefully tweak all aspects of the espresso-making process throughout the day as factors such as temperature, humidity and even air pressure change, any pre-loaded recipe is only going to be the starting point for a professional barista. However, in the quest for consistent quality, I can see the Opera (and machines like it) playing an ever-increasing role.


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