It’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 food, UK Barista Championships, 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.)
You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.
Last year was my first visit to the London Coffee Festival and I really didn’t know what to expect. As a lover of cafes, I really didn’t see what a coffee festival would have to interest me, but, with my Coffee Spot hat on, that I really ought to go. I’m so glad that I did. My initial scepticism vanished as I fell in love with the event. As 2013 turned into 2014, I found myself looking forward to the London Coffee Festival with growing excitement.
Arriving at lunchtime on Friday, I felt immediately at home. The festival was much the same as the previous year, with the obvious addition of the Milk and Sugar zone on the ground floor. If there was anything down there the previous year, I’d completely missed it!
Milk and Sugar, as the name tangentially implies, is about things that go with your coffee, in this case, lifestyle/accessories rather than actual milk and sugar. I wandered through a couple of times, spotting some clothing stores and a barbers whose prices made my eyes water. I wasn’t down here that long, largely because this kind of thing doesn’t particularly appeal to me. However, there were a couple of highlights…
The first was at the very far end, where a bar served Scotch whisky. This held no great appeal to me either, but it had (compared to the rest of the festival) a massive (and relatively quiet) seating area.
The other highlight was a pop-up café run by Australian legends, St Ali. This was around the corner to your right as you come down the stairs into Milk and Sugar. It shared the space with two bars, one serving cocktails and the other real ale. It was also done out quite nicely with tables and benches, It felt like a real café and, compared to the mayhem upstairs, was a real haven of calm.
The St Ali pop-up had been flown in all the way from Melbourne, including the staff, food (except the pastries/cakes which were baked by St John’s) and some of the coffee. You can tell how much I liked it by the fact I was down there every day, where I was well looked after by M’lissa, Eve and the rest of the team. You can read more about my St Ali experiences in the remaining Saturday Supplements in this series.
A couple of neat touches about Milk and Sugar, starting with the furniture. All the benches and tables were made by Brighton’s Tree House Timber. These were bespoke and looked to be cut/carved from single pieces of wood. You could buy them if any took your fancy and the company will (I believe) make bespoke pieces to order. It was a great advert for its services.
The second neat thing was that the Milk and Sugar zone was open after the end of each session. One of the big problems with the festival is that for ordinary ticket holders, you only get three hours, at which point you are asked to leave. Last year, that meant heading back out onto Brick Lane, but this year, it meant heading downstairs to Milk and Sugar, where you could have a drink and something to eat or just chill out before leaving. It’s a great idea!
Rest of the Festival
You can read a round-up of the rest of the festival after the gallery
Upstairs the layout was much as last year. You enter via the main hall, which has big industry names, including Costa and Starbucks (two stalls I didn’t visit!). I spent even less time here than last year; other than a pleasant half-an-hour chatting with Guy from Allegra about the London Coffee Guide, I walked through twice and that was it!
Next is the True Artisan Pop-up Café, where top roasters and cafés strut their stuff. This was a big part of the festival for me. Although I travel the country in search of good coffee, I relish the chance to experience the best that the UK has to offer in one place. Despite being there for three days and spending a good chunk of it in the True Artisan Café, I missed about half of the roasters/cafés that I’d hoped to see.
Beyond that was the Make Decent Coffee Lounge, the Artisan and Street Food Markets, and the trade and competition areas. The Street Food Market felt smaller than last year, but I think was the same size, while the Artisan Market was much smaller. Last year there were lots of food producers (cakes, bread, waffles, that sort of thing) but this year they were few and far between, the area being mostly occupied by coffee roasters. Since t’s a coffee festival, it seems churlish to complain.
The other two areas were the Competition Stage, where the UK Barista Championships took place, and the trade area. I drifted in and out of the competitions and wandered around the trade area, where there were a few interesting stands.
You can catch up with all my adventures here in the remaining Saturday Supplements in the series.
I’ll end with a couple of negatives and an observation. The observation is the same one I made last year: there’s no cloakroom, so whatever you bring, you’re going to have to carry around the festival with you. In fairness, the lack of a cloakroom was pretty prominently displayed on the website this year.
The first of my negatives is also one I made last year: there’s no water, a serious short-coming. When you’re drinking coffee all day you easily get dehydrated, so plenty of water is essential. While water is on sale, £2 for half a litre is a steep price to pay; instead I found myself indebted to the wonderful folk on the Brita stand (sorry Chloe) who happily refilled my bottle once I’d drunk all the water I’d brought with me.
This problem was exacerbated by the second of my negatives: it was very hot and humid this year, far more than last year. There was no air-flow at all and there certainly weren’t any fans in evidence. All those espresso machines, plus several thousand people, are going to generate a lot of heat and the organisers really need to think seriously about this before next year.
In closing, the festival was immense fun despite these short-comings and I’m already looking forward to next year. My advice, for what it’s worth, is other than lots of water, don’t bring too much with you and don’t wear too many layers! Of course, next year they’ll have sorted the air-con/fans situation out and I’ll be complaining the cold…
You can also see what some of my fellow-bloggers made of the event:
- there’s Gulia’s report on mondomulia
- new blogger, Freshly Brewed Cup, presents Part 1 and Part 2 of a review
- while old friend liquidjolt has a written a piece on Make Decent Coffee
- Cups of Coffee London has a picture gallery
- and there’s even coverage from Holland and The Coffee Vine (who also covered the Amsterdam Coffee Festival which I wasn’t able to go to)!
|15 HANBURY STREET • THE OLD TRUMAN BREWERY • LONDON • E1 6QR|
|Thursday||10:00 – 17:00 (Industry only)|
|Friday||10:00 – 17:00 (Industry only)|
|17:00 – 20:00 (Evening Session)|
|20:00 – 22:00 (Launch Party)|
|Saturday||10:00 – 13:00 (Brunch Session)|
|13:00 – 16:00 (Lunch Session)|
|16:00 – 19:00 (Teatime Session)|
|Sunday||10:00 – 13:00 (Brunch Session)|
|13:00 – 16:00 (Lunch Session)|
|16:00 – 19:00 (Teatime Session)|
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