Manchester Coffee Festival 2017 Part I

The winners of this year's UK Cup Tasters Championship: Freda (centre), who successfully defended her title, Katelyn, who came second and Don, who finished third.Last weekend I made my annual visit to the  Manchester Coffee Festival (Cup North as was), returning for a fourth year and, for the third year running, gracing the halls of the Victoria Warehouse. This year, it occupied the same space as before, a minor bonus that meant I could find everything that little bit more easily. It also felt slightly bigger, but without sacrificing the relaxed, friendly nature which marks it out as one of my favourite events of the year. As a sign of my dedication, I flew back from Chicago especially to attend, arriving in Manchester at 7 am the day before the festival!

All the usual suspects were there, with roasters and equipment manufacturers leading the way. Milk was also important, with several non-dairy alternatives featuring strongly. There were various food-related stands and a small selection of street food stalls located outside. Making a triumphant return for the third year running was my favourite coffee competition, the UK Cup Tasters’ Championship, while there were plenty of talks and cuppings going on. As usual, over the two days, I saw almost everyone I wanted to, but there’s quite never enough time to get around all the stands!

I’m going to kick-off this round-up with a brief review of the venue itself, before going on to report on the Cup Tasters’ Championship. In Part II, I look at all the roasters, while in Part III, I’ll round up everything else.

  • The Manchester Coffee Festival was once again in the Victoria Warehouse (2016 photo).
  • If you're wondering how close it is to Old Trafford, you can see the back of the stadium!
  • The doors are back here on the left...
  • ... where you'll find, immediately to your right, the information/ticket desk.
  • The spacious corridors of the Manchester Coffee Festival.
  • I took this one last year at the end of the day, when there were no people around!
  • It's not all rows of stands though. This seating area hosted the sustainability talks...
  • ... while this one played host to the Cup Tasters' Championship.
  • As ever, there was a proper cloakroom. Other festivals, take note!
  • The final part of the festival was outside to the right of the doors: the street food!
  • There was an outdoor seating area here (photo from last year)...
  • ... and there was even a bar!
The Manchester Coffee Festival was once again in the Victoria Warehouse (2016 photo).1 If you're wondering how close it is to Old Trafford, you can see the back of the stadium!2 The doors are back here on the left...3 ... where you'll find, immediately to your right, the information/ticket desk.4 The spacious corridors of the Manchester Coffee Festival.5 I took this one last year at the end of the day, when there were no people around!6 It's not all rows of stands though. This seating area hosted the sustainability talks...7 ... while this one played host to the Cup Tasters' Championship.8 As ever, there was a proper cloakroom. Other festivals, take note!9 The final part of the festival was outside to the right of the doors: the street food!10 There was an outdoor seating area here (photo from last year)...11 ... and there was even a bar!12
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The Manchester Coffee Festival seems to have found a permanent home in Stretford’s Victoria Warehouse, which welcomed the festival for the third year running. Right by the Manchester Ship Canal, next door to Old Trafford (football) stadium and around the corner from Media City, it might not be in the heart of Manchester, but it’s not exactly out in the sticks either. The venue itself was, as the name suggests, an old warehouse, recently converted in events space and a hotel and is a short tram-ride from the city centre.

Although this was the festival’s third year in the Victoria Warehouse, this was the first time that it has occupied the same space, having started off in 2015 in the hotel-part of Victoria Warehouse before moving over to the events space in 2016. This year it was back in the same space, off to the right of the main gate, occupying a series of interconnected areas. Essentially, the Festival occupied four sides of a large square, with the middle taken up by the toilets. In addition, there was another space at the top of the square, and a further one off to the left at the top left-hand corner.

Entering in the bottom-right, you were immediately greeted by the admin and merchandising desks, where you traded in your ticket for a wrist band. Off to your left, two rows of stands ran along the bottom of the square, while on the right there was the seating area for the sustainability talks (of which I managed to make two this year, which is two more than last year!). The left-hand side of the square housed the other seating area, which once again hosted the Cup Tasters’ Championship. Finally, the top side of the square had another dual row of stands, which extended off to the left, while there was a further dual row of stands at the top of the square.

This layout made it easy to move around the various spaces. You could do a sweep of all the stands and seating areas in a couple of minutes just by walking in a figure-of-eight. Even those stands tucked away in the corners or at the ends of the rows seemed to be constantly busy, with no dead areas.

The final part of the festival space is actually outside in the main courtyard to the right of the door. Just as it was last year, this is where the street food vendors could be found, with three stands offering a range of food for those brave enough to queue up in the cold. There was also an outdoor seating area for the really hardy folk, plus a bar if you fancied something stronger than a cup of coffee.

After the gallery, you can see what I made of my favourite coffee competition, the Cup Tasters Championship.

