On Tuesday (10th May) I made my annual pilgrimage to London’s Olympia for the Caffè Culture show the four year running that I’ve been to Caffè Culture and the second time that I’d been asked to judge the Caffè Culture Exhibitor Best Drink Award. Prior to the show, this involved me whittling a list of 13 entries down to a shortlist of five. Then, on the first day of the show, I visited the stands of the five shortlisted exhibitors to try each of the drinks before selecting the winner. Just as I did last year, I had a fantastic time at meeting all the exhibitors, discovering the stories behind their products and trying the drinks themselves. Then, of course, came the tricky part: deciding on the actual winner.
I also had a chance to have a quick look around the show, which was an opportunity to catch up with some of the roasters I’d missed at this year’s London Coffee Festival, plus to catch up with a few that I’d not come across before. These feature in their very own Caffè Culture Meet the Roasters instalment of the Saturday Supplement. For now, however, let’s get back to the Awards.
You can find out who won, and why, after the gallery.
The whole process started about a month ago, when I got a list of the 13 entries for the Award, which I then had to whittle down to a shortlist of five. I tried to ensure that the shortlist had a variety of drinks (not just coffee!) and, as I had in the previous year, I tried to go for products with an interesting story behind them. So, I present, in the order that I visited them, the five short-listed entries.
Bravura Foods Ltd: Peanut Hottie
The Peanut Hottie intrigued me, a genuinely different product which is perhaps best thought of as a low-calorie peanut version of hot chocolate (the powdered kind). It can be mixed with water or milk and drunk hot or cold, depending on your particular tastes. It also comes in two varieties, Peanut Butter or Peanut Butter & Chocolate. It can also be used as the basis of other drinks, such as milk shakes, and can be added to a variety of recipes, such as pancakes, to give instant, peanut-flavoured versions.
I tried it cold, with milk, and hot, in water, marginally preferring the hot version, while the person I was with gave the nod to the cold variety. Such are the vagaries of taste. I can best describe it as drinking a slightly less chocolatey, liquid Marathon bar (yes, I know that they’re called Snickers now, but they were Marathons when I was a child and that’s what they’ll always be to me). I was interested enough to grab a jar to take home with me and experiment with!
Marimba World Chocolate Ltd: Sugar Free Hot Chocolate Melt
Sugar-free products were quite the thing at this year’s Caffè Culture Show and the idea of sugar-free hot chocolate intrigued me. Marimba has been producing single-origin hot chocolate in Bury St Edmunds (home of coffee roasters, Butterworth & Son) for around five years now, with a range of three hot chocolates (white, milk and dark) using cocoa beans from the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and Ecuador. The inspiration for a sugar-free version came when a customer, who also typically ordered a skinny latte in Marimba’s café in Sudbury, lamented the fact that she couldn’t enjoy a hot chocolate with her friends. And so the sugar-free hot chocolate melt was born. If you think of it as the hot chocolate equivalent of decaf coffee; all the same taste, but without the calories!
It’s made with a sugar-free chocolate, but with added sweeteners to avoid it tasting too bitter. Technically the sugar-free version is a dark chocolate, with a cocoa content of 55%, so for taste comparison purposes, I tried it next to Marimba’s standard dark hot chocolate melt which has a 70% cocoa content. Overall, I was impressed. It was rich and creamy and I’d have been hard-pressed to say it was sugar-free. However, if I’m honest, I’d have preferred the standard dark chocolate version, although that might have had more to do with the cocoa content!
Breckland Orchard: Posh Pop Lighter
Next on the sugar-free trail was Breckland Orchard’s Posh Pop lighter range of sugar-free soft drinks. Claire, the lady behind Breckland Orchard, told me that she had been looking at a variety of different approaches, including low-sugar versions of Breckland’s existing Posh Pop drinks. However, she’d decided to go entirely sugar-free, launching three of her favourite Posh Pop flavours; Elderflower (0 calories), Cloudy Lemonade (5 calories) and Ginger Beer with Chilli (3 calories). Claire, by the way, has an interesting quality-control method: she only makes things she likes.
I tried all three of the Posh Pop Lighter range and liked them all. Each had a distinctive taste, although unsurprisingly, since ginger beer is one of the few soft drinks I really like, my favourite was the Ginger Beer & Chilli. This had less of a ginger taste than I was expecting, while the chilli gave it an interesting kick. Just to check, I did a blind taste-test of the normal and sugar-free versions of the Ginger Beer and Chilli side-by-side and I honestly couldn’t tell the difference.
The Original Dutch Coffee Co: The Original Dutch pure cold drip coffee
This a variety of cold brew coffee using the original Dutch cold drip method to produce a concentrated coffee that is aimed as much at the mixer and catering market as it is as the coffee drinking market. That said, it could easily be added to water or milk and drunk as a cold-brew style coffee. The inspiration behind the The Original Dutch Coffee Co. came when one of the founders had a Singapore-style coffee over ice. Not being able to find anything similar on his return to the UK, he decided, as you do, to make his own.
The Dutch have always had trading links to the East Indies and all the coffees chosen are from that region, although the coffee is roasted and brewed in the UK. Five coffees are currently on offer, four of them single-origins: an Indian Andhra Pradesh, a Sumatran Mandheling, an Old Brown Java and one from Papua New Guinea. Finally, there’s a special edition Angelucci Mokital Blend. I tried the Sumatran as a cold-brew equivalent in water, but unfortunately there is something taste-wise in all cold brew coffee which does not agree with me. I’d hope that the original Dutch cold drip method might be different, but sadly, it was not.
Himalayan Treasures: Himalayan Coffee & Tea
I’ll be honest. I didn’t even know coffee grew in Nepal, in the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains, at altitudes above 1,700m. Tea, I might have guessed, but coffee, no. In my defence, I’m not sure many other people know about it either. Tea not really being my thing (I did try some, but it was tea, so I really didn’t like it), I went for the coffee. Currently there’s only a single roast-profile for both espresso and filter which I tried through the Chemex. It was a smoky, earthy coffee, with a rich, complex taste which I really enjoyed.
However, what’s makes Himalayan Treasures special is its work with the farmers, who are often small-holders. In the best tradition of speciality coffee, it’s trading directly, encouraging them to improve the quality of their products, which in turn means that they can charge higher prices. We’re not talking large quantities: in a good year, the total production is around 500 tonnes, the majority of which is exported to Japan.
The coffee is naturally processed in the areas where it’s grown, with transportation a major issue in the mountainous terrain. The processed beans are often carried for hours in baskets to the nearest road, where they can be taken to Kathmandu. Himalayan Treasures then imports the green beans into the UK, where they are roasted, ironically, in my home town of Guildford.
Himalayan Treasures is also in the process of setting up a charitable arm to raise money for the areas of Nepal devastated by the earthquake in April 2015, with 10% of its profits going to the fund.
In case you hadn’t guessed by now, I was very impressed by this story and so decided to give the Award to Himalayan Treasures. I hope it goes from strength to strength and, if you get the chance, I strongly recommend that you buy some of the Himalayan coffee!
Thanks to all the exhibitors who submitted nominations for the awards and thanks to Caffè Culture for inviting me to be a judge.
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