  • Manchester Coffee Festival, once again the venue for the Cup Tasters Championship.
  • Three competitors go head-to-head in each heat, trying to pick the odd one out.
  • Once they've worked out which one is it, it's placed beyond the line, never to return...
  • ... and when all eight are over the line, that's it (for that competitor).
  • And then comes the judging. Each bowl is checked and a thumbs up means it's right!
  • Some competitors really want to see for themselves...
  • ... while others celebrate every success.
  • And then there are some who want to see...
  • ... and who celebrate too!
  • This is Denes Biro, by the way, delighted to have scored a perfect 8/8 in the first round.
  • The scores at the end of the first round, with four other people joining Denes on 8/8.
  • I'll fast forward to the semi-finals, with the draw throwing up an interesting combination.
  • The first head-to-head had the defending champion & two finalists from two years before.
  • This is the defending champion, Freda Yuan...
  • ... while this is Katelyn Thomson, who fnished second two years ago.
  • And here's Sonali Tailor, who finished third two years ago.
  • All three competitors have finished and now it's down to the scoring...
  • ... where Freda makes a strong showing...
  • ... getting cup after cup right...
  • ... on her way to her second perfect eight of the competition!
  • The final scores of the semi-finals: Freda and Katelyn are joined by Don Altizo in the final.
  • The cups are laid out, ready to go...
  • ... and here are our three competitors, starting with Katelyn...
  • ... and Don...
  • ... and a very relaxed-looking Freda.
  • And they're off!
  • Don in action...
  • ... quickly making his way through the cups.
  • Everyone is now well into their stride...
  • ... with Don the first to finish, so if the scores are level, he'll win.
  • Freda quickly follows, still looking rather relaxed as she looks on. Just Katelyn to go now.
  • And everyone's done. Now for the scoring...
  • Don's off to a rocky start. His first cup was wrong, as is this one.
  • In contrast, Freda marches on...
  • ... while Don gets a third cup wrong. Katelyn has also got two wrong at this stage...
  • ... so when Freda gets her seventh one correct, no-one can catch her.
  • The moment of realisation hits Freda that she's retained her title...
  • ... and then it's hugs all round!
  • The winners with their trophies. Congratulations to Freda, Katelyn & Don.
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It’s well established that I’m not a huge fan of watching coffee competitions, the one exception being the Cup Tasters Championship, a head-to-head competition where the participants are either right or wrong. The first time I saw it, I was surprised by the intensity and tension and have been hooked ever since. Rather than repeat myself, I’ve written a detailed description of the competition instead.

This year there were 33 competitors who went off in 11 heats of three in the first round, which took place on Saturday. The top 21 competitors went through to the second round on Sunday, from where they were whittled down to the nine semi-finalists, before the top three went through to the final. As always, it’s not the winners of the individual heats who go through, but those with the overall best scores in that round (the scores from previous rounds don’t count).

There were some interesting names in this year’s competition, including defending champion, Freda Yuan from Caravan, as well as Katelyn Thomson (Coffee Curation), who finished second in 2015 and Sonali Tailor (Has Bean), who finished third that same year. Unusually, the other finalists from last year, Nicole Ferris (Climpson and Sons) and Will Sumner (Steampunk Coffee), hadn’t returned for another go. What was interesting was that over 50% of the entrants worked for just four companies, with Taylor Street Baristas, Origin and Bewley’s all having five entrants, while Climpson and Sons had three.

The first round was really competitive, with five people scoring a perfect 8/8, including Freda and Sonali. However, out in front was Denes Biro of Taylor Street, who took less than four minutes for his 8/8. The cut-off score for progression to the second round was 5/8, with Ian Kissick (Taylor Street again) squeezing in with time of 5 minutes and 17 seconds.

Of course, the previous round’s scores count for nothing and so when the competitors reconvened on Sunday morning, it was with a clean slate. With just nine of the 21 going through to the semi-finals, the competition was even tougher. Early front-runners included Denes, who followed his first round 8/8 with a 6/8 and in a much slower time, demonstrating just how hard the competition was. Katelyn Thomson was also up there with a 6/8, following a creditable 7/8 in the first found. However, Freda was soon back on top, with a score of 7/8 in just over four minutes, where she was joined by Don Altizo of BaxterStorey. They were joined by Marshall Kingston of the Speciality Coffee Blog, another who had scored a perfect 8/8 in the first round, backed up with a 7/8 in the second round, but no-one else managed to get more than 6/8.

The competition continued with some notable names crashing out with poor scores. Meanwhile, another ex-finalist, Sonali, scored 6/8 in just over four minutes to work her way towards the top of the leader board. The final three semi-finalists were Ed Greenall (Has Bean) and two of the Origin posse, Simon Humes and Jesse Dodkins.

The draw for the semi-finals threw up an interesting head-to-head in the first round with defending champion Freda up against Katelyn and Sonali, who finished second and third two years ago. Freda put in another perfect 8/8 in under four minutes, while Katelyn had a second 7/8, setting themselves as the early pacesetters. They were joined by Don in the second heat, who stormed to his 7/8 in under three minutes, an incredible pace. Unsurprisingly, these three made up this year’s finalists.

For the second year running, a delighted Freda (one year, I will have to video her celebrations), was the clear winner in the finals, with a score of 7/8 in just 3 minutes, 11 seconds, rounding off an incredibly consistent performance which saw scores of either 7 or 8 in each round, with her time improving in each round from a starting point of 4 minutes 38 seconds.

Katelyn finished second for the second time, with 6/8, while Don was third with 4/8, albeit in a blisteringly-fast 2 minutes 44 seconds. Congratulations to Freda and all the other competitors, who made it such a compelling event. Also thanks to Mat North and Rob Ward for organisation/commentary, plus sponsors Bunn and Campus at Union who roasted all the competition coffee.

Check out Part II of my Manchester Coffee Festival round-up, where I meet up with various roasters. Alternatively, for some other perspectives on the festival, check out the following articles:

If you’ve written a review of the festival and would like to be featured, just drop me a line.

